The Randy Rogers Band has become a big enough name on the highly competitive Texas country/Red Dirt circuit that the quintet was chosen to open for George Strait and Martina McBride on Strait's Houston stop of his "The Cowboy Rides Away" tour at Reliant Stadium back in March. Reached by phone from "freezing cold" Stillwater, Okla., where his band was preparing to play the festival know as "Calf Fry," Rogers sounds like he can still hardly believe it himself.
"Aw man, I was tingling all over," says Rogers. "I was freaked out, man.
"I haven't gotten nervous in years," he chuckles. "To have that feeling again, man, was like such a big rush of excitement and joy -- all-time favorite country singer for me, man, George Strait. Being on the same stage as him, and him mentioning our band name during his show, sharing that moment with him, which I would assume for him was a pretty big deal too, you know?"
Rogers is quick to laugh on the phone, but our conversation comes on a day when the big news in country music is the death of George Jones. Although Rogers says he was not fortunate enough to meet the Possum, his voice is full of the same respect that poured out from some of the genre's elders.
"I think he probably was one of the all-time greatest recorded voices in any genre of music," Rogers says. "I was online a while ago, and Merle Haggard had a comment that said, 'The world lost the best country singer ever today.' I think I'll just stand in line with Merle on that one."
Tonight at the Firehouse Saloon, Rogers' band will throw a surprise release party for brand-new album Trouble (MCA Nashville), which officially comes out Tuesday. It's a far cry from Reliant Stadium, but also somewhere the RRB -- which grew out of the music scene around then-Southwest Texas State University at the dawn of the millennium and has had a stable lineup since 2003 -- played some of their earliest shows.
Rogers estimates his band has played the Firehouse at least 100 times, dating back to the days when the only people who would show up were family members sitting around the venue's picnic tables. They may have played it a little too often for some band members.
"I think our drummer used to get so frustrated because we played there for his birthday, like, four years in a row," he says. "A lot of important moments for us as a band were at the Firehouse."
Trouble will be the RRB's fourth album for Universal Music, their first since 2010's Burning the Day, and first since Universal underwent quite a few changes upon merging with Capitol. Rogers says Trouble got postponed a little bit, but the band is such a self-contained entity at this point that Universal's shuffling in Capitol didn't affect them too badly, if at all.
"We're our own little entity out here touring," he explains. "Our life is about playing shows. Getting to make records on a major label is definitely an amazing thing, but the changes that happened at the label were on a different playing field."
The band has gathered some attention outside Texas -- the Academy of Country Music has nominated them for Vocal Group of the Year three straight years -- and seems to be destined for mainstream radio hits with Trouble ballads "One More Sad Song" and "Speak of the Devil." Balancing those out are frisky rockers like "Shotgun" and "Goodbye Lonely" and the swampy, fuzz-blasted hangover tale "Fuzzy." To produce the album, the band called on Nashville pro Jay Joyce, known for his work with the Wallflowers, Patty Griffin and Cage the Elephant.
Despite Joyce's pedigree, though, Rogers says the band was not actively chasing a more rock-oriented sound.
"I don't think so," he argues. "'Have to Give It Up to You,' 'Never Got Around to That,' are some of the most country songs we've ever recorded. 'If I Had Another Heart' - to me, man, that's more country than anything on the radio."
One song that seems sure to draw a little attention is "Trouble Knows My Name," which features guest Willie Nelson. (Trouble is also being released on Nelson's 80th birthday.)
Although he won't go into much more detail about what happened in Missoula, Mont., while on tour with Miranda Lambert than the song does -- all the lyric allows is that "one of us went too far" -- Rogers says Nelson did give the band some invaluable advice.
"Willie gives great advice," he says, which turned out to be, "Go play another show.'"
Next month, Rogers' band and other Lone Star A-listers -- Josh Abbott Band, Wade Bowen, Stoney LaRue -- will play the Texas Thunder festival in Gardendale, near Midland and Odessa. This year the promoters are donating all of the net proceeds from the May 17-19 event towards the schools and first-responders of West, the small Central Texas town devastated by the April 17 fertilizer-plant explosion.
Rogers says he didn't think twice about agreeing to play the benefit. He grew up in Cleburne, not all that far from West, and remembers his family packing him into the car on Saturday mornings as a child to drive for some of West's famous kolaches. Much later, as a touring musician, Rogers says he considers those same Czech pastries "almost a delicacy."
"Some of the guys who live in Dallas and Fort Worth have to drive to bus call down in New Braunfels, or to Austin," he says. "Sometimes someone stops at West and gets some kolaches and donuts and stuff, and when you get on the bus it's like, 'Hell yeah!' It's like Christmas."