Rock 'n' roller coaster

Records, ripoffs and running a business: A conversation with Bobby Lee Rodgers

Bobby Lee Rodgers ponders a position at K-Mart.

“The music business,” Hunter S. Thompson famously wrote, “is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Over the past 18 months, Bobby Lee Rodgers says, he’s discovered – the hard way – that the good doctor was right on the money.This week, Rodgers is releasing Overdrive, his long–awaited new solo album. Accompanied by drummer Anthony Cole and bassist Matt Lapham, Rodgers will play Saturday at the Live Wire Music Hall (they’ll be back for a New Year’s Eve show).

The Berklee–trained guitarist’s gifts for hot licks and cool melodies are all over Overdrive, which also contains some of the most personal lyrics he’s ever put to paper.

It comes after a bitter breakup with the Codetalkers, his longtime backing band. Rodgers, Ted Pecchio (bass) and Tyler Greenwell (drums) had started out in Atlanta, as part of the legendary Bruce Hampton’s touring outfit. When Hampton bolted suddenly, as he tends to do, they carried on.

The gynormous jam–band circuit welcomed the Rodgers–fronted Codetalkers with open arms, and Rodgers – with his fierce, jazz–infused lead lines and cosmically conscious Leslie–speaker effects – became a guitar hero.

The band dynamic started shifting when the name was changed to Bobby Lee Rodgers & the Codetalkers. Bad feelings began to bubble.

Then, as Rodgers explains in this interview, things got worse.

Rodgers lives in Savannah, with his wife and young daughter, but spends much of his time in Atlanta, where Overdrive was recorded. He spent several months on the road this year, in Flecktones sax player Jeff Coffin’s jazz band, and toured with Hammond B3 player Ike Stubblefield, drummer Marcus Williams and others.

Both Pecchio and Greenwell found work backing blues singer/songwriter Susan Tedeschi.

There’s talk, he says, of trying to get the Codetalkers to play together again. Only time will tell.

So what happened to the Codetalkers?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: A management company got hold of us and did some bad things. They did a number on us, really. Honestly, the band just ran out of money – nobody wanted it to end, nobody wanted it to end the way it did. I still don’t know why they did this to us; there was just a lot of misleading stuff and it ruined our band.

My family put all its money into this band, some inheritance, because we believed in it. And they took everything we had spent. There were all these promises, and then no gigs for six months. And that’s really what happened.

Was the breakup inevitable?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: People will come and try to take people out of your band, offer them more money. It’s a nasty business, man. The Hunter S. Thompson quote is no joke. And it creates animosity within the band, because the band doesn’t understand what happens. We just had to take some time to be away from each other.

It was such a great band, man. Me and Ted and Tyler were incredible. It was the best band I’ve ever been in. And what it stood for. People go “It’s just another band,” and man, I’ve been in a lot of bands, and this wasn’t another band. At Sunshine Daydream {a music festival in West Virginia}, this guy – a promoter – comes up and he says to me “I’ve never seen anything so perfect.”

Was there ever a sense, in you, of “I’m not getting exactly what I want out of this any more”?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: After Bruce left, we were on our own. It was “Here we are, us three.” That’s what it was supposed to be the whole time anyway. It was always told to me that this was gonna be my group, this was Bobby’s group. “This is all for you, Bobby.”

And I’m not going to sit here and say anything bad about anybody. But when you go out and all of a sudden somebody’s name is not attached to your band any more, suddenly the guarantees go from $1,500 to door deals, across the country.

That starts translating into the music, and the music started having animosity to it. I was like, “This is not why this was started. The business got a hold of the art.” That was my biggest fear of all time, and it was because of money ... but the music had such incredible, unbelievable energy.

At the same time, I had to stop it, because it was just this train track running out of control. Somebody was going to actually probably die from it. It was just so insane. Thank God none of us were on drugs, because that was the next phase!

I understand Bruce started the band primarily as a showcase for you and your songs. Why was putting your name out front such a tough thing?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: I’m really ready for this to be a healing thing now. It had been three years since the real Codetalkers had split. The rest of it was just to fill a void, because I had bills. The band had just broke and shattered to pieces. I had to pay bills, and I had to have a name – my name wasn’t out there enough to where I could step onto it yet.

People were saying “You broke the Codetalkers up.” I’d say “No, man, I owned the van and I have the hundred thousand dollar bills that have to be paid next month. You think I really want to do this?” I’d rather be over working at K–mart.

It was a really bad situation. So many people don’t understand that. We owe all this debt, and everybody else in this family can walk, except Bobby.

How did the experience translate into Overdrive?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: I wrote all these tunes because it was a really insane time. I had to look at people in a whole different ... I’m always just “Hey man, I love you,” I’ve just always seen the love. And I have to be careful in my life now about who I let in. Which is just sad.

I had to heal myself over this. When you lose something like this – it’s not a garage band, everybody’s lives are in it. It’s like a marriage times a marriage times a marriage. And it affects thousands of people.

So it was a cathartic process?

Bobby Lee Rodgers: This whole record is about a recovery. It’s about overdrive – you’ve got to really bust ass on a lot of levels. On an emotional level, you have to become stronger and stronger. The track “Soul Recovery” is about realizing hey, I need to fix something. On “Miles Ahead,” I’m looking back at all the stuff I’ve been though.
It doesn’t matter what people are doing to get through it, physically, what matters is how we’re getting through it mentally. That’s what I learned through all of this.

The record goes through all these different processes, and at the end it’s letting go. You just have to let go and move on. And that’s really what I’ve done, and I hope to God that things work out for the best. That’s all you can hope for.

Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio w/Donna Hopkins Band

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28

Admission: $10


Artist’s Website:


About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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