HOLMEN — Johnny Rogers, the man behind the “Buddy and Beyond” tribute to Buddy Holly that will be performed at the Holmen American Legion on Sunday, has been doing his best during the past 10 years to keep the music of legends such Elvis Presley and Holly alive.
Reached earlier this month between gigs in Florida, Rogers attempted to count up all the shows he already has performed in 2015. “I’ve been home about six weeks this year,” he said. “I think we’ve done 298 shows. We’re doing three more today, and that should put us over 300 — I’m pretty proud of that.”
Once voted “No. 1 Entertainer in Branson,” Rogers is also proud that he has been chosen to emcee and play with Merle Haggard next summer in the inaugural G-Fest to be held in Muskogee, Okla.
A Tennessee native, Rogers is a third cousin of Elvis Presley.
“I never met him, but I have pictures of Mom and Dad with him around the piano,” Rogers said. “He must have just finished a tour ’cause he looks totally exhausted. That world eventually caught up with him — it was a real shame.”
Despite his connection to Presley, Rogers said, it was Holly who changed his world forever. “When I first heard “Rave On” it was like a switch turned on, and I haven’t turned it off since,” Rogers said.
Almost immediately, Rogers began dressing like Holly. “I got the horn-rimmed glasses and went to school in a sweater vest and tie,” Rogers recalled. “Kids were saying ‘You look just like Buddy Holly!’”
Rogers has a ready answer for why Holly’s music still resonates even today.
“He was the first, a pioneer who came with that rock ‘n’ roll song and formula. He represents a time that was more innocent and pure,” Rogers said. “You listen to him singing, and you just know you’re listening to a nice guy. Plus, I don’t think anyone could tell a story in three minutes like he could.”
Although the “Buddy and Beyond” show begins with Holly’s songs, it doesn’t end there. There’s a tribute to the Big Bopper and Richie Valens — the other two stars who died when Holly’s plane went down in February 1959. “Then I go into the Million Dollar Quartet (Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash),” Rogers said.
The show will also include hits by The Everly Brothers, Dion and the Belmonts and even Dean Martin. The show could be seen as a kind of tune-up for a big February show that Rogers will headline at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. That was the site of Holly’s last show before his fatal plane crash at the age of 22.
Rogers will be accompanied by somewhere between six and nine other musicians at the Holmen gig. “I’ve got guys all over the country who play with me, including some in Minnesota and Iowa,” Rogers said. “It all depends on who’s available.”