RBC Ottawa Bluesfest: Trio, duo, solo — Ottawa’s Jeff Rogers makes the music work for him

HOROJO trio is Jamie Holmes, Jeff Rogers and JW Jones.

Here’s how you build a band in Ottawa.

Last year, JW Jones was performing at the annual the Ottawa Boys and Girls club fundraising event called Ringside for Youth. So were Jeff Rogers and Jamie Holmes in their regular duo Beats and Keys.

As Rogers tells it, he has been “lucky enough to perform at the fundraiser” for several years.

“Jamie and I have been playing together for a few years. We had the after party gig after the event and JW had the cocktail hour gig before everyone sat down for dinner.

“Our mutual friends, Jeff O’Reilly and Dick Cooper were telling JW to come to the after party at Darcy McGee’s and jam.”

So JW did. “He just jumped on stage with us and we played the blues for the rest of the night.

“It just clicked. We were a really good blend, the three of us.”

The jam went well and the three realized they had something.

“We met up a month or so later, went over some tunes, picked a song list and started getting gigs” around the region — places like The British Hotel in Aylmer, Darcy McGee’s and in Manotick. They tried out for the local Road to Memphis competition and won a trip south in January.

Now they are discussing strategies for making an album, Roger said. “We have four or five tunes that we think are strong enough to record.”

But before all that the HOROJO Trio (the name comes from the first two letters in each last name) will play at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on July 14.

“Basically it formed out of JW inviting himself on stage,” Rogers said. Normally I don’t say yes to people who insert themselves on stage unless I’m sure how good they are.” But he had no doubts about JW Jones, one of the best blues guitarists in the city.

Rogers knows how to make it work. He’s one of the busiest musicians in town. He’s in The Commotions, The Cooper Brothers, Sly High (a Sly and the Family Stone tribute band, which will play the Bluesfest Bluesville Stage on July 13), Beats and Keys with Jamie Holmes, a variation called Sugar Beats ‘N Keys with Rebecca Noelle and Anders Drerup, and a corporate and wedding band called The Rock Steadies with Ed Lister. He used to also be in the band Silver Creek but he left that a few years ago. And then there is also his very active solo career.

Variety is the spice of Rogers’ life.

“It certainly helps keep me sane,” he said in an interview with ARTSFILE. “It’s easy to get kind of bored. You can’t get bored playing festivals and theatres, of course, but for the amount of solo and duo gigs I have, if it was just the same band playing the same songs, two or three shows a week I would go flipping nuts.

“The benefits of variety are endless. It keeps my teeth sharp, singing different songs.”

There are occasional issues with lyrics when you have dozens of tunes in your head, but playing “different styles and playing with different people helps you grow. Everybody I play with I can take something from. You learn and improve.”

Rogers was certain even as a little kid that he was going to be a musician.

“It was never to be a pop star or someone famous. It wasn’t for glory. It was partly for money certainly. You have to hustle if you don’t want to have a day job. But there was never an instance in my life when being a musician wasn’t my goal.”

As popular as he is, Rogers has never really left the city to pursue his craft. He has toured a few times, especially with Silver Creek, but home cooking works for him.

“I have got a solid foundation. There have been times when I have debated leaving, certainly and I would still like to go on the road more, but the stars haven’t aligned to make that feasible.

“It would mean taking three months off regular work in Ottawa. I could go out and lose money that’s easy to do, but the business degree in me won’t let me take that much of a loss. (He got that commerce degree from Carleton University.)

“On one hand, I might regret (not touring), but I’m well on my way to fully owning my house.”

In fact perhaps HOROJO Trio will do some touring. The three are talking about it, but each of the players has a separate career to think about.

Rogers has been building his career since about 1998. He started as a sax player.

In 1998 there was still smoking in bars.

“I was in big bands, salsa bands, funk bands.” He was a member of the Brian Downey Big Band, playing every Tuesday at Babylon in the tail end of the swing craze in the late ’90s. He had two tuxedos. He needed to get them cleaned regularly because they would smell like an ashtray.

He always knew he could sing. In elementary school he joined a choir.

“My first singing gig was at 16 with Brian and Jeff Asselin at a Canada Day performance in Barrhaven in front of 5,000 people.” He has been playing in bands with the Asselins since I was 10.

“In the family car as kid, my parents had mix-tapes of Motown tunes along with some soul and blues. Mom and I would pick harmonies and sing. I knew had an ear for music.”

He finally started singing for real in the early ’90s at Fat Tuesdays. He had that Friday night gig until about 2010 because of the demands from Silver Creek which was getting more and more successful.

Rogers has always had growly tone in his singing voice. That puts strain on the vocal chords but after some lessons from a vocal coach named Kim Kaskiw, he’s learned how to manage and protect his mealticket. He can even do 14 shows in nine days, as he did recently.

In the Bluesfest gig, in the Barney Danson Theatre, HOROJO will be playing original tunes and some versions of older songs by Jeff and by JW.

Then after that, who knows. The road still beckons.

Sly High
Where: RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Bluesville Stage
When: July 13 at 4:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca

Where: RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Barney Danson Theatre
When: July 14 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.