Marc Rogers admits feeling a bit surreal at that moment.
The circumstances were familiar. With his Telecaster strapped around his shoulder, Rogers jammed alongside singer-songwriter David Lee Murphy, just as they’d done many times before. The setting, and the era, were different.
“The last time I’d played with David Lee, we were playing in a bar in front of 30 people,” Rogers recalled, “and the other night, there were 3,000 people singing every lyric of every song.”
The songs at the latter show — an Aug. 11 concert in Rockwell, Iowa — belonged to Murphy, a Nashville veteran who’s recorded and written several No. 1 country hits. But a version of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” would’ve provided a fitting toast to Rogers, who’s serving as lead guitarist this summer and fall in Murphy’s tour band.
Rogers worked the Music City circuit from 1976 until 1994. The door to that opportunity was opened by his cousin, Bruce Osbon, former guitarist for Dolly Parton and “The Porter Wagoner Show.”
Eventually, Rogers toured America as lead guitarist for country and gospel music legends “Little” Jimmy Dickens, Kitty Wells and Jake Hess, as well as popular Nashville artists Skeeter Davis, Tommy Cash and Stacey Dean Campbell. During that stretch, Rogers also gigged with Murphy in clubs along Music Row. Born and raised in Terre Haute, Rogers left to make music in Nashville at just 19 years old. Eighteen years later, with two young sons, he moved back to his Hoosier hometown to live, work and raise the boys with his wife, Barbie.
Rogers is now 54. His sons, Marcus (23) and John (19), are now in college at Indiana State University and talented musicians themselves.
This year, the road called Rogers’ name again.
“I just kind of came to the point where the kids were at an age where I could go at it again,” Rogers said. “I kind of knew I’d go back to it, at some point.”
His return, though, is judicious. Murphy sang Top 5 country hits in the 1990s such as “Dust on the Bottle,” “Party Crowd” and “The Road You Leave Behind,” and co-wrote recent chart-toppers for other artists including “Livin’ in Fast Forward” (for Kenny Chesney), “Big Green Tractor” (Jason Aldean) and “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” (Thompson Square), but isn’t touring full-time now. When a weekend concert swing arises, Rogers gets the call, drives to Nashville, and boards the Murphy tour bus.
“It’s pretty fun to be out there again,” he said.
Returning the favor
Rogers reconnected with Murphy through a mutual friend — J.T. Corenflos, a Terre Haute native and one of the most sought-after recording session guitarists in Nashville. Nearly seven months ago, Rogers asked Corenflos to spread the word about his hopes of landing a lead-guitar job with a Nashville act. Ironically, it was Rogers who helped Corenflos earn his first Nashville job. Back in 1981, Rogers had been in Music City for five years, and Corenflos was a senior at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. Rogers invited Corenflos to visit, and took the teenage guitar whiz to the Grand Ole Opry, introducing Corenflos to Opry insiders, including Jimmy Yates, the steel guitar player for singer Jean Shepard.
“Everybody we met, Marc would say, ‘This guy’s looking for a gig,’” Corenflos recalled last week by telephone from his home in Tennessee.
A few months later, back in Terre Haute, Yates called Corenflos, offering a job in Shepard’s band. He accepted, and Yates said, “Sounds great. We’ll play the Opry tomorrow night.” Corenflos was just 18.
Thirty years later, Corenflos’ guitar work has been heard on 80 No. 1 country hits.
He’s grateful to Rogers for his break, and happy to see his old friend fulfilling a dream. Rogers is quite pleased, too.
“It’s pretty fun to be out there again,” said Rogers.
Audiences help fuel the exhilaration. Loyal thirty- and forty-somethings, who know Murphy’s hits from the ’90s by heart, join younger concert-goers who sing along to Billboard-topper Murphy originals made famous by others, like “The More I Drink” (Blake Shelton), “Goes Down Easy” (Van Zant), and “Feelin’ Like That (Gary Allan).
Rogers hasn’t forgotten the importance of delivering the guitar lines etched in fans’ memories. He’s never stopped playing, especially with his kids, but performing for thousands of ticket-buyers adds a dimension.
“It’s psychological. There’s a lot more pressure. There’s a lot bigger audience, so there’s high expectations,” Rogers explained. “They expect you to play those guitar parts.”
His chops remain sharp, which comes as no surprise to Marcus, his eldest son and a gifted guitarist, as well.
“A lot of people have to go to a concert or go down to Nashville to see a real, professional guitarist,” Marcus said. “I just have to walk in the kitchen.”
Fatherly lessons linger
Marcus barely remembers his father’s touring days, and was around 5 when Marc called it quits. He and John perform with Marc often, but this summer has enlightened them about the extent of his talents. “It’s great for me, and it’s great for my brother to see that you can do what you love doing later in life,” Marcus said.
Versatility is one of Marc’s fortes, his son confirmed.
“Dad’s a master of all genres,” Marcus said. “He can play Brent Mason if he needs to. He can play Lynyrd Skynyrd. He can play ’80s metal. And, there’s nothing he does just average. Dad’s an exceptional guitarist.”
Marcus learned guitar at age 11, guided by his dad. Likewise, Marc began playing at 7, taught by his dad, Sonny Rogers, a Terre Haute city police officer and longtime local musician. “He showed me my first two chords,” Marc said of Sonny. Marc sat in during his “Vigo County Opry” get-togethers that included Terre Haute roots-music icon Louis Popejoy and future Nashville bluegrass artist Terry Eldredge. Years later, Marc played along with his father’s band at a Terre Haute tavern in June 1984, when an unruly patron pulled a gun, shot and killed Sonny.
Marc’s father played Nashville himself, performing as a teenager on WMAK, a country station in that Southern city.
His advice and influences as a musician follow Marc in his revisitation of Music City.
“He said, ‘Try to play what the song requires. Don’t play any less, or any more,’” Marc said. “Once you get that, that’s what Nashville is really all about. There’s a time to show what you’ve got, and there’s a time to complement the singer’s voice.”
Rogers follows those instructions now, too, playing with Murphy. In September, he’ll handle guitar in a band backing new Nashville artist Ty Brown. Beyond that, who knows?
“I’m just going to kind of see where it takes me,” Rogers said. “It’s another opportunity for me to kind of get to do something I thought I’d never have the chance to do again. And, I’m having a blast being out there.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.