Saturday, December 3, 2011

Opening Your Ears: Stan Rogers' Fogarty’s Cove

First time I met Stan Rogers I was watching my friend John play at a little coffeehouse at the Jewish Community Centre in Hamilton. John was in the middle of a song, probably “If I Was a Carpenter,” when the door swung open and a giant silhouette back-lit by the streetlights proclaimed, “hi! I’m Stan Rogers, just back from playin’ little honky-tonks and bars all across northern Ontario…and I’d be happy to play for you!” John never quite recovered.

Next time I met Stan was at Bill Powell’s third floor apartment just off Gore Park in downtown Hamilton. I was there to audition for a folk festival. I knocked on the door, heard a voice call, “come on in; it’s open!” Stan was listening to a young duo. I took my guitar out of its case to tune up. The duo left. Stan said, “Before you start, I have to show you something.” We walked the length of the apartment to the front bedroom. Bill Powell, painter, head of Creative Arts, founder of Festival of Friends, and all 'round local legend, lay stark naked, passed out on the bed not unlike Santiago at the end of The Old Man & the Sea

I tell these stories simply because Stan Rogers’ tragic death in 1983, under heroic circumstances in a fire on Air Canada flight 797 in Cincinnati, has created a legend. When I knew him, Stan was not a legend, he was just a singer-songwriter trying to make it in the business. For him, it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. I found a couple of RCA 45s in a delete bin in Kresge’s around that time, and bought them for 39 cents each. I still have one, “Fat Girl Rag.” It’s not very good, and nothing like the music that he would do later. The other single was something about Santa Claus and I’m not sure what happened to that one. No great loss, but Fogarty’s Cove released in 1977 showed a very different direction.

This first album has now been reissued in a digitally re-mastered version in a re-designed digipak (Borealis Records, 2011). Considering that the first time I saw this album it was only available on cassette or 12” vinyl, it’s looking (and sounding) quite different. They tell us that this is the first of five of Rogers’ original albums to receive this treatment, and it looks as though the five will be released as a set, in keeping with the design first employed earlier this year with Borealis’s Very Best of Stan Rogers collection. A Man Called Wrycraft designed the artwork for both releases and has given them a classic look, befitting the music. A sepia photo of Stan is laid on top of an olde map of the Atlantic region of Canada. This was the land Rogers loved.

Inside are liner notes by Rick Salutin, Stan’s widow Ariel and the producer Paul Mills. Stan’s original notes are included in the insert lyric book. Taken as a whole, the four sets of notes illuminate both the original project and the new one. And it is a new one, as the re-mastering process allows us to hear the musicians more clearly, more brilliantly than ever before. And what musicians they are. Guitars are played by Stan, David Woodhead (who also plays bass), Curly Boy Stubbs and John Allen Cameron. Stan’s brother Garnett adds violin and flute, Ken Whiteley plays mandolin and piano, Grit Laskin (appearing as The Masked Luthier of Dupont Street) brings dulcimer, banjo, concertina and long-necked mandolin, and Bernie Jaffe violin. The sound is rich with stringed instruments and Stan’s big voice.

Right from the first song Rogers lets you know his geographical home. “Watching the Apples Grow” is dedicated to “William Davis, Premier of Ontario [in ‘77] who said, ‘Ontario! Is there any place you’d rather be?’ [to which Stan replied] ‘You betcha, Bill!’” This song includes the line “Your scummy lakes and the city of Toronto don’t do a damn thing for me, I’d rather live by the sea.” His songs sound like traditional tunes melodically, and with all the violins and guitars, and lyrically too. His concerns are for bigger issues. Sure there’s a love song here and there, but listen to how “Forty-five Years” starts…

Where the earth shows its bones of wind-broken stone
And the sea and the sky are one
I'm caught out of time, my blood sings with wine
And I'm running naked in the sun
There's God in the trees, I'm weak in the knees
And the sky is a painful blue
I'd like to look around, but Honey, all I see is you

Not many people were thinking 45 years ahead back in the mid-seventies!

The 1977 release
The title song could easily be a traditional song about life on the seashore. It is followed by “The Maid On the Shore” which is an old Newfoundland song learned from a couple of Annapolis Valley boys. Then comes “Barrett’s Privateers,” an epic of the pirating life, on a par with Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” sung without instruments. The whole album is like that, taking risks in ways that very few '70s songwriters were wont to do. Not content to follow the current trends, Stan Rogers set his own direction.

The last time I saw Stan Rogers I was standing behind him in a line waiting to get in to the McMaster gymnasium for a Cat Stevens concert. “Stan!” I said, “Where the heck’s the money I earned at that folk festival?” [After the show, the musicians went backstage to find promoters, emcees and everyone had disappeared!] “Oh, Dave…that was a mess. Nobody got paid. I heard the promoter went to Mexico.” Hmm, with my $25!

It was right after that show that Fogarty’s Cove came out. I didn’t purchase it. I didn’t buy any of Stan Rogers’ records. I held him responsible for interrupting my friend’s set; as I wondered what kind of friend shows off his pal’s naked body to a stranger; and I really had needed that $25! It wasn’t even ten years later on June 2nd, 1983 when we heard the news about the fire in the plane. Stan was gone. He left a substantial body of work, and now the world gets a chance to hear a new, improved version of it. Tom Paxton has compared Stan to Woody Guthrie; Peter Yarrow has called his talent ‘extraordinary;’ and Pete Seeger said he was “one of the most talented singers and songwriters in North America." The re-issue series is giving this reviewer a second chance to understand what they’re talking about! 

David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.


  1. Nice post. I'm always surprised by how few people, especially Canadians, know of Stan Rogers.

    His live album, Between the Breaks, is one of my favorite albums -- and I'd say for the uninitiated, the best place to start. But, Fogarty's Cove is great, too.

    Stan also got me into using DADGAD tuning on my guitar which has a lovely resonator effect.

  2. When i was little my dad used to put the 12" on the record player and we would dance around to "Barretts Privateers". I knew all the lyrics and singing that song was the only time my dad would let me say damn as a kid. Its been years since those days but my love for Stan Rogers has done everything but dissipate. My childhood had a soundtrack of "Northwest Passage" and "Fogartys Cove" but my teens years are now being illuminated by "Between the Breaks", "From Fresh Water" and "Home in Halifax".

    Growing up in Hamilton I am saddened that so few know of this great man and his fantastic music. A true legend!