TRAVELS WITH MY BROTHER
Hamilton-born Stan Rogers is remembered as one of Canada’s best-loved songwriters
NIGHT DRIVE by Garnet Rogers Tales from the road with folksinger Stan Rogers
The short book on iconic folksinger Stan Rogers goes something like this:
Born in Hamilton, raised in Binbrook, Stan rediscovered his family’s maritime roots and helped launch a Celtic music revival by writing and recording songs like “Fogarty’s Cove,” “Barrett’s Privateers” and “The Mary Ellen Carter.” He died in 1983 at the age of 33 in a fire aboard an Air Canada airliner on the tarmac of the Cincinnati airport (22 other passengers also died).
Stan’s musical legacy continued to gain stature following his tragic death and today he is remembered as one of Canada’s best-loved songwriters.
A big guy, with a booming baritone and a heart just as big.
All true. But there’s so much more to the story about Stan’s unlikely rise to fame. He was an independent artist when the Canadian “indie” scene barely existed, scratching his way from one low-paying gig to another, barely able to put food in his mouth.
If there’s one person who can tell that story, it’s Stan’s younger brother Garnet Rogers. Garnet not only grew up with Stan, he also performed fiddle, flute and electric guitar in Stan’s band from 1973 to the final show at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. (Stan died flying home from that show; Garnet took an earlier flight, rebooking it at the last minute so he could get home a couple of days early.)
Since Stan’s death, Garnet has become a successful singer-songwriter in his own right, recording more than 100 of his own songs on 15 solo albums and earning a solid fan base across North America.
A couple of years ago, Garnet took a hiatus from touring, bought a laptop computer and began writing the story of his 10 years on the road with Stan, something his friends and fans had been telling him to do for years.
The 735-page finished product — “Night Drive, Travels With My Brother” — will be introduced at a hometown book launch with a concert by
Garnet Aug. 5, at The Pearl Company.
Garnet, who now lives on a farm in Brantford with his wife Gail, had been telling the stories from the stage for years, so the words flowed freely.
Life for a touring folk musician during the ’70s and early ’80s was not easy, often ugly and sometimes hilarious. Garnet lays it out in detail with a witty and engaging style that makes it a hard book to put down.
“The road” consisted of dangerous drives in questionable vehicles, and run-ins with police, bikers, shifty managers and “venal” club owners.
“Bad food, and horrible vermin infested motel rooms,” Garnet writes in the book’s preface. “Booze, booze and more booze. Screaming fights, band firings and band resignations. Drunken maudlin rapprochements in parking lots behind some tiny coffee house as the terrified staff cowered inside.”
It’s an extraordinary story, not just a road memoir, but also a tribute to the do-it-yourself lifestyle of the Canadian folk scene of the time with guest appearances by Festival of Friends founder Bill Powell, Winnipeg Folk Festival founder Mitch Podolak, and legendary performers like Jackie Washington, Noel Harrison (son of Rex), Pete Seeger, Willie P. Bennett, Steve Goodman, John Allan Cameron, David Essig and Odetta.
There are also the stories of the many road angels the brothers encountered, the fans who took them in, gave them warm beds, hot meals and sometimes a few good gigs.
And the unwavering support of their parents, Valerie and Al Rogers, a hard-working couple who basically invested their savings in their sons’ careers and operated a mail-order business, selling Stan Rogers records from their Binbrook home.
“It was astonishing,” said Garnet in an interview this week. “80,000 LPs went out of that basement between 1977 and 1983. Every single one of them was carried downstairs by my dad and every single one of them was carried upstairs by my dad. And every single one of them went out with a personal note.”
Yet the most remarkable part of the story — Stan’s death — is left unsaid. There’s an epilogue, looking back on the road years later, but, for all intents and purposes, Garnet’s account ends with a gut-wrenching early morning goodbye in a Texas hotel room. “Love you. Be safe.” Fans of Stan know what came next. And Garnet chose to keep the rest to himself — finding out about the horrible tragedy on the news, the agonizing grief and the survivor’s guilt.
“The book was about being on the road and pretty much everything else kind of got shoved aside,” Garnet explains.
“To deal with the shock and the horror and everything else, that’s not the way I wanted to end the book. It would have been a bad way to end what essentially I thought was a funny story.”
The book launch is one of three concerts in Hamilton over the next week celebrating the life and music of Stan Rogers. Two others, jointly promoted by the City of Hamilton and The Spectator, are planned for Monday, Aug. 1, and Tuesday, Aug. 2, in the Spectator Auditorium as part of the city’s long weekend (George Hamilton Day) celebrations.
Each George Hamilton Day (the way Civic Day is celebrated in Hamilton), the city selects someone as “Famous Hamiltonian of the Year.” This year’s choice is Rogers.
The two Spectator shows will feature performances of Stan’s song by his widow Aerial Rogers, his record producer Paul Mills, as well as local singers Paul Langille, Jude Johnson, Mark McNeil and the band Poor Angus.
The Aug. 1 show is sold out, but there are still some tickets available for the Aug. 2 concert.
“The show will be a unique chance to celebrate Hamilton’s greatest songwriter by having people who knew Stan Rogers well perform his songs and reminisce about him,” said McNeil, a Spectator reporter and Hamilton singer-songwriter who will MC and perform. “The evening will feature more than 20 of Rogers’ songs with the incredible band Poor Angus backing up each performer.”
The show will be a unique chance to celebrate Hamilton’s greatest songwriter MARK MCNEIL