Concerts

After Over 20 Years, Randy Rogers Wants To Make Things Like They Used To Be

The Randy Rogers Band is still killing it 20 years in. See for yourself on Feb. 12.
The Randy Rogers Band is still killing it 20 years in. See for yourself on Feb. 12. Allen West
Things are different for Randy Rogers these days. It’s a Monday morning when we speak, and the popular country bandleader is still feeling the effects of arriving at his Hill Country home late the night before. He spent a week in Key West where he and his eponymous band performed during the annual Mile 0 Fest. Not too long before that, they'd played some headlining shows in Colorado during MusicFest, yet another annual shindig.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, the Randy Rogers Band will be performing at Billy Bob’s Texas.

So far, 2022 has been a busy year for Rogers, but his work is only beginning on this day. His voice is still a tad groggy. At 10 a.m. he’s not only not just waking up, but he’s been juggling tasks he wouldn't have thought much about when he and his band first began in 2000.

“I hit reality this morning at 6 o’clock,” he says. “My little girls woke up, wanted breakfast, and then we got them dressed, got their hair done and got them to school.”

They say there’s no rest for the weary, and that certainly goes for a touring musician. But after all these years, Rogers isn’t looking for any respite from the active life he’s built for himself. With the essential help of his bandmates Brady Black (fiddle), Johnny “Chops” Richardson (bass), Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Les Lawless (drums) and Todd Stewart (keyboards), the Randy Rogers Band has been one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful of all acts to ever spring out of the Texas country scene.

Word of Tom Brady’s impending retirement was dominating the news cycle on the morning we spoke. Rogers carefully, pointedly avoided comparing himself to the seven-time Super Bowl champ, but Brady’s longevity is something Rogers thinks about more these days. Brady was drafted into the NFL in 2000, the same year Rogers formed his band in San Marcos, where he studied public relations at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). It’s understandable, if not unavoidable, for Rogers to draw at least a loose parallel. Besides, there are more than a few country music fans that will probably tell you that Rogers is their musical Tom Brady.

“If you watch football, you know that 22 years is a long time and it has definitely taken a toll on his body, mind and family,” Rogers says of Brady. “For me, I start thinking about that amount of time of life on the road, doing what you love to do. I made that choice a long time ago, and it has definitely defined my life, and I don’t really know how to do anything else, you know?”

The Way It Used to Be
The band released its first record, Live at Cheatham Street Warehouse, in 2000, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Randy Rogers Band’s first proper studio LP, Like It Used to Be. A couple of tunes from that initial studio effort including “Lost and Found” and the title track have endured as fan favorites and as songs that Rogers still holds dear. He may not remember everything from his recording career’s infancy, but Rogers recalls many of the pivotal moments and the intense feelings from the early days.

“I remember writing songs on napkins, writing songs on register tape from my job at the Eddie Bauer outlet store in San Marcos,” he says. “I remember the fire that was burning inside of me to have songs that I wrote get recorded. And I remember hearing them for the first time sonically, through speakers in a studio and the joy that brought.”

Looking to capture the joy from the first few years of his band’s existence is a part of the reason Rogers has been again working with the revered singer, songwriter and producer Radney Foster. Foster produced the band’s 2004 breakthrough effort Rollercoaster — widely considered to be one of the best, if not the very best, record of the aughts from the Texas country scene — as well as 2006’s major-label debut Just a Matter of Time and the group’s self-titled record in 2008.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that trio of albums stands as arguably the band’s most beloved by its legion of fans. Although there isn’t a clunker to be found in the Randy Rogers Band catalog, there’s little denying that the time between 2004 and 2008 is where the group discovered its fastball and became a creative and commercial force. Rogers isn’t shy about hoping there’s some gold from that era left to be mined.

“We have something that other people don't, and that's not an arrogant thing for me to say, I'm being truthful,” he says. “We have some sort of magic and we're just trying to cultivate that again, to make something that people fall in love with and make a part of their life like they did, especially with Rollercoaster.”

Even though Rogers has recorded albums with some of the biggest producers in country music, such as Dave Cobb and Jay Joyce, reuniting with Foster, a man he calls a “hero,” felt like the right move. Some songs for the band’s next record, the follow-up to 2019’s excellent Hellbent, have already been recorded in the same Dockside, Louisiana, studio used for the self-titled LP, while the rest of the new collection will be laid down in March at Cedar Creek in Austin, where the band put Rollercoaster together.

“We did decide that we wanted to sort of return to our roots and record with Radney,” Rogers says. “In those days we weren't doing it for the fame or the glory, we were doing it because we all were in love with music and we were in love with the idea of getting to play music for a living.”

A Musical Brotherhood

It’s one thing to be in a band for over 20 years, yet it’s another thing entirely to be in that band without any departures for as long. Remarkably, the only recent personnel change for the Randy Rogers Band was the addition of multi-instrumentalist Stewart a few years ago. With thousands of concert dates and countless miles of travel amassed together over the decades, there must be an unknown trick to how the band has stayed together and the answer isn’t all that complex.

“We roll with life’s punches together,” Rogers says. “Those guys have helped me through some of the darkest shit in my life and have listened to me cry every night on the bus. They’ve picked me up when I've fallen down many times. It's a brotherhood and it's a lot more than what you see under the lights and on that stage.”

Rogers has continued his popular duo, Hold My Beer and Watch This, a project with close pal Wade Bowen, while Richardson has recorded albums and played shows with his own band, Johnny Chops and the Razors. Even Hill has his own solo project with which to keep busy when the time calls for it. For his part, Rogers sees the side projects have not only helped the band stay alive but have given the group yet another chance to appreciate one another.

“We’ve always believed in each other and have had the sense that we’re stronger as a unit than we are individually,” Rogers says. “In Key West last week, Geoff and Johnny had their own shows, and I had a Hold My Beer show with Wade [Bowen]. I went to watch Johnny’s show and I looked around and saw our entire freakin’ band and crew there watching him play. Families aren’t perfect, but we are a family.”

Richardson, perhaps better known as “Chops” to fans, appreciates the support and honest feedback he gets from the guys at his full-time gig. With a pair of killer blues and rock-influenced albums spread out over the last decade, the bass player-turned frontman enjoys getting to spread his own wings a bit. It’s an avenue that’s certainly aided in the band’s longevity.

“I wouldn’t even know how to run my own project without watching Randy run ours for so many years,” Richardson says. “But I’m also my own person with my own experiences and ideas and dreams. My other project allows me to express and realize those ideas. It also makes me appreciate the amount of work that goes into fronting your own project as opposed to being a support player.”

Life’s Rollercoaster

When Brady formally announced his retirement last week, there were plenty of sports reporters and fans proclaiming that he’s going out on top as not only the oldest player in the NFL but as the best player in the league even at age 44. Unlike Brady, Rogers isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He’s a music lifer. As new generations of Texas country artists continue to emerge, one might think the older fellas would begin to feel as though they’re aging out of the scene, but one would be wrong, at least in Rogers’ case.

“We may not live and work in the same way we did in our 20s,” Rogers says. “But I was thinking about this at Steamboat [MusicFest] and this past week at Miles 0 Fest, that we are some of the elderly statesmen on these bills, but it doesn't feel that way. I don't feel like we’re the old guys yet, and it's because we're not. I mean, we're still in our early 40s. We've been in the game since we were 20, and we’re going to keep playing.”

It’s good that Rogers is still full of energy. Before he concerns himself with writing another song or heading out on another tour, there are more important things to handle.

“I’m about to go to the grocery store,” he says. “So, I can stock up and be ready for when the girls get home from school.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kelly Dearmore