*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.
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.
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.
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, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]
Kobe Bryant’s Jersey to be Displayed at Smithsonian’s African American Museum (Video)
*Shortly before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to the public in 2016, Kobe Bryant was granted a private tour through its sports gallery, thanks to his $1-million donation. He eventually handed over some of his own memorabilia, including a Los Angeles Lakers uniform and a pair of shoes that he wore during the 2008 NBA Finals.
Those items had not yet made it into the museum’s gallery, but after Bryant’s sudden death in a helicopter crash in January, which also killed his daughter Gianna Bryant, the museum said Monday it has decided to display his jersey. It was set to hit the museum floor in March, but the pandemic delayed those plans…until now.
NMAAHC reopened to the public in September. Bryant’s jersey, which he wore during Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Finals, will be on display starting Wednesday on the third floor of the museum in a gallery called “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field.”
Damion L. Thomas, the museum’s sports curator, who walked with Bryant through the gallery in 2016, said that part of the reasoning for displaying Bryant’s jersey was that after Bryant’s death, he had been seeing visitors congregate by a photo of him that was up in the gallery.
“People were coming and taking pictures there and sharing stories about Kobe,” Thomas said. “It became a place for people to grieve and commune.”
Wearing Masks, Dance Theatre of Harlem Lifts Spirits With Video ‘Dancing Through Harlem’ (Watch)
*Despite a worldwide pandemic keeping them from the stage, the famed Dance Theatre of Harlem found a way to do what they do best anyway – uplift and inspire through movement.
For “Harlem Week” in August, which was virtual this year, the troupe released a video called “Dancing Through Harlem,” which showed the members dancing and leaping through Harlem landmarks, including the Harriet Tubman sculpture, the Apollo Theater, and the Frederick Douglass Statue in the opening credits.
The video then opens with two dancers wearing masks inside the 145th Street subway station (A/B/C/D lines) choreographed to the music of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor 3rd movement. It cuts to four female dancers in front of Shepard Hall at City College of New York, then to four male dancers at Riverbank State Park, and then to the full eight dancers at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.
Since the video was tweeted by @balletarchive on October 12th, it has received over 7.6 million views and counting.
“Dancing Through Harlem” was produced by Derek Brockington and Alexandra Hutchinson, with choreography by Robert Garland and filmed by Heather Olcott and Joe Samala.
African-American Museum in Louisville Unveils Exhibit for Black Victims of Police Violence (Video)
*The African-American Museum in Louisville, Ky unveiled a new art exhibit called Unarmed: An Afternoon of Images and Reflection, which was created in memory of black victims of police violence.
New York artist, Raafi Rivero, created a series of sports jerseys, each designed in the colors of a victim’s local sports team. The number is the victim’s age and stars on the jerseys represent how many times that person was shot.
Rivero said he began the project in 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin, and as there were more and more victims, he added jerseys, including Breonna Taylor’s.
View the jerseys on display in this WHAS 11 news report on the exhibit below.
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