Matt Rogers picked up his first guitar at age 9. At age 15 he was performing to crowds at the Magic City Blues festival.
“It was a surreal experience that I haven’t really appreciated until now,” Rogers said in a recent interview.
At the time Rogers was performing with the Tyler Burnett Band, and he’ll take the stage once again with some of the same musicians. Currently Rogers is playing with drummer Pat Epley and bassist Steve Brown in a group they’ve dubbed the S.O.B.s, short for Sons of Billings.
The trio is a potent combination. Live, their performances range from fusion jazz to improvised rock. “We’ve always had a good chemistry, and when we step on stage it clicks and it’s electric,” Rogers said.
The S.O.B.s perform in two formats — one with standup bass and a smaller drum set, which they feature in gigs every other Tuesday at Carter’s Brewery, and the other with amplified bass and full drums.
“We like to have the ability to play in two different settings, in a small room like Carter’s and also the ability to rock out on a big stage like the Stillwater,” Rogers said.
When Rogers, Brown and Epley get together, musically almost anything is possible. Though they rehearse sets and retain a format for many songs, a lot of what comes out on stage is improvised.
“We all have crazy minds that go in different directions, but we bring it back to the root,” Rogers said. “We just have a natural connection that allows us to use our improvisational skills to the max.”
Rogers was born and raised in Billings and started performing live music when he was 12. Now in his early 20s, Rogers has the talent of guitarists twice his age, a skillset he credits to years of listening to a wide range of music.
“There are different periods of my life when I am listening to nothing but jazz or world music, or heavy metal,” Rogers said. “When I pick up a guitar, it all comes out at once. It’s uncontrolled.”
Rogers comes from a musical background. His mother played guitar when she was younger, and his father is a drummer for two bands in town, The Peach Pickers and the Firehouse Band.
“I have a really deep well to draw from,” Rogers said, recalling his father’s record collection. “From world music to blues and jazz and rock, I like to draw from all sorts of different influences.”
At age 8 Rogers said he was getting into the Allman Brothers and Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I remember my dad bringing home a CD one day and telling me to check out this guitar player. I was tired of Stevie Ray Vaughn impersonators — not to say that I haven’t drawn from Steve Ray immensely — but at that point was just kind of tired of that and skeptical.”
The album was “Joyful Noise” by The Derek Trucks Band, and Rogers said it convinced him from the first note that Trucks was an absolute original.
“A lot of people compare him to Duane Allman, but I don’t. (Trucks) has such an original tone. I remember the first time I heard him — he’s my favorite guitar player live.”
Rogers has seen Trucks in performance many times, including at Red Rocks with the Allman Brothers.
“Derek has easily more influence on me than any guitar player ever,” said Rogers, who has also seen Truck’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, in concert.
“Susan’s a big part of this style of music and a big influence on me as well. It’s amazing that they were lucky enough to find each other and get married.”
Of sharing a festival with musicians who have been so instrumental to his craft, Rogers said, “I feel humbled for sure. Just to have this opportunity to play at this large of a scale, and alongside such great talents and Derek and Susan, and Sonny Landreth — these guys are the two greatest slide guitarists to ever live. It’s a privilege to even be on the same street as them.”
The 2010 Magic City Blues festival lineup features Trucks and Tedeschi performing together as headliners on Friday evening and the rock/reggae/funk fusion band Michael Franti and Spearhead capping the festival on Saturday.
The S.O.B.s perform Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Stillwater stage. Local funk band Funk in the Trunk also performs on Friday night on the main stage.
Other Stillwater Stage performers include rock band Gary Small and the Coyote Brothers and solo folk-blues singer/songwriter Maria Muldaur on Friday. Blues musician Ben Prestage and southwest Louisiana blues guitarist Sonny Landreth perform on Saturday.
Headliners aside, Main Stage performances on Friday include Otis Taylor and Saturday’s Main Stage features The Randy Oxford Band (featuring trombone man Randy Oxford) and the blues-rock group Indigenous.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. The age restriction has been lowered to 18 and older this year. Tickets, priced at $40 in advance, are available by phone at (406) 670-2329, at Billings Holiday Gas Stations, the Rimrock Mall ticket kiosk, and Cactus Records in Bozeman. Tickets are available the day of the show at the gate for $45.