Sunday, August 14, 2022

Steven Ivory: D.J. Rogers: ‘Say You Love Me’ Singer Gone, But Not Forgotten + Exclusive Bobby Holland Photos

DJ Rogers_3 (frontpage) 24331_0312
DJ Rogers at The Total Experience Night Club, circa mid 1970s / ©Bobby Holland

*It was sometime in 1978,  just after midnight  at  Total  Experience Recording Studios  in the  heart of  Hollywood, and through gigantic wall sound monitors,  D.J. Rogers was blasting  a  track called “Love Brought Me Back.”

The singer/songwriter/keyboardist had invited me and Bobby Holland—fledgling Soul Newspaper music journalist and the paper’s staff photographer, respectively–to hear his new music, and we were eager to oblige.

We didn’t even bother to drop off our dates.  After taking them to a concert at the Roxy Theatre, we simply  brought the ladies with us to the studio.

D.J. didn’t mind.  The more ears, the better.  In the studio, there was just the five of us—six, if  you count Gap Band bassist  Robert Wilson,  quietly intoxicated more than any human should ever be, who periodically wandered in and out of the studio to take an approving listen.

READ THIS: Joy Reid Devotes Segment to Muslim Stereotypes After Trump, Ilhan Omar Accuse Her of ‘Islamophobia’ [VIDEO]

The then portly Rogers,  in a wine colored, long sleeve button down dress shirt and gray slacks, alternated between sitting behind the studio sound board turning  knobs  and occasionally standing  up and rocking to the music,  occasionally firing  off soulful vocal ad-libs with the groove.

And  “Love  Brought Me  Back”  was quite the groove.  A mid-tempo arrangement driven by a chugging, funky rhythm  section  and a  choir’s  worth  of  joyously singing background session voices,  all of it accented by  dramatic, majestic strings charted by virtuoso  arranger Jerry Peters, “Love Brought Me Back,” was more than the title song  of D.J.’s  fifth album  and  his first for Earth, Wind & Fire  founder Maurice White ’s Columbia-distributed ARC label;  the big, anthemic track represented the jubilant declaration of one man’s resilience through funny  money, bad record  deals  and assorted personal woe,  to rise back up.

The lyric said “Love” brought him back, but since  D.J. never  wrote  a  secular song that wasn’t a lyric away from being uncut gospel, you knew who he was really singing  about.

Recorded in parallel “Woods”—at Total Experience studio, owned by  black  music impresario, the late  Lonnie Simmons, D.J.’s manager at the time, in Hollywood,  and Ike Turner’s legendary Bolic Sound facility in Inglewood–the album was going to be D.J.’s undisputed  breakout.  At least, that’s how Bobby  and I  felt that   night, and we  told a beaming  D.J. as much.

MORE ON EURweb: Clarke Peters ‘Regrets’ Thinking Co-star Chadwick Boseman Was ‘Precious’ [VIDEO]

DJ Rogers - Lionel & Brenda Ritchie
D J Rogers, Lionel Richie, Brenda Richie, Benny Ashburn (Commodores Manager) Motown Records event mid 70’s Hollywood CA. / Photo: ©Bobby Holland

I  love  DeWayne Julius Rogers.  I say this in present tense  because,  while  he passed away on August  22,  D.J. hasn’t  gone anywhere.  Through  eight R&B albums, plenty yet-to- be-released R&B material and extensive recorded work in gospel genre, Mr. Rogers is still here, moving  and inspiring us with his music.

Here, I choose to honor D.J. by sharing parcels of  memories I have of the man.

First: freely I admit that over the years,  during the hundreds of times  I’ve  played D.J.’s  sentimental “Say You Love Me,”  I’ve often listened through tears.  Who  wouldn’t want to feel about somebody what D.J. expresses in the song?

While “Say You Love Me” has been recorded by Natalie Cole and Jennifer  Holliday,  unwittingly,  it’s D.J.  himself who keeps his  song  from  being  covered  over and again.

That’s  because a cover can’t do “Say You Love Me” justice. What appears simple is a masterpiece of subtle, intricate chording and the melding of a capable rhythm section, sweetened by the harmonics of one  Keith Hatchell on bass. That arrangement possess a feel that will  remain  elusive.

And then there’s D.J. Explaining and pleading, his folksy, impassioned delivery  transforms  often downright  corny lyrics into sheer, unmitigated swooning romance. Again: who wouldn’t want to feel that  way  about somebody?

D.J. was down to earth. Funny. Kept me laughing throughout our 1975 interview at RCA’s Hollywood building.  The label had just released It’s Good To Be  Alive—featuring “Say You Love  Me”—D.J.’s second album after he’d released his first on songwriter Leon Russell’s Tulsa-based Shelter label (where he worked with a fledgling Gap Band; it was D.J. who introduced  them to  Lonnie Simmons, who in turn launched Gap, downsized to Charlie,  Ronnie and  Robert  Wilson, into a run of hits),  and he  was hopeful.

That year I was at the Troubadour in West Hollywood  when  D.J. and  his  band  nearly burned the place down  during a rollicking,  two-set one-night-stand.  Onstage,  you couldn’t fuck with D.J.

He’s from the church.  That’s all you have to say, really. If you’re a musician in the church,  you learn how to make people feel the Spirit.  That ability is indispensable.

From Los  Angeles,  his father was a  minister  and  singer.  D.J., self-taught on piano, nurtured his skills in various choirs,  including that of  the legendary  Reverend  James  Cleveland.

And Rogers  was  a  masterful  squaller—that  time-honored, soul-stirring vocal  technique passed down through black gospel lineage over the centuries.

Best described as a  cross between the  sound  of a guttural shout  and  someone  trying to clear  their  throat  of phlegm while somebody is  choking  them  (okay, so it’s not the best description),  a great squaller, like a gale  force wind,  can set a listener back on their heels.  D.J. would unleash his squall during “Bulah Jean,” his churchy, drama-filled, heart-tugging show-stopper about a poor, saintly childhood friend, and bring  the house down.

DJ Rogers & fans 24331_0309
DJ Rogers & fans at the Total Experience night club show in  – Mid 70s / Photo: ©Bobby Holland

In  L.A.  I’d go see Rogers anywhere:  the Simmons-owned  Total Experience nightclub on Crenshaw Blvd;  The Name Of The Game Jr., over on Slauson (I think)—and always left   a  venue pleased and  ever astounded  by D.J.’s gift.

Often  referred to as the west coast’s  Donny Hathaway, vocally Rogers could “run” his  ass  off. I was at the Shrine   Auditorium in 1977 when, during one of those zillion-R&B-acts-on-one-bill shows  (Ohio Players protégé band funk band  Faze-O opened the evening,  playing their hit “Riding High”),   an up and coming  Peabo  Bryson was closing his    set with “Feel The  Fire,”  when out  of the wings,  mic in hand,  emerged  D.J. Rogers.  The  two  went  toe-to-toe trading thunderous vocal runs  and  ad-lbbs (“OoooOOOOhhhhh!”… “OOOOooohhhhhh!”) like two  soul singing gunslingers.  It lasted all of a  minute.  The Auditorium  was  on  its  feet.

Not only a  perceptive singer, writer and  keyboardist, D.J.  was also  a  great bandleader who trusted the players he  chose.

“D.J. would  just let me go,” says the  legendary  bassist  Keni  Burke,  whose artful  moaning,  bending  and string-popping  holds down the funky bottom on  D.J.’s  “Love  Brought  Me Back.”  An alumnus  of the iconic  ‘70s  sibling  group  The  Five  Stairsteps  (“Ooh  Child”), Burke  went  on to  become  a  solo artist  and  producer  whose  1982  hit,  “Risin’  To The  Top,” is one of the  most sampled tracks  of all  time.

“He inspired  the  musicians  he  worked  with,” says Burke,  “because  he’d let you  do your thing.   The rhythm  track  on  ‘Love  Brought  Me  Back?’  We cut that in one take.  D.J. rehearsed us a few  times, and then we recorded  it.  He didn’t spend time doing something  over and  over;  you  wanna  capture  that  fire  on  the  track.  I  loved  D.J.;  he   was like  a  big brother to me.”

Indeed, both gospel and secular music communities revered  Rogers.  Among the great players who  insisted  D.J. guest  on their recordings–Patrice Rushen, who duets  with Rogers during the wicked prowl, “Givin’  It  Up  Is Givin’  Up”  from her 1979 album,  Pizzazz.

Alas,  Love Brought  Me  Back, a vital LP in the Rogers canon, wasn’t the commercial success it deserved to be.  That—the idea that an artist as brilliantly talented  as D.J. never broke out—is not  only Rogers’ story, but the unfortunate tale of a multitude of deserving acts whose recording careers were shortchanged by a music  industry that  historically took more than it gave.

Thankfully, an often dastardly  business  didn’t  stop D.J. Rogers from  creating work that every true  lover of soul music deserves  to  hear.

Steven Ivory
Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via STEVRIVORY@AOL.COM




- Advertisement -