The embers of the bonfire that Jimi Hendrix ignited 50+ years ago have been rekindled by the Blues flames of Jamiah Rogers and an exceptional few other guitar slingers of his generation. For them, the blues is not just a feeling, it’s a siren song howling with black heat. The Blues is booster fuel, the electric six-string a sonic rocket. Their time is now and they’re going star traveling.
At the ripe old age of 28, Jamiah Rogers is no longer the brash young up-and-comer that we knew and loved in the last decade. He is now a full-fledged kick-ass performer with national recognition, Canadian connections and European gigs with Annika Chambers, John Primer and Billy Branch on his résumé. This prodigy has blossomed into a Chicago Blues Ambassador in the international spotlight and has proven himself worthy of his aspirational mantle “Blues Superman, the hero that keeps the blues alive.” With a new moniker, “The Dirty Deacon Denzel,” fronting a newly coined trio name “The Dirty Church Band,” Rogers is an ever-evolving musical phenom. Increased bookings and a new CD in-progress fill his schedule.
Timing is everything. As a young drummer imbued with the importance of “the pocket” by his musician dad Tony, Rogers has mastered it. And with mastery comes artistic choices. In the hands of Jamiah Rogers, timing is a feel to be flexed, stretched and pulled beyond limits only to be snapped back at a moment’s notice with verbal cues, a glance or shrug of the shoulder to synchronize changes with his bandmates. The Dirty Deacon Denzel takes brilliantly improvised flights of guitar-fancy through the sonic stratosphere, while his solid rhythm section keeps it sure-footed and earthbound, providing him a place to land.
“That’s the only way it makes sense; that’s the only way that life makes sense; it gots to come back on the 1,” jests Rogers.
Angular, long-limbed and sharp dressed, Rogers cuts a striking figure on stage. Some nights masked in round blue-tinted shades, other nights without, his sly eyes communicate layered meanings intrinsic in many lyrics of the blues. The Fender guitar in the man’s hands can express ancient and space-age secrets, and create soaring displays of sorcery with chunkified beat patterns, scratches, scritches, harmonic sustains and wails. To hear Jamiah Rogers live is to ride a wave of rhythmic funk and audio dynamism orchestrated by a top-o-the-line trickster front-man. Loose and tight, and with as much room to roam as outside jazz, he and his 3-man unit combine as a finely tuned engine of coordinated rhythm and muscle, sinewy in the lane and monstrous at the rim. He’ll take a blues standard, invert it, convert it, turn it upside down, skitter it sideways, go down low and turn it on a dime.
The Dirty Church Band‘s opening number of their second set at Chicago’s venerable blues watering hole, Rosa’s Lounge on July 14 was a magnificent mash-up that illustrates his elasticity. Jamiah & company featured a 28 minute tour de force that began with an original delicate ballad “Promise Me You’ll Never Leave” from his “Blues Superman 2021” project, cascaded into a soulful treatment of Albert King’s “I’ll Play My Blues For You,” morphed into a rocking version of the Temptations “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” and ended with a deconstructed Johnnie Taylor’s “Last Two Dollars” where a relentlessly repeated truncated vocal line, “Just fuh my…” became a mesmerizing mantra. The man’s got range.
We meet for a chat at chief engineer/producer Rick Barnes’ state-of-the art Rax Trax Recording studio on the far north side which, for over 30 years, has captured the sounds of blues, rock, funk, alt, jazz, classical, chorale music and jazz. Jamiah is in the throes of a new fertile period of writing and is bound and determined to capture it on record with the sonic verve he feels at this stage.
The studio atmosphere is charged with anticipation of capturing a new sound, and the presence of a camera crew helmed by well-known music videographer John “Nunu” Zomot has added a buzz. Barnes and Rogers go back to 2002 when dad Tony recorded “In The Pocket” at Rax Trax with six year old Jamiah on drums. This triple-threat started on drums at three, moved to bass, then to guitar by eight or nine when “My Pops gave me a real Fender,” Jamiah adds. These current sessions provide an opportunity for the two old collaborators to catch up with each other’s creative directions taken in the ensuing years.
“This is my first recording project since my 2021 EP Born Again Blues. I recorded all the instruments on that one. On this new one I’m laying down ten originals, eight new ones and two from the prior EP. I work well with Rick,” he continues. “He’s opened up the studio for me to take full advantage of the sounds I want to create. He’s there with me listening to the same things that I’m hearing and making contributions. It’s been real heavy.”
On this day, Jamiah will be adding some guitar on previous tracks with himself on drums and band member Aidan Epstein on bass.
“We’ve laid down a tight groove to soar on top of. My training as a drummer has held me in good stead. I’ve come to find out there are many instrumentalists, and even vocalists, who started as drummers. Legend has it that Albert King was a drummer as a young man. Prince played drums. Lenny Kravitz played drums. There’s no better training.” He suggests that he might bring in horns and keyboards to spread the sound out on a future session.
“Since Rick and I are in experimental mode, we’ll flesh it out as the sound is built. Unlike the early days of my recording when I brought everything in already worked out, I’ve learned to use the studio as an additional instrument for building sound.”
With further probing, this musical artist reflects on a certain degree of perfectionism that drives him.
“It can be frustrating to some extent. Once it’s done and ‘put in the atmosphere’, so to speak, it can’t be changed. To me, sound is always evolving and I want to explore it to its fullest possibility. I’m learning, though, to get there when I’m there,” he states. “The thing is, I might hear a little differently when recording than some other musicians because I play so many instruments and I can imagine the direction that each could take if I was playing,” he muses.
“Not to be egotistical, but there are times when I think that having a whole bunch of Jamiah’s would be sick,” he laughs. “I love it, though. To have the freedom to do what I want to do, say what I want to say and play what I want to play.”
Speaking of recordings, the conduit through which so many of today’s musicians came to music, Rogers plugged into music as a youngster directly and more immediately through his father’s bands, musician friends and live performance rather than vinyl or CD.
“Me, being a home-grown musician, it all came from Pops. We’d play as a three-piece, Pops on guitar and whatever bass player was available, and me on drums when I was three years old. That was my first-hand, hands-on experience. Later, even before I picked up guitar, there was a place called La Rosa’s Bar & Grill in Hammond, IN where my Pops would take me on Sunday nights after a whole day of church services. We’d be wore out! But we’d see a cat there named Stan Skibby who looked, performed and played so much like Hendrix—I find out later ‘cause I didn’t know who Hendrix was at the time—that I might as well have been watching Jimi himself. I was just a kid, but that’s a lasting memory and I couldn’t wait to return there every Sunday night. That was my first star-struck moment.”
“I also came to Albert (King) through another musician there, Jimmie J and The HardDrive Band. Man, that cat had the Flying V, played lefty, had Albert’s moves, sound and everything. He used to be on the Bears and had a bum ankle so he played sitting down just like Albert. But when he felt deep into it, he’d stand up and hoot! My appreciation for that style of blues was formed there and then. Live music, it was always live music, my Pops’ generation and even older. ”
“Of course, later, I explored the histories of other great Blues artists. I love Muddy Waters, of course, ‘cause I do “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, BB, Albert and Freddie King through their recording output. And I love slide guitar when I first heard what Derek Trucks could do with that. I listen to it all, man. But I’d have to say, it was through our local guitar men and others who I watched up-close-and-personal that had the biggest influence on me. Guys like Myron ‘Dr. Love’ Robinson, ‘Skibby’ and Jimmie J, ‘Biscuit’ Miller who I came up with [he’s my friend]—these were all my guys.”
Jamiah Rogers’ early bands, Next Generation Music Machine and Jamiah On Fire and the Red Machine were powerful forces when he first burst on the scene. And with Jamiah Rogers Band, he bestowed the title ’Blues Superman’ upon himself, the title of his last full CD. His current iteration Dirty Deacon Denzel and The Dirty Church Band is another step forward, a bounding leap.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ll call my new CD too: The Dirty Deacon.’”
The man is fluid, evolving, and not one to be pigeonholed. When asked who he’s been listening to, old or young, vintage or contemporary, Jamiah’s appreciation for Robert Glasper comes to the fore.
“He incorporates so many forms into his music, but it all makes sense. He’s a keyboardist and not much of a singer so he features guest vocalists. The main one I really love is Lalah Hathaway. He’s got songs that are smooth and low that I can lay back and close my eyes to, then he’s got songs where I say ’Turn-this thing-UP!’ I also like MonoNeon. His understanding of funk is just—incomparable.”
In the realm of business, Jamiah is a one-man, one-stop shop.
“I do all my bookings, I pay the band, I own my own masters. I keep it all close to home,” he insists. I’ve put myself in position to be ready to take what comes along with my success. I’ve been at this a long, long time. I might not be old, but in musical years I am a seasoned veteran. My number one thing is to spread my gift. I’m a young black kid from Chicago who really didn’t have too much but had enough; who had a gift when he was young with good parenting and basically preserving that gift that you see your child has and do with it what they can do.”
Projecting ahead, Rogers expands, “I could even see myself having my record label for artists who don’t quite know where to go. There are talented people out here who have books of songs who don’t put them out because they don’t have the platform or encouragement to do so. I’d like to be that person in the industry who could do that for them; something positive.”
At this rate, Dirty Deacon Denzel, Jamiah Rogers, is destined to be continuously morphing, an artist to keep an ear open for many, many years to come. This genuine Chicago child prodigy was born to evolve, incorporate new sounds and new forms, spread good will and excite his audience whenever he performs. He can go star-traveling as far and wide as he wants, while knowing he can always come back to earth on the 1.
Journalist Peter Hurley is a noted Chicago Blues writer and photographer. Mr. Hurley’s passion for Blues music and its accompanying photography was first inspired by the 1960s albums Chicago Blues Today Vol. 1, Jr. Wells’ It’s My Life, Baby and the Chess Records Little Walter compilation Hate To See You Go.