How did you get into playing the guitar?
I spent my childhood on a vineyard in south-west New South Wales, and in 1962 one of the itinerant grape pickers bought a guitar and instruction book by mail order. It was from one of those advertisements on the back of magazines: “Learn to play guitar in three weeks!” He started teaching himself to play and then gave me a few lessons in the basics of “plectrum guitar”.
I was thirteen years old, and was immediately hooked on playing guitar. I worked on the vineyard after school to earn some money to put towards my own guitar. Eventually I had enough to buy my very own arch-top acoustic – a plywood top Maton Alver. I took lessons from a retired dance band guitarist for several years, and after upgrading to an electric guitar I started playing gigs around the district with an instrumental band. We played in community halls, sports clubrooms and at private parties.
What was your first good guitar and how did you get it? (Do you still have it?)
I’d been awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to cover school expenses during Years 11 and 12. My parents allowed me to put some of the funds towards a guitar and amp, and I soon had a red Fender Mustang and a 40watt Moody amp. (Your taxes at work!) I sold the guitar and amp when I had to go into the army for 2 years.
What were your early musical influences?
The electric guitar sounds of Duane Eddy, the Shadows and the Ventures shaped my passion for guitar. Later the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Easybeats were major influences. My older brother had some Ventures and Shadows LPs, and I spent a lot of time playing along with them. We also used to learn songs by listening to them on the radio, or from juke boxes in the local milk bars.
Favourite piece of gear?
What gear that you still use today has been with you the longest?
My 1963 Guild Thunderbird S-200 has been with me since 1970, and I still use it for recording and occasionally for gigs. The Thunderbird is an odd-shaped beast, with the distinction of being the only guitar designed with a kickstand in the back (don’t trust it though!). It has a great sound, especially with the two pickups being wired out of phase.
What are your top 3 guitar albums (or songs)?
- The Guitar Album
In the 70s I bought a compilation double album called The Guitar Album, and this introduced me to players such as Link Wray, Mick Taylor, Freddie King (The Stumble soon became part of my regular repertoire), Albert King and of course B.B.
- Django Volume 1 (The Quintet of the Hot Club of France 1936-37)
Other than my early influences, the most significant guitarist in terms of changing my direction would be Django Reinhardt. I had not heard his music until the late 70s, when I purchased this double album that was advertised in a US guitar magazine. Django’s approach to playing set me on a path of becoming totally absorbed in the Gypsy Jazz style, and in the early 80s I formed a band in Perth (Vipers Dream) to play Gypsy Jazz. I still listen to Django more than any other guitarist.
- The Ventures – Walk, Don’t Run
The debut album by The Ventures –a major influence in my early teens.
What’s your latest release/recording?
Our last full album was “In Search of Lasseter’s Riff”, released in 2018.
In April this year we released a surf/rock digital single called “I Saw Sputnik”.
We’ve also recorded several lockdown videos with some of our musician friends, including a couple of jazz standards, a bluesy song called Flash Photography written by Nikki Scarlett, and an acoustic tune called Mosaic No. 5, that I composed for cello and two guitars.
Any upcoming live/streaming gigs?
We’re not planning any streaming gigs – just focusing on recording until the lockdown is over.
What’s YOUR scene?
Inner suburban bars and pubs are our scene – we love playing live gigs. Before the lockdown we were doing three gigs a week, mostly around the St Kilda area, and in several different line-ups.
About Ben Rogers
Guitarist Ben Rogers is based in Melbourne, and his trio Ben Rogers’ Instrumental Asylum, with Nikki Scarlett on bass guitar and Denis Close on drums, plays a style they describe as “reverb drenched surf-jazz/guitar noir”.
The band has released four albums – Welcome to the Instrumental Asylum (2005), Reverb Rehab (2007), Instrumentally Disturbed (2010) and In Search of Lasseter’s Riff (2018). The band’s heavily overdriven, reverb-drenched version of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” is listed as a recommended version in the best-selling reference book The Jazz Standards – A Guide to the Repertoire, by award winning US author Ted Gioia.
Ben has also released an album of acoustic instrumentals called Windfarms of Your Mind, with violinist Romana Geermans and bassist Nikki Scarlett.
Ben has worked around the Melbourne live music scene in rock, jazz, folk and acoustic projects since relocating from Perth in 1989. In addition to Instrumental Asylum, Ben is currently a member of The Jasmine Mahon Trio, Dusty Springclean and the Pops, The Other Trio, and The Steve Colebrook Trio.