A young man whose West Coast reputation is spreading fast.
IF YOU'D spent any time in Los Angeles over the last couple of months, the chances are that you'd have heard the name D.J. Rogers. The reason is quite simple: Mr. Rogers has picked up an enviable reputation via his live performances and his current R.C.A. album, "It's Good To Be Alive". If the enthusiasm which his West Coast following expounds should spill over on a national level (and there is every reason for thinking it will), then Mr. Rogers will shortly emerge as a major artist.
Anyone who has given D.J. even a cursory listen will immediately identify his very strong gospel roots and it comes as no surprise to learn that the gentleman's father is, in fact, a minister. "I actually started singing in church at the age of three," the genial gent reveals. "We had something called The Sunshine Band for members of the congregation between the ages of three and twelve!"
It was a natural progression for D.J. (DeWayne Julius, for those who are curious!) to go onto the youth choir and at the tender age of 12 he was directing the choir. "I guess I'd decided at that point that music was going to be my career but, back then, I wasn't thinking in terms of commercial music — just gospel. During my adolescence, I travelled round the country with the Los Angeles Community Choir and, in 1968, I formed my own Watts Community Choir."
When D.J. reveals the names of some of the church's members, it reads like a soulful Who's Who. Folk like Billy Preston, Sly Stone, Bobby Womack and Gloria Jones were all in choirs associated with D.J. over the years and he toured with gospel luminary Rev. James Cleveland on several occasions.
"During that period, I recorded some five albums for Savoy Records with the Choir under the direction of Harrison Johnson. Eventually, I got as far as I felt I could go within the gospel realm and I felt that I wanted my music and my message to be heard on a more universal basis. It was time to move on to a more contemporary field, so I signed with ASCAP as a writer in 1970."
By sheer coincidence, D.J. had been explaining on his visit to the songwriter's association that he felt Shelter Records was the kind of company he'd like to be with.
"My luck is really strange — whilst I was talking, a guy from Shelter called up and before I knew it, I was hitch hiking up to see Leon Russell and Denny Cordell with a tape of my songs that I'd made at Ray Charles' studios." Recognising the potential of the man, Shelter signed D.J. literally on the spot and it wasn't too long before he was on his way to Tulsa (where the company has several studios) to record.
"I brought musicians in from L.A. and from New York and we cut the album — which was just called 'D.J. Rogers'. It met with some initial success but then we ran into distribution problems because Shelter was at the end of their agreement with Capitol and Capitol wouldn't distribute anyone else's product but Leon's because they didn't want to build an act and then have no follow through."
Almost immediately after cutting his own solo album, D.J. was involved in the production on an album by Mary McCreary entitled "Butterflies In Heaven" — Mary had formerly been a member of Sly Stone's Little Sister — and worked also with Freddie King (half of which was cut in L.A., the rest in Tulsa) on product for Shelter.
"When the company finally signed a new deal with M.C.A., it put me in a real predicament because they had absolutely no commitment whatsoever to black music. We talked but we just couldn't agree because they weren't able to do all the things that needed to be done — they just weren't geared to handle black product and I didn't want to depend on Leon's friendship to be able to make a deal that wouldn't work."
Meanwhile D.J. had completed another album with such notables as Larry Graham and The Gap Band (from Tulsa) working on it.
"Then, in 1974, I moved to Monterey and began working on sessions and arrangements for other people — mostly my friends in the business. I was still interested in getting my career into high gear but I was nevertheless kinda paranoid about it all. I'd signed a deal with Angel City Sound and, before I knew what was happening, they were negotiating with R.C.A. on my behalf.
"What had actually happened was that Tom Draper, who was then head of r&b at R.C.A., had heard my tapes being played in the next room whilst he was supposed to be listening to something someone was playing him. He enquired as to who it was and heard it was me. The next thing I knew a guy called Richard Aaron from Angel City Sound was in New York talking on my behalf, saying he was going to produce — which wasn't true!"
In the meantime, D.J. had received a contract from C.B.S., but hesitated about signing it. "I was really worried at that time — really scared I was going to do the wrong thing. So I stalled from signing it and, as events turned out, I never did. In fact, I've still got it at home now!"
Enter Joe Porter, a much-respected musical attorney, who convinced D.J. to sign the deal that R.C.A. was offering. "I was still paranoid about the whole thing and I actually backed out of it. Then, I heard that R.C.A. were so sure about getting me that they'd announced at their Convention that they'd signed me. I guess I realised that they really were interested and when Tom Draper flew to L.A., he convinced me when he took me around to meet all the staff at the company here. I have to admit that since we signed back in February '75, the company has been behind me all the way."
D.J.'s initial deal called for four sides on a contract with a one-year option but when he flew to New York to deliver the tapes, the company immediately picked up the option and set a new deal enabling D.J. to do an album.
"It was really funny. I started on the album in March and it was finished around July. It started out as just a regular album within the company. Then it became a priority album, then a special project and before we knew it, it was one of the company's top ten albums for extensive promotion."
The company issued a single — the title from the set, "It's Good To Be Alive" — but little happened with it. "At about this time, I was experiencing management problems," D.J. revealed, "and that came after some personal problems I was having when my wife got pregnant and it looked at one point as if both she and my son were going to die. With a lot of faith and belief and people like my father and James Cleveland standing by me, I'm truly thankful to say that both mother and son emerged safely."
Just at a time when D.J.'s management problems were affecting the progress of his career, in stepped Lonnie Simmons, co-owner of the Total Experience niterie in Los Angeles. "It's always important to me to have people around me that care about me, about what I'm doing. We got along real well on a personal level so it was natural that we should link up businesswise".
After extensive pushing on the part of R.C.A., it wasn't long before D.J. Rogers' special brand of music was a familiar sound on West Coast airwaves and the track that emerged as the prime cut was undoubtedly "Say You Love Me", one of the first sides D.J. cut for the company. "The demand has been such that we've edited a version for single play and it looks like it may really take off. It was weird because the album just seemed to explode after getting off to a real slow start."
The secret of the album (and D.J.'s success lies in the fact that his material (all self-composed) reflects everyday situations and feelings. "I have to say that I've been through a lot in my life — there were times when things were far from easy. But I've always had a dream about being somebody — I don't want to live and just be forgotten. That's why I'm so glad I have a son to continue when I'm gone!
"But you know, it's so important to be aware of where you came from and what you're all about. It's like in one of my songs, I say 'it's alright now, I think I'll make it anyhow' because I don't want to sing the blues unless I have the answer to them. That's why I only write songs of hope and songs that deal with situations that I've lived through myself. It's like 'Say You Love Me': that's something that everyone needs to hear at some time or other. It's important to know, every night when you go to sleep, that someone somewhere really loves you."
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.