CHSR-FM “Maple Haggis” Interview

November 25, 1995

in News,Press

Garnet Rogers & Doug Long

David Pirie is the host of the folk/Celtic-oriented radio show Maple Haggis on CHSR-FM, Fredericton, New Brunswick. The following is a transcript of his interview with studio guests singer/songwriter Garnet Rogers and his accompanist Doug Long

DP – It’s been about a year since you were here so, first, congratulations on the Juno nomination.

GR – Thanks. It’s kind of odd for me. It’s kind of like being invited to the school prom: you don’t feel like you belong there but you’re happy to be invited anyway.

DP – Could you explain that a bit more?

GR – Well I didn’t have much of a social life in high school and I didn’t go to the prom and nobody expected me to be there and I don’t think anyone wanted me to be there. But it’s nice to be invited, whether you feel like you deserve to be there.

DP – Well I think you deserve to be there. Don’t be humble.

GR – No it’s not a humility thing, it’s just that I don’t feel that I’m part of the music industry. I’m working outside and for them to invite me in; that’s nice but that’s not the reason I’m doing this.

DP – In a sense I was just thinking about the time of the Junos you were nominated 1 1/2 times with Stan being nominated as well.

GR – Well, that’s what I considered it as. I was really hoping that Stan was going to win it. It would have been nice if they’d made some recognition, but that was not to be. My feelings about the validity of the Juno process were confirmed. It’s not based on a person’s life work or what they do, it’s an industry thing and you can’t take it seriously, you just play it. You rent a tux and stand around with a bunch of other people wearing itchy suits and try not to drink too much.

DP – What’s the most satisfying thing of your life as a musician? Is it when you get out there and play?

GR – It’s getting horizontal on the hotel bed after the show and switching on Letterman, I think.

DP – I just wondered how long into this interview it would be before we started getting silly. The last time we chatted we had Archie Fisher dressed up in Western gear riding around the skies in a bi-plane!

GR – I thought you said it was silly. No, the most satisfying thingÉ there are different levels of satisfaction. Doug and I were playing in St. John (NB) last night we had a lovely time and we felt like we connected well on stage. Every night is different for us and every show is different, every song is different. We never play things the same way twice, so you finish a song and look at each other, your eyebrows go up and you say, “well, that worked” and get ready for the next one. I think the most satisfying part of it for both of us is after the show going out into the lobby and talking to people and actually seeing who you are playing for and getting a sense of what their lives are about and you end up with parcels and bags of mementos. People give you pictures of their kids, dogs or horses, poetry that they have had published or whatever.

DL – There was a lovely family who offered you their first-born son the other night. We
had to turn that down.

GR – Yeah, the responsibility. He was 18. He had a Mohawk. No, seriously, it’s the contact with audience and that’s why I’m not in the business. We run everything ourselves and we have contact with the folks that come out to see us. Most of the friends I’ve made over the last fifteen, twenty years have been audience members and people that I’ve met in this circumstance.

DP – I’ve advised many people to go along to one of your concerts and there have been all
sorts of reactions came back.

GR – I can only imagine!

DP – And I can summarize it briefly in one that said “I was not prepared for the Garnet Rogers experience”. I guess you must see this quite a bit, Doug?

DL – Well, I think I see it perhaps better than you suspect because a few years ago I came out of the audience to do this. For years when I wasn’t very active musically and I was quite busy with work and my family, one of the few things I always made sure I did was, when Garnet was within range, I would go along and see his shows and I feel that I can relate very closely to the particular feelings that people in the audience get because there were nights when I was just beside myself trying to express the special involvement that I felt in the music. The bizarre thing in my case was that it led to my actually becoming involved and sitting in and playing tunes with him but essentially I’m a member of the audience who came out of there to do this.

DP – How did that whole thing happen, hooking up with Doug?

GR – We were playing up at a festival in Faro in the Yukon with Stan and Doug was up there. He was visiting family and he was also playing the festival and I remember very vividly seeing Doug play for the first time because all my adult life I’d been playing violin and not being taken seriously, mostly getting slagged by other violin players because I don’t play fiddle tunes so I couldn’t join in on that so I wasn’t taken seriously as a musician and I didn’t particularly fit in anywhere because my whole focus was trying to make the songs sound better and accompany Stan.

Anyway, I saw Doug playing on stage and he was the first person I’d ever seen who had the same kind of approach as I had on violin, which was try to enhance the song and make the lyric work better and try to create more dramatic tension and it, in a sense, validated a lot of what I was searching for. Just to find some who did that. So we connected up in the Yukon and talked a little bit about that and then we lost track of each other and as it turned out Doug lived in London, Ontario and we would see each other once in a while and then he started coming to these shows that I was doing in London. One night he was talking to my wife, Gail, saying he played along with Garnet’s records at home and I know his stuff really well and it would be really great if some night if I could get up and play ‘Final Trawl’ with him up on stage. So Gail took the ball at that point and said “You know Doug would really like to play with you and he is a really nice guy and you don’t appreciate how nice a guy Doug is” and I said “Of course I do, he is a really nice guy, he’s just too damn tall!”

We tried it as an experiment one night. I said, ‘O.K. turn up one night. Bring your fiddle and we’ll do ‘Final Trawl,’ and after a few minutes of rehearsal I thought, ‘gee he knows this better than I do,’ so we tried something else and we got half way through that and I said, “Oh hell you probably know the whole damn repertoire” and he said, “Yes,” so I said, “let’s go,” and we did our first gig together without any prior rehearsal at all and I was just wetting myself laughing all night and so was the audience because Doug had learned a lot of the parts I played on the records note for note but he was also embellishing and although he will deny this, he is also far more technically advanced than I am on the violin.

DL – Stuff and nonsense!

GR – Anyway, it probably shows but we never rehearse. We know the stuff and it has just
kind of developed into this really bizarre thing.

DP – Certainly when I first heard ‘Summer Lightning’ I was amazed at how similar the styles were, not knowing that.

GR – We both have a hero in Eugene McDonnell, who’s a wonderful Irish player. He was five-time all-Ireland step-dancing champion when he was 20 and they made him retire because he was too damn good, so he took up fiddle. He plays these beautiful slow airs with a lovely classical feel, and he’s our hero, so we have that in common.

DP – There is a great passion in that style of violin, really full of emotion.

DL – I won’t go on at great length about this, but one of the keys of my being able to do this is at all – which is really highly improbable when you think about – it is that Garnet has always said that the most important consideration for him is not doing it without mistakes. but doing it with your heart in it and of course that was easy because I was a fan to begin with and when I discovered how similar we sounded. I can’t even remember how we played ‘North West Passage’ together but as soon as that came out – and it came out almost instantly – it wasn’t more than two or three times through the song our parts have virtually remained the same ever since. As soon as I heard that I thought this is almost uncanny and you don’t bother explaining it when you are lucky enough to have a thing like that happen to you just live with it and it’s wonderful. I’m a very lucky guy.

GR – The important thing is not to get through it without a mistake because we both want to take it as far as we can and some nights you just know you’re hanging over the edge as much as you can and once in a while you’ll fall off. We fell off the edge a couple of times last night where we were trying for something but didn’t quite execute it, for me that is the most exciting thing in music. It’s like watching these old films of Jean-Claude Killy in the Olympics and he was trying to ski down this hill setting all these land ski records and he’s on one edge then another, upside down but he made it down the hill.

DL – I’m going to have to think about improving my insurance coverage after that little
analogy.

DP – I’m going to play ‘Sleeping Buffalo’ a little later on. That was kind of scary when you came in there with violin, I was getting all comfortable because I love ‘Sleeping Buffalo’ and the scene was getting set, I was down in my basement just quietly listening getting the feeling of the Prairies maybe a bit of prairie wind–

GR – Maybe something you ate!

DP – I’m trying to be serious here.

DL – Well, I’ll tell you something. The key to the way that developed for me was based on a very simple mechanical difference between the guitar and the violin, and that was that parallel fifths are natural things on a violin and, to my ear, they had a sound that sounded right for the song and the part was built up around the idea that if I could play some of it on adjacent strings like that it had a sound that I liked; it had a sound – I don’t like to say native – but the sound was just right for that song.

DP – To me it sounded like the spirit of the buffalo being present.

DL – The first thing that made me think of the buffalo plunging over the jump, but that’s another point that’s always been very central to my thinking about this. People are aware that I accompany Garnet and that I follow him and they’ll sometimes come up and pat me on the back and say don’t you do that well, but they don’t realize that Garnet is also a fiddler and has been an accompanist for longer than I have and he leaves me wonderful huge places into which to move, as in setting up that ‘Sleeping Buffalo.’ As soon as he saw what I was going to do he started making room for it and – this is a wonderful thing – it’s not unilateral accompanying: it’s bilateral, you know, collaboration.

DP – We were talking after the show and a friend said, ‘Garnet does scary things to me when he’s performing.

GR – It’s not really for me to judge how people react to the shows. It’s kind of outside of me. Some people are so extravagant with their praise – particularly around here – you really have to take it with a grain of salt and just say, ‘well, thanks very much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.’

DP – I feel things, for example when you played ‘Frankie and Johnny’ last November when you were here, I was just numb. I didn’t even applaud – and don’t take that in a bad way – there are a lot of songs you sing and I don’t feel like applauding. I just want to savor every ringing note that’s still going around the hall.

GR – Other people’s music affects me in the same way. Sometimes if I listen to Ferron or Mary-Chapin you just want to sit with it for a bit.

DP – Have you heard Ferron’s latest ‘The Cactus’?

GR – On the way over to the venue last night, Doug and I had a wild day being frog-marched over town to do interviews and I wanted to settle us down so we left the hotel and I slipped in Ferron’s new cassette and I had it cued up for Cactus and it was so weird. We were driving over the toll bridge in St. John and both of us were getting steamed up and weepy and I had to turn on the defogger on the glass because the car was steaming up.

DL – It’s extremely difficult to drive when you are assuming the fetal position.

GR – Yes, we pulled into the parking lot of the hall and Doug said I’m just going to lie here in this position for a while. It’s great that you’ve picked up on that song too.

DP – Sometimes there’s one song that’ll grab me and I have to play it over and over again before I can get into the rest of the material.

GR – I couldn’t get past that song when I first heard it

DP – Same for me – the visions and the quality of the writing is so absorbing. You just get lost in it.

GR – Ferron sent me that album right after it was released and said, ‘I hope you enjoy this.’ I felt so bad because it sat on my desk for four months and I couldn’t open it. It was like getting a telegram from the Ministry of War because you know if you open this it is going to change your life; maybe good news and maybe bad news but you’re never going to be the same afterward. I had to just leave it there and I taped it without listening to it and then I listened to it on the way out west in September and it just destroyed me.

DP – Precious moments when things like that come along. You must spent a lot of time on
the road. Do you feel uncomfortable sitting there without any wheels under you?

GR – I’ve got wheels! This chair has casters!

DP – As the chair zooms across the studio!

GR – All I need is a little steering wheel. Beep beep.

DP – You must see a awful lot of this country – this continent.

GR – No, you just see the trees going by.

DP – But you must be a tremendous resource person, you must know the best places to
eat, the best places to stay, the best halls to play in.

DL – I can testify to that he knows where to get a good breakfast in more cities than
anyone else alive. It’s wonderful.

GR – Yeah, I know where all the vintage guitar stores are and all the good breakfast places, I used to know where every liquor store was on the planet. I can find you a really good cafe au lait in Fargo, North Dakota and you would think there is no such thing as a cafe au lait in North Dakota but I can find you one. You find yourself getting unreasonably intimate with a lot of towns you swore you would never spend any time in.

DP – Do you plan your trips around these places?

GR – I’m very quirky in my taste in Hotels. I don’t like staying in fancy places where you have to go through a lobby, so I always stay in ground floor motels and it’s partly having so many guitars to heave around. It’s just a joke in the States where my friends know I’m always going to stay in the same hotel. I’ll check into a hotel and there will be five or six messages waiting for me and the clerk will say, ‘we didn’t even know you were coming, Mr. Rogers, but here are all these messages for you,’ and people can find me.

One hotel I stay in Boston, which is a motel about half-an-hour outside Boston proper, and I stay there not because it’s a nice place. It’s actually a low-end motel but they have these nice fat cats that hang about the lobby and a really friendly dog. There’s some trees around the place and you check in and you’ll be sitting on the hotel bed playing the guitar and a cat will walk into the room, jump up on the bed and start washing itself and then it’ll go to sleep and it’s just homier and right across the street there is a good Thai restaurant and there’s an all night coffee house.

DP – You visit those places so often that one could almost expect to see the Garnet Rogers
suite!

GR – The place I just described, they always give me the same room now. It’s always room 121, it just provides a bit of continuity which means a lot, and Doug can testify to this, that I drag everything I own with me. I’ve got coffee machines, blankets, pillows; you just want all those familiar things about you.

DP – Your blanket?

GR – My blankey!

DL – He almost forgot his pillow in St. John, but I reminded him. Being in Garnet’s car is a bit like being in Jim Rockford’s trailer, or somebody’s yacht or Sherlock Holmes’ study. It’s not just the interior of a car it’s the interior of a life.

GR – It’s pathetic!

DL – No I don’t think so. Both Garnet and I love family, and we love home, and we both hate to leave every time we leave. And we both look forward to it every time we go back, but I think little things that he’s been describing are kind of like an echo of family life on *the road and the feeling I have in the car is of taking a little moveable home along and it’s really important.

DP – We were talking about the motels and the places to eat but are there any special places in terms of the view, the scenery the land that is special when you visit.

DL – Oh god the speeds he drives you can’t see the views! It’s all a blur.

GR – No, you really don’t. That’s the worst and most enduring myth about this life. The rate at which I travel you don’t get to see things. One town after another, after another, for me a day off is one that allows me make a long drive without having to do a show that night. I’ve got two days off this trip, and these days will be taken up driving from Prince Edward Island to Halifax and doing media and then I have to drive back from Halifax up to Antigonish to do a show and then back down to Halifax. In between time I hope to get to a gym.

DP – What will you do when the tour is finished?

GR – When we return home, Doug and I are going to return to the scene of the crime of the live album, actually, and do another three nights at the venue where we recorded a lot of this album.

DP – Are you working on some new stuff?

GR – I’m always working on new stuff, it’s very slow in coming it’s slower and slower as time goes by. I think my standards are going up a bit more.

DP – Well, this live one is a classic.

GR – That’s really kind of you. I was left with a sense of anti-climax afterwards. When we did ‘At a High Window’ it took three months of building track by track by track and starting with the bare bones and finally three months later you had these huge orchestrations and there was a real feeling of accomplishment because you had seen this thing grow from a puppy up to a huge slavering hound! With the live album, four nights and that’s done.

DP – Really, only four nights?

GR – Yes and most was taken from one night. We won’t tell anyone which night it was because it’s kind of like having the empty chamber in the firing squad’s gun. You want the audience to think they were there that night.

DP – It’s a wonderful feeling just to listen to it. Do you approach it differently when you know you are going to record it live with the possibility of releasing it?

GR – We try to deliberately ignore it and fortunately the technology is helpful these days. The last live album I did was with Archie Fisher and we had a large truck with us and support crew and there were a lot of technical problems and we were still using analog tape. The live album I did with Stan back in ’76, we had a 20 ton truck outside the venue and a support crew of ten and we did it for a week and it was just a massive endeavor and I had a migraine headache for whole time we recorded it. This time it was simply a matter of two technicians walking in and plugging in the mixing console, switching on the two DAT recorders and saying “O.K., we’re done.” It was great Doug and I did our show and we didn’t have to worry about how long the tape was going and having to switch the tapes as we did with Archie and Stan and we just played and played and then had to listen to it afterwards. That was the worst part!

DL – It’s tricky for me to evaluate it because there are snapshots in the life of a song and the songs are always evolving. These are not set performances; we don’t want them to be. Whenever we can add something we give it a shot on stage and those recordings were made early in the life of some of the songs and then I went on to change my mind about what I was doing and add things. Some of them I think I play better now.

GR – On ‘Summer Lightening’ Doug played the guitar. I think it was the second time he’d ever played guitar on that song and he didn’t even know the song and we were changing it back stage. I was playing it in normal tuning. I had it capoed up to the second fret and was playing it in D and Doug was playing his guitar part and they sounded too similar so I went into an open tuning and Doug went into another open tuning and he capoed up to the seventh fret and I was playing without a capo and we went out on stage and did it. That’s what you are hearing: it was two guys basically doing the song for the first or second time and trying to figure the damn thing out, so things have really evolved and last night there were a couple of songs that I wished we’d recorded, I wish we had got that take. It’s like Doug says, it’s a snapshot.

DP – There’s a wonderful feeling about it, over the top, as though you’re walking on a
razor’s edge.

GR – That’s exactly what we wanted, we tried to ignore the fact that there was a red light
on.

DP – I was thinking back to the fact that Doug came out of the audience to play with you. I’ve got a set of bagpipes at home, could I audition some time – also two of my kids play the drums.

GR – Sure we’ll just have you stand out on the parking lot we’ll open the door, bagpipes
are not an indoor instrument.

DL – I should point out to you that before we played the first night, we met outside the venue and I remember shaking Garnet’s hand and he looked straight into my eyes and said, ‘I’m really glad we’re trying this and if you don’t do well I’ll seize you in a bear hug and break every rib in your body.’ With that proviso please feel free.

DP – I’m sure that would mellow you right out. Going on to ‘Sleeping Buffalo’ I feel that
it’s one of these Big Songs?

GR – Well, that’s quite a thing to say about a song that was written in Gary, Indiana in Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant. I’d been trying to write that song for two years. It was the rhythm of the wheels going over an iron roadway for about two and a half miles. That’s where I got the rhythm and suddenly I had the words and I just pulled into a Big Boy Restaurant, ordered a piece of cherry pie and a coffee and had the song done.

DP – It’s right up there with ‘Election Night in North Dakota’ that’s another Big song.

DL – I think that’s a gem. I’ve always loved that song.

GR – It’s too damn depressing.

DP – Oh yes, but sometimes we have to be touched liked that. It wasn’t depressing for me.

DL – Very real, very concrete song.

GR – Well, it’s a true story.

DP – Is your violin an expensive one, Doug?.

DL – It’s a good violin but it cost $1. It was quite accidental that I got back to playing the violin. I played in high school but didn’t have one for about fifteen years and I was teaching some kids to play guitar. One of the kids came into the class with a bunch of instruments he’d inherited and sold me the violin for $1 and that’s the one I’m playing.

GR – Doug also tap dances – a little known talent he has and has yet to do it on stage – and
he also sings light opera.

DP – Really, but when is he going to get a decent pair of cowboy boots?

DL – When I advance in the pecking order.

GR – I don’t want him that much taller than me.

DP – When you were here last November, you ran ‘A Row of Small Trees’ and ‘The Outside Track’ together which was brilliant, but last night you added ‘Sailor’s Rest’ in between. Amazing!

GR – We have a set list but at the side we have possibilities, and I’ll change gears in mid-stream so Doug has to be ready. We change it as we go along.

DL – We were talking about movies and books on the way over here and he was saying he
likes books and movies that throw you curves, when you think you know what’s going on
and then you get a change.

GR – It’s kind of like a musical version of ‘The Crying Game’.

DP – How has Summer Lightning been selling?

GR – We haven’t been able to keep up with demand. The mail order has been going off the wall and also the sales off stage have been amazing so at the moment, if you want it you’ll have to come to a show. We’ve sold out three pressings already and it’s only been out for two months.

DP – Garnet and Doug, thank you very much.

Copyright © CHSR-FM 1995.

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