Sarah Rogo is one of a new group of young singer-songwriters from Southern California. Her music is best described as soulful with a heavy influence in old-school blues. Sarah’s sound comes from her National Resonator Guitars and her ability to master the slide-guitar style to bring forth a unique form of storytelling. She also plays saxophone and clarinet during her performances.
Sarah grew up in a non-musical household in a woods-filled area of New England. She remembers, “I spent a lot of time wandering around on my own writing songs and playing guitar. The silence was my biggest teacher as a musician, but as I got older, I took music lessons from local musicians.”
My parents weren’t big music people. She says, “I think that’s what drew me to it. It was my own special thing. None of my other family members perform or play music.
Growing up, I would listen to whatever music I could find. I went to the public library a lot and took out CDs, mostly consisting of world music. I really enjoy unique styles like klezmer, Middle Eastern, and Irish music. I was also really influenced by classical music due to my neighbors’ constant piano practicing. I started out writing music when I was 7 years old and picked up the guitar at 13.”
When it comes to musical influences, Sarah says, “My three gurus of music changed my life. Guitarist Paul Rishell, world-class harp player Annie Raines, and acoustic country-blues guitarist Woody Man. They taught me not only how to play music, but to live it. They taught me about life on the road, taking me on tour, and what it means to play from the heart.”
These mentors introduced her to the music of Blind Willie Johnson, Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Led Zeppelin. “I learn about myself every time I perform. By writing my own songs and playing my own instrument, I am empowered because I am self-contained and I feel like a force of nature,” says Sarah.
Sarah loved playing on the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise this past January. She says, “It was an honor to be selected by him to perform. I was surrounded by amazing guitar players who taught me so much by me listening to their performances.”
The message to be found in her music? It is to “be authentic, feel what you want to feel, and understand your darkness so you can find your light. I hope that the takeaway from seeing me perform is that you can be both cool and authentic. And that girls play guitar too!”
One of the most important aspects for a guitarist is tone. “I’m simple when it comes to tone. I think tone comes from the fingers and the feel first. All I use is a little compression, overdrive, reverb, and tremolo.” When it comes down to it, tone and sound always come from the heart and the fingers first, and then the fancy stuff can come later. Sarah recommends, “define that feeling and technique before going crazy with any gear.” That’s why you hear of a lot of great players starting on little nylon acoustic guitars. Know what you want to sound like before going out and spending all that money on equipment.
Sarah uses a wide variety of guitars, all serving different purposes. She said, “I work a lot with National Resonator Guitars because they respond well to open tunings and my slide. I love my Fender Jazzmaster with flat wounds because it has a really nice natural thumping sound. I also love unique guitars like my baritone and my ‘Frankenstein’ vintage Musicmaster with two Charlie Christian Lollar pickups installed. I need to have a wide variety of guitars because I have a wide variety of songs and sounds.
In terms of guitar pedals and amps, I keep it simple. I play a Princeton reverb with a route 66 compression and overdrive pedal. I find that the pickups are one of the most important elements in an electric guitar. My favorite brand is Lollar because they have a unique tone but also are workhorses.”
A lot of preparation and practice go into Sarah’s performances. “I stopped calling it practice and just play when I feel like it and what I feel like playing. It felt too much like a chore calling it practice. I always learn and discover things if I just sit down and start playing. The practice happens naturally from there. Most often, there is no better practice than being on stage and doing the real thing.”
Sarah’s advice to up and coming or young women beginning their musical journey is: “Be yourself. Just because you see something on TV or hear something on the radio doesn’t mean you have to be that way too. People like unique and new. So be you.”
Her peers have recognized Sarah as a nominee for Best Singer-Songwriter at the 2018 San Diego Music Awards. She has a full-length album being recorded now, and her overall plan is to travel the world playing music.