DJ ROGERS-ON THE ROAD AGAIN.

DJ ROGERS-ON THE ROAD AGAIN.

Some time ago, I wrote about DJ Rogers debut album for RCA Records It’s Good To Be Alive, released in 1975, which gave him a hit album, reaching number thirty-six US R&B charts. Sadly, the story of DJ Rogers is one of an artist with a huge amount of talent, whose music sadly, never reached the commercial heights it deserved. During a four year period between 1975 and 1978, DJ released three highly regarded albums for RCA Records, two of which gave him minor chart success. For such a gifted and talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, this was a disappointing result. Like so many other gifted and talented artists, like Bettye Swann, Doris Troy and OV Wright, DJ Rogers joins the list of artists whose talents hugely outweigh their commercial success. 

Since his career started in 1973, DJ has only released six studio albums, the last of these in 1979. From his eponymous debut album released in 1973, entitled DJ Rogers, DJ’s career has been beset by bad luck and unlucky breaks. His debut album DJ Rogers, released on Shelter Records, progress was hampered by distribution and marketing problems, and the album failed to chart. DJ’s big break came when he signed a contract with one of the biggest labels of the time, RCA.

Between 1975 and 1978, three albums were released. It’s Good To Be Alive was the first of this trio, released in 1975, which reached number thirty-six on the US R&B Charts. On the album was a song that for many people, is synonymous with DJ Rogers, Say You Love Me. When it was released as a single, it reached number ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number fifty-one on the US R&B Charts. This gentle and beautiful piano lead ballad gave DJ one of the biggest hits of his career, 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 and was his only single to enter the US Billboard 100. Things improved for DJ with the release of his next album, On the Road Again, which this review is about.

On the Road Again was recorded during 1976, at studios B and C of RCA’s Music Centre of the World Studios. With what was an all-star band accompanying DJ. Ten songs eight of which DJ wrote himself, and two with Lonnie Simmons were recorded, on album that was a combination of soul and funk. Accompanying DJ on the album were drummer Harvey Mason, whose trademark drum sound graced so many albums during the seventies. Also playing drums, was Jeff Porcaro, founder of Toto, and who as a session musician played with artists ranging from Steely Dan  and Pink Floyd to George Benson and Diana Ross. With trombonist George Bohannon, pianist Jerry Peters, organist Michael Wycoff and The Gap Band all contributing to the album, DJ cut the ten tracks which made up On the Road Again. 

When On the Road Again was released later in 1976, it reached number 175 in the US Billboard 200, and was the only one of DJ’s six albums to enter the US Billboard 200. Meanwhile, the album only reached number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts, failing to match the number thirty-six of its predecessor, It’s Good To Be Alive. Only one single was released from the album. This was Let My Life Shine which reached number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts. Having had an album that entered the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts, a minor hit single, DJ must have thought that his career was on the up, when he contemplated recording his third album for RCA. However, that wasn’t to be the case.

Love, Music and Life was recorded and released in 1977, and again saw DJ work with some hugely talented musicians on the album. Musicians Kenni Burke, Wah Wah Watson and Jeff Porcaro all played on the album, while Cheryl Lynn and Deniece Williams were just two of the backing vocalists on the album. However, when Love, Music and Life was released in 1977, it failed to chart. This was hugely disappointing for DJ, given the quality of music on the album. Sadly, this was the last album DJ recorded for RCA. After this, DJ would release just two further albums.

Having left RCA, DJ signed to Columbia Records, where he released Love Brought Me Back, which reached number fifty-four in the R&B charts. Two singles were released from the album All My Love, which reached number eighty-seven in the US R&B Charts. The second single released from the album was Love Brought Me Back, the title track. This gave DJ the biggest hit single of his career, reaching number forty in the the US R&B Charts. Even after a relatively successful album and two singles, DJ left Columbia, signing for Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire ARC Records label, for whom he released just one album Trust Me, in 1979. Sadly, this proved to be the last album DJ Rogers released, during his career. He’d later collaborate with a number of artists, including Patrice Rushden an R&B singer and keyboard player, in 1980. Towards the mid to late eighties, DJ worked with a number of gospel singers, including Keith Pringle. However, DJ Rogers never returned to secular music, and the three albums he recorded for RCA, are considered to be the best work of his short career. One of these albums was On the Road Again, which I’ll now tell you about.

On the Road Again opens with the title track, On the Road Again, one of eight tracks DJ wrote himself. It’s a track with an unusual opening with a spoken word sample giving way to beautiful combination of the lushest of strings and a choir of soulful backing vocalists. They’re followed by DJ’s vocal which is full emotion and frustration as he sings about life on the road as a singer and musician. If this song is autobiographical then the life of a singer and musician is neither glamorous, nor well paid . Against a slow and beautiful backdrop of rhythm section, guitars, slow strings and the backing vocalists, DJ gives a heartfelt delivery of the lyrics, displaying a voice that’s one part raw emotion to part frustration.

One More Day has similarities to the opening track, with a guitar, funky bass and Harvey Mason’s drums combining, before strings and backing vocalists enter. DJ’s vocal is strong, yet soulful, and the backing vocalists provide a contrast to his vocal, amidst the blazing horns and funk drenched rhythm section. Later DJ adds a wailing Hammond organ to the arrangement, which by now is combining elements of funk and soul with the gospel influenced backing vocalists. The result is an excellent song that swings along.

The tempo drops on Love Can Be Found, a slow and sad sounding track, that features backing vocalists sweeping in tenderly. With a combination of rhythm section, chiming guitars and keyboards accompanying him, a optimistic DJ believes that somewhere love can be found. As the song progresses, the hope and passion in voice grows, as he almost growls the lyrics, against a much more understated arrangement. This is perfect for the song, allowing one of the most powerful and passionate vocals from DJ on the album to shine and take centre-stage.

Let My Life Shine Part 1 opens with tinkling keyboards giving way to a backing vocalist singing the refrain from the opening track, On The Road Again. After this a moody and dramatic combination of flourishes of piano and keyboards combine. the drama builds and builds, as strings sweep in, with the track having a cinematic quality, that would work well at the dramatic climax of a film. However, regardless of how good this sounds, it seems out of place here, and doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album.

Logically after Let My Life Shine Part 1, comes Let My Life Shine Part 2. This is a very different and much better track. Swirling strings, a funk drenched rhythm section and guitars accompany gospel tinged backing vocalists, before DJ’s impassioned and sad vocal enters. As the track flows along, a series of funky breakdowns occur, before the backing vocals and then DJ’s vocal enters. Each vie for centre-stage, the other taking turns at outdoing the other on what’s a quite brilliant and hugely moving, especially DJ’s vocal which is laden with emotion and totally heartfelt.

Secret Lady is one of these what if songs, about a lady who could’ve been someone, achieved things and gone on to greatness. With a lovely slow and melodic arrangement where the rhythm section, chiming, shimmering guitars and keyboards accompany DJ’s vocal, the song gradually unfolds, revealing its beauty. Later blazing horns enter, then soulful backing vocalists unite, adding to this smooth, gently funky track. Meanwhile, DJ’s vocal grows in passion and emotion, venting his frustration at the what might have been queen he’s singing about, during this lovely track.

A philosophical DJ greets the listener on Holding On To Love, as DJ ponders the material things he’s owned and enjoyed, clothes, houses and jewellery but remembers the one constant in his life, love. During another slow track, where guitars, rhythm section and keyboards provide a meandering and thoughtful backdrop for DJ’s vocal, an almost lovestruck DJ sings how he’s a slave to his partner’s love, and never sees himself free. The arrangement has a subtle, understated sound, guitars shimmering and quivering, while DJ half-speaks the lyrics. This is effective, and later, and when his voice soars powerfully, he’s joined by backing vocalists, who together with guitars and the rhythm section accompany him to the songs emotive and dramatic crescendo.

After the philosophical Holding On To Love, DJ decides it’s time for a love song, Girl, I Love You. With a gently funky combination of chiming guitars, funky rhythm section and keyboards DJ tenderly sings about how despite his faults, he loves and needs his partner. As the song meanders beautifully along, the track is catchy and has a really smooth sound. Later, DJ and his band decide the time is right for a short funk masterclass, with DJ and a talented band briefly displaying their considerable talents. Blazing horns join the track, as the guitars and rhythm section strut their stuff. This is an impressive display and like the rest of the track sounds fantastic, so much so, it’s one of the album’s highlights.

Only While It Lasts sees a a pessimistic and sad DJ, sing about how nothing lasts, and everything is temporary. With just a combination of piano and guitar accompanying DJ the song has a sad and pensive sound, but the lyrics ring true, and many people will be able to relate to them. Although the arrangement is particularly spartan, it’s perfect for the lyrics. So is DJ’s thoughtful and pensive delivery of them, and the result is a track that can’t fail to make you think.

On the Road Again closes with a short track Say You Love Me One More Time. After announcing that time’s running short, DJ the delivers a short and hugely catchy, swinging track. With joyous sounding, gospel tinged backing vocalists accompanying him, DJ then throws a curve ball, with everything then changing. What follows is the track starts to swing along, with a funk drenched rhythm section and guitars, accompany a testifying DJ, with the backing vocalists accompanying him. With horns braying and blazing, the track swings along, with the pity being that the track lasts only two and a half fantastic minutes. As the track ends, you find yourself thinking what a way to end the album.

The story of DJ Rogers career is one of unfulfilled potential, and of an artist who through no fault of his own, had a few bad breaks along the way. After the lack of success of the single Say You Love Me on RCA Records, DJ issued one of several angry responses to his label’s treatment of his music. These featured in the pages of Soul Magazine, and were the result of what DJ saw as a lack or promotion of his music. One wonders whether if he’d been with a label that had done more to promote his music whether he’d have been a much bigger success. Certainly DJ Rogers was a hugely successful singer, songwriter and musician, who was able to arrange and produce his own music. How many other artists were as talented as this? The three albums he recorded for RCA featured the best music of his sadly, short career. Of these albums On the Road Again is my favorite album of the three. On the album, DJ masterfully fuses soul, funk and even elements of gospel brilliantly. With a talented band and what sounds like a choir of backing vocalists backing him, ten great songs were recorded for On the Road Again, a hugely underrated album. Thankfully, you can now hear On the Road Again, along with DJ Rogers two other RCA albums, It’s Good To Be Alive and Love, Life and Music. These three albums are available as part of a two disc set on the BMG label. This is the perfect introduction to the music of a hugely talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist DJ Rogers, a man who deserved to be a huge star. Standout Tracks: One More Day, Love Can Be Found, Girl, I Love You and Only While It Lasts.

DJ ROGERS-ON THE ROAD AGAIN.

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    1. D.J. Rogers : On The Road Again (1976) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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