D. J. ROGERS / “Say You Love Me”
D. J. Rogers. You probably never heard of him. He had a moderate hit with today’s feature, “Say You Love Me.” Cut five secular albums (D.J. Rogers – 1973, It’s Good To Be Alive – 1976, Love, Music & Life – 1977, Love Brought Me Back – 1978 and Trust Me – 1979) and one gospel album (Hope Songs) before bailing out of the entertainment rat race. It's Good To Be Alive, a 2-CD, 30-track compilation composed of music from three of DJ's albums, is currently available as an import and is the best place to start your search for the music of D.J. Rogers. Other than album covers, I could only find one picture of D.J. on the internet—it was almost like he hadn’t existed. On a German site that focused on Soul music I found scans of the covers of all his albums and that was it. But worse than the lack of photos, all of his music is not yet available. How can this be? D.J.’s music is so distinctive, so soulful, so funky, so interesting. A lot of it makes you want to shout or dance; at the very least tap your toe and hum (or moan) along with D.J. How is it that this man never made it big? He’s in the generation that came after Ray Charles. The cat closest to him is Rance Allen. But D.J. was more outwardly religious in his approach to music making than Ray Charles, and yet, on the other hand, he was far more funky than Rance Allen. I believe there was a fierce battle going on inside Mr. Rogers and that accounted for the intensity of D.J.’s music. He often sang as though some gigantic hand had taken hold of him and physically shook the sounds out of him. The normal reference for the type of climatic moans and hollers D.J. did was carnal climax but D.J. achieved that same thorough going expression singing about a schoolmate (“Bula Jean”). And check how he covered Kenny Rogers’ (no relation) “She Believes In Me,” a song that seriously celebrates bonding. Yes, D.J. had a gift for finding and expressing the essential humane elements that are often deeply embedded within the most mundane aspects of daily life. When you listen to “On The Road Again” you hear a true depiction of the hardships of life on the road and in the entertainment industry.
I started out just to sing my song Before I knew it, everything went wrong. No time, no time for love It looks like money is my only goal When I signed the paper I must have sold my soulAnd then there is the couplet:
I get tired of every hotel lobby But I want my son to grow up and be somebodyWhat possesses a man to put a song like this on album of what is aimed at being popular music? Numerous artists have songs about the shady sides of the entertainment business but what D.J. is doing is critiquing his own actions and motivations. Like I said, D.J. is deep. He’s deep not just as a preacher but the man could flat out sing. I mean sing like a man possessed except he was always singing about seeking salvation and doing right, always carrying a message in his music and not just any message, a message of spiritual salvation and personal accountability. Of course, this was the seventies and he wasn’t the only one preaching through his music, but still, D. J. was different from just about all of his peers. What caught my ear was D.J.’s music mix. He had a strong funk bottom, grooves that wouldn’t quit supplied by an experienced band that was often augmented by soaring strings and one of the sweetest choirs this side of heaven. (And your ears don’t fail you if you hear Deniece Williams clearly identifiable soprano surging.) The mix is complex. For one thing whoever is doing rhythm guitar comes out of the church and is used to feeding chords to a vocalist. You know they call it rhythm guitar for a reason. I remember when I was playing music back in the mid-sixties there was this guy who played rhythm guitar. Wasn’t worth spit as a lead guitarist but man he could build a groove like he was an expert brick layer. I mean once we got going, my man had this way of playing that made you want to keep on playing and never want to stop. It’s the trance thing, finding the sweet spot and keeping it on the one. There’s nothing showy about it. Indeed, it’s hard to put your finger on any one aspect of it except to say it all just sounds right on, doesn’t matter what tempo, what key, ballad or blues, whisper or shout, when it’s in the pocket, well, there’s just nothing like it. Anyway establishing a groove was one of D.J.’s calling cards. Check “Pressing On” for a great example of D.J. funk. Another facet of D.J.’s music was the almost operatic way he employed voices and strings (arrangements by Coleridge Taylor Perkinson). Of course, you can immediately hear the church elements in the choir but there is something more there. Listen to those strings. Listen to those harmonies. D.J. was a master musician who was based in but not restricted to gospel and blues. Listen to how his songs are structured with different tempo and different rhythms. “Love Is On The Way” and “Love Brought Me Back” are great examples of innovative arranging. D.J. had some of the inclinations of a progressive jazz musician. Perhaps some of his music was more complex than the record companies were used to promoting. Marketing a cat like this must have been a nightmare; what bag do you put him in? There was no one label that could describe what he was doing. For instance he had a habit of using call and response except he would overdub his voice so he was doing both the call and the response. D.J. should have been a contender, instead by the eighties Rogers opted out. Today he is an ordained minister in his home town of Los Angeles and the son he sang about, D.J. Rogers Jr., is taking his own shot at making it as a singer. So why do I classify D.J.’s music as classic? Simple. Rogers’ music epitomizes seventies Soul music. So, no, D.J.’s no star of the era but he is a legend. You may not have heard him before but once you do hear him, you immediately recognize: he’s a memorable talent. As with most classic artists in their prime, you won’t forget DeWayne Julius Rogers. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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