Gamble Rogers at the Funny Farm

By Bill Ede

I've always found it hard to think of Gamble Rogers as a solo performer. Perhaps that is because of the cast of characters he always brings with him whenever he ascends a stage. Characters like Aganemnon Jones, "head metaphysician" at the Erindale's Purina Store in Snipes Ford, a fictional town in the fictional Ocklawaha County, Florida, where the system of socially acceptable behavior (referred to as "Ochlawaha County laissez faire") is based on the principle that "it. is easier to get forgiveness than permission"; Sheriff Hutto Proudfoot, a "primitive man" whose future plans include marrying soon because he's growing "tired of holding his stomach in"; Narcissa Nonesuch, the "community organizer" who is being carefully scrutinized of late by the townspeople for her anti-materialistic views and for "talking metric to decent folks"; and, of course, Still Bill, a man "who moves so slow you've got to line him up with the fence posts to see if he's in motion.."

All in all Rogers' characters are likable sorts, fleshed out in a manner not unlike those of Minnesotan Garrison Keillor, but with more of a southern, "good Ol' boy/girl,"as opposed to midwestern, feel, which is, of course, to be expected. The two shows I caught during his February 6-9 stay at the Funny Farm showed Gamble to be as in command of his craft as ever, despite the sore throat problems he was experiencing at the Saturday performance.

Gamble's career goes back at least as far as the Serendipity Singers, whose "Crooked Little Man (Don't Let the Rain Come Down)" spent 14 weeks on the Billboard charts in early 1964, peaking at No. 6. (Not bad considering that this was at the time when the Beatles were holding down multiple positions in the Top 10 on a regular basis. The record went No. 1 here in Louisville and, if I remember correctly, stayed there for more than a week. Leonard Yates could verify whether or not that last part is true.

I first met and heard him around 1974 at the Great Midwestern Development Company on Washington Street where, after talking with him for a half hour or so, I was surprised to find out that he (along with his bass player) was the evening's entertainment. (He was performing more songs then songs like Billy Joe Shaver's "Honky Tonk Heroes" and John Stewart's "July, You're A Woman," both from his first album, not yet released at the time. Rogers' version of the latter song did not go the way of the Pat Boone version, which edited out the line about the "daughter of the devil.")

From what I recall of that first listening, the monologues were either not yet part of the performance, or sandwiched in between the songs in such a way as to appear "natural." I don't, to be honest, remember them.

They are now the highlight of his show and it could be argued that he doesn't showcase his guitar playing and singing enough. (He is a powerful vocalist and a Travis-style guitarist of they first order, whose "Deep Gap Salute," from his first album, was a true revelation to me when I first heard it as to how far the Travis style can be taken by a good guitarist.)

His brand of "talkin' blues" is closer to Arlo than to Woody Guthrie, reminiscent in spots of Jaime Brockett and "the "sky songs" of Bukka White (but with only the appearance of being unrehearsed, as Gamble's song-stories are fairly well thought out beforehand, with special attention paid to finding just the right combination of words to describe the idea or event in question. His vocals remind me in spots of Hoyt Axton, John Stewart and the lesser-known though comparably talented Tim Henderson. And he flat-out physically resembles Townes Van Zandt.)

Gamble pretty much stays on the road these days, playing clubs and festivals in all parts of the country and showing up from time to time at our own Corn Island Storytelling Festival, the only place local patrons have been able to hear him in forever. If we're lucky, however, it