"As this album was coming together it became apparent to me that it had a 1970s theme to it... when I learned that Kevin Ayers passed away I got a hold of some of the last words he'd written which were 'you don't shine if you don't burn...' After that, the entire process of making KAYE fell into place. Like a puzzle..."
To coin an angular phrase worthy of the above referenced legend, Edward Rogers is New York City rock 'n' roll's "Ayers apparent."
For many of us, to traverse the streets of New York City in the present tense, especially in singer -- songwriter Edward Rogers' lower Manhattan Astor Place neighborhood, is to dance among the ghosts of artists priced out of the environs, the soulless steel and glass structures wherein romantic tenements rued; the rock clubs, mom and pop establishments and record shops replaced by telecommunications outlets and pricey boutiques. To be a rock 'n' roll practitioner in this strange place is to be an iconoclast and a dreamer -- like Edward Rogers, and his mentor, Kevin Ayers.
For those of you, and there are understandably many, who are unaware of the life and work of Kevin Ayers, he was among the most significant British pop experimental recording artists who emerged from rock's hallowed Canterbury Scene which flourished in the late 1960s-70s. An eccentric, prolific enigma, Mr. Ayers was a founding member of Soft Machine, and collaborator with a who's who list of icons you may have heard of: Brian Eno, John Cale, Phil Manzanera, and Mike Oldfield -- among scores of others whom I'm sure my readers will admonish me for not citing. Ayers' imprint on indie and mainstream rock artists of the past twenty years is indelible -- yet fame was not in the cards for Kevin - not that I think he cared much.
Edward Rogers was born in Birmingham, England. His parents pulled up stakes, and Edward, and migrated to the United States just as the British rock world was undergoing a historic transformation with Jeff Beck, The Who, Cream, PP Arnold, The Nice, Manfred Mann -- all of whom Edward saw on brief summer trips back to his homeland. "It was the worse time ever" recalls Rogers "everything was happening in the UK! And I was in Rhode Island, of all bloody places." However there were perks to being a Brummie in America. "I didn't realize that having slightly longer hair would have such a strong impression -- especially on the ladies! They constantly inquired if I knew John, or George, or Ringo, or Paul. It brought me out of a shell, though the bad news was that I became a threat to the jocks and the straight-laced establishment."
Luckily for Edward his family eventually moved a bit south to New York City at the dawn of the punk revolution. When a rocker approached him and declared "you're going to be a drummer in my band" his life changed. Rogers gladly tossed aside his well-paying law firm job "which financed my velvets and satins, and then some. From then on I copied everything Clem Burke (Blondie) did!" Behind the kit with such bands as the Overnights and Route 66, Edward revels in telling war stories of early, raucous gigs with the Smithereens, beating out the Stray Cats at a Long Island Battle of the Bands contest, and his shock at gazing out into the audience of the legendary Kenny's Castaways on Bleeker Street (which is now a sports bar) one bleary evening only to realize that Mick Jagger and Al Pacino were fixated on him.
Though an accident essentially ended his career as a drummer, Edward was reborn as a singer -- which is his natural habitat -- Rogers belongs under the spotlight, not behind it. As was his fate, Edward met the right people at the right time while he "never worked and studied so hard in my life" to become a vocalist. He served a musical conductor for a bona fide (and thankfully still functioning) New York City rock institution -- The Losers Lounge -- founded by Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs, Kevin Ayers, Ryan Adams, Martha Wainwright, among others) which is a loose assemblage of musicians who tribute iconic artists ranging from Neil Diamond to The Cure. After his bravura performance of The Zombies "I Love You," fellow Lounge performer Pierce Turner hugged him and pronounced "now you are a singer -- now you are one of us!"
Turner's proclamation was seconded when Edward passed an audition before his heroes Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), Clem Burke, and Tony Shanahan (Patti Smith Group), among others for a Marc Bolan and T. Rex tribute. "When Tony looked at me in the eye and said 'you're in mate' I delved deeper into my singing lessons." Edward's progression as songwriter arrived at the chance meeting of George Usher (The Decoys, Beat Rodeo, The Bongos, House of Usher) with whom he still collaborates.
In addition to two highly acclaimed albums as a member of the Bedsit Poets with Amanda Thorpe and Mac Randall (The Summer That Changed, Rendezvous), Rogers' solo cannon is quite impressive. Sunday Fables (2004), You Haven't Been Where I've Been (2008) displayed promise aplenty. Yet Rogers' engaging Sparkle Lane (2010) collection, which drew inspiration from his Birmingham cultural and familial roots and emigration to the USA, and the glam moxie of Porcelain (2011) which was fueled by the artist's love, surrender, and devotion to all things early 1970s Brit rock - is the stuff of observational genius in the tradition of Ray Davies, Ian Hunter, and Colin Blunstone -- the latter two of whom are now Edward's beloved colleagues. "Music has been wonderful to me -- the people who I was fans of are now friends of mine."
To converse with Edward about his new album KAYE is to witness a man on a mission. "I dedicated this album to Kevin Ayers because he is one of those people who have not received his just rewards. Some of it was his own fault," Edward continues, "he certainly had a self-destructive aspect to his personality and life. Still, he was one of the great songwriters of his generation with an amazing body of work -- he deserves to be out there!"
Produced by Don Piper, whom Edward reveals "pointed me in the right direction nine out of ten times," the assemblage of musicians on KAYE created the perfect storm to bring Rogers' vision to fruition. KAYE is a fierce song-cycle with tender moments tempered by sonic outbursts which ebb and flow from track to track. Much praise must be afforded Rogers' cadre of co-players: guitarists Piper, James Mastro (Ian Hunter, Bongos) Pete Kennedy (The Kennedys) Don Fleming (Velvet Monkeys); bassist Sal Maida (Roxy Music); keyboardist Joe McGinty, and cameos by George Olson on trumpet, and legendary downtown fashion denizen backing-vocalists Tish & Snooky, among others.
"Street Fashion" evokes the trashy art-rock stuff of bassist Maida's former ensemble. As is the duty of many an artist, Rogers spits out truth to power in the scathing "What's Happened to the News Today" -- to which Edward lectures to this writer "where do the Kardashians even merit a mention in my life!" Says Edward of the track "My Street" -- "I wanted to write a song like Ray Davies -- I was thinking 'Dead End Street' as I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life on Edgewater Road in Birmingham - many of my friends did." The maddest cut on KAYE stems from a late night jam which was edited from 28:00 to 8:00 entitled "Peter Pan's Dream" wherein McGinty, Mastro, and Maida tear into a bitches brew of angular counter-melodies as Rogers croons melancholy over the mayhem -- "we cut it thinking how would Kevin Ayers would sound if he were alive today."
Edward's rendition of Kevin Ayers' "After the Show" remains faithful to the original -- as it should be -- though Mr. Ayers would have welcomed Tish & Snooky's backing vocal support which quotes the legendary Thunderthighs (Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," Mott the Hoople's "Roll Away the Stone") in spirit and execution. The title track, with its waltz groove, intones Ayers' dying mantra "you don't shine if you don't burn... you don't shine if you don't burn" -- a lesson rock 'n' roll singer Edward Rogers imparts to all of us by way of Kevin Ayers throughout KAYE.
KAYE by Edward Rogers is out now on ZIP Records.