Johnnie Shines and Roy Rogers
I had had this idea about featuring an entire festival of the slide guitar, because I loved the sound and it
seemed to belong to the blues. I called my favorite and, certainly, the festival’s favorite slide player, Roy
Rogers, for his picks, and his availability.
He told me he could not do it because he was booked in Florida, but his favorites were Johnnie Shines
(although he had had a stroke recently and Roy wasn’t sure he was able to get around on the slide
yet); John Mooney from Florida, and our own Robert Lowry from Santa Cruz. I had a good week on the
phone, nailing down all three, and called Roy after getting off the phone with Mrs. Shines, who said that
Johnnie traveled with a fine young protégé of his, Kent DuChine; and some days, could still play “pretty
damn good”. Roy called me out, saying I must be lying. I reeled off the home phone numbers and said I
was sorry he was gonna miss a cool show, but I still needed a 2nd bill and who would he recommend? He
asked for a couple days to think about it.
Two days later, Roy’s agent called, “What the &*#) did you do, Gehrke?”
“Wadda you mean?” I asked.
“Roy just postponed his five gig Florida tour!”
“What the hell…”
“To play your goddamn festival with goddamn Johnnie Shines!” Roy’s agent snarled. “Are you gonna
“No” I admitted. I had always wanted to headline someone exactly like Johnnie Shines. Robert Johnson’s
favorite touring partner, for God’s sake! All our fans would expect it.
“Are you gonna fly them out, and rent them a back line?”
I figured that the correct answer for that one was a yes.
We had a wonderful show. Maybe some a’ you guys remember it. John Mooney was a young solo
powerhouse, full of stories backstage about Son House in Buffalo, and being his “please-go-get-this” boy
for Son for a couple years. Robert Lowery brought his partner, harp player Virgil Thresher (I hope I have
that name right), and added to his local stature. Roy seemed deeply honored to share the stage with an
idol of his, and humbled to have been the reason for this (unfortunately) last visit to the West Coast of
the very definition of the phrase “a living legend”. Johnnie fell asleep right beside the stage in front of
God and everyone. Kent said “don’t worry, he’s just getting’ ready.” And he played a bunch of “pretty
damn good” slide. Almost impossible to do, it seemed, with a stroke–affected left hand. The Festival was
on a Sunday that year, I don’t remember why, and I had gotten Johnnie and Kent rooms at the Fairmont,
and had booked the SJSU Student Union Amphitheater on that Monday noon for a question and answer
session with the students, if Johnnie felt up to it. Amazingly, some 100 or more fans and students turned
up and had the best questions imaginable. I made a tape of it I gotta post here or transcribe sometime.
Johnnie had a great time. Particularly telling about life as a black musician in the south in the ‘teens and
twenties. And lots about being on the road with Robert. Johnnie had three college degrees, and was
a deeply intelligent man. Only thing that kinda pissed him off was that Alabama had just hired an old
French guy to be their “Blues Ambassador”. “French!” he said. Kent said on the side that Johnnie wasn’t
the only one in Alabama who thought Mr. Shines would have been a much better pick.
A few years later, Roy did headline the FBF and I caught him backstage, in a classroom playing an old,
out of tune piano. I thought it was a Shines song, and asked him.
‘Yeah,” he said.
“That was some kind of a great day, man.”