“It was lovely to be in a radio control room watching Gamble Rogers record music and talk segments. He always sent a smile right through the glass.”—Noah Adams, former cohost, NPR’s All Things Considered
“A work of profound insight, hypnotic storytelling, and poetic style. It is the story of one artist’s commitment to his craft and passion but also a glimpse into a creative, alternative America. It offers indispensable clues into the mysteries of Rogers’s life, his art and all art, and the indefinable spirit of his country.”—David Masciotra, author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour
“The music, magic, rapture, courage, compassion, and humor: Horovitz tells the whole story of Florida’s greatest troubadour.”—Bob Patterson, author of Forgotten Tales of Florida
“A book like this should have been written long ago. Horovitz shows why Florida’s greatest troubadour remains so revered more than a quarter century after his untimely and tragic passing.”—Bob Kealing, author of Elvis Ignited: The Rise of an Icon in Florida
“Preserves the legacy of Gamble Rogers. An important addition to the chronicles of folk music in the United States.”—Diane Diekman, author of Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story
Beloved raconteur, environmentalist, and down-home philosopher, Gamble Rogers (1937–1991) ushered in a renaissance of folk music to a place and time that desperately needed it. In Gamble Rogers: A Troubadour’s Life, Bruce Horovitz tells the story of how Rogers infused Florida’s rapidly commercializing landscape with a refreshing dose of homegrown authenticity and how his distinctive music and personality touched the nation.
As a college student, motivated by personal advice from William Faulkner to stay true to himself, Rogers broke away from his family’s prestigious architecture business. Rogers was a skilled guitar player and storyteller who soon began performing extensively on the national folk music circuit alongside Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, and Jimmy Buffett. He discovered a special knack for public radio, appearing frequently as a guest commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Rogers was known across the country for his intricate fingerpicking guitar style and rapid-fire stage act. Audiences welcomed his humorous homespun tales set in the fictitious Oklawaha County, which was based on places from his own upbringing and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters. His stories evoked rural life in Florida, celebrated the state’s natural resources, and called attention to life’s many small ironies. As Florida was experiencing colossal growth embodied by the new Kennedy Space Center and Disney World, Rogers’s folksy style cheered and reassured listeners in the state who worried that their traditional livelihoods and locales were disappearing.
Horovitz shows that even beyond his genius as a performing artist, Rogers was loved for his compassion, integrity, connection with people, and courage. Rogers displayed these widely admired traits for the last time when—on a camping trip to the beach—he tried to save a drowning stranger despite back problems that made it almost impossible for him to swim. This heroic effort led to his untimely death.
The life of Gamble Rogers is a window into an important creative subculture that continues to flourish today as contemporary folk artists take on roles similar to the one Rogers established for himself. A modern-day troubadour, Rogers delighted in entertaining audiences with what was familiar and real—by championing the ordinary people of his home community who were closest to his heart.
Bruce Horovitz is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur with extensive experience in the nonprofit and business communities of Jacksonville, Florida.
In this interview, Bruce Horovitz talks about his new book and Gamble Rogers’ legacy.
What inspired you to write about Gamble Rogers’s life?
A chance encounter with Gamble’s childhood best friend set me on my own journey to discover as much as I could about the legendary singer-songwriter. Much to my surprise nothing had been written in book form. It became my passion to tell his remarkable life story.
Did you ever get the chance to see him perform live?
It’s hard to believe I never saw Gamble perform even though I frequented many of his performing venues like Applejacks, only a short distance from my home in Jacksonville, Florida. I used the book as an opportunity to rediscover what I missed.
Gamble came from a family of prestigious architects and scholars. Who cultivated his interest in music?
His father, a renowned architect, was an accomplished musician with a great appreciation for the banjo and guitar. Gamble was fond of saying the reason he became a folksinger was because of the way his mother looked at his father “when he played that thing.”
As someone who grew up around nature and felt a deep love for it, Gamble lamented the rapid growth Florida underwent during the creation of the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World. What actions did he take to help preserve the natural environment?
Gamble made a point of lobbying for legislation to protect Florida’s environment. His mythical Oklawaha County was so named in order to bring attention to the Ocklawaha River which was of great importance to him. He used his platform as an entertainer to shed light on Florida’s environmental issues.
At first, Gamble’s performance consisted of singing and guitar playing. It wasn’t until years later that he added storytelling to his repertoire, creating fictional characters and locations. How were these stories first received, and how did he come up with them?
Gamble was a great observer of people and took interest in their thoughts, their fears, and their hopes. His characters were based on real-life encounters from his childhood in Winter Park, Florida, and from summers spent on the family farm in the rural hills of the Nacoochee Valley in Georgia.
What songs or stories of his would you recommend for those unfamiliar with his work?
Gamble’s live performance CD “Oklawaha County Laissez -Faire” is a great example of his rapid fire repertoire, complete with hilarious front porch monologues, beautiful ballads, and intricate fingerpicking interludes.
Are there any contemporary artists you think could become the next Gamble Rogers?
What makes Gamble so unique is that no one has ever attempted to copy or imitate his style either during his lifetime or in the more than 25 years since his heroic death. He was fond of saying “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”
What were some of the most significant facts you learned about Gamble that you did not previously know? Did anything you discovered change your perspective on him as a man or musician?
While I knew of Gamble’s reputation as a prolific songwriter, musician, and storyteller, I discovered it was Gamble’s compassion and uncanny ability to connect with those who needed comfort that set him apart. He was the consummate Southern gentleman and humanitarian. In the end, he gave his life to save a stranger.
What are you working on next?
There are so many great stories out there. I love to discover those gems, like Gamble Rogers, whose compelling stories have yet to be told to the public at large. I’ve got a few more in mind.
What’s your favorite Gamble Rogers quote?
“Never talk metric to decent folk.”