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Lucire 2012
Incognito Instant recognition is not Roger Salloom’s aim, yet his CV reads like a Who’s Who of music

The everyman as storyteller

David Machowski talks to Roger Salloom, the singer–songwriter whose work has been performed by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Creedance Clearwater Revival and Van Morrison—yet he manages to stay out of the limelight

 


 

There is an unknown, but common thread to such popular names as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Jose Feliciano, the Band, James Cotton, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Santana, and Procol Harum, to name a few. That common thread is: Roger Salloom. What? Who? Yes, Roger Salloom. Featured in the fine documentary by Chris Sautter, So Glad I Made It: the Saga of Roger Salloom, America’s Best Unknown Songwriter. This is a man who has spent his entire musical career in the periphery of the limelight, having opened for, played with, or simply hanging out with some of the biggest musical names in the business, and yet has managed, by accident, to remain as one of the music industry’s best kept secrets.

Personally, my taste in music is pretty eclectic and far-ranging, but until about two months ago, I, too, had never heard Salloom’s name. When asked to interview him I did a little research and I was astonished to see his name appear among a cast of characters, like a Who’s Who of the music industry, and his image appearing everywhere as Woody Allen did in Zelig.

Salloom’s writing is sharp, witty, articulate, reflective and introspective. His music is probably best categorized as ‘blues meets folk blues and rock and roll with a touch of R&B’. His voice reminds me of a combination of Bob Dylan in his early days, Mark Knopfler and Gerry Rafferty all rolled into one. His guitar playing is articulate and possessing much feeling, accentuating his lyrics nicely.

We set up a time for an interview at a local internet café in Northampton, Massachusetts. I was expecting to chat for a half-hour or so, and then I could begin putting together the writing for this text. An hour and a half later, what struck me most was just what a pleasant individual I found Roger Salloom to be. Self-described, Roger is unfashionable and kind of an ‘everyman’ with the ability to engage with all people on all levels (he strolled up wearing a pair of jeans that have probably, out of sentiment, been in his wardrobe for years and a flannel button-up shirt that draped his body in a comfortable-looking way, as though he could have just finished his day on the job as a local landscaper). Salloom is very self-deprecating and his needs and his aspirations show a true modesty. He has singularly raised two children alone, and having children myself, and not going it alone; learning this fact already scores points in my book. In our meeting, I got the sense that Salloom needs little from life to be genuinely happy.

But one thing that is seemingly imperative is that he has his writing and music as a vehicle for what he has to say. He has been playing and writing music since he was about 14 years old. Salloom pays homage to as some of the primary influences on his music, musicians such as Ray Charles, Pete Seeger, Geoff Muldaur and the Kingston Trio. He describes his writing, clearly influenced from his life experiences and observations from his internal and external worlds, as ‘very cathartic’ for him. When Salloom is performing, you sense that it is a necessary vulnerability that he is subjecting himself to. The spotlight being the double-edged sword of allowing him to have his message and his morals heard, but also a spot where he is not the most comfortable, and that may be the key to his name not yet being a household musical reference.

I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘To reach the main stream is to achieve mediocrity.’ In today’s music industry much of what’s offered seems to be a commercially, pre-packaged, formulaic, vapid fare, geared for automatic success with a pop-mentality culture. Salloom’s music—his CD, Roger Salloom: Eventually—is in many ways the antithesis of what today’s music industry presents and his craft is much smarter, and in ways because of that, paradoxically, is hard to really categorize. Roger Salloom is a storyteller, and a good one at that, producing wonderfully infectious songwriting. In Salloom’s assessment, much of what the industry presents is filling the airwaves and music videos with a homogenized output, making it difficult for real and new talent to be heard or even recognized.

One thing for sure that I came away with after meeting Roger Salloom is that he is writing for himself and himself alone. He would love it if his music sold on top-40 lists, but would only want that as a by-product of being recognized as a talented musician with something of value to be heard in parallel success. This has been a labour of love since being a teenager and if success came, and the trappings associated with it, it is in no way the reason he is making his music. In the industry, my instinct is that Salloom is a bit of an anomaly, in that his definition of success is not of the majority. He should be considered by many as a breath of fresh air, both personally and professionally. And the good news is, after an almost 20-year, self-imposed hiatus, and with the encouragement of his wife, Donna, that he is re-entering the scene and giving it another try. Salloom as a musician deserves a chance to be listened to, but Salloom, the individual, definitely deserves a shot at being heard. •

 

This is a man who has spent his entire musical career in the periphery of the limelight, having opened for, played with, or simply hanging out with some of the biggest musical names in the business, and yet has managed, by accident, to remain as one of the music industry’s best kept secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


David Machowski is a guest correspondent for Lucire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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