By Richard Freedman, Vallejo Times-Herald
POSTED: 03/24/17, 2:13 PM PDT | UPDATED: 6 DAYS AGO 0 COMMENTS
Victorville was once noted for more than its place in the Top 10 of “California’s Most Dangerous Cities, a tag compliments of a Southern California law firm in 2016.
The San Bernardino city of about 120,000 residents was the thriving headquarters of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum.
And if there’s any Vallejo native who knew that, it was Rogers’ slide guitar-playing namesake.
“It was one of my favorite steps,” said Rogers, describing the shrine to the late country music star and actor “like a fort you used to see in the westerns.”
In 2003, however, the entire museum relocated to Branson, Mo., where it lived a quiet life until shutting down for good six years later.
Everything went up for auction — $2.9 million worth — including the eye-opening 2003 Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Bonneville, a car decorated with rifles, silver dollars, and, naturally, a cattle-horn hood ornament.
“In Victorville, it (the car) was just a part of the whole package of memorabilia that was there, really,” Rogers said. “You must understand, virtually everything was on display from his career — Trigger (his horse), Bullet (his dog), Nellybelle (the jeep), RR guns, awards, photos ... plus all of the toys made that he licensed his name to, a fair amount of which I have collected myself over the years. So, I remember seeing the Bonneville in the overall ‘museum context.’”
That car found a home at Buck Kamphausen’s USA World Classics Event Center in downtown Vallejo which, as fate would have it, is some two blocks from where Rogers the musician will perform April 1 at the Empress Theatre.
Understandably, Rogers always had a connection with the country singer, who died in 1998 at 86, though he said he was only “partially” named after Roy Rogers.
“My mother had a distant uncle named ‘Roy,’ but he wasn’t a Rogers. They did say it would be ‘very cute’ to name me after the cowboy,” Rogers said.
Cute, maybe, but the Vallejo native now living in the Nevada foothills took a verbal beating.
“I got teased to death when I was a kid,” Rogers said. “In first or second grade, I remember wearing cowboy boots to school. It would be, ‘Oh that’s Roy Rogers in his cowboy boots.’”
While other students were called out by first name only, “with me it was always ‘Roy Rogers.’ They’d say my full name,” Rogers said.
Rogers attended three Vallejo elementary schools — Highland, Beverly Hills, and Stefan Manor. He went on to Vallejo Junior High School, graduating from Vallejo High School in 1968.
Academically, “I was pretty good. A solid ‘B’ student I would say,” Rogers remembered, recalling his passion for history “from the very beginning.”
“I would go into the closet and read the encyclopedia,” Rogers said.
Music was always around with his mother, Luverne, playing classical tunes from the 1930s and ’40s on the piano, he said. Rogers’ dad, William, was the West Coast Superintendent, overseeing the Mothball Fleet in the Suisun Bay.
Both, obviously, were country star Roy Rogers fans. And did their best to make sure their son met the legend.
Actually, Rogers said, “I met Roy three times.”
Seems the country singer was Grand Marshal of the Grand National Rodeo at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Vallejo’s Rogers was about 5 at the time.
“He was in a big car — probably a Cadillac — and I distinctly remember my mother or father holding me up at the entrance and saying ‘My son’s name is Roy Rogers, too’ and he (the country singer) was shaking my little hand,” Rogers said.
The second meeting was “many years later” in the early 1980s, Rogers said. This time, Roy Rogers the superstar sat in with the country band, “Sons of the Pioneers.”
“He’s walking through the gauntlet of people on each side of him and my friend says, ‘Hey, this is Roy Rogers.” Again, the older Roy shakes the younger Roy’s hand.
Ah, but the third and final time. A memory to last a lifetime.
Little Roy has become an established blues musician, singer, songwriter and producer. It was 1991 and he was nominated for a Grammy for “Song for Jessica,” which he produced and performed with the late harmonica great, Norton Buffalo.
As it turned out, the original Roy Rogers was also nominated for a Grammy in 1991 for “Hold On Partner,” which he performed with Clint Black.
Neither Rogers won. No matter.
“We had an extensive conversation and pictures,” Rogers said happily. “He talked about meeting a bunch of people in his life named Roy Rogers. I have this great picture with his arm around me and I’m grinning ear to ear.”
Thanks to his idol, Vallejo’s Rogers got a free limo ride the night after the Grammys from the New York Hilton to the airport. Seems the limo driver was to pick up the other Roy Rogers, but got the blues singer instead. And he didn’t mind one bit.
“He says, ‘I’m a big fan of yours. I love the slide guitar’ and starts naming my old records,” Rogers said. “What are the odds? He was a fan of mine.”
And if, some day, a kid came up to Rogers and said, “I was named after you.”
“That would be weird,” Rogers said.
Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings with guest Jimmy Pugh are at the Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo, Saturday, April 1, 8 p.m. Tickets $25-$75. For more, visit empresstheatre.org or call (707) 552-2400.