The blues is a feeling. It's pain, suffering and hard times. Historically, singing about it has helped to ease the pain, letting others know they aren't the only ones suffering. The best communicators are the ones who have lived it.
Robin Rogers sings the blues with all her heart and soul. She's been there, and she lets you know it in no uncertain terms. With a raspy soul sound that has elements of Lou Ann Barton, Shemekia Copeland and Irma Thomas in it, Rogers connects with the listener, forming a bond, sharing her pain.
But now that pain has become too much for her to bear alone, and the singer needs some help. Recently diagnosed with liver cancer, she is now receiving hospice care at home. Unable to work, Rogers and her husband, Tony, face formidable medical bills as well as increased day-to-day living expenses and hospice care. Friends have established a Robin Rogers Medical Trust Fund and are organizing benefits for financial support.
Since her teenage days as a street singer, it was obvious Rogers had a little something extra that set her apart from the competition. After recording for Miami-based Sal Soul Studios in '79, Rogers moved to North Carolina in 1990. Double Door Inn owner Nick Karres remembers her first outings in his club performing as Mamma Ham and the Spam Daddies. "She's just such a tremendous performer, tremendous personality, always just jumping at a chance to help somebody," Karres says. "She was good to everybody, worked extremely hard at her craft. She's just a tremendous asset to the music community."
Drummer/producer Jim Brock met her when she played a Double Door gig in 2000."She knocked me out," says Brock, who invited her to record a CD with him on the spot, released as '01's Time For Myself. The Charlotte-based Brock, who has considerable experience in the business (as Kathy Mattea's drummer for a decade and with Janis Ian for seven years, as well as recording with Joe Walsh and Joe Cocker), has high praise for Rogers' work ethic. "She's a dream, man," the drummer says. "She knows what she wants, but there's nothing remotely bossy or diva-ish about Robin. She likes to be a team player, even if she's the name."
Brock has produced all four of her releases; Time For Myself, '04's Crazy Cryin' Blues, her '08 Blind Pig debut Treat Me Right and the just-released Back In the Fire, also on Blind Pig. Her new record is stunning, with Rogers at the top of her form, delivering searing, soulful vocals and scalding harp.
Bob Margolin, who played on the cut "Need Your Love So Bad," says Rogers is "a fine singer, harp player and entertainer [who] doesn't over-sing, which is a temptation when a singer has the gift of tone and chops. She presents herself as friendly and real, just as she really is."
Former Nappy Brown manager Scott Cable, who helped get Rogers her Blind Pig deal, also sings Rogers' praises. "I can't say enough good things about how humble and kind Robin is," says Cable, who insists he only made a phone call to help her get signed to Blind Pig. "And every conversation we've ever had, she always ends by saying, 'Thank you so much for everything you've done for me.' And I'm like, 'I've done nothing. I've made one phone call to help you because you're a friend and the label's a friend and I like to put friends together.'"
He also is impressed with her sound. "Robin has naturally great phrasing and she means what she sings," Cable says. "A lot of folks who used to sing rock or another form are trying blues because they can't go anywhere else, but Robin really means it. She sings it because that's what she feels."
On Back In The Fire, the way she expresses her feelings earns Rogers a spot in the ranks of blues legends, from the blistering opener "Baby Bye Bye" to her superb remake of the Irma Thomas hit "Hittin' on Nothin'." Brock says he often told Rogers that her records would outlive her and that "8o years from now, some little singer not even born yet is gonna be digging through the archives of the blues and there you're gonna be."
But Rogers needs help right now, and a score of friends have already rallied around. "Robin has always been there for others and we expect that will come back to her now," Margolin says. "The best we can do is to support each other spiritually and generously. The blues takes care of its own." C
Donations can be made directly at: Robin Rogers c/o Piedmont Talent, PO Box 680006, Charlotte NC 28216
Robin Rogers Benefit show
With Jim Brock, Bob Margolin, The Voodoo Brothers, Part Time Blues Band, WSNB and more. $12. 6 p.m. Oct. 24. Amos' Southend. www.amossouthend.com