Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Dann Rogers Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Enjoy every victory you achieve in your life but treat it as a milestone. Being here and talking with you is a victory, but it’s also just another stone paving the way for my journey. Keep working and learning and always strive to be better.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dann Rogers.
Dann Rogers, acclaimed singer/songwriter, just released his new single and video for “Lesson In Love,” written to express his heartfelt feelings to convey a message for those contemplating the difficult and complex decision surrounding abortion. Produced by his longtime friend Bill Cuomo (Kim Carnes, Steve Perry, Trace Adkins, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd), the lilting, piano-driven ballad boldly tackles the reality of abortion — not from a controversy seeking, politically charged point of view, but with a sense of sorrow and compassion for the emotional and spiritual repercussions, and the loss of innocence that a young woman experiences after making the difficult choice. Check out the music video and song HERE.
“Lesson in Love” follows on the heels of LIFE, Rogers’ long in the making collection which streams as a prolific output of 19 of his most compelling songs ever, but was conceived with a double album approach in mind, where the first LP/CD is LIFE REFLECTIONS, and the second is LIFE REVEALED. Leading up to the project’s release in September 2020 — Rogers scored #1 radio hits on the FMQB AC chart in 2017–18 with the lead singles “Love Is the Fire” and “Just One of Those Days.” Some 40 years earlier in 1979, both he and his legendary uncle, Kenny Rogers, set a unique record as the first two relatives to hit the Top 10 in on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart at the same time — Kenny with “Coward of the County” (#5) and Dann, from his debut album Hearts Under Fire, with “Looks like Love Again” (#6).
In addition to his solo career as an artist, Dann was a staff writer with the likes of Johnny Nash and Bob Marley at Cayman Music and developed his guitar skills under the mentorship of Ike Turner. Dann’s collaborators in those early days included Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Burton Cummings of The Guess Who, and members of ELO. Rogers has also written for country music legends Glen Campbell, Dottie West, and many others.
Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?
My dad got fired from his job at a clothing store on the day I was born for leaving work and taking my mother to the hospital to give birth to me. He got a job the next day selling phonograph records to music stores for a local music distributor in Houston where we lived. He later got a job as a radio promotions man and then became an R&B music producer and record label owner. He loved the soul of R&B music, and it would have a huge impact on me as I began developing into an artist. When I was a young boy, I could feel its authenticity as an art form. It was still in its infancy and I got a front-row seat watching it grow to where it has evolved today. Country music was also a major influence when growing up the first part of my life in Texas.
On any given morning it wouldn’t surprise me to wake up and find artists around our kitchen table having breakfast with my dad and talking the business of music. Dad would be plotting and planning the careers of great artists like Lighting Hopkins, Big Al Downing, Little Ester Phillips, Big Joe Turner, Betty LaVette, and countless other songwriters and artists in the developing stages of their careers. These were groundbreaking and trailblazing artists representing their cultures in music and song.
Being the oldest son, dad would always take me to work with him. So I grew up in radio stations, recording studios and record company offices. In looking back now, I realize what an awesome sandbox it was for me to grow up in. It defined and shaped my life. And, as my longtime friend and self-professed big brother Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix bass player) said to me when I was 17, “Danny, you were born into the music business. You didn’t have a choice.” He was so right.
I saw the charismatic spiritual side of expressing yourself through music and how it penetrates other people's lives. I was so turned on by watching and listening to these great artists that I decided I wanted to be just like them. The African American culture had a huge impact on my life and music. The holy trinity of music in my life has been R&B, Country, and Top 40 radio.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
Well, there was the time in the late 70’s when I walked out on stage in front of a packed house and played the first three songs with my zipper down. And I wasn’t wearing any underwear. I thought everyone in the first few rows were admiring my guitar but then they started laughing at it until one very weird-looking man walked up to the front of the stage with a huge grin on his face, pointed to my zipper and winked at me. Talk about embarrassing.
Here’s one of the most interesting stories of my career. It was the beginning for me as a real songwriter. I was 15 years old and my dad was having one of his usual music business parties at our house. It was winter of 1968 and a cold cloudy day in Nashville where we were living at the time. I was already well into learning my craft as a songwriter, playing guitar and writing a new song every day. A family friend had taken my brothers, sisters and I to a park where we were playing on a merry-go-round. She suggested that we write a song called “My Merry Go Round.” When we got back home, I sat in front of the fireplace with my guitar and we started writing this song, when a young, good-looking African American man walked into the room and stopped to listen. He introduced himself as Johnny Nash and asked if he could record that song. Johnny had just recorded his new song “I Can See Clearly Now,” and he was getting ready to record another album.
Johnny took the song to London and cut it at The Beatles’ studio. When John Lennon came walking into the room and heard it, he was so impressed and said, “That’s the most beautiful bloody song I’ve ever heard in my life.” When Johnny Nash told him a 15-year-old kid in Nashville wrote it, John Lennon replied “You tell him for me that I said that’s the most beautiful bloody song I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Man, when a Beatle sends you a message like that at an early age, you better take your approach to your craft seriously. It set the bar for me.
“My Merry Go Round” was the title cut for Johnny’s next album, and the follow-up single to “I Can See Clearly Now.” I was a teenage songwriter with a song in the Top 20 Billboard pop charts. After that, I was signed as a staff writer to Cayman Music, along with Bob Marley and Johnny Nash.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
It all starts with the passion you feel for whatever you are doing. Fall in love with it and educate yourself about the people who have paved the way before you. They are there to be a lighthouse for your creative journey. Learn all you can, and always show love and respect for everyone you meet along the way. They won’t always give it back, but they will always remember the love and respect you showed them. And don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re too old to make your art, or your time has passed. That’s a lie. Only people who can’t do what you do will try to discourage you from following your dream. I’m an artist forever. Here’s the way I see it, “Life is one big study hall. I’m just trying to be a good student.”
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I would defiantly have to give that credit to my dad and his younger brother, Kenny. Dad influenced me as far as the business goes, and growing up watching my Uncle Kenny playing in bands made me want to do that. There’s something about playing in a musical ensemble with other musicians and hearing live music being made at that moment that both inspires and excites me. I guess, like so many other kids, I just went into the family business and followed my heroes.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?
I have a new single and video out right now called “Lesson in Love.” It’s a story of what a woman is experiencing while contemplating an abortion. I wrote it from the standpoint of empathy for what the woman is going through and feeling. I’m surprised at the positive reaction people are having towards it. Especially men. It’s a sensitive and controversial subject, but I haven’t heard one negative thing from anyone, and the video has been seen by 13 yr. old girls to 75-year-old granddads. It’s impactful, and I really hope your readers will check it out. Here are my thoughts on the subject: if a woman sees this video and decides not to go through with the abortion, and then falls in love with her baby, then this song will have served a higher purpose.
I’ve been working for the last year as a volunteer with a really special group of people at Rise Canyon Ranch here in Southern California. They specialize in Equine Assisted Psycho Therapy. They work with kids who have been taken out of homes and placed in the foster care system, as well as with our military veterans. You will not believe how a horse in the ring with a person can read a person’s spirit and disarm them. I have done pretty extensive work on my life in overcoming my own childhood trauma and growing up with PTSD. So obviously this is a subject that I resonate with and have compassion for.
Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
As I said, I am a childhood trauma survivor who grew up with PTSD from the beatings I took at a very young age from my mother who had her own mental illness going on. My mother was basically a mean-spirited person just like her mother and father were. It’s how they survived with no education back in those days. They had to be meaner than the other person to feel safe within their own fears. Mom had seven kids and no coping skills, with a husband who traveled most of the time. She used violence, intimidation and fear to control the family unit. I can remember one night being beaten so badly that I actually thought she was going to kill me while I was begging for my life. When you are a seven-year-old child, and that happens to you, you’re never the same. I grew up pretty angry as a young adult until I had a breakdown in my late 20’s, and went into a hospital where I began my journey to understanding and overcoming my past. I will always believe that the music I wrote and performed saved my life. Music was a way to express myself and outrun my fear for a few minutes at a time. I spent all of my spare time escaping the fear and writing songs. I’ve had a lot trauma therapy and healing over the years, and I understand it all now, so it has no power over me anymore. If you want to break the chains that keep you a prisoner in your mind, you have to fully understand why it happened. I love to garden, but I can’t grow beautiful flowers in soil that has been poisoned. You have to dig out all the bad soil and replace it with healthy soil before you can experience the beauty of it producing something beautiful. The same analogy applies to your life. Trust me when I say If I can recover from it, anyone can do it. You just have to want it bad enough. The truth is once you face your demons and expose light on them, you realize that the big bad boogeyman in your closet is really just a lizard in your shoe.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
That would be my older sister, Jerry Lynn. She passed away from the disease of alcoholism about 10 years back. Whenever my mom would go on a rampage, my sister would come to my defense to protect me, and my mother would turn on her and start beating her. She was more like a loving mother to me than my own mom. I would say she and I, being the two oldest, got the worst of the beatings, but my siblings got their fair share as well.
I tell everyone: “It’s the first step that becomes something.” Now when I look back to all the people in my family who followed me into therapy and recovery, I feel such pride for them all. I was the first person on both sides of my family to break the generational curses and go to therapy. Over the years, I watched all of my brothers and sisters do their lifework and overcome their own damage. We’re all just recycled souls.
Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?
In the case of Rise Canyon Ranch, we simply need more well-trained therapists and more government funding to service anyone in this country that needs help. Our staff is full up, and cannot take on any referrals. I think our government has to be responsible for doing more to help. I came to Rise Canyon Ranch to help grow their base and keep expanding their services across the country, so more people are getting the help they desperately need. We now have locations in California and in Arizona, and hope to open one next year in Colorado. It’s all about people helping people — so they can help other people.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”
I wish someone had told me:
- Enjoy every victory you achieve in your life but treat it as a milestone. Being here and talking with you is a victory, but it’s also just another stone paving the way for my journey. Keep working and learning and always strive to be better.
- Creators should never allow themselves the luxury of thinking they’ve MADE IT. For me, creating is like watering the tree that produces the fruits of my labor. Stay hungry, keep moving forward. And who knows, you just might write the best song you’ve ever heard.
- Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it does make your life easier. I’ve learned the hard way to treat every dollar as if it’s my last because there have been plenty of times in my career when I was down to my last dollar.
- I wish someone had explained to me the importance of diplomacy and how to deal with people who control the business. The bottom line is that writers and artists are a commodity for the record labels’ and publishers’ business models. They don’t need you. There are thousands of other people all trying to cram through one door to get their big breaks. If you let them make you a success, there will come a day when you won’t need them.
- Stardom is a proud badge to wear, but it comes with responsibilities and at a price. I think once you’ve had success, you must be willing to mentor the young ones coming up. There will come a day when their stars will shine and it will only make your star shine brighter. Waylon Jennings gave me the best advice on stardom. He was in the studio with me while I was recording an album in Nashville in 1986. He said to me “Hoss, don’t ever believe the things they write about you in the press. None of us are that good or that bad.”
You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It hurts my heart and makes me angry when I see someone who is hungry and homeless. I would rather be hungry than to see another human go hungry. There is nothing worse than having your physical freedom while being imprisoned in your mind and left alone with your thoughts. I think our government is failing our homeless population by not building more mental health facilities with a plan to help people recover from this disease and find hope again. This is a plague on our society and our government is failing to offer up a real solution. I once read “A man with his health has a thousand dreams but a man who has lost his health has only one.” We must take responsibility and find a way to feed our people, serve our homeless and mentally ill, and help them recover from the past trauma that has taken them hostage. It can be done. I know this because I am a good example of someone who wanted the answers badly and was provided the opportunity to find them. It was a hard dragon to sleigh, but I did it, and today I live a life of happiness, joy and contentment.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
I believe this planet is purgatory. There’s both heaven and hell here. I’m here as a spiritual being in human form to grow and to learn how to be of maximum service to my fellow beings. I must be willing to work and evolve. If I give love and respect to all people and experience it in return, then together, we get a glimpse of what heaven must really be like.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Definitely Elon Musk. He’s a freak of nature. I’ve always told people that “a genius is just someone who knows what they’re doing at that moment” — and Elon seems like a genius to me. It would be fun to bounce ideas off of each other to see how we can better serve the people of our planet. He seems like a man who’s only interested in the facts, and how he can make something work. Probably like me, not a lot of patience and tolerance for the politics of business. Hey Elon, I’m around. Call me.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!