“I’ve been writing tunes for a long time and I’m lucky to be around all these great musicians,” says Bobby Lee Rodgers, main composer and guitarist/banjoist for Atlanta-based band The CodeTalkers, speaking last week from the road in Tenn. on his way to “Smilefest 2006” in Lake Toxaway, N.C.
Rodgers, 37, studied upright bass, snare drum, and bluegrass banjo before veering toward some serious jazz work. He earned a degree in music and began teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He moved back to Georgia in 1999 and met the irascible 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.”
These days, Rodgers is thrilled to be fully occupied with his own original rock/jazz hybrid and jam music, along with all of the touring and camaraderie involved.
“I am really happy right now with all the players I’ve been around,” he says of the core CodeTalkers, which include Tyler Greenwell on drums and Ted Pecchio on double-bass. “We’ll be playing as a trio in Charleston this week. It’s really something … it’s got its own vibe. We just finished a record and the core of the band is so connected we can just go anywhere. I mean, it just goes!”
The trio’s new album is a dynamic 12-song collection of Rodgers-penned blues/rock tunes and jams titled Now. Hampton makes a guest appearance on the final track. Now is officially due in stores this week. Indeed, musically, it “goes” all over the map.
Revered among jam band followers for their technical proficiency and unpredictable live shows, the band is well known for their longtime collaborations — particularly with Hampton. Electric guitarist Jimmy Herring (of the Allman Brothers, The Dead, and Aquarium Rescue Unit) regularly made his way into the Talkers mix as well.
“It would be super great for people to see the talent that these two cats have,” says Rodgers. “Sometimes that gets masked by us having so many guests and collaborators sitting in from time to time. It’s something else — the chemistry among us three. I think this record really captures that energy and chemistry. It’s definitely a representation of what we’re about right now.”
Recently, Herring made his way into an entirely separate project called Herring, Rodgers & Sipe (with drummer Jeff Sipe). The trio just blazed through town, performing older Rodgers material that isn’t currently in The CodeTalkers’ repertoire.
“With Jimmie and Jeff, I wrote another batch of tunes and worked them out for that trio,” says Rodgers. “With the CodeTalkers, we take from batches of songs I’ve worked on for years and work on them as a band, too. We just dump new stuff into the repertoire all the time. It’s hard to describe. It’s very raw. The studio record is really the way we sound on stage.”—T. Ballard Lesemann