I lived in southern Maine for about three years. A lot of it was basically what I had expected. The winters were cold and harsh, the lobster was cheap and plentiful, the people were friendly, and it was fairly rural and picturesque. I didn’t see any moose (despite eyebrow-and-pulse-rate-raising signs about them on the highways) but I did almost hit a buck one night on a side road in Biddeford that was the size of a Ford van.
What I didn’t expect to find was a small collection of guys between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine who were making the kind of rip-snortin’ rock and roll music there just isn’t enough of anymore. They’d painstakingly carved out their own scene in northern New Hampshire/southern Maine playing in local bars and clubs (and backyards and street fairs). The crowds aren’t big, the money isn’t great, until very recently they weren’t get the attention they deserved, but (and stop me if you’ve heard this before) they keep doing it because they love it.
Kris Rodgers is one of these fine individuals. In fact, he’s the common denominator between them. Rodgers plays and records with Portsmouth’s The Connection, Portland’s Kurt Baker (recently decamped to Spain), The New Trocaderos, local cover bands (man’s gotta pay the rent!), as well as striking out on his own.
The person that Rodgers reminds me of the most is British piano legend Geraint Watkins. Watkins, like Rodgers, is a keyboard virtuoso who can play serious “adult” muso stuff but can put the pedal down and rock with anyone. He, like Rodgers, is also famous for appearing with a ton of different bands (Stray Cats, Dave Edmunds, Dr. Feelgood, it’s a long list) as well as doing his own unique music. They’re both also unassuming looking guys who, by some kind of magic, transform into possessed beings when behind a piano with a band.
There’s a lot to be said for that quality. Rodgers doesn’t look like a rock’n’roll musician who’s had his music raved about by Little Steven Van Zandt and played on stages across the Earth. He’s a bit like Superman, except he’s got a stage instead of a phone booth and he doesn’t change clothes. He just changes from the guy next to you at the bar complaining about the Celtics over a Yuengling into a shit-hot piano maestro slamming away at the keys and wailing into the microphone.
Talented? Talented is a nice word. Rodgers is like a bull in a china shop who appreciates the objects before he destroys them. He’s got talent but, as you’ll read a little later, he’s also got fire. The album he released last year, “Headlines” (on Collector’s Club Records), isn’t like anything you’re likely to hear unless you’ve got a DeLorean and have visited 1978 AM rock radio land recently. It sounds automatically familiar on the first listen. Imagine a world where Rod Stewart never went disco and the Faces still rocked, Blue Ash had a longer career, and Elton John’s career had stuck more to the “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” yellow brick road than the “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” Disney vibe. You can play “spot the influence” on every track, but that would be boring and you’d be missing the point (and the fun). Remember what the late great Lee Brilleaux used to say- yeah its rock and roll again but nobody asks the London Philharmonic if they’re still bashing out that old Beethoven guy for the umpteenth time do they?
Now that I’ve given you a sniff of what’s going on here, sink your teeth into this interview Rodgers nicely did with me.
01.) Before we get into the rest of the questions, tell everyone a little about yourself and what it is you do, please.
Well let’s see here, I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager. I went to college for music in Boston and ended up eventually coming back to Portland, ME after I was finished. My first band, Highway Jackson, had some local success and we played some cool shows but we broke up in 2009 due to normal life stuff. Tyler Johnson, the lead guitar player from HJ, actually plays the solo on “Headlines”. He’s badass. All those guys are. After HJ I started playing with Kurt Baker and eventually the Connection. I play piano bars and also play in the Don Campbell band, as well as my cover band, Vinyl Tap. It sounds like a lot but it’s music, and it all kind of blends together after a while. It keeps me on my toes and helps me to consistently evolve as a musician and performer. I’ve been a full time musician since 2010
02.) “Headlines”- the title track- has got to be one of the best kiss-off songs I’ve ever heard, right up there with Graham Parker’s “Mercury Poisoning”. I know you won’t divulge the target, but can you tell me a little bit about the song’s origins?
03.) What was the difference between recording this album and your last full-length?
04.) You wear a lot of hats and play with a few different outfits, how does being “out front” as it were impact the process (if it does at all)?
05.) You’ve had the “Coolest Song In The World” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which puts you in some pretty auspicious company. How did you originally find out about that and what was your reaction?
06.) As a pretty sharp piano player, who are some of your favorite keyboard maestros?
07.) Where did the idea to cover Death’s “Keep On Knocking” come from? That seems a little bit outside your usual jurisdiction, but you manage to blend it very well with your sound.
08.) Maine isn’t exactly known as a hot spot of rock and roll- does that put a little bit of a chip on your shoulder or is it not something you really think about?
09.) 2014 was a good year for you, can you tell me some of your favorite moments?
Yeah 2014 was nuts. The biggest moment was meeting Steven Van Zandt and getting on The Underground Garage, but there are so many other great moments. I was able to play some wild shows with The Connection, opening for Hall n’ Oates at the Cleveland Civic Center for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and also open for the Empty Hearts, featuring members of Blondie, The Chesterfield Kings, The Cars, and The Romantics, in Boston and NYC. To top that with putting out “Headlines” and the shows that we’ve played in the Northeast in support of it. I logged my longest gig ever in 2014, playing from 12pm-7:30pm on a hot June day in Portland, ME’s Old Port for Old Port Fest. I also got to play alongside Jonathan Edwards for my friend Don Campbell’s 50th Birthday and play John’s hit single “Shanty”. To say “lucky” is an understatement for sure.
10.) Where did the name “Dirty Gems” come from?
11.) What’s next for you in 2015?