Roger Joseph Manning – rock’s most prolific session man- and one helluva songwriter…

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In 1990,  radio was in need of a new direction…  Hair Metal was king, grunge had not quite taken a foot hold, and college radio was filled with so much of the same that it was a wasteland.  In the spring of that year, I was a college radio dj, playing a mix of all of this. Then along came a little album called “Bellybutton,” by a band named Jellyfish. It was filled with melodic, hook-filled songs that would have fit in perfectly in the early 70’s. This cd changed my views on music in that era. Sadly, it did not change radio…

One of the founders of Jellyfish was Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.  Since the demise of Jellyfish in 1994 or ’95,  Mr. Manning  formed another great band, Imperial Drag, and played keyboards on discs for everyone from Neil Diamond to Cheap Trick, Glen Campbell to Beck. He has also released two critically acclaimed solo albums.
Roger will be playing the Charlotte Pop Fest on September 26 in Charlotte, NC. With this event in mind, I took a moment to chat with Roger…

CH: Hey Roger. Thanks for taking a moment to speak to me.

RM: Hey, I appreciate the interview.

CH: I was listening to your latest release, Catnip Dynamite, this weekend and your song, “Down in Front” came on… just to let you know- I am am the “Tiny” you refer to in the song…6’9″ and I stand in front at concerts..

RM: HA

CH: Okay- since that is out of the way…In addition to your solo releases, Catnip Dynamite and Solid State Warrior, you have played or sang on records by, well…everybody.

RM: I have been so fortunate, over the years, to have been invited in to assist in whatever way I could , on these records. I am continuing to do that. In fact, if anything, now I am looking to expand that. I have not done it for a while, because I have been immersed in solo world. So, I am reaching out and trying to get back in to the community, and play on everything and anything. It is very fulfilling, because it is all across the board, you know stylistically. All kinds of different challenges, finding different ways to express. I like really coming through for the artist and giving them what they want.

CH: As a young musician, was this studio work something that you envisioned yourself doing?

RM: Well it was hard for me to envision life past Jellyfish. We had our challenges starting off, like any group. We did get signed relatively early on, and the machine started moving, and there is so much to do there, that you get lost in that world… It is hard to find the time to even think of anything else. And, as fast as that started- it was over, and we decided to go our separate ways. Suddenly it is just not there anymore. HA HA  Fortunately, I had a vision with Eric Dover to move forward, and then the same thing happened there. So the session stuff was just sort of a natural progression, that frankly, fell into my lap. I didn’t pursue it, but I found the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. That led to a healthy “word-spreading, ” and it is something that I have done off and on for over 10 years now, and it has been great fun.

CH: So, back to your own material. Do you see yourself playing more live shows with your own material?

RM: No. It is simply a financial issue. It cost so much money to rehearse, pay my guys. HA, I mean there is no big production involved, but ..for an artist of my size, other than major cities or specialized festivals , like the Charlotte Pop Fest, or the shows I do in Japan, it is hard to have any kind of financial guarantee that is going to cover all the expenses. So logistically it ends up being inefficient, and there is just so much more to do, here, at home.
This Charlotte show is a real fluke, in that it is a well organized festival to coordinate funds and all the money for all the bands. James presented it to me, and it just made sense.

CH: So the Charlotte Pop Fest will be your only show of 2009, other than a recent appearance with another artist, Bleu?

RM: Yeah, and that barely counts, I was only on stage for a mere 4 songs.

CH: What kind of setlist can we expect in Charlotte on the 26th?

RM: Mainly stuff from the two solo releases, Catnip Dynamite and Solid State Warrior, and some surprises. HAHA

CH: Your touring band consists of at least one member from a former band…

RM: Yeah, Eric Skodis. He is the drummer, and he has some amazing vocal harmony sensibilities that he pulls off while he plays the drums. He is a real asset. All the guys are, they all sing like birds, and you know… There are plenty of great bass players and guitarists in Los Angeles, and drummers, but so few of them can sing, let alone have an understanding of more complex, involved harmonies. And I am really just so fortunate that away.

CH: The bass player, is that Linus of Hollywood?

RM: Yes, a true talent in his own right. He will playing his own stuff at the Festival as well.

CH: Wanted to mention a couple other things. I recently rounded up all my Imperial Drag demos that you released via the old “weed” format…great stuff.

RM: Yes, in a perfect world, we are going to be releasing  4 Cd’s of Imperial Drag outtakes and some live rarities. It will all be done in house, and I will be ideally selling it from my website, but that is still in the works.

CH: I randomly flipped over to “I won’t pay to buy it” from these demos as we speak. In a perfect world, this is a radio hit. It just has that perfect sunny afternoon late ’70’s, early FM radio feel, if that makes any sense whatsoever..

RM: Oh yes, it does. That is what beats through my musical heart, so to speak, and just rolls out of me. That song was written as Imperial Drag was forming in 1994, and I am as proud of it today.

CH: One last thing, I mentioned that I was listening to your stuff over the weekend. When that song went off, I hit shuffle on my ipod and the next song was “Lord, Is it Mine” off Supertramp’s Breakfast in America….it was like the perfect next choice. It could have been – well , you. And I mean that as a compliment

RM: HA HA. Well, I am flattered. Thank You , that is definitely in my school of composition.

CH: Thank You, and I will see you in Charlotte. Again, I will be the one you tell to get down in front…

RM: HA. Thank you Clay, appreciate it.

Roger Manning will perform his only live solo show of 2009 on September 26,  as part of the Charlotte Pop Fest.
For more info: http://www.charlottepopfest.com

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About stratoclay
father, husband, musician, employee, writer... in that order

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