Rooster is his name and he is the very gifted guitarist who plays for Country Pop star, Chely Wright. Chely has had a number 1 hit with the tune, “Single White Female”—and other hits include, “It Was,” “Shut Up and Drive” and the current song climbing the charts, “Back of the Bottom Drawer.” Rooster is behind her every step of the way. It seems as though this guy has been everywhere and played with almost everybody throughout his career. As an Anderson Guitar Player and a musician of great experience, he shares some tales of his life with us.
TAGW: How did you get started in music and who did you play with before hooking up with Chely Wright?
Rooster: My parents owned a bar where bands played regularly. I got an electric guitar for my 4th birthday; it was a 1966 Kingston Swinger. It had a whammy-bar-style bridge on it but the bar was missing so my dad took the gear shifter off of an old Honda mini-bike, drilled it out and put it in place of the missing wang bar. I still have that guitar—but the bar is missing again. When I turned 11 I got a Les Paul and started playing with the bands at my family’s bar.
In the early 80’s I played the nightclub circuit, traveling from Minnesota to Texas to California—and everything in between. By 1985 I made my way to Hollywood, California and played the glam-metal scene out there from ‘85-‘86 and ‘89-‘90. Then Nirvana came out and things changed. It was at that time that I heard Pete Anderson on the early Dwight Yoakam records. He was taking that kind of music in a new direction. I moved to Nashville in ’93 and have been playing there ever since.
TAGW: With such a diverse background and so much to draw upon, what style of player do you consider yourself?
Rooster: I guess if I had a label, it might be, “A Chicken-Pickin’ Metal Maniac.” (Laughs)
TAGW: Once you got to Nashville what did you start doing?
Rooster: I played for Curtis Day (Asylum Records), Chris Cummings (Warner Bros.), JD Meyers (Asylum) and Wade Kimes (Asylum), all talented artists. Chris Cummings is a big country star in Canada now. All of these people helped me gain experience on the road at the national level. My thanks to them! It was also the contacts that I made working with these people that eventually led me to my job with Chely.
TAGW: How did you meet Chely and begin playing with the band?
Rooster: When I was playing guitar with Curtis Day in ‘96, we opened a show for Chely in Kansas. I met her drummer, Preston, and we became golf buddies. After playing in some other musical projects with Preston over the next few years, he referred me to Chely.
So, one night when I had just finished playing in a nightclub in Little Rock, Arkansas with a guy named Jeff Bates, the door person told me I had a phone call. It was 2:00 AM—in the morning! I was confused! It was Chely on her cell phone calling me from the back of her bus. She asked me if I’d like a job playing guitar with her. I accepted and left for Nashville immediately because I only had 18 hours to learn the entire show. Chely and the band were opening for Sawyer Brown. I did it though and the next day we played in front of 7,000 people—with no rehearsal and only a brief sound check.
A few years later Jeff Bates got his “phone call” too and is now an artist on RCA Records. Also, the same day that I started with Chely was Jay Demarcus’ first day as Chely’s piano player. He is now the bass player/singer in Rascal Flatts…Nashville is a funny town.
TAGW: So how did it go from there?
Rooster: I toured with Chely in ’98 through the first part of ’99. I left the group at that time to work for Mark Chesnutt (MCA Records) for a few years. After that I picked with Ty Herndon (Sony Records). I did some shows with John Rich (BNA)—he was the original bass player/singer in Lone Star, who left to pursue his own career. He was very cool to work with. After that I toured a bit with Little Big Town (Sony) and then finally in 2002 Chely called me up and offered me my job back. I was really happy to have the opportunity to work with her again. She is a total perfectionist and I like that kind of challenge.
TAGW: Tell us about the Chely Wright Band and the ways all of you work together to make it come together?
Rooster: We seem to have a great balance of personalities within the band. Our drummer is a true-blue country boy with country boy values. We are great friends and see eye to eye on most subjects. Our steel guitar player, Rusty, is also a golf pro. One of my personal aspirations is to play pool on the pro level, so Rusty and I both have that inner drive to “try” to perfect our interests. This also makes for a great topic of discussion.
I can’t forget to mention our road manager Jan. He has traveled the world over and is very in tune to the finer things in life. He worked for David Copperfield for three years and was also the bass player in a successful Christian band. His knowledge and take on life are very fun to be around. He truly makes all of our lives on the road a pure joy.
Our bandleader, Clay, is a very spiritually motivated person, as am I. We connect very well on music and life in general. Chely’s ability to intellectualize on all levels makes for challenging discussions. I really enjoy that. Chely and our entire entourage are a very comical bunch, so the cheesy one-liners never end. I have worked with quite a few artists and I can honestly say that, all around, this group of people is the best. We’re a great team!
TAGW: Do you eat dessert and if so what is you favorite thing to hide in your guitar case for after the gig?
Rooster: Dessert…I am a true chocoholic. As far as my favorite thing in the case for later…that’s a little personal but she’s usually blonde.
TAGW: The word is out that you designed and made this amazing pedal board for yourself and when other artists saw it they wanted you to make them one as well. Can you describe what it is?
Rooster: I am building a couple of boards for Joe Don Rooney, from the band Rascal Flatts, and have interest from European metal icon Wolf Hoffman, of Accept, as well as other pro guitarists in the Nashville area. I have been afraid to release my idea, thinking that it may strap me down so hard that I can’t tour.
My pedal-board company is in the process of being launched so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag quite yet. But I can say this: Everyone who has seen the board so far, from the top pedal-board techs in Nashville to the big session players, have said that it is the most outrageous thing they’ve ever seen.
Editors Note: If you are interested in learning more about Rooster’s boards you can email him at: Rooster2k@worldnet.att.net. Or soon you will be able to log on to: trailertrashpedalboards.com to see what is going on.
TAGW: So you design the boards to be used with any effects that a player chooses. What effects do you run on your own personal board right now?
Rooster: Yea that’s right, the boards are what I design and build. As far as the effects that are on my personal board, they are: a Keeley compressor, Keeley Java Boost, Fulldrive 2, Pete Cornish G-2, Tone Bone Classic, Fulltone Spa-Trem, Boss RV-5 and EQ, Maxon AD-80 analog delay and Line 6 Delay and Modulation pedals. I modified my Line 6 pedals so I can use one expression pedal to control both effects at the same time. It makes for really cool manual ducking effects.
TAGW: Speaking of Joe Don from Rascal Flatts, we heard you have been borrowing his Anderson, Crowdster Acoustic lately. How do you like it? Have you had a chance to take it out live yet?
Rooster: It’s great! I have already played it at two shows—the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville and the Country Radio Seminar, at the Opryland Hotel. It was killer—very punchy and with a wedge blowing back right in my face, there was no feedback whatsoever. That guitar really hung in there when I laid into it!
TAGW: Who are some of your influences?
Rooster: That’s a tough one without sounding cliché. I like anyone who can translate passion and fire to a recording so when you listen back to it you really feel their emotion, not just a bunch of notes phrased together. That’s the true test in my humble opinion.
I think I am influenced by everything that I listen to. But my favorites are Eric Johnson, Jimmy Bryant, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Morse, Al Di Meola, Michael Schenker & Uli Roth, Joe Walsh (James Gang), The Hellacasters and my all time fav…Stevie Ray Vaughn! I also like the styles of Leona Boyd, Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke too.
There are so many unsung guitar heroes in Nashville that you can go out and be inspired in a different way every night of the week. No kidding!
TAGW: If Tom were running for president would you consider voting for him?
Rooster: Heck yea! If Tom could craft a solution to our world problems the way that he has thought out his perfect line of guitars I don’t think anyone could hold a candle to him.
TAGW: What type of electric guitar do you play and what does that giant “A” on the headstock stand for?
Rooster: I play a Hollow Drop Top Classic and that’s all that I’m saying. The “A” on the headstock stands for…Anonymous…and I’m keeping it that way so the secret of my guitar doesn’t get out. I feel really fortunate to have one.
TAGW: Your secret is safe; I don’t think anyone reads this far down anyway. How did you hear of these “A” guitars and why do you choose to play them?
Rooster: A lot of my friends in Nashville, who play for other artists have them. I played my first one in about 1990 and wanted one ever since. I got my first one in ’98. It was a Hollow Drop Top in Tortoise—like on the cover of your old catalog.
When I pick up an item, anything from a pool stick to a pair of shoes, I want to feel quality. When I picked up an Anderson for the first time I felt nothing but pure quality—from the contours on the body and neck heel to the fine hand-selected woods that are finished to perfection—it made me an immediate fan! Then I plugged it in…dang…when I grow up I want to be like Tom A…!
TAGW: Out of the guitar I assume you run into your pedal board, which you have already described in detail. What amps do you plug into?
Rooster: I play through two amps—a 1962 and ‘63 Fender Bassman into two Naylor 2x12 cabs in stereo. For the styles that I play it is perfect. I can get a spankin’-ass chickin’ pickin’ tone and turn right around and have the dark cream ala Eric Johnson.
TAGW: Yea, those old Bassmans have great tone. How do you set the controls?
Rooster: I plug into the Normal side and run tones at about 12 o’clock, and the volume varies. I rely on the EQ Pedal in my p-board and the tone knob on my guitar to boost and cut 2-3k to even out the differences between rosewood and maple fretboards. It wasn’t ‘til after I was robbed of my entire guitar-gear collection that I found out that your tone is truly in your hands. I had to bum a lot of gear from friends to continue to work, but I still retained my tone. We use rental amps on fly dates, so you never quite know what you’re gonna get. But I always seem to get my tone. It’s in the hands man—but a couple of old, blond Fender amps help.
TAGW: Your real name is Jim Olson, how did you come to be called, “Rooster?” Does it have something to do with crowing?
Rooster: When I was on a mission to go well beyond the Ed Van Halen-style of guitar playing, people like Motley Crue were in. My hair was 8 inches tall and it went past my belt in length, and was platinum blonde. A bartender gave me my nickname in 1983. I still have the posters from the bands that I was in (G-Force & Autobahn) with that hair! They used to call my girlfriend, “The First Lady of Poultry.”
We played in Switzerland with Clay Walker in 2002 and the steel guitar player came up to me and said, “Rooster, when I watch you play guitar it’s like Poultry in Motion.” However, my crooning could be confused with crowing.
TAGW: What is the next Chely project?
Rooster: Chely’s new single comes out in March followed with a CD release soon after that. So we are gearing up for another touring season.
Chely is involved with a program called “Stars for Stripes.” This enables us to fly all over the world and entertain our US troops abroad. It’s really fun. God Bless our troops.
Editors Note: Chely and Rooster on the Stars for Stripes Tour at Yongsan Garrison Army Base in Seoul, South Korea.
TAGW: How much does the band rehearse before going out on a major tour?
Rooster: We woodshed all the songs on our own time. After our personal homework is done for a new album, we get together for a brutal 12 to 16-hour rehearsal and hash out the show. Then while on tour we are constantly tweaking out areas that need attention. We do this during sound check when on tour.
TAGW: How did you get Chely to hold one of your Andersons for the picture? Did you have to bribe her?
Rooster: Chely was filming the video to her current single “Back of the Bottom Drawer,” and she invited me down to the shoot. She knew we would have the opportunity to get some good shots because the lighting and her wardrobe would be right. She stepped off of the set just long enough to shoot the pictures. She is a true gem and the most generous person you’ll ever meet. Thanks Chely.
TAGW: Can we talk about how you came to get the new Teal, Hollow Drop Top Classic?
Rooster: In October of 2003, I walked into my house one morning at 8:15AM to find it empty. My entire guitar-gear collection, including my ‘96 Hollow Drop Top Classic, had been stolen. My boss, Chely, called me the day that it happened with open arms. We had to leave for Korea in three days for a 14-day tour and I didn’t have any gear—not even a pick, capo or slide. She put me in touch with her friends who loaned me all that I needed to continue to work. Later that day she called to ask if I had what I needed for the upcoming shows. I told her that my Tom Anderson was my #1 guitar. She asked me to get her the phone number of Anderson Guitarworks, so I put her in touch with Roy at Anderson. She and Roy did a search around the country and located a Hollow Drop Top Classic similar to the one stolen. Chely had the guitar “overnighted” from Magdon Music to her home in Nashville. That morning she called me up and had me come over to check out the guitar. I opened the box and case to find this beautiful Translucent Teal, Hollow Drop Top Classic. Then, being the incredible person that she is, she gave it to me for a gift! Two days later the police recovered my ‘96, Three-Color Burst, Hollow Drop Top Classic. I immediately called Chely to tell her the news of the recovery. She told me to keep the Teal Anderson and always remember what we had gone through. Her quote was, “Rooster, we’re not going to let the bad get over on the good.”
The local pickers here in Nashville really helped me get back into the high quality gear that I was use to, at very affordable prices. Thank you Chely and Roy and all who have helped me. The list is very long. I ended up recovering $10,000 of $20,000 stolen and we caught the person who did it and he was prosecuted and jailed. THE END!
TAGW: Well then, can we talk about your singing…or dancing perhaps?
Rooster: We can’t talk about me singing…but dancing, I’m a pro. I’ve been to every strip club from coast to coast so I think this qualifies me to be an expert. That is what you meant right?
TAGW: Well then, moving right along, let’s talk about what strings and picks you prefer?
Rooster: I use purple Dunlop Tortex picks—1.14 I think. Strings on my Teal, Hollow Drop Top Classic are .0095 – .0115 – .016 – .024 – .034 – .044, tuned to standard 440 pitch. I use 10’s on my Three-Color Burst, Hollow Drop Top Classic tuned down ½ step to Eb. I like Shubb and Paige capos and the thick brass slides.
TAGW: Have you ever wrestled a grizzly bear?
Rooster: Not a grizzly, but one time on tour up in Alaska I did date this big Eskimo girl. Does that count? If you could’ve seen her back hair you’d agree…she counts!
• MODEL: – Hollow Drop Top Classic
• FINISH: – Transparent Teal with Binding
• BODY WOOD: – Quilt Maple Top with Alder Back
• BODY WOOD BACK COLOR: – same
• NECK WOOD: – Maple with Madagascar Rosewood Fingerboard
• HEADSTOCK COLOR: – Matching
• NECK BACK FINISH: – Satin
• NECK BACKSHAPE: – 62 Roundback
• NUT WIDTH: – 1 5/8-inch
• SCALE LENGTH: – 25 1/2-inch
• FRETS: – Heavy—Exclusive Anderson Stainless Steel
• BRIDGE: – Vintage Tremolo
• TUNING GEAR: – Locking
• HARDWARE COLOR: – Chrome
• PICKGUARD: – Pearl White
• NECK PICKUP: – SAR
• MIDDLE PICKUP: – SA1
• BRIDGE PICKUP: – H2
• SWITCHING: – B5—for 13 combinations
• PICKUP COVERS: – N/A
• PICKUP RINGS: – N/A
• STRING GAUGE REQUESTED: – .0095-.044
• DESTINATION/LOCATION: – Magdon Music/Olyphant, Pennsylvania