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Rock ’n roll, bluegrass, and ukuleles

Rock ’n roll, bluegrass, and ukuleles

By Todd Travis

A musical life

From a young age, music has been an influential part of Tom Rodgers’ life. Growing up on the Eastside of Indianapolis, Rodgers started off playing the violin while he was in elementary school and moved on to the upright bass in high school. After high school, he graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University, joined the army, worked at Sears for several years, and continued on to a 28-year career in law enforcement. Along the way, he stayed involved with music and was able to participate in multiple bands and perform at different venues around Indianapolis.

Today he is performing solo at different assisted living facilities on the Southside with a unique instrument he recently began performing with – the ukulele.

Working and performing in Indiana

After his start with the violin and stand-up bass, Rodgers had his try with the electric guitar while in the military and ended up starting a small band when he returned home. From that band, they grew and absorbed another band which led to the assembling of a group called The Fifth Amendment.

Tom proudly holds the electric/acoustic bass that he bought and used in Florida with his bluegrass band. (Submitted photos)

“We had a catchphrase that went ‘We have the right to remain silent, but we don’t have the ability,’” remembered Rodgers.

“That was probably the best band I was a part of – we played all across Indiana together and we stayed together for about five years,” Rodgers added.

During his time working in law enforcement, he continued playing part time at different Moose lodges, their fraternal police lodges and picnics. One of the bands he remembers was the Blue Nights, but there were about three different bands he played with during that time. A little later on, he got started with a rhythm and blues band called Sassabrass. While they had a lot of talent, it was such a big group that they weren’t able to book enough gigs to pay everyone and stay together.

Florida bluegrass

When Rodgers retired, he and his wife got a place in Florida and began traveling down there as snowbirds for about 10 years and then moved there permanently for another eight years. During this time, he picked up an acoustic/electric bass second-hand and was looking for an opportunity to test it out. He met some people nearby that were in a bluegrass band and asked if he could try out his bass using one of their amplifiers. The band leader agreed and brought out his banjo and began to play with Rodgers as he tried out his instrument.

Performing his solo ukulele act at an assisted living facility.

One thing led to another, and Rodgers was asked to be the backup for the band since their current bassist wasn’t always available to play. The problem Rodgers was having was that he had never played bluegrass and was having a hard time getting the feel for it. That was when he got the phone call which he expected was to let him know he was out of the band.

“I picked up the phone expecting to be kicked out of the band, but instead the band leader said not only would I be playing that night, but I would be singing too!” Rodgers recalled.

After that night he began playing regularly with the group until the band leader moved away. To his surprise, the band voted him as the new leader. He would continue as a leader for about 12 years.

Back home in Indiana

In the meantime, he also started another band playing rock ‘n roll that played during the summer while his other band members were out of town. They began playing at assisted care facilities. The drawback of being part of these bands was the fickleness that came with musicians at times. Rodgers couldn’t always rely on members to be around consistently, so he began to play solo as well and learned the ukulele. That’s what eventually led to him ending up where he is today.

Tom and members of his bluegrass band in Florida.

“One of the things I always tell people is that my ukulele only plays old songs – it doesn’t play the new songs,” joked Rodgers.

He plays songs like “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” His list is designed to be uplifting for residents and to remind them of some of their favorite songs from their youth.

To book Rodgers for an event you can contact him by email at buzzywhitlow@aol.com.

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