Michael Roe’s 20-year career as a solo artist and member of the 77’s and Lost Dogs has been both a blessing and a curse. While he has received critical praise for the depth of his songwriting, his work has failed to reach a larger audience. Part of the difficulty, Roe has noted, is that his work is too Christian for mainstream audiences. “If you were to say, ’Listen to this Christian rock record,’” Roe told Mark Brown in Rocky Mountain News, “immediately this oozy slime is on the floor.” On the other hand, Roe’s willingness to explore the darker side of life has made him less welcome on contemporary Christian radio. “This makes it difficult for someone who’s a serious artist trying to create a work of power and potency,” Roe told Beth Blinn and J. Warner Soditus in the Lighthouse, “because you have several gatekeepers saying, The Church isn’t ready for that kind of potency.’”
Despite the duality of his work and the lack of commercial success, Roe shows no signs of altering his course. “No matter what role he finds himself in, whether the bluesy frontman for the critically acclaimed 77’s, all-things-to-all-men guitarist/vocalist for the rootsy collaborative Lost Dogs, or expressing his genuine creativity as solo artist,” noted PasteMusic.com, “Michael Roe is always aiming for something higher.”
Michael Roe was born in San Jose, California, and began playing both drums and guitar at the age of nine. “The guitar obviously won out,” Roe told Shauna Skye of Artist Launch online, “which is a good thing since drummers have the hardest physical job in the band. Plus everyone ends up hating the drummer anyway.”
As a young boy, he listened to Elvis Presley and was influenced by a cousin who could play guitar like Chet Atkins. Later, he was influenced by the Byrds, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and Jefferson Airplane.
In the early 1980s Roe, along with bassist Jan Eric Volz, drummer Mark Proctor, and keyboardist Mark Tootle, formed the 77’s in Sacramento, California. Roe has compared the band to the Velvet Underground in that both bands received accolades from the press but failed to sell albums and find a larger fan base. In 1982 the 77’s released their debut, Ping Pong over the Abyss, followed in 1984 by All Fall Down. Noting the band’s odd combination of “gloomy attitude” and “gospel shadings,” Wes Magruder wrote in the Dallas Morning News, “The formula doesn’t necessarily add up to commercial success, but the group is arguably the most interesting thing happening in gospel music today.”
The 77’s reached their critical zenith between 1987 and 1990 with the successive release of The 77’s, 88, and Sticks and Stones. The 77’s was released by Island and received good reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone, but the album had the misfortune of being overshadowed by U2’s The Joshua Tree, also released on Island at the same time. Their 1988 release 88 captured the band live in Sacramento. “Taking full advantage of available disc space,” wrote Dave Sieger in All Music Guide, “88 provides 77 minutes of brisk, gritty, and aggressive rock & roll.” The band then returned to the studio, gathering odd outtakes and abandoned singles to form their 1990 release, Sticks and Stones. “Though they were culled from disparate sources,” noted J. Edward Keyes in All Music Guide, “the songs on Sticks and Stones together form a compelling portrait of sorrow and renewal, as affecting as it is timeless.” In 1990 the 77’s’ original lineup dissolved and the band did not release another album for two years.
In the early 1990s Roe joined Terry Scott Taylor, Gene Eugene, and Derri Daughterty to form the Lost Dogs. The band was called a super group because each member also belonged to a prominent Christian band. Despite the status of the various players, the Lost Dogs worked well as a unit and avoided the problems that sometimes crop up in high-profile rock bands. “We never had ego problems, for some reason…,” Roe told Dale McGarrigle in the Bangor Daily News. “We feel more like fishing buddies than bandmates.” The Lost Dogs released Scenic Routes in 1992 and followed it with Little Red Riding Hood in 1993.
In 1996 Roe released his first solo album, Safe As Milk, an eclectic recording that drew from pop, gospel, and jazz. He also continued to explore the underbelly of relationships and to invite the listener to delve deeper into his or her own psyche. “Roe’s songs routinely focus on the darker aspects of life,” noted Jay Howard
Born in San Jose, CA.
Began playing guitar at age nine; formed the 77’s with bassist Jan Eric Volz, drummer Mark Proctor, and keyboardist Mark Tootle, 1982; disbanded 77’s, 1990; joined Lost Dogs, 1992; re-formed 77’s, 1992; released solo debut, Safe As Milk, 1996; released The Boat Ashore, 1997; continued to record and tour with the 77’s and Lost Dogs, mid-to-late 1990s; released solo effort, Say Your Prayers, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —77s/Fools of the World, c/o Warm & Filled Management, 325 Busseron St., Vincennes, IN 47591, phone: (812) 886-9230. Website —Michael Roe Official Website: http://www.michaelroe.com.
and John Streck in Apostles of Rock. Despite his concentration on the darker side of life, Roe has insisted that he isn’t a dark person. “Ultimately,” he told Blinn and Soditus, “you can’t be totally dark if God is part of your life.” In 1997 he followed Safe As Milk with The Boat Ashore.
Even with successive solo projects, Roe continued to record and tour with the 77’s and the Lost Dogs. The 77’s re-formed with a new lineup in 1992 and released Seventy Sevens, originally titled Pray Naked. The lineup of the band continued to evolve during the mid-to-late 1990s, but critics were less impressed with the 77’s’ output. The Lost Dogs, however, reached a high point with the release of Gift Horse in 1999 and Real Men Cry in 2001. “Real Men Cry is an exercise in apt songwriting and vocal excellence,” noted Steven Douglas Losey in All Music Guide, “a release that fills both the soul and the senses with genuine warmth.”
In 2002 Roe released his third solo album, Say Your Prayers. “The strength of the project lies in the fact that Roe is a passionate songwriter who writes from an honest and transparent place,” noted Relevant Magazine. “He is also not afraid to touch on some of the tougher issues our culture has to deal with.” Roe committed to an active touring schedule in 2002, playing dates with the 77’s and the Lost Dogs as well as making solo appearances. “If I were to quit music now, I’d end up [working] at McDonald’s,” Roe told Brown. “Musically I have tried to sell out many times. I’ve offered myself to Christian record companies… I’ll do anything they want. But they won’t let me in. They know full well I’ll try to find a way to pervert it or turn it inside out.”
Safe As Milk, VIA, 1996.
The Boat Ashore, Innocent Media, 1997.
Say Your Prayers, Fools of the World, 2002.
With the 77’s
The 77’s, Island, 1987.
88, BAI, 1988.
Sticks and Stones, Brainstorm, 1990.
With the Lost Dogs
Gift Horse, BEC, 1999.
Real Men Cry, BEC, 2001.
Howard, Jay R., and John M. Streck, Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music, University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Bangor Daily News, October 22, 2002.
Dallas Morning News, March 18, 1995, p. 6G.
Lighthouse, April 1994.
Rocky Mountain News, February 2, 2001, p. 18D.
“88,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 11, 2002).
“Michael Roe,” Relevant Magazine, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=391 (November 22, 2002).
“Nina Goddess,” Artist Launch, http://www.artistlaunch.com/interviews/SeventySevens.htm (November 22, 2002).
“Real Men Cry,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 11, 2002).
“Say Your Prayers,” PasteMusic.com, http://www.pastemusic.com/product/sge (November 22, 2002).
“Sticks and Stones,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 11, 2002).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Roe, Michael." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/roe-michael
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