Hamil­ton-born Stan Rogers is re­mem­bered as one of Canada’s best-loved song­writ­ers

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM ROCKINGHAM

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

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