By Vince Whirlwind

It’s common to hear stories of musicians who got into performing for the “dough, the attention, and the girls.” Tin Pan Alley is full of those who get in for the payoff and when they don’t get it fold their tents. What is rare is the Lifer, the guy who gets in for all the right reasons, and when he runs into obstacles, finds a way to persist no matter the odds. Roger C. Reale is that rare musical animal who stays in the game and patiently continues to create despite the adversity he faces. There are modest financial rewards along the way, but the work is its own reward, and as long as he can take pride in that work, Roger C. Reale will not be deterred. He is a Man on a Mission, and The Mission is never complete.

Borne out of Rhode Island’s burgeoning garage rock scene of the mid-to-late Sixties, Roger C. Reale came into International Prominence in the late Seventies as punk rock, pub rock, and New Wave were starting to take hold. With his group Rue Morgue (G.E. Smith-guitar, Hilly Michaels-drums, Roger-bass/vox), the music was fueled by the same adrenaline that ran in the veins as The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Jam. Roger’s vocals had a raw edge that cut through like no one else around him, and his songs were like the best of what rock/pop had to offer---except played twice as fast. He was quickly signed to a small Connecticut New Wave label that was trying to be the American version of Stiff Records. Their first album, Radioactive, garnered fine reviews and the interest of many of his musical peers, including guitarists Mick Ronson and Mayo McAllister, who came to play on the follow-up. However, the label ran into financial difficulties and ended up keeping Roger in limbo for years and ultimately not releasing a second record.

Lesser artists would have thrown in the towel. However, Roger kept a friendship with one of the principals of the label who had left a few years earlier, Jon Tiven. Tiven was having some success as both a songwriter and producer, and suggested they write songs together. The two of them got together to write and record (along with Tiven’s wife Sally), and the resulting demos began to circulate among artists and producers. Within a relatively short period of time, these songs landed on albums by B.B. King (“Yes Man”), Johnny Winter (“Last Night”,”I Smell Smoke”), Michael Burks (“I Smell Smoke””Storm Warning”), Freddie Scott (“Everybody Loves Soul Music”, “Your Love,” “Midnight Train,” “Look Into Your Soul”), Betty Harris (“Still Amazed”) and were cut as duets by Jonny Lang & Buddy Guy (“Midnight Train”) and Tab Benoit/Debbie Davies/Kenny Neal (“Deal With It”).

All the while, Roger had a new outfit, The Manchurians, who were playing around New England, keeping his live chops intact and attracting a new following for his music. They issued several albums and EPs along the way, and never got a bad review. In 2019, Roger was able to buy back his masters from the original now-defunct label, and issued them through Rave On Records. These recordings---almost four decades old---would make many year-end lists for best historical album, and get play on contemporary and college stations.

In 2020, just after the lockdown, Roger got a call from Tiven, with whom he had stayed friends but hadn’t written with in two decades. Tiven, now based in Nashville, proposed that they write together by email, with Roger literally “phoning in” his vocals from thousands of miles away. After the first two songs they wrote and recorded using this process started getting great reaction, Tiven forwarded them to Steve Cropper, who he had produced several albums by/with. Tiven and Cropper had started working on some instrumentals pre-COVID which had no lyrics or vocals, and Jon asked Steve if he could send two tracks to Roger to try to finish up. Steve said yes.

Fourteen days later, the two of them had “Heartbreak Street” and “Say You Don’t Know Me” in the can, so he emailed them over to Steve Cropper to see if he liked the results. The response was instant: ASK HIM IF HE WANTS TO FINISH THE REST TO MAKE IT MY NEW ALBUM. You didn’t have to ask Roger twice.

In April of 2021, Fire It Up by Steve Cropper was released by Mascot Records to universal acclaim. Aside from an instrumental and one song that Paul Rodgers had co written with Cropper/Tiven a few years earlier, the lyrics were all written by Roger C. Reale, who was the singer on the entire record. Reviewers were ecstatic: “What a treat it is to have a new solo album from the great Steve Cropper. On his new album, his first solo album since 1969, Cropper’s playing in the service of the songs, and we’re all the richer for his tasty chords and licks. Fire It Up is a gift from Cropper; he showcases what he’s always done best: he writes and plays, creating classic sounds and unforgettable guitar riffs along the way.—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Living Blues “It’s time well spent, as Fire It Up is packed with guitar---layers of Cropper playing rhythm riffs, groovy grooves, and yes, solos. It’s a whole lot of a good thing….It’s a tight little group that knows its business.”-----Michael Dregni, Vintage Guitar “With vocal duties handled by Roger C. Reale, Cropper and crew cook up a gustily organic collection of songs that come liberally seasoned with organ and horns relentlessly driven by that unmistakable guitar sound and which hit the spot with a reinvigorating blast of genuine Memphis swagger.”—Grahame Bent, Shingdig!

“All are talented cats, though, and they provide the perfect instrumental foundation for Cropper’s stunning six-string skills…..The album’s title track is a gritty, Southern-fried rocker that perfectly frames Reale’s growling, gruff vocals against a soundtrack that mixes rock ‘n’ roll bravado with a Stax soul heartbeat.”---Rev. Keith A Gordon, That Devil Music

So what’s next for Roger? More songs, more recordings, but one can never predict where or what the creative spirit will bring forth from this fellow. But you know there’s always more. He’s a Lifer.

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Last Modified: Monday, June 6th, 2022 @ 6:05:25 pm PDT