Bobby Lee Rodgers Talks Living in the Moment and His Time With Missing Persons

Bobby Lee Rodgers has made it a long way from Stone Mountain, Georgia. Now residing in Hollywood, Florida, his résumé boasts stops at the University of Georgia to receive an undergraduate degree in classical guitar, a gig teaching jazz at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and even a stint as guitarist of '80s new-wave sensation Missing Persons (singers of the immortal "Walking in L.A.").

A few days before his Bobby Lee Rodgers Duo was to open for the Pet Shop Boys at the Fillmore and a few weeks before the start of the fourth season of the Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio at the Green Room (where they focus on a different artist each month, starting with Miles Davis on September 26), New Times engaged in a telephone call with the gregarious Rodgers, a man on a mission to infect the world with his love for music.

New Times: I really enjoyed the Bobby Lee Rodger's Duo's performance before Scott Weiland. Now you're set to open for Pet Shop Boys, and in November you're opening for Widespread Panic. Do you change your approach depending on who you open up for?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: Sort of I do. Sort of I don't. I write a lot of music, so I might change the songs, but one thing I've always thought of is if you play a Bob Dylan song, it should sound good with a symphony orchestra or a rock 'n' roll guitarist. Not that I'm comparing myself to one of my heroes, but I aspire the songs to be like that. There's so much emphasis on things like marketing, but it's all music and notes and how you attack them to me.

But what about the audience? I imagine the crowd at a Pet Shop Boys concert wants something different than a Widespread Panic concert.

We're all on this planet, and one day we're all going to leave. You're going through the same stuff I'm going through. Jazz is what helped me understand that you have to live in the moment. You can't not pay your bills or anything, but you've got to enjoy yourself, and that's what I try to put in my music.

You and the drummer really seemed to enjoy yourselves opening for Scott Weiland. You both had huge smiles the whole set.

The drummer Johnny Brown and I met through friends at Revolution, and we kept saying we had to play together. We finally set up a rehearsal, and we were waiting for the bass player to come. So we started playing while we were waiting around for this guy who never shows up. I was playing chords in the lower octave and Johnny started giving the drums some space, and it just sounded right. I've been in bands with people who are unbelievably talented but the band doesn't have chemistry. When the two of us played, I knew it was a good thing. We just played one time together...

You two only played once together before the Scott Weiland show?

That was our second gig. After the rehearsal, we played at Freebird up in Jacksonville, and I got the call to do the Scott Weiland thing, and I said to Johnny, "Let's just rock it out as a duo. It'll be fun." And it was. We didn't worry about anything. We didn't have a set list or nothing. I've been in bands where everyone's trying to control everything. With Johnny, it's like getting in a car and you don't even have a steering wheel going a thousand miles per hour weaving in and out of traffic perfectly.

Tell me about your jazz trio.

One of the guys is Don Coffman. He plays the upright bass and is the chair of the music department at UM, and our drummer Pete "Chef" Lavezolli is also the drummer of the Jerry Garcia Band. We try to spread out and look for people we're trying to learn from and study, so on September 26, we'll be playing songs from Miles Davis, and later on we'll do Herbie Hancock and Wes Montgomery. We pick six or seven songs from an artist, and we let them go. It's not a jam band, though. We're still responsible to all the chord progressions. We stay true to the original arrangements but let it become us.

Finally, I've got to ask you about being in the '80s new-wave band Missing Persons.

The original guitar player left to be in Duran Duran. I remember when I got the gig calling my friends up in Atlanta, "Dude, I really made it huge in the '80s, too bad it's the '90s." But they were awesome. This was what I listened to in high school. My best friend's older brother had a band, and that's all they sang. I'd be sitting by the pool watching these older teenagers singing Missing Persons songs, and here I was years later playing with the real band.

Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio, a Night of Miles Davis 7 p.m. Thursday, September 26, at Green Room, 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $5 at the door.

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland