"Really, the last year or so has been a great time of transition for me," says Atlanta-based guitarist/banjoist and songsmith Bobby Lee Rodgers. "I wanted to get away from some of the distraction and drama of what I'd been doing, and get back to really playing music — composing, working on melodies, and jamming with other players who really get it."
Rodgers celebrates the release of his new solo album titled Overdrive with a free show at the Pour House this week. It sounds like he can't wait to hit town with a new band and a rejuvenated attitude. The trio features drummer Anthony Cole and bassist Matt Latham. Overdrive marks his first solo album since disbanding his previous project The Codetalkers. The 10-song collection rocks and grooves harder than some fans might expect — from the anthemic opener "Mary" to the atmospheric closing ballad "Fall Into the Sky."
Overdrive features guest performances by Jimmy Herring, Marcus Williams, Ike Stubblefield, and Jeff Sipe.
Rodgers started playing music when he was seven years old. Growing up in north Georgia, he incorporated a wide variety of musical tenets into his musical vocabulary — from the popular rock tunes on the radio at the time, to blues, gospel, be-bop, fusion, and old-school country. He studied bass, percussion, and bluegrass banjo before veering toward serious jazz work.
An influential high school jazz band director named Melvin Hodges helped Rodgers focus his talents and efforts on developing his jazz skills.
"I can remember playing a piece that I was totally unprepared to play — I hadn't rehearsed it and I barely knew it — and getting to a section where I starting soloing all over the place," Rodgers says. "Hodges stopped me and asked me what the hell I was doing. I said, 'I'm soloing.' Then he asked me, 'But do you know why you are soloing?' I'd never considered that before."
From high school, Rodgers went to study at the University of Georgia, playing on the side with various jazz, Americana, and indie songwriters and groups. He earned his degree and began teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the 1990s. He moved back to Georgia in 1999 and connected with notorious Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.), formerly of the Aquarium Rescue Unit and the Fiji Mariners. The two claim to be "astrologically linked." Within months, The Codetalkers were formed with Hampton settling into a supportive role as recurring special guest. "That was a great experience, although we went through tons of different drummers and bass players," Rodgers remembers.
Over the last 10 years, Rodgers stayed occupied with his own original rock and jazz music, earning a strong reputation for his fine technique and lively sense of musical experimentation.
The Codetalkers released four albums, and toured heavily across the U.S. and elsewhere. The grind of the road work started wearing Rodgers down — physically, emotionally, and artistically.
"Playing under the name 'The Codetalkers' became difficult because of things within the music industry," he says. "Marketing people and club people and media people who seemed obsessed with defining the band in a certain way, or hung up on the band's history with Bruce Hampton. This year, things are working from a clean slate. It's a fresh start, and I couldn't be happier."