Trio’s debut album and U.S. tour set to capture the hearts of roots, rock, world, and jazz fans
There’s a bedrock of sound that unites the music of the Americas, despite the remarkable variety of musical expression on the surface. And then there’s the unique, near-magical energy that comes alive when devoted musicians let their skill and artistry converse.
StringShot, the new trio collaboration between legendary blues slide guitarist & producer Roy Rogers, Brazilian guitar virtuoso and songwriter Badi Assad, and South American stringed harp master and violinist Carlos Reyes, harnesses both, bringing blues and Latin music into close dialog while demonstrating how well friendship translates into flawless performances and songwriting. Their beautifully produced debut album, StringShot, leaves ample room for the musical kindred spirits to strut their stuff and move with effortless tenderness.
“I’m always trying to push the envelope, ” laughs Rogers. “It’s conducive to great music. The Latin and blues conversation has always appealed to me, and I love the rhythms and the challenge of a different genre.This is the first time I’ve gotten to explore it outside of a strictly blues context, and it’s been wonderful.”
“Though our styles are totally different, we use them as a way to communicate our hearts out,” explains Assad. “In the lyrics process, we could feel that we take in life in similar way, with day-by-day discoveries, with a lot of simplicity coming from the soul, and a love for music with a lot of freedom. Roy has a very big heart and he embraced me as a sister, with that same kind of care and support. You can hear it in the music, our very special friendship.”
American audiences will get to hear the collaboration live for the first time, as StringShot embarks on its debut tour on the West Coast this autumn.
Rogers, Assad, and Reyes all share a passionate devotion to their music and instruments, reflected in wildly creative and successful careers that cross boundaries and defy borders.
Rogers apprenticed playing with the greats, in particular John Lee Hooker, and later forged a name for himself as a peerless slide player and talented producer and songwriter. (He’s been nominated for 8 GRAMMYs for both.) Assad, daughter of a world renowned and deeply skilled musical family, took her classical training and put it through the filter of Brazil’s Afro-Latin heritage, evolving into an effortlessly graceful singer-songwriter. Reyes, a virtuoso on the Paraguyan stringed harp as well as the violin, has often taken his instruments into new territory, both as a player and fearless collaborator.
There is another, deeper layer connecting these musicians, a mutual fascination with each others’ styles. Rogers, for example, has toured Brazil and was ‘taken’ by the country’s cultural wonders, an experience that sparked “Blues for Brazil,” a song he originally recorded with legendary harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite but revisited and reimagined with StringShot.
Rogers’ son Sam, a beatboxer and vocal percussionist, visited Brazil and held a workshop a few years back. Assad showed up to take his class and that connection eventually led to Assad becoming friends with the entire Rogers family with Gaynell Rogers taking on Assad’s management.
Through this chance connection,Assad and Rogers decided to also collaborate together. “When I first went to Roy’s house to rehearse, I was very nervous because I didn’t know him very well and I had no idea what Iwould play on the guitar. Roy is a genius and I became shy. But he and his wife welcomed me with so much love and simplicity that my heart melted. It was ground zero of our friendship.”
That friendship-launching rehearsal led to a full-fledged project that brought in another key element, Reyes’s harp and violin; Reyes previously had been featured as a special guest with Roy and his band The Delta Rhythm Kings for the past few years. All of the instruments share strings, but occupy radically different spaces and contribute different voices to songs that range from pensive ballads (“God Prayed It” ”) to Afro-Cuban-inspired frolics (“Back to Havana”). The main thing, Rogers says, is to stay true to your sound, even as you embrace and dance with others’: “The whole criteria as a player is to be who you are. You may admire Brazilian or Cuban players, but you can’t just imitate. It’s a confluence of factors here, and these influences are coming together because we’re creating a sound together.”
The connections and differences enrich the music. “Carlos is South American as I am and in that sense we share some similar approaches to the rhythmic background,” explains Assad. “Yes, our countries have different styles of music but the heat behind the chords and the passion behind the rhythms are the same. So we understand each other in a silent and ancestral way. With Roy it is different. We share similarities because we play the same instrument and sing as well.” They also wrote the lyrics to several of the album’s songs together, sending ideas back and forth between California and Brazil. (“Wounds of Sight” and “Back Along the Way”)
Drawing on shared sensibilities and distinct contrasts, channeling them through their individual artistic approached, StringShot really came into its own in the studio, as Rogers began to hone the sound. “The sound happened in the studio. I had an idea of how the sound could come together. You know when you’re recording if it is going to work good or not,” Rogers notes. “There were more than a few moments in the studio where I went ‘wow’ this is the sound. We’ve got it.”
The pinnacle of the production approach resounds on the moving, “God Prayed It,” a song Rogers originally wrote with Metallica bassist Jason Newsted for another project, but one Assad transforms with profound emotion. “I thought this song and several of the other tracks deserved a full production treatment. That’s why it’s lush; that was by design,” Rogers says. “You’ll hear a few sparsely produced songs in there for balance, but at moments, we decided we would make it about as full as you can get, with added string arrangements and more.”
“When you explore a new combination, it’s exciting, especially when it comes together for all the right reasons,” muses Reyes. “It’s the interaction.”
“That connection really contributes to the sound,” agrees Rogers. “I want it to be known as the StringShot sound. This kind of musical collaboration works when artists are open to explore.”