Walking down Sparkle Lane

Dave Woodhall talks to a Birmingham musical export with a tale or two to tell.

Edward Rogers is a singer-songwriter who lives in New York and has had to cope with a few major changes in his life. Ahead of a tour which sees him playing the Spotted Dog in Digbeth next week, we asked him a few questions.

You’re not the Edward Rogers who owns Rogers Communications and who’s worth $3 billion are you?

“Ha ha, good start but no, and I don’t even know if I want to be that person. I’m quite happy with who I am. “

Although you live in New York you were born and brought up in Birmingham.

“Yes, in Acocks Green. We moved to New York when I was twelve.”

Was the city able to have any real influence on your music?

“Yes, definitely. The album before my current one, the title Sparkle Lane came from going to my grandmother’s house, which was rebuilt after the war and the pavement had sparkles in it that cut down the need for lighting at night. I have fond memories of my dad telling me the history of the city. It became more of a nagging feeling that I had to go back and revisit what might have been. On the new album there’s a song called My Street which is about where you’re born and looking back at your roots.”

You went over to New York in 1964, when British music was taking off over there. Did you ever claim to know the Beatles?

“Of course. When I first went to school everyone thought because I had an English accent and the haircut that I at least knew one of the Beatles because they thought England was so small. And I wasn’t going to deny it, it got me to meet girls and the accent always got me an A in class.”

Then you became a drummer, which in mid-seventies New York must have been a great experience.

“It was. In our first show at CBGBs They Might Be Giants were on the bill and as I came off stage Sylvain Sylvain was saying “You guys got great hair.”

“The New York Dolls were like saints to me; this was a time when the New York scene was helping music switch from the glam rock in England to punk. The Ramones, guys I played with were in a band with Debbie Harry. It was a small scene at first then it really caught on. It was a wonderful thing to be involved in. All those bands like Television and Blondie, that’s where they all started.”

Then in 1985 your life changed with the kind of accident that would have finished most musicians.

“It was on a subway and I was feeling faint. I should have sat down, but I opened the door to get some air between the train thinking I’d be fine and the next thing I know I was coming out of this daze, some guy is hitting me around the cheeks trying to get me to wake up and he outright told me I’d lost my right arm and my right leg.

“My ability to deal with situations had to alter but looking back it brought on more challenges. I became more outgoing and I wouldn’t have become a singer and start writing or meet people I have met without what I went through.”

“Going through it, I never thought I wouldn‘t walk again, the question was how far. Then I started to learn to write left handed, it looked like a child of five learning to write but I kept a diary and eventually I was able to get my writing back. And I began writing songs. I’m still learning – one day I’ll write a decent one.

“After the accident I went back to playing then one night I played and event with Tony Visconti, who I got friendly with and he was totally honest. He said I was a good singer-songwriter and I should concentrate on that because if the band I was with ever got a record deal I’d be the first he’d replace. So I started writing.”

And now you’re touring the UK.

“I visit London a lot, but this is going to the roots of where I grew up and still have family and friends. At the Spotted Dog I’m playing with Owen Comaskey, who ran Arlene’s Grocery, a club on the Lower East Side where I used to play until he moved back to Birmingham.

” There’s a whole Anglophile music scene in New York and the Birmingham musicians, guys like Denny Laine and Roy Wood, are still very well respected here. Even the lesser names such as Tony Sheridan are real cult heroes.”

Do you think a life like yours has you thinking that everything is pre-ordained and it’ll all come right in the end?

“Well, the end isn’t here yet. I don’t know what I would have had if I’d stayed in Birmingham, I don’t know what I’d have had if I hadn’t had the accident, but I’m here and I’m okay.

“We’re good enough to open for bands like Terry Reid, who I’m a great fan of, Ian Hunter and Patti Smith. I have my own following and I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing and enjoying it.”

Even though you’re not worth $3 billion?

“I got the three, maybe the zero and maybe another couple of zeros, but after that we’re getting a little tight.”

Edward Rogers plays the Spotted Dog, Digbeth, on 14th May.