DJ ROGERS-IT’S GOOD TO BE ALIVE.
DJ ROGERS-IT’S GOOD TO BE ALIVE.
Over the years I’ve been interested in music, and buying albums, many things have led me to buy an album. It can be obvious things like reading a good review, hearing the album in a friends house or in a record shop. Other times it can be less obvious. Maybe I’ve been crate digging in a record shop and discovered an album in a bargain pile and decided to take a chance on it. Another way I’ve discovered some really good albums over the years, is by seeing an unusual, striking or downright weird album cover. This has led to some really good finds including the album I’m going to write about today, DJ Rogers album It’s Good To Be Alive. On the album cover DJ looking as my friends little boy would say, “a real cool dude,” complete with a cigarette in his mouth. Now I’d bought this album years ago, and really enjoyed it, but since then, hundreds upon hundreds of albums have passed through my hands, and to tell the truth, I’d forgotten about it. That was until I picked up the latest copy of one of the music magazines, and there was a feature about Aloe Blacc, and how DJ Rogers album It’s Good To Be Alive, had changed his life musically. This led me to dig out my trusty copy of the album, and have another listen. I’d almost forgotten how good an album it was, and because of that, decided to write an article on another one of music’s nearly men.
DJ Rogers was born DeWayne Julius Roger Snr in Los Angeles in 1950. He was the son of a minister, and brought up in a heavily religious household. Aged three, he started singing in the church choir, and for the next decade, DJ was heavily involved in gospel music. During school, he studied both voice and music theory, and later became a professional gospel singer. Although still a teenager, he was the conductor and vocalist with Watts Community Choir, and during that period, the choir recorded five albums for the Savoy record label. After that, he embarked on nationwide tours with some of the biggest names in gospel music, including the Rev. James Cleveland.
By the time he was nineteen, DJ had gained a reputation as a talented multi-instrumentalist, and was a highly proficient keyboard player and arranger. This led to him working with various musicians including Billy Preston, Bobby Womack and Leon Russell. Russell was so taken with DJ that he signed him to his Shelter record label. In 1970, DJ released his eponymous album DJ Rogers. Sadly, there were problems regarding the marketing and distribution of the album, and it failed to chart. As well as, continuing to work on honing his talent as a musician and singer, DJ wrote and produced material for Freddie King and Mary McCreary. He also, toured with Leon Russell, and this meant his music and huge talent, were heard by a far wider audience.
After leaving Shelter, he was busy working as a session musician, when he received an offer to sign to CBS Records. For some reason, DJ turned down the offer, and instead, signed to RCA records. While he was with RCA, he released three albums. The first was It’s Good To Be Alive, released in 1975, which reached number thirty-six in the R&B charts. This was followed by On the Road Again, released in 1976, which reached number forty-nine in the R&B charts. His final album for RCA was 1977’s Love, Music and Life, which failed to chart.
After leaving RCA, he signed to Columbia, where he released Love Brought Me Back, in 1978, which reached number fifty-four in the R&B charts. Once again, DJ changed label, signing to ARC Records, releasing one album, Trust Me in 1979. The album failed to chart, and since then, DJ hasn’t released any further albums. This, to me, seems a huge waste of a talent. Like many other artists before him, his music has failed to find a wider audience, and the commercial success it richly deserves. His abundance of talent as a musician and vocalist is apparent on It’s Good To Be Alive, which I’ll now review.
It’s Good To Be Alive opens with Hold On, Be Strong, a track that burst brightly into life with keyboards, horns and rhythm section combining, before DJ sings, accompanied by joyous sounding backing vocalists. DJ’s voice is strong, soulful and equally joyous, as his vocal is drenched by the backing vocalists. Behind him, the arrangement is quick, full and funky. A quick bass line, horn section drums and guitar combining beautifully, to produce an arrangement that’s both soulful and funky. However, it’s DJ and the backing vocalists that steal the show. During the track his vocal is quick, strong, yet really soulful. It’s made all the better by the constant, tight vocal harmonies courtesy of his backing singers. Hold On, Be Strong has everything going for it, a great vocal and equally good arrangement, thanks to some hugely talented musicians.
The title track, It’s Good To Be Alive, is a similar sounding track to the opening one. It has an uptempo, feelgood sound, complete with DJ’s great vocal and an arrangement that mixes, soul, funk and even gospel. Horns, guitar and rhythm section open the track, producing a horn laden funky sound, that reminds me of Shuggie Otis. Here, DJ sounds as if he’s having a ball, as he growls, hollers and whoops his way through the track. Behind him, one of the best arrangement on the album unfolds. What makes it so good, is the combination of wah-wah guitar, organ, rhythm section and horns, which both punctuate and drench the arrangement. Backing vocalists interject, but much less than on the opening track. Overall, it’s four minutes of joyous, feelgood, music, that sounds as if DJ is having a whale of a time as he recorded this track. Quite simply, a stunning track, one of the album’s best tracks.
A piano plays, backing singers unite, singing tight vocal harmonies, before percussion and horns announce the arrival of DJ on Faithful To the End. Here, his vocal is much more gentle, much more thoughtful, all the while accompanied by backing vocalists, on a track that has its roots in gospel music. There is a spiritual feel to the music, that comes from the interaction between DJ and the backing singers. The arrangement is much slower, just piano, horns, guitar and rhythm section. Together with DJ’s gorgeous, gospel tinged and soulful vocal, accompanied by backing singers, this track shows a very different side to DJ, one I’d like to hear much, more of.
Drums play at the start of Love Will See Me Through, before DJ sings, accompanied by keyboards, rhythm section and guitars. Straight away, DJ’s vocal is much quicker, full of passion and charisma, while behind, him his band provide a much faster, fuller backing track. It’s a funk laden arrangement, full of lightning fast, funky, bass, horn section, keyboards, drums and guitar. As usual, this is supplemented by backing vocalists, who joyously back DJ, as he roars and hollers his way through the track. Like It’s Good To Be Alive, it’s uptempo, good-time music, with a feelgood sound, sung and played brilliantly by DJ and his band.
DJ decides to drop the tempo way down low, on Say You Love Me, a lovely, lush, song where he’s accompanied by piano, drums and percussion. This is a song that’s perfectly suited to his voice, and allows the romantic side of DJ to shine through. As the arrangement fills out, DJ’s accompanied by backing vocalists, whose voices sweetly and lushly unite, a lovely contrast to DJ’s much fuller voice. An organ joins the arrangement, adding atmosphere to the arrangement, as DJ lets loose, his voice soaring high, full of power and passion. Again, there’s a spiritual feel to the music, and to some extent, the lyrics. Towards the end, he almost growls, as he sings, demonstrating the versatility of his voice. By the end of the track, I find myself wondering why this album wasn’t a much bigger success. This is yet another, great track on this album, one full of emotion and passion, sung beautifully by DJ Rogers.
Rhythm section, keyboards, guitars and horns combine at the start of (It’s Alright Now) I Think I’ll Make It. Together, they produce a full sounding arrangement, before DJ sings. When he sings, his vocal is strong, full of character and sometimes, drenched by backing vocalists. Here, horns play throughout this much slower track, a funky sounding bass line is a constant, as are drums and keyboards. During the track, DJ is accompanied by his trusty backing vocalists who joyfully unite, as he roars, hollers and snarls his way through the track. Both DJ’s vocal and the arrangement, combine to make this a track that combines funk, soul and even gospel beautifully.
When DJ sings the vocal on If You Didn’t Love Me (Don’t Go Away), the similarity to Shuggie Otis is even more noticeable. I’ve thought this on several occasions, but here both the vocal and arrangement are very similar. So of you like Shuggie, you’ll love DJ. Here, it’s a much slower track, which begins with the rhythm section, guitar and keyboards playing before DJ sings. His vocal is much more restrained, the arrangement subtle, beautifully, repetitive and the lyrics some of the most tender on the album. Much later in the track, backing vocalists join in, some of whom sound like a choir of angels singing. By then, the tempo starts to quicken, and DJ’s voice grows in strength, his voice soars, laden with emotion, while the backing vocalists supplement the sound. It’s an impressive track, one that starts gently, and as the track progresses, DJ’s voice strengthens, and the arrangement grows fuller. Combined with some lovely lyrics, an emotional vocal and good arrangement, it’s a potent combination.
It’s a funky sounding introduction to Living Is All That Matters that greets the listener. This is down to a combination of bass and guitars combining, before DJ sings. When DJ sings, he sings call and response with the backing vocalists. His voice is loud and strong, as he roars the lyrics, while the backing vocalists joyously unite in response. Horns punctuate the track, the bass and guitars are funk personified. Together with DJ and the backing vocalists, the sound is complete, and they combine to produce a track that’s a melting pot where soul, funk and gospel have been mixed together, to produce three minutes of the most joyous music your ears will ever hear.
Backing vocalists combine beautifully with the rhythm section and guitars at the start of Love You Forever. Then, when DJ enters is voice is clear and emotional as he sings the lyrics. Behind him, it’s the rhythm section, guitars and backing vocalists that play the biggest part in the arrangement. Together, the combine to produce a much more subtle arrangement than previous tracks. Without the backing vocalists, the arrangement would be really sparse, and they fill the sound out. DJ meanwhile, is giving an emotional vocal, as if the lyrics are personal, mean something to him. Although the arrangement isn’t as full as previous tracks, it’s just as good, thanks to the efforts of the backing vocalists and DJ’s emotional and heartfelt vocal.
It’s Good To Be Alive closes with Bula Jean where DJ combines the best of soul and gospel, producing his best vocal on the album. Here he testifies, and it’s brilliant. It opens with drums and piano accompanying DJ, whose singing slowly and soulfully, a Hammond organ playing in the background. Here, you can only sit back and admire his vocal, which is punctuated by horns and accompanied by backing vocalists. Later, his voice strengthens, gets louder and is drenched in passion, as he returns to his gospel roots to sing the vocal. His voice soars, power and passion combining, as the arrangement builds, piano and Hammond organ adding atmosphere. The backing vocalists by now, sound like a gospel choir as DJ snarls, growls and roars as he testifies, all whoops and hollers. It seems that DJ kept one of the album’s best tracks until last, he certainly kept his vocal performance until last. Together with an arrangement that’s a fusion of soul and gospel, it’s a brilliant track to end the album.
Since I decided to write this article, I’ve spent some time revisiting DJ Rogers’ music, and during that time, I’ve asked myself the same questions time and time again. Why wasn’t this album a much more successful album, and why wasn’t DJ Rogers a huge star? After all, he has a great voice, is a talented multi-instrumentalist, writes, arranges and produces music. Sadly, he remains one of the nearly men of music. Most people are unaware of his music, and that’s is a shame, as they’re missing out on some brilliant music. It’s Good To Be Alive features ten great songs, which are a mixture of styles and influences. On the album there are slow and fast tracks, and the music fuses soul, funk and gospel brilliantly. On the album, DJ plays five instruments, wrote nine songs and cowrote the other, and produced the album. He truly is a hugely talented man, who should’ve been a much bigger star. If you’ve never heard his music, the three albums he recorded for RCA including It’s Good To Be Alive are available as part of a two disc set on the BMG label. This is a good way to introduce yourself to one of the most talented, yet underrated artists ever. Standout Tracks: Hold On, Be Strong, It’s Good To Be Alive, Living Is All That Matters and Bula Jean.
DJ ROGERS-IT’S GOOD TO BE ALIVE.