Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers' songs ring true and new. Spot-on work from an American wordsmith.—Patty Larkin
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers has combined his twin passions for words and music into a multifaceted career as a musician, author, and teacher. A grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, he plays kinetic folk rock, combining vivid imagery and storytelling with masterful band-in-a-box guitar playing. "JPR may be the quintessential acoustic singer-songwriter,” as NYS Music put it, “but he colors with a full palette of folk, rock, blues, and soul."
He performs solo, with the duo Pepper and Sassafras, and with the full acoustic band featured on his newest album, Live and Listening. He also leads Dead to the Core, a collective of singer-songwriters and acoustic musicians celebrating the music of the Grateful Dead.
Rodgers is the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter (which Ben Harper calls “the most creatively valuable book on the subject") and the multimedia guide Beyond Strumming. A "renowned guitar teacher" (Boston Globe), Rodgers has been a staff instructor at Ashokan Guitar Camp and Lamb's Retreat for Songwriters, and for over a decade he has taught courses on songwriting and creative nonfiction writing in the honors program at Syracuse University.
Jeffrey is a great guitar player. Sensitive and strong, and makes it look deceptively easy.—Dan Bern
Listen to JPR on NPR
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers has combined his twin passions for words and music into a multifaceted career as a musician, author, and teacher.
A grand prize winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Rodgers performs kinetic folk rock, combining vivid imagery and storytelling with masterful band-in-a-box guitar playing. "JPR may be the quintessential acoustic singer-songwriter,” as NYS Music put it, “but he colors with a full palette of folk, rock, blues, and soul."
He has released six solo albums, plus a best-selling video series teaching his acoustic arrangements of Grateful Dead songs. His music has racked up numerous honors in recent years, including a Sammy Award for Best Americana, an Emerging Artist showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and a video session on Folk Alley. His duo Pepper and Sassafras, with songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Ramsay, was the New Voices winner at the Turtle Hill Folk Festival and finalist for the Best Duo Award at FreshGrass.
Based in Syracuse, New York, Rodgers performs his original music solo, as a duo, and with the full acoustic band featured on his latest album, Live and Listening. He also leads Dead to the Core, a collective of singer-songwriters and acoustic musicians playing the music of the Grateful Dead.
He has collaborated with fiddler/singer Rani Arbo in concert and in the studio; performed with artists including Dan Bern, Patty Larkin, Cliff Eberhardt, Louise Mosrie, Celia Woodsmith (Della Mae), Jefferson Hamer, Leslie Mendelson, Hayley Jane, and Maura Kennedy; and opened for John Gorka, Peter Case, Eric Bibb, Cheryl Wheeler, Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, and more.
Rodgers is also the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. His books include Rock Troubadours, featuring his interviews with such artists as Jerry Garcia, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Dave Matthews; The Complete Singer-Songwriter, recently published by Backbeat Books in an expanded second edition; and the multimedia guide Beyond Strumming.
A "renowned guitar teacher" (Boston Globe), Rodgers leads workshops on guitar and songwriting at schools and events such as the Passim School of Music, Berklee College of Music, and the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. He has taught magazine editing and travel writing at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, and currently teaches courses on songwriting and creative nonfiction writing in Syracuse's Crown University Honors Program.
Yes, Pepper is my real middle name—it's the last name of my great, great uncle, who has the same birthday.
In sixth grade, I failed in a campaign to get classmates to call me Pepper. When I began writing professionally after college, I decided to use my full name and asked my editor at the San Francisco Chronicle to change my byline. She nixed the idea at first, preferring the casual Jeff Rodgers, but at the time I happened to be writing a review of a book by Joyce Carol Oates. So I told her fine, I’d go by Jeff Rodgers as long as the review said the book was by Joyce Oates. She laughed and relented, and I’ve been Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers ever since.
I started performing in New Jersey bars with my brother, Dru, long before I was old enough to be allowed in the door. When I was around 15, he and I shared our original songs with producer and Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye at his New York studio. Kaye warned against getting pigeonholed as folkies and commented that unlike many people he knew in the rock 'n' roll business, we actually knew how to play our instruments.
I studied north Indian tabla drumming both in the U.S., at the famed Ali Akbar College of Music, and in India. I have spent several long stints in south India with my family. Read more about my Indian music background in this post about re-creating the Beatles' "Within You Without You" for a Sgt. Pepper's tribute concert.
The music of the Grateful Dead was a huge part of my upbringing as a songwriter and guitarist. I feel incredibly fortunate to have interviewed both Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, and I love playing and teaching their songs. And in 2018, I had the incredible honor of playing Jerry's Wolf guitar onstage at Club Passim at a birthday tribute, as recounted in detail here.I play a guitar custom-made by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer, builder of Bruce Cockburn's and Pat Metheny's acoustic guitars. Read more about this guitar and the other instruments and gear I use.