STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Garnet Rogers is on a mission. The folk artist from Brantford, Ontario, is intent on setting the record straight about his elder brother Stan, a folk legend, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1983. Garnet had been in his brother’s band and was his producer and arranger; he has since performed and recorded under his own name as well as with Archie.
Garnet, who stands well over 6 feet tall and looks imposing, is actually as kind as could be and as gentle as a teddy bear. He writes mostly thoughtful, introspective songs and sings them with his dramatic baritone voice. He has an impressive collection of guitars, several of which he brings along on tour, to the delight of guitar geeks everywhere. And when he performs live, he tells humorous stories in between the songs for comic relief.
Garnet decided to make the leap from songwriting into book writing. We spoke about the book he’s in the process of finishing, as well as his upcoming performances with Archie Fisher, while at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in August. I first asked him why he decided to write a book.
“It was two things, I guess,” said Garnet. “Kind of a way of remembering Stan. I was doing a show in Northern Alberta. I was sitting backstage and thinking, ‘Oh, geez, I was here with Stan all those years ago,’ and sort of remembering that gig and how badly it went. The book is mostly about disasters.”
Garnet said initially he decided to “start writing this stuff down so I can remember it… I had no idea of publishing and I had no idea of making it into an actual longer narrative or a book.
“In the 32, 33 years since Stan died, I realized that there was a narrative out there that was mostly being promulgated by people who had a financial interest in putting out this really fake history of what happened. In doing that, my parents, who financed all our records … they got written out of it, and I got written out of it. Every time an award came along, like the Legion of Honor or something like that and Stan would get these posthumous awards, my parents and I never got invited to the ceremonies. In fact, at the Folk Alliance in Montreal back in… 2006 or so, they gave Stan a Lifetime Achievement Award. Well, not only were we not invited, but I actually went to the ceremony and I got turned away because it was invitation only.”
Garnet is miffed since he was such an integral part of his brother’s music, and they both had significant support from their parents.
“The people who were running the awards ceremony had this particular narrative that Stan had done this mostly by himself and with their help and made no mention of the fact (that) there was always a band. There was a trio on the road with Stan for 10 years.
“I wanted to right that particular wrong and I wanted to let people know that none of it would have happened without my parents’ support. They financed every single album we did, and they distributed them out of our basement or out of their basement. Every album went out through the mail with a handwritten note from my mom. (It) was a huge success story in terms of independent music long before people like Ani DiFranco came along (and) made it cool…”
But in addition to informing the public how it really was, he wanted to make the book entertaining.
“I wanted to make it funny because it was awful at the time. It was hell. It was just the worst kind of humiliating existence to be on the road back in the mid-’70s. There was nowhere to play. You could get a gig if you were willing to play ‘Feelings,’ you know, or ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.’ You could have a gig doing that, but if you wanted to play your own music, there was nowhere. There were no folk clubs.”
Despite this difficult start, Garnet has had a very successful career recording and touring. Since beginning the book Garnet has toured on a more limited basis. Though he typically performs on his own, the show at Sellersville will be a collaboration with Archie Fisher, the renowned folk musician from Glasgow, Scotland.
The two have a long history. They recorded the album “Off the Map” (Greentrax, 1985) while on tour together, and Garnet has produced other projects for Archie.
“I’ve known him since 1976,” said Garnet. “He was one of my greatest heroes when I met him and he’s become one of my dearest friends over the last 40 years. We clicked immediately. It was at the ‘76 Mariposa Folk Festival. We spent the whole day just sitting, talking about guitars and the stuff that musicians talk about. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, and he’s always been in my life.”
Garnet and Fisher will perform each other’s songs and accompany each other.
“We’re playing together and I’m backing him up on violin and flute. It gets me back to what I used to do. I miss playing violin a lot.”
IF YOU GO
What: Garnet Rogers and Archie Fisher
When: Concert is set for 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 10. Doors open at 7:30.
Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
Ages: All Ages
Tickets: $21.50 and $29.50 at www.st94.com or call (215) 257-5808.
Artists’ websites: www.garnetrogers.com and www.myspace.com/archiefishermusic/music/songs