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Mike Roe Speaks!
Tuesday, March 27, 2001
By Linda LaFianza
Research and technical assistance by Tony LaFianza
ďThis the offices of Dr. Love. If you need to reach ďDoctor,Ē dial Ö.. and ďDoctorĒ may pick up the phone. Have a good day.Ē
ďYou have reached the Sprint PCS voice mail box of --ĎDoctor Loveí . . .
Doctor Love, indeed. Mike Roe, a revered founder of the 77s, one time label mates of U2, has a sense of humor as dry as they come. Five years ago, The Phantom Tollboothís debut issue carried a lengthy Mike Roe interview. Weíve all traveled pretty far since then, especially this past year. Picking up the endless conversation, the topics we covered include:
I never did find out what Roe was grinding for tomorrow's breakfast while we chatted on the phone, but intermittent pulses punctuated the first part of our conversation. The pressure of quality time obligations kept us on task, once we determined a course of action:
Tollbooth: You said you would be back in your home town today.
Roe: Oh, thatís right. Well, I guess thatís as good a reason to call as any.
Tollbooth: Or is there a better day?
Roe: No. Iím fine. I have to do it in the next hour because then Iím picking up my daughter from school.
Tollbooth: Thatís all we need. I want too catch up on what youíve been doing in the last year.
Roe: Is this a major interview, or is this just like a blurb?
Tollbooth: No, this is big.
Roe: Oh, its big. Well, letís see how far we get. If I spin out on you, weíll continue it the next day. That might be a good way to go because this is a day of--Iíve been gone for ten days, so Iím like just running around like a chicken. ďSo my head is full of ideas that are driving me insane,Ē as Bob Dylan once said, so thatís copy for you. You can quote me. Iíve got a head full of ideas driving me insane, but theyíre not the ones Bob Dylan hand. If they were those kind of ideas, Iíd have a million dollars.
Tollbooth: Youíd be Bob Dylan.
Tollbooth: Or we could do it in the morning. Whateverís better for you.
Roe: Well, Iím not very bright in the morning. This is probably a good time. Just get me. Get as much as you can and then, you know, if I get busy, Iíll let you know, and we can just do it some more tomorrow.
Tollbooth: Fine. I caught one of your solo shows March 23rd, in Aurora, Illinois, and while watching you it occurred to me you have had quite a year, and I think the fruit of it is starting to come out.
Roe: A banner year! I was a little bit nervous there for a while there. I hadnít played for several months so the first-I was kind of awkward and bumbling, I didnít quite know what to do with myself, and I had friends there that wanted to play, so I was a little distracted.
Tollbooth: I knew youíd hit your stride when you stopped asking for requests.
Roe: Yeah thatís generally when you know Iím inside of it. Yeah, we went on a few acid trips for sure. No question that there were moments of transcendence and other moments of buffoonery and thatís certainly what Iím all about.
Tollbooth: It really was a great time for you. Well, a year ago, Gene Eugene died, and you wrote a piece you posted on the Internet.
Roe: I remember writing that.
Tollbooth: I really wanted to start with that, because Iím wondering, looking back on that, of course, a death like that is huge, but do you think you handled it the right way, being so open? Were there any repercussions from that?
Roe: Iím not sure I know what you mean.
Tollbooth: It seemed to be a very open and frank confession, that his death was a real turning point in the road for you, that you were reassessing things.
Roe: It kind of signaled that Iíd--it meant me taking my life more seriously, I guess. No, I actually never gave that any thought. As a matter of fact, you say were there any repercussions from it at the time, as far as other people reading it? The repercussions were nothing but positive. I got such a response from that. Gosh. The outpouring I got from people, just being able to share my pain that way was really positive. No, no one was calling me up and saying, what do you mean Mike, are you backslidden? No.
People donít do that to me, generally, unless they know me really well. I have people in my life that Iím accountable to that will call me on things, but the general public is very forgiving. They tend to like it when youíre not all together, because theyíre not, and it makes them feel a little bit less rotten about themselves when they realize that people they admire also have problems and weaknesses. I dare say we trade on that assumption every day. If we have anything to say in the gospel market thatís unique, itís that weíre not hiding the fact that weíre weak and fallen and have all kinds of problems just like they do rather than holding some kind of pedestal up and saying, "Well, weíre just glorifying Jesus and everythingís okay."
Tollbooth: What are your thoughts on that loss now, a year later?
Roe: On Gene? Well, I miss him a lot. I especially missed him when we went back to try to record a Lost Dogs record without him, in his studio. It was rough. Itís just twenty-five percent less fun, twenty-five percent less--itís kind of like that prophesy in the end times when a third of the sun goes dark. Thatís how it felt. Yeah, thereís still light, but it's not as bright. It wasnít depressing and morose, it was sobering. Itís more the realization that this is the way itís going to be from now on. Itíll never be what it was, itíll always be this now. Itíll always be remembering. We had great times, and lots of laughs and all that, but recording with Gene was where Gene really shined. Thatís when he was at his best as a person and in every possible way.
Someone slipped me a video tape that had been taken during the Gift Horse sessions that I hadnít seen. I was getting along fine without Gene until I saw that tape, and that just devastated me. Because I realized what I was missing. Out of sight, out of mind, and when I saw him there, there we worked, the way we always were, and that was devastating. Then someone found a tape of some unreleased tunes that heíd been doing, some stuff by Leonard Cohen and other things that heíd gone to quite lengths to produce for himself and singing these haunting vocals like only Gene can, and that really brought us down. I watched Terry [Scott Taylor] and Derri [Daughtery] and they were just stricken and left the room, kind of not saying anything. Itís when you realize who he was and what you are missing is when it really hurts, but on a day to day basis, I donít walk around moping about Gene because I never saw Gene that often. It was once in a while. Itís in the moments when you realize how profound the loss was that it really hurts. Like losing any friend or relative that youíre close to like that.
Iíd particularly gotten very close to Gene in the last eighteen months before his death so this was a particularly difficult loss for me because Iíd gone from just kind of having him as a band buddy over ten years to really sharing in his life. He and I confided in each other and he and I had a lot of things in common. When you lose a friend like that--thereís that funny feeling you get when someone dies, that sort of te-hee, glad it isnít me thing. But in this case, I felt that that could have been me as easily as Gene. Why did God spare me and take him? Well, God only knows. ďGod makes his plans, the information is unavailable to the mortal man,Ē Paul Simon. Boy, Iím in a lyric-quotiní mood!
It was very sobering. Iíd already lost another friend or two right before that.
Tollbooth: You had a student die.
Roe: That was a couple of years ago, but that was really devastating because I was doing music with him and he was one of my best friends. And then another young lady that Iíd known twenty years ago who had just recently moved up here. These are people that are part of your life, and they start dropping like flies, it changes your mind about some things.
It definitely lowers the complaint level. You start to realize where your wealth really lies. Those words that Jesus said about a manís wealth doesnítí abide in the things he possesses, and that isnít just material stuff. I think of my position, I think of the privileges I have, and the privileges I donít have and itís like none of that matters at all. Itís important to me now, on terra firma but itís important the way how much money you have when youíre on vacation is important; that you donít spend it all, but you know that when vacation is over, none of that matters. Itís made me very grateful for what I have, and very grateful for what I donít have. I think it effected everyone in a different way.
Tollbooth: The Lost Dogs have been back together and recording recently?
Roe: Yes that was three weeks ago.
Tollbooth: Will you have an album this summer?
Roe: Hopefully. Weíre still trying to raise the rest of the money to finish it.
Tollbooth: Have you laid out enough tracks for a record?
Roe: The basic tracks are done and weíve got some of the vocals done. Iíd say weíre about halfway done with it, maybe more. Iím not exactly sure. We usually do it in such a blaze that it's very hard to know where you are at until the thing is finished.
Tollbooth: Who did the writing on this one?
Roe: Well, we were all supposed to. . . [laughs]
Tollbooth: Right . . .
Roe: But Derri and I were a little bit tardier than we should have been. I actually laid down a basic track, and I think Derri might have, I canít remember, but Terry, of course, comes walking in, armed and loaded. Heís just a very disciplined--he made the joke I used to make, ďYou just crank them out like sausage.Ē And theyíre all good! So I admire his-prolificity-thatís the word I was using. I didnít know-I tried to get the audience to confirm whether that was a word, and no really had the nerve to confirm or deny it.
Roe: Yeah, Iíd say the general tenor was that that was a Mike Roe word.
Tollbooth: Okay. Then itíll soon be in general usage.
Roe: ďProlificĒ just sounded kind of clunky to me, but prolificity, now that has something.
Tollbooth: Who stepped into the producing role for the Dogs?
Roe: That didnít change. Weíve all produced ourselves for the entire thing. Youíve got four producers, okay? No way the thingís not going to get done. That job just sort of takes care of itself by virtue of who we are.
Tollbooth: Your talents and skills?
Roe: Yeah, and our egos. And desires to make great records. Weíre all producing all the time, every day of our lives, mostly, so to walk in and work on a Lost Dogs record--generally, the guy, though, that wrote the song more or less will drive the car. So Terry does a fair amount of it, but we produce ourselves. We all get involved in it. It isnít quite the same way as it is when you are working with an outside producer on a project, or you are producing a project. This is more of a collective. Because thereís so much skill and talent on the premises you donít have to worry too much. Youíve always got someone who has got your back. If I am preoccupied, or not paying attention, or not really into it, Iíve got three other guys who are just totally into it, so we kind of cover for each other in that way, and it works out pretty well.
Tollbooth: And you are doing other things, on another label.
Tollbooth: Tell me about the label Galaxy 21.
Roe: Uh, not the Lost Dogs. Weíre still under contract to BEC.
Tollbooth: But the 77s are on this new label out of Nashville, Galaxy 21?
Roe: They are distributing our product. We made the album, and weíre sort of in business with them to get this record out, one way or another.
Tollbooth: You seem to have a lot of associates on that label. Did you have anything to do with its formation, or did Dan Michaels come to you?
Roe: Thatís a good question, only I should be asking it. [laughs] I donít really know. I think that came through Dan Michaelsí relationship with our manager, Jonathan Feavel. Jonathan was sort of sharing with him how we were recording another record and Dan wanted to hear it and liked what he heard so he made an offer to distribute which we took him up on. Its kind of a casual thing. After all these years, weíre all sort of in the same business at different angles and itís a matter of if one guy falls in the ditch, the other guy pulls him up, depending upon whatís available in the industry at the time. When the market is soft, you just kind of find your own investors and do your own thing. You just do what you can to keep music out, whether it's just selling it on the Internet or signing with a big label or something in between. In this case, it was probably something in between. For this project, we decided to do this. For the next project, weíll do whatís appropriate.
Tollbooth: These arenít lifelong decisions that youíre making.
Roe: No. We try to steer away from lifelong decisions.
Tollbooth: Since they donít exist in the record business?
Roe: No, plus---weíre men.
Tollbooth: Oh the commitment problem. But you are all (The Choir, Daniel Amos, Terry Scott Taylor, Phil Maderia, the Lost Dogs, Riki Michele) going to be at GMA, sharing the same stage.
Roe: Iím looking forward to that. It should be fun.
Tollbooth: Talk to me about the 77ís project, A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows.
Roe: What a cumbersome title! I suppose I should explain.
Roe: Back in 1978, a good friend of mine, Steve Scott, whom you might know about, was recording an album for Larry Norman called, Moving Pictures. And there was a song he was recording for that album, heretofore still unreleased, called, ďA Different Kind of Light,Ē our first single. The first song anyone ever heard us do, if they were privy to those demo tapes that we used to--that Rez band used to steal. They were working with John Linn, the late John Linn, he was playing guitar for the session, and Steve was trying to get a very brash, dark, full sound. A big, open chord that was very dark, and very burning and very intense. Something like the sound you get when youíre messing around with your dadís old short wave radio and you hear things being jammed, just that constant sort of [demonstrates a sound much like grinding juice on a long distance call], sounds like a loud generator of some kind. He wanted the guitar to do this, and, you know, they were working on it, and it was getting frustrating. Steve in his inimitable way, began using word pictures to describe to John what it was he wanted. After much strain mentally, he came up with, ďMake it sound like a golden field of radioactive crows.Ē Well, what they did was, they played this very loud, distorted chord and then had the engineer speed the tape recorder up so when you played it back at normal speed, it just went--this intense wall of burning guitar distortion. I think they got what they were looking for because I was privy to rough mixes that had that part featured. Boy, doggoned if that doesnít sound exactly like what it was you [Steve Scott] were trying to depict in your colorful way.
You know how certain lines in stories stick with you all your life? That one always stuck with me. Man, thatís a great title, Iíve got to use that. When it came time to record this album, we had a bunch of stupid titles, like usual, and I brought this up, just out of the blue, and for some reason, it was the one that none of us really hated. And it stuck. Which is miraculous to me, because it was a cumbersome title. I think the main concern was the word crows was commonly used in pop music with Counting Crows and Sheryl Crowe, lots of crows hanging around. I said yes, but this isnít an ordinary crow like that. This is a very special crow. Visually, we could do a lot with the image. So everyone settled on that, and for better or worse, thatís what it is.
Iím not certain, though, that there are any sounds on our album that sound like that. Steve was working with a lot of not quite subliminal, but buried sounds in the tracks to get the effect he wanted, and there is a fair amount of that going in this record. There are a lot of guitars being layered you donít hear, but you feel. If you take them out, you definitely notice that that color is missing. Iím very fond of that way of working.
Tollbooth: I think itís got a pretty good loud sort of energy to it.
Roe: For all of that, itís a pop record. It is summertime driving in a convertible--thatís the kind of record we wanted to make.
Tollbooth: The conclusion here is that itís definitely a 77ís record.
Roe: Really? What, on earth does mean? I donít know. I always wait for other people to tell me what that means.
Tollbooth: Well, itís not ďsolo stuff.Ē
Roe: Oh! Guess thatís all that matters, that it's actually the band this time.
Tollbooth: The power trio rocking out.
Roe: Right. It doesnít sound like a power trio to me, it sounds like more of a pop band and in the sense of the Kinks, the Replacements, that kind of stuff.
Tollbooth: Sure, youíre going to go back to it again and again. Itís got some great writing on it, and your inimitable voice.
Roe: Well! Thank you! Iíd call that a compliment.
Tollbooth: That pulls it out of that noisy realm, but youíve got that loud element in there throughout the record. People arenít going to say, well, the first three tracks were okay, then forget it. Itís very comprehensive.
Roe: The Crows thing is done. Now itís just a matter of getting it on the streets and getting us on stage to reproduce it the best way we can. The project for the 77ís for the remainder of the year is playing live and getting out there for the people. Oddly enough, while we were making the Crows record, we were making a parallel album of demos for perhaps our next record which is a lot folkier, a lot more bluegrass influenced, a lighter side of what we do. Weíve been wanting to explore for a long, long time, but because of the pressure of always being known as a rock band, we never really felt like we could step back and do that. It was always something that perhaps I would do. And it may still end up that way, I donít know, but for now, weíre quite interested in expanding our palette.
Tollbooth: And you already have some stuff laid down.
Roe: Yes, lots and lots. And some of it is still coming from the time five years ago when we were in Stockholm, Sweden and wrote rough tunes around a tabletop.
Tollbooth: I remember that from our last interview.
Roe: Those things have been coming through both the new album and the EP. That whole experience has still set sort of a tone of where I think our hearts are really at. We still love to rock out, donít get me wrong. I donít think Iíll ever be able to stand in front of a loud amplifier with an electric guitar and not feel like Iím 16. But I find my heart being drawn more to all the other kinds of music. Whereas my body does rock Ďní roll, my heart is elsewhere.
Tollbooth: Thatís good news for your fans. Iíve been in many an audience with a lot of people really anxious for you to play straight-up 77ís and sometimes theyíve been disappointed.
Roe: I still donít really know what you mean when you say that. Because my idea of straight-up 77ís is a cross between the real obvious sing-a-long like ďDo it for Love,Ē ďTattoo,Ē something like that, or the real bluesy jam things. That to me is what I think 77ís is. And then on record, weíre just this eclectic collection of songs at any given point. Weíre always experimenting in the studio writing songs. Weíre like song writing team. The records usually represent our attempts at bettering our songwriting, whether that takes downs a rock road or a pop road. Thatís why the records are so eclectic. Itís due to our ambition as songwriters. We get bored easily with one kind of music. We like doing all kinds of things. So when I hear you use the phrase, ď77ís,Ē what does it mean to you?
Roe: I know Iím the one being interviewed, but you keep using that phrase.
Tollbooth: Sure, because Iím around these people. Like your Cornerstone set last summer. You did the opening set on Main Stage, and there were a lot of really dissatisfied people who claim you didnít do enough of the old stuff.
Roe: Oh! Well, that is probably due more to our fear of becoming fossilized. The only reason we were very thrilled to play at Main Stage was not for the glory, and not because there were more people, but because there were more young people. When we have that much of an audience of young people, our job is to win them over with new music so that theyíll get hooked on us and follow us for the next twenty years. We go up there with the attitude that weíre an oldies band satisfying this legion of old farts that just want us to play the hits, thatís ourselves included, of course.
Tollbooth: Your peers.
Roe: Then basically all you're doing is recycling an old idea that you had years ago. Even though we stumbled through those new songs, we really wanted to put across the idea that this is fresh and new and its not just doing a nostalgia trip.
Tollbooth: So you are not going to sit still long enough to turn to stone.
Roe: No. The minute we do that, we might as just go to Vegas, or something. Or Iíd rather play in some other band. The minute 77ís doesnít feel contemporary is the minute it ends. We never, ever saw this group as something that amassed a large quantity of material and then rode on the laurels of it. To us it was always a huge experiment about youth and young people and creativity and new ideas and excitement. I donít see anything exciting about having to play old songs simply because thatís what people want. Iím always the guy who is trying to get more of the oldies in the set. The band members are slightly younger than me. Theyíre the ones pulling, ďCome on, man! What do you want to do, turn us into dinosaurs?Ē Between the two, we come up with something that hopefully satisfies everybody. It doesnít always work.
I didnít hear any of that kind of criticism. People kept saying, ďThatís the best Iíve ever heard you guys.Ē I thought the first three songs were great, the encore was great, the middle section with the new songs sucked, but thatís mainly because we hadnít had as much time to rehearse them and we were still in the process of writing and recording them. It was harder to get that thing congealed. I think this year, those songs will have a lot more weight, a lot more authority because weíve formalized them a little bit better and had more time to rehearse.
Tollbooth: I just think that there is a certain element that has a hard time accepting anything too far outside that narrow definition of your band.
Roe: I have a hard time hearing that. Basically, I always thought that the hard core fan of our band was someone who was liking the fact that they never knew what they were going to get. People that were more adventurous in their listening habits. Because every time someone says, ďIs this a classic 77ís record?Ē I go, I wish I could define exactly what that means. Iím just not sure. I know what it means in some ways. Thereís some things we always do. Thereís always a jungle beat on something, thereís always a blues-oriented song, or a rockabilly thing or something like that. Thereís generally a lot of pop vocals, really catchy hooks, and things like that. As the years roll on, the ornamentation of those kinds of ideas changes constantly.
I liken us more to a band like the Rolling Stones. Where you pretty much know what they sound like, and yet, going on forty years now, they never cease to put out a new record that doesnít sound at least half way contemporary with whatís going on. Their sound never becomes completely dated because itís rooted in a real rich tradition that also can be molded according to what the now sound is. Thatís what I would hope people would think of us as.
Just like U2. Theyíve managed to re-invent themselves superficially, and yet underneath whatever gloss they choose to use, whether itís a new sound gimmick or a guitar sound or hip hop beats, you name it, underneath that is always U2. Thereís the passion, the thoughtful lyric, the spiritual lyric, the sort of wide, open-ended harmonic approach that they use. That has been consistent, for the most part, for their entire career. I admire that because that is what gives them the authority to keep going and always reach a new audience and yet sell to the old people.
People get turned off, sure. Iíve been turned off by U2 lots, but when I take the time to listen a little deeper, generally those records win me over in time, even if I initially dislike them. Some of the records that I hated when I first heard end up becoming my favorite because as you peel back the onion and get underneath, you start to see the depths. I know theyíve spent way more time, and way more thought doing what they do than what we do. They re-record. We complain about re-writing a song three or four times, they re-write it fifty to a hundred times, record it that many times, and that would drive me insane. If I had to be in U2, Iíd probably commit suicide. [laughs] Iíd just take all the money and just run to Pago Pago or something.
I just cannot handle endlessly re-hashing an idea. I like to just get in and just nail it, and move on to something else.
Tollbooth: That certainly comes across in your solo sets. Do you think you will keep playing shows by yourself?
Roe: Iíll be doing the solo thing as long as Iím not financially independent. That was born more out of necessity than out of a desire to express myself. But oddly enough, itís become something that I really, really love, and I take just as seriously as the band. Iíve found it an alternative way to express, rather than something that I felt forced to do to make a living.
I think that was definitely Godís hand to help me not fear the audience and not fear the intimacy and openness you have to have as a solo performer. And not fear becoming a showman and learn some new skills as far as entertaining. When you play solo, you literally are a song and dance man. And you are part comedian; you have to relate to the audience. If you just go up there and sit and just play song after song, people really fall asleep and become bored. You have to engage your audience and share yourself with them. I just choose to do it through humor and disorganization.
What I hope for is that miraculously, at some point during the evening of everyone feeling as if Iím about to fall off my chair and everythingís going to come apart, suddenly everything becomes very together. Generally, thatís where I hook my audience, in those moments. [laughs] Because Iím hooked. All of a sudden Iíve found that special place. Solo presentation of material has been a real challenge for me. Iíve used the Grateful Dead and people like that who take their time with their audiences until they find that magical, euphoric sort of chemical experience that everyone seeks, that transcendence. I think that only comes when you are open enough. You are there, and you have your craft, but you have to be open enough and loose enough and slippery enough to allow whatever the whim of the muse is at the time to sort of open up to you. And then if you are ready, then it will spill on you and the audience and everyone collectively has that experience because theyíre sort of hanging for dear life with you. Theyíre hoping you wonít fall off your chair along with you.
Then when suddenly, when you hook on a thread that really makes sense, then that just elevates the room way more than if you came in with this big prepared thing. At least thatís my opinion thatís my desire. Not all artists want that.
Some of them canít do it. My skills and talents have been guided towards that sort of experience for many, many years. Thatís what attracted me. Iíve never felt more excited than when I was at Grateful Dead concerts because no one there knew what was going to happen, but they kind of wished--they were hoping for could happen, but they never knew what was going to. I think thatís the mystery. The element of surprise. The fact that the audience is now a participant in trying to conjure a certain kind of space or experience together. Ultimately, when it's really working, it draws the audience and performer together as one unit because youíve all sort of brought this into being somehow together.
Tollbooth: Perhaps if your more curmudgeon 77ís fans brought that to the concerts, theyíd have better experiences.
Roe: I donít know. Itís a little bit harder for our group to pull that sort of thing off, but people say it happens. I just wish we had a little bit more time with our audiences. Weíd be a little bit more fluid in our presentation. But thatís something I believe that we want to work towards.
Tollbooth: This lineup has been together quite a while now, so thatís a good sign.
Roe: Yes, thatís true.
Tollbooth: Are you all getting along?
Roe: Well, it was very strained during the making of this record because some of the lyrical ideas and some of the ways in which we were putting this material together was very frustrating. They didnít just come automatically. We subjected them to a lot more scrutiny than in the past. Learning how to work together in new ways sometimes can be very stressful. There was a period of time where it got so difficult we just stopped working on it. I became physically ill. I ended up with a very bad virus for weeks and weeks and weeks.
This one really was a challenger. But like any challenge in life, you stand to gain much more or lose much more depending on how you approach it. In this case, we gained much more by not letting the project ďgetĒ us. It got to us, but it didnít ďgetĒ us. [laughs]
Tollbooth: Good. So youíll be able to go out this summer and play together.
Roe: Yes. Absolutely.
Tollbooth: But you are also doing blues this summer at a couple of major festivals.
Roe: You mean myself, with Phil Madiera?
Roe: Well once Phil and I finish the record, then, yes, probably, I would hope. We havenít yet. We have yet to enter the studio together. I know Phil has done some tracks on his own. I have not yet, unfortunately, been able to give any time to that project yet. Thatís an up-and-comer.
Tollbooth: And you work under pressure, real fast, right? So you are going to have this out in time for One Fest and Cornerstone?
Roe: Well, thatís--I donít know. [laughs]
Tollbooth: What is your attraction to blues?
Roe: Iíve loved blues all my life but when I hit high school, I was very challenged by it because there was a whole new wave of blues players, white blues players that were playing it in very challenging ways. Iíd grown up with guys like Jimmy Reed and more of the Delta blues stuff. Then Iím hearing stuff like B. B. King and things that were way more complex. And of course these guys from Englandbetween Clapton and Peter Green and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, any of those people that were really good. Iíd already been playing a number of years, and thought I was pretty good. Iíd learned from the old Carl Perkins/George Harrison/Chuck Barry school of lead. Rock Ďní roll stuff. Now Iím hearing these complex, fluid blues lines that are highly emotive and technically really--a lot of bending, stuff that had a lot of phrasing and vibrato and very human sounds in it. I was thoroughly challenged by this, and felt like giving up. A friend of mine was a drummer who was actually savvy enough to pick up some blues licks from a lot of the guys at our school. He was willing to take me home after school and sit down with me and these records by Eric Clapton and Peter Green and people like that and show me some of the licks. He got me going. I spent a good five years just working my butt off to develop a blues style. In the end, because of what it meant to me socially at the time--you know how when you are a teenager youíve got to have your licks together. Because I was surrounded by it so much, it ended up becoming a real big part of what I do, sort of by accident. It wasnít like I sought out to be a blues guy, it was just that I had to work so hard just to keep up, that eventually developed a real affinity for that kind of playing now it informs everything that I do. So I was really grateful for that.
Tollbooth: You see it as a pretty complex style?
Roe: Well, it was in high school. Now I see it as something that is great fun and easy for me. Then it was incredibly difficult.
Tollbooth: What has caused you to come back to its pure form with Phil Madiera?
Roe: I have for many years wanted to experiment with the blues and do an album of it, but it's not high priority. Itís like, my gosh, even someone who lives it, like Eric Clapton, had to wait twenty-five years before he could do a blues album. Youíre always busy making a living, doing your pop music and keeping your fans happy. Doing an album like that is generally something that is an aside. Itís something that you have to take time to really get into an develop and generally it gets put on the back burner because thereís so many pressing things going on. I think Phil Madera was going to do this thing, and once we found out, we said why donít we strength in numbers on this thing and work together and see if the two of us could come up with something that is really cool. So Iím looking forward to it. I donít know what it will be like, but I know it will be good.
Tollbooth: Are you going to put ĒMolineĒ on it, the one you did the other night?
Roe: ďMolineĒ . . . ohďMaybelleneĒ? All that was was me
Tollbooth: That was ďMaybelleneĒ?
Roe: [laughs] Sort of . . . I think that was me just desperately grasping at some lyric thing over that cacophony we were doing.
Tollbooth: Oh. . . well, change it to Moline. I think itíll be more interesting.
Roe: There may be some of those kind of things, but I really want to experiment with some of the styles, sort of bending some of the styles that I grew up with, sort taking some of that spooky swamp delta stuff that I loved, turning it on its head just enough to make it unique. I donít want to just do another blues album where you sort of pay tribute to all your greats because Iíve already done all that stuff. Iíve done enough emulating for five lifetimes. Iím hoping to do is come up with the unique spin.
Tollbooth: What about personally. Has anything changed for you in what I consider to be a pivotal year in your life?
Roe: Not dramatically. Most of the changes have been internal. Spiritual. Iíd like to think Iím growing up a little bit. I think a lot of it is born out of a lot of the thoughts I shared with you about Gene. Where Iím not taking my life for granted anymore. Iíve come to a point where Iím very aware of my mortality and the constant receding of childhood and young adulthood. Now Iím staring down a whole other part of my life I never could relate to except from parents and grandparents and I always looked at this part of your life as boring, and staid and stoic and consumed with money making and bill paying and aches and pains and, presto! Thatís what it is! Sure enough. But Iím doing it my way. Iím not doing it the way my parents did it. Iím in pain, and Iím paying bills in my own style.
Tollbooth: So youíre hanging on to some of that identity you forged in your youth.
Roe: Well, they say in your forties you exchange all your emotional problems for physical ones. Thatís a half truth. You retain your emotional problems, and add physical ones.
Tollbooth: Oh, lovely.
Roe: Thatís if you havenít lived right, if you havenít done your homework. I donít know, everyone goes through their own thing in their own time. Everyone has their own challenges and if you donít screw up, someone else will, or some other thing will come along that will present you with a problem. Or several.
What Iím trying to do, as much as possible, is focus on the positive, wonderful things about my life more, rather than when I was a lot younger, I took for granted those things. Because you feel like you are going to live forever, and you just assume the world owes you happiness and living. Now I donít take anything for granted. Or I try not to. I still do, but Iím more conscious of being grateful rather than expecting that life is just going to go my way. I try to see the miracles in what I have.
Itís like, why doesnít God heal anymore? Well, God just healed you of this, that and the other, itís just that you take for granted the fact your body heals itself ninety-five percent of the time. Itís more like that. Iím living miracles every day., but thatís where you have eyes to see it and ears to hear it. I think that is the essence of part of what Christís teaching about the kingdom of God was about. That itís within you, itís around you, but you have to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. He spent a good deal of his time telling stories in ways that would get peopleís eyes and ears open to see what it was they could already be in possession of it they would just see it and then receive it.
Tollbooth: Yes, and that was Godís only son telling them those things.
Roe: Yes. So I have to believe thatís kind of a good paradigm for life, especially this part of my life where every day is a privilege.
Tollbooth: And you are very involved with your daughter, despite your divorce. Is that part of that paradigm?
Roe: That is absolutely. That is the paradigm. My daughter is just everything to me. I see the world through her eyes now rather than my own Thatís made a big difference. A lot of those youthful ambitions have given way to just--itís gone beyond even the catch phrase of ďquality time,Ē itís just time, period. I want as much time with her as I can because thereís only so much time where Iím going to have her full attention. Sheís the only person on the planet who thinks Iím cooler than I actually am.
Tollbooth: Sure, you are her dad!
Roe: That relationship means everything to me, so I will not sacrifice anything for it.
Tollbooth: And you are finding time to be a part of her life every day, like right after school.
Roe: Yes. As much as I possibly can.
Tollbooth: You do have to get innovative with shoehorning yourself into your childrenís lives. Because as they get older, their interests expand.
Roe: Yes, oh yes. Itís not anything like it was five years ago. Little girl is giving way to the pre-teen and of course, my daughter was eight going on twenty-five quite a while ago. Her being a little bit advanced verbally and mentally has presented its own set of challenges. One minute, Iím talking to her like an adult, and the next minute, weíre both acting like dorks, quite happy with that sort of thing.
Tollbooth: Thatís another thing you get to face in this next phase of life, what youíre really all about.
Roe: Yeah. Accepting what you are really all about, then reveling in that rather than what you wished you were about. Thatís a big part of growing up for me.
Itís right there in Scripture.
When Peter comes to Jesus and says, ďWell, what about that disciple, if
he lives, or whatever,Ē and Jesus says, ďWhat is that to you? Follow me.Ē
He didnít even analyze it, just what is it to you? Nothing. I always saw
that as a cold response, but now I really understand it. At the time, I
always thought, man! Thatís kind of a burn, kind of a rub. Now I really