Bio | Reviews | Radio
ZoukFest founder and director Roger
Landes, Celtic Heritage Magazine
said: "Not only is Landes
helping to legitimize the instrument -- he is taking it to a
whole other level." Roger took up the bouzouki in 1981 and
quickly set about learning Irish tunes, playing tenor banjo,
mandolin, bodhran and uilleann pipes; as well as co-founding
the popular Celtic band Scartaglen. When that group disbanded
after a decade, he decided to concentrate on exploring the melodic
capabilities of the bouzouki. His critically acclaimed CD Dragon
Reels is the result of his work mastering the intricacies
of Irish traditional music. Since releasing Dragon Reels in 1997,
Roger has produced several recordings for other artists, performed
in a duo with singer Connie Dover and recorded The
Janissary Stomp, a collection of mostly original duets
for two bouzoukis with folk and roots musician Chipper Thompson.
In 1998 and 1999, he hosted the first international gatherings
devoted to the Celtic bouzouki, "ZoukFest, " in Weston,
Missouri. Late in 1999 he relocated to Taos, New Mexico, where
he maintains a busy schedule performing, producing, composing
and organizing ZoukFest. Roger appeared in and contributed to
the soundtrack of the 1999 film Ride with the Devil, directed
by Ang Lee (Crouching
Hidden Dragon). He has appeared on the National Public Radio
shows Mountain Stage and A Prairie
Home Companion. In April 2001,
his music was featured in a PBS documentary, Last
Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie. In October 2002, Roger joined
Galician piper and Chieftains alumn Carlos Nuñez in his
first US tour, and in December of that year he toured in a trio
with Irish fiddle phenom Frankie Gavin (De Dannan) and
harmonica virtuoso Rick Epping (Pumpkinhead). In April
of 2004 he had the pleasure of accompanying legendary Irish fiddler
Tommy Peoples (Bothy
for a week of concerts during Tommy’s first visit to New
Roger has most recently been performing
Irish traditional music in a duo with fiddler and guitarist Randal
Bays. Their new live CD House to House was released in
September of 2004.
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House to House | The
Janissary Stomp | Dragon
Reels | Other
(production & arranging)
a column by the Irish
Times' Siobhan Long naming House to House to the Top Five Trad
Albums of 2005:
American duo Randal Bays and
Roger Landes took centre stage with not so much as a spotlight
to surprise and delight with their fiddle and bouzouki duet, House
to House. At a sufficient remove from the origins of the music
they evidently love, Bays and Landes inhabited the tunes with a
refreshing vigour, and their insistence on retaining the personality
of the live recording, replete with foot taps and squeaky chairs,
only added to the technicolour of the collection.
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By Dennis Stone of Folkworks.org:
Artist: ROGER LANDES & CHIPPER
Title: THE JANISSARY STOMP
Label: RADIO FREE BASSANDA AUROPHONIC
DISC & TALKING ENGINE
CO. CAT. NO. 346297
Release Date: AUGUST 2001
In March of this year, FolkWorks had
the honor of hosting a great concert by Irish fiddler/guitarist
Randal Bays who was accompanied by Irish bouzouki/guitarist Roger
Landes. After the show Roger handed me his new CD to check out,
but it sat around for weeks before I had a chance to sit down
and listen. Finally, late one evening, I put on the headphones
and those headphones remained glued to my head until the entire
CD was finished. It’s always
a challenge to find music that intrigues, moves, and inspires me.
It is also a challenge to present my readers with rare gems of
a quality that are hard to find but worth the effort to seek out.
One of those rare gems, and the CD at hand is: The Janissary
Stomp by Roger Landes & Chipper Thompson.
Roger Landes is from Jackson County, Missouri. He played roll-n-roll
guitar in school garage bands, then took up classical guitar in
1979 in college, learning the repertoire quickly and soon teaching
it full time. His interest shifted from 19th and 20th century compositions
to early works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, to European
dance music of the middle ages. When he first heard the Chieftains
playing traditional Irish music, he recognized the close similarity
in melody and rhythm structures between medieval and modern traditional
music. His instincts then led him to the 10-string cittern and
eventually to the Irish bouzouki while learning the intricacies
of Irish and Scottish dance tunes and accompaniments. In 1982,
Roger helped form the popular Celtic group Scartaglen, which recorded
three albums before they disbanded in 1994. In 1993, with Scartaglen,
Roger contributed one track to the best-selling Narada collection, Celtic
Odyssey, which stayed on the Billboard Magazine charts for
almost two years. This CD brought Scartaglen, Roger, and fellow
Scartaglen alumnus vocalist Connie Dover to greater public awareness
and remains one of the best Celtic music compilations available.
After the disbanding of Scartaglen, Roger and Connie Dover performed
with the short-lived group Glenfire, and then as a duo since 1995.
Roger has also lent his talents as producer for ex-Scartaglen member
Michael Dugger and for Chris Crotewohl. He recorded his first solo
album, Dragon Reels, independently in 1997. Now considered
a pivotal Irish bouzouki release, it was re-released on the Dorian
record label in 2001 to a nation wide market. Commenting on this
album and the Irish bouzouki, Cliff McGann with the publication Celtic
Heritage wrote: “Not only is Landes helping to legitimize
the instrument, he is taking it to a whole new level…I am
in awe of his command of the instrument.” Another of Landes’ projects
is Zoukfest, an international festival devoted to the bouzouki.
In 1999, Roger relocated from Missouri to Taos, New Mexico, where
he has recorded with bouzouki player Gerald Trimble. Roger
is now considered a leader in bringing the Irish bouzouki from
its role as an accompanying rhythm instrument to a lead and solo
Chipper Thompson was born in Athens,
Alabama, but grew up in the heart of the Tennessee Valley, which
he calls “a microcosm
of the Old South.” He took up electric bass guitar in college,
and accompanied his father--a talented pedal-steel guitar, dobro,
and dulcimer player--at bluegrass and dulcimer festivals. Always
a lover of Appalachian folk music, with its Irish-Scots roots,
his curiosity about the world led to his research in songwriting,
global ethnic folk music, classical music, blues, and rock-n-roll.
Chipper now plays guitar, bass, mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, banjo
and several hand percussion instruments such as the bodhrán.
After a variety of jobs and several months in Europe (where he
spent many nights playing in traditional pub sessions on the west
coast of Ireland), Chipper married and moved to northern New Mexico.
Since then, Chipper has honed his songwriting and performance skills
at small gigs and open mic sessions in Taos. In 1997 he formed
his company, Banjosnake Music, and released his first CD, Strange
Lullabies. In 1998, his second CD, Folk-n-Roll Live, followed
in the footsteps of his first release with a diversity of folk,
rockabilly, bluegrass, powerful emotional ballads, and vocals,
plus eleven original pieces penned by Chipper. His latest CD, Am
I Born To Die (recorded with his newest musical partner, singer
and multi-instrumentalist Mason Brown) showcases his deepest roots:
the traditional songs of Appalachia and their roots - ancient songs
from the British Isles.
The Janissary Stomp was
originally released in limited edition at Zoukfest 2001. It has
a unique paper package with extensive and informative liner notes
on each track. But even more unique is the music, a global ethnic
folk, Appalachian folk, Celtic, and early music merging experience.
And boy does it work! Both Roger and Chipper play only bouzouki
on this CD, accompanied by Paddy League on percussion and Mason
Brown on bass violin. Chipper lends his voice on two tracks.
The CD title refers to the elite “shock
troops” of the Ottoman Sultan, and was suggested by the intense,
eastern tenor of the music they wrote for this project. But this
CD is much more than that. The soundscapes heard will take you
on an audio journey to Ireland, Scotland, Celtic Brittany, Mexico,
medieval Spain, Europe of the middle ages, the Middle East, the
Balkans, the Appalachians, and the sun soaked mountains and deserts
of New Mexico. It is a beautiful celebration of our global folk
heritages. Highlights are difficult as each track is a long story
in itself. The entire package is a genuinely moving experience,
but if I had to note stand-out tracks, they would be: Banks
of the Nile with its Middle Eastern-like intro and ending
(plus great vocal by Chipper), the merging of medieval Spain
and early New Mexico on Los Penitentes that leads into
the joyous, almost child-like Emergence. This track is
followed by the medieval/Breton/Arabic/original set Lamento di Tristano/de Trilport/taqsim
di Tristano/The Arrival of the Khevsoor in Tiblisi. The Burned
Letters, written by Chipper about personal loss, is a sad
and melancholy piece balanced by the following upbeat, sick and
Guanajuato Mummies’ Farewell to Budapest and the equally
humorous and Latin flavored tribute to a famous ragtime band
Los Santos Entren Marchando. Roger’s arrangement of the
Irish March of the King of Laois is enchanting, and equally
mesmerizing is the Greco-Turkish flavored Los Dervisomangas followed
by the Macedonian tune Jovano Jovanke. A rousing arrangement
for bouzouki of Asturian and Galician dance tunes may be a first.
Chipper’s Celto-Appalachian Whippersnapper Snake/Snake
Road features his second vocal. The CD closes with two great
instrumentals, the last being an Arabic-Mississippi Delta Blues-Celtic-Appalachian
set called Taqsim“Tigrissippi/Threshold/The Janissary
Stomp. All in all, The Janissary Stomp is a great
album for those who embrace a successful merging of global folk
music and styles that borrow from their modern and ancient forms.
A very excellent merger, and another album of note for the bouzouki.
More info on Chipper Thompson is
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By Cliff McGann (Celtic
Heritage, August/September 1997)
Hailing from Jackson County, Missouri it
might seem a bit odd that Roger Landes would be bitten by the Celtic
bug. His interest in classical guitar led to Baroque and Renaissance
music and finally, upon hearing the Chieftains, to his present
love for Celtic music...
In 1982 he helped found
the Celtic music ensemble Scartaglen, which released three recordings
and were featured on the popular Narada Records collection Celtic
then he has focused his efforts towards furthering the bouzouki’s
role as a melody instrument. Not only is
Landes helping to legitimize the instrument he is taking it to
a whole new level. As a bouzouki player myself I am in
awe of his command of his instrument. His use of triplets at free
will illustrates not only his prowess but also his understanding
of the complexities of Irish/Scottish music and his ability to
translate fiddle and pipe music to the bouzouki...
The recording also features a set of flatpicked
tunes on guitar as well as “Storm-stayed at Grady’s,” a
nice set of tunes on the mandolin which begins with a composition
by PEI fiddler (Paul G.) MacDonald. Easily a member of my top ten
list for this year.
Anderson ***1/2 (College News Service)
…Roger Landes is an exceptionally
tasteful bouzouki player who is joined on this album by host
of fine American musicians, including John Whelan on accordion
and the marvelous singer Connie Dover. The program is comprised
of tunes both old and new from America, Ireland and Cape Breton.
All of the playing is lovely and Landes’ compositions are
scarcely distinguishable from the traditional numbers; his adaptations
and arrangements are also superb, and he plays with an easy virtuosity
that never calls attention to itself. Highlights include “Storm-stayed
at Grady’,” a set of reels that features the playing
of banjoist Chris Grotewohl, and the minimally-accompanied “Murphy’s
Nails.” Highly recommended to fans of Irish music.
By David Marcus (Atlanta
Bouzouki **** Dragon
Reels: Roger Landes, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin; with John Whelan,
McLeod, guitar; Connie Dover, vocal, keyboards. Ranger Music
RMCD 4321; 12 tracks, 52'04".
About the only thing I don't like about this album is that it
is over too soon. A friend of mine dropped this off for me to listen
to. A week later, I was still listening. (I do plan to return it,
but only when I get my own copy.) In other words, this is a five-peach,
grade A+ premiere solo album from the founder and 12-year member
of Scartaglen, with very traditional music played on an instrument
that is new (for the last 30 years, anyway) to Irish music.
When Gerald Trimble introduced the bouzouki to the world as a
lead instrument that could sustain an entire album (in his 1983 First
Flight), he played with a style taken from the tenor banjo
and mandolin and he played with a solo-with-backup feeling rather
than a lead-in-a-band feeling. Roger, on the other hand, plays
with the energy, rhythm and complexity of a fiddle player, a piper,
or a box player. He says his goal as a bouzouki player is to create
a "natural and authentic style which is idiomatic to the instrument" in
the context of being the lead player in a traditional ensemble.
His style is dark and somewhat dense but still crisp and lively.
The recorded sound is very very true to the instrument, and complements
the style superbly.
Although some of the music is newly-composed, this is a traditional
album. It includes several tunes from Cape Breton and Prince Edward
Island but is based in the Irish and Scottish traditions with familiar
tunes such as Castle Kelly, Martin Wynne's #2, Tam
Lin, Tom Billy's, and Farrell O'Gara. John Whelan
on button box adds nice contrast to the string instruments and singer
Connie Dover, a frequent performing partner of Roger's, contributes
a clean, light and sexy version of The Devil and the Farmer's
Wife, sounding as delightful as I've ever heard her. This album
is a must have...
Sharon Goldwasser (Crossroads, August/September 1997)
The title, Dragon Reels, is surely a clue-this is an album
that passes into a realm outside of the ordinary. The album showcases
the bouzouki wizardry of Roger Landes, former member of the now-disbanded
Celtic music group, Scartaglen.
Since its introduction into the Irish music in the 1960's, the Greek
bouzouki has often been used for chordal accompaniment. Here, Roger
Landes recasts it into a powerful melodic role. Deeper and more robust
than a mandolin, with a percussive, almost gritty edge at times,
its voice is lower than typical melody instruments such as fiddle
or flute. Led by the bouzouki, these arrangements of traditional
Irish, Cape Breton and newly composed tunes take on a striking and
unusual texture that sets them apart from many other interpretations
of fiddle tunes. Parts of Dragon Reels seem to naturally
lean to darker, modal melodies, for example the jig "Johnny the Jumper." There
are contrasting light moments-a stately slow air on guitar, an
uplifting version of Kitty's Wedding and unexpected rhythmical
twists and turns like those in the reel Tamlin. Joining Roger on
this album are guitarist Zan McLeod, John Whelen on accordion,
and Connie Dover on vocals and keyboards. Former Scartaglen members
Chris Grotewohl, Mike Dugger and several other talented musicians
contribute, as well. This is a refreshing and well-played collection
of traditional music with unique punch.
Dan Willging (Dirty Linen , August/September 1998)
The 10-string Greek bouzouki
is a fairly recent addition to Celtic music, having been introduced
only a generation ago by Johnny Moynihan and Andy Irvine. Whereas
the bouzouki is often used for accompaniment, Roger Landes is among
the first to play is as a lead. The ex-Scartaglen instrumentalist
plays the mandolin's big brother as a piper or fiddler would -
with all the traditional decoration and drive as the ensembles'
lead voice. Not an easy feat if you consider its cable-thick strings
and the greater physical effort required to play it. Among the
renowned peers joining Landes are John Whelen (accordion), Zan
McLeod (guitar), and former bandmates Mike Dugger (fiddle), Chris
Grotewohl (banjo), and vocalist Connie Dover. Together, they scintillate
through a rousing set of traditionals and modern traditionals that
makes this self-produced gem rival anything heard on a major label.
With its flawless production that lets you hear each part intimately,
Dragon Reels has the trappings of a Celtic cult record.
Tim Hoke (Greenman)
"So why a dragon?" I wondered.
There isn't any track entitled "Dragon Reels." The music is
draconian, and certainly isn't draggin'. More on that anon. After
several years as a member of Scartaglen, and as an accompanist
for various artists, Dragon
Reels is the first solo release by Roger Landes.
Landes specializes in playing the Irish bouzouki, a modern instrument
rather loosely derived from a Greek original. Landes has researched
the background of his chosen instrument -- the liner notes include
an essay by him, explaining the history and evolution of the Irish
bouzouki. Those unfamiliar with the instrument will learn from
reading the essay, and even those with some knowledge of it should
pick up some new information. There's also another interesting
essay by Dr. Chris Smith (who, sadly, isn't heard on the disc)
on the growth of Celtic music into a global tradition.
But what about the music? The bouzouki,
of course, often takes the lead. It's dark, meaty tone propels
the tunes, punchy, but capable of delicate ornamentation. Landes
also demonstrates his skills as an accompanist, playing bassy
ostinato patterns behind Connie Dover's voice on "The Devil And The Farmer's Wife." John
Whelan's sprightly accordion often shares the melodic duties. Mike
Dugger plays some smooth fiddle on "Sarsfield's March," but
on other tracks the fiddle is barely audible over the accordion.
As an added treat, Chris Grotewohl brings his unique banjo style
to three of the cuts.
Zan McLeod's guitar rhythms anchor
the arrangements. I don't find any flaw in McLeod's guitaring,
but he is also a bouzouki player of some renown, and that isn't
heard here. I can only imagine a bouzouki duet featuring Landes
and McLeod. Oh well, it's something to consider for the next
album. Also notable are Bob Burn's lyrical bass playing on a
few tracks, and Joe Root's rollicking piano on "Jerry
Holland Set." Sir Angus McGarrish enhances a couple of selections
with his eerie slide pipes, which sound suspiciously like a steel
Although his bouzouki is featured, Landes also shows off his abilities
on guitar and mandolin. The latter is heard on one cut, biting,
with jazzy passages. He plays guitar on two tracks: a set of reels
played as cleanly as any bluegrass flatpicker, and an expressive
Overall, good music with no bum tracks. This is especially recommended
for anyone interested in the bouzouki/cittern family of instruments.
And why a dragon? Well, it appears that Dragon Reels is an anagram
of Roger Landes.
Jeff Brown (PitchWeekly, Issue 471, May 22, 1997)
The ten-stringed Greek instrument known as the Bouzouki in generally
not associated with traditional Irish and Scottish music. You're
more apt to hear it in a Greek restaurant that an Irish pub. Yet
area musician Roger Landes, working off the inspiration of a few
groundbreaking Irish musicians, has adopted it as his instrument
of choice on Dragon Reels, and it's amazing what he can
do with it. The Bouzouki's warm but biting tone falls somewhere
between the guitar and a mandolin. In Landes' skillful hands it
sings as a lead instrument or provides a hearty backbone when supporting
Dragon Reels was recorded in
Nashville by Grammy Award-winning producer Bil VornDick, who
has worked with Alison Krauss and Bela Fleck, to name a couple.
It is Landes' first solo recording, though he was previously
heard frequently as a member of Scartaglen, a rather successful
area Celtic folk group. He brought along fellow Scartaglen member
Connie Dover to sing on the excellent "The
Devil and the Farmer's Wife," and she contributes piano on
several other numbers. But Dover is not the only musician who helps
Landes on the record. John Whelen's accordion and Zan McLeod's
extra guitars add immeasurable depth to Dragon Reels.
The arrangements of traditional and contemporary songs also show
further hints of Landes' prowess, as do his own two originals. As
it is, the musicians led by Landes spin through some interesting
music with joyful abandon and obvious skill, resulting in a record
that will equally reward the serious folk fan and first-time listener.
(thesession.org, posted on Friday, May 23rd 2003)
Roger Landes, ace citternist and founder
of Zoukfest, is joined by John Whelan (accordion), Zan McLeod (guitar)
and several others in this fabulous debut recording which highlights
the cittern as lead melody instrument. Roger's command of the instrument
is breath-taking and his interpretation of Jerry Holland's set
to close the album may just be even more exciting than the original.
Very interesting and informative booklet included which outlines
the history of the bouzouki from ancient times to its present rebirth
in Irish music.
mandolin virtuoso Simon Mayor
It's everything I suspected it would be
- great playing and an impeccable sound. You've got a great feel
for Irish style decoration, superbly executed triplets. I'm really
very impressed by the whole thing. You quite clearly do make the
bouzouki work as a lead instrument - I can't see how anyone could
question that once they've heard the CD.
From Dan Beimborn,
...his ‘Dragon Reels’ recording
is one of the best I’ve heard in years.
From Han Speek, ed.
Irish Bouzouki Web Page
[Dragon Reels] is a great showcase of the
potential. But an instrument doesn’t get far without its
player, so this album is of course also a display of what Roger
is capable of as a musician, both as bouzouki/guitar/mandolin player
and as arranger of the tunes... into interesting and often surprising
sets, combining old with new, Irish with Scottish, slow with fast.
The result is a fascinating album that will impress and delight
many people, whether they like Celtic music or not.
Just a few recommendations about recent
music I have enjoyed very much. Dragon Reels; congratulations Roger
Landes this is superb and about time too. It is a great collection
of tunes, played with great spirit, and with a very 'live' sound.
* * *
I ordered your CD and got
it in the mail yesterday. I'm really impressed. Most Celtic CDs
by American artists lack something - I've always felt that you
have to be from Ireland or Scotland to really play the tunes with
soul and spirit. But this CD is the exception. Wonderful playing
- great tunes - great guests. Thanks.
* * *
I bought his CD and was blown
away by it. Where has this guy been hiding?
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Other (Production & Arranging)
Praise for Chris Grotewohl’s "Under the Influence," produced
and arranged by Roger Landes:
playing of Roger Landes is magnetic and soulful." - John
Bullard, Banjo Newsletter
and energetic bouzouki of Roger Landes." - Irish Music
bouzouki/guitar playing is contributed by producer Roger Landes."
- Cliff McGann, Celtic Heritage
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Interview (from the "Art
of the Song" program)
A great interview with Roger.
CD-quality audio file in MP3 format, approximately 31 minutes,
35 MB. Download