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. He is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered, and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter.

Rodgers’ original folk rock 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, a feature on the public radio program Folk Alley, and selection as a finalist (with his duo Pepper and Sassafras) for the Best Duo Award at FreshGrass.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Photo by Genevieve Fridley

A “renowned guitar teacher” (Boston Globe), Rodgers is author of a best-selling video series teaching his acoustic arrangements of Grateful Dead songs. His book The Complete Singer-Songwriter was recently published in an expanded second edition.

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More about the Pepper and Sassafras duo and the JPR Band
Listen to a sampling of JPR’s NPR stories

Longer Bio

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 original folk rock with masterful band-in-a-box accompaniment on acoustic guitar. He has released five 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 feature on the public radio program Folk Alley. In 2016, his duo with songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Ramsay, known as Pepper and Sassafras, was the New Voices winner at the Turtle Hill Folk Festival and finalist for the Best Duo Award at FreshGrass.

Based in upstate New York, Rodgers performs solo, as a duo, and with a full acoustic band. He has collaborated with fiddler/singer Rani Arbo onstage and in the studio; performed as a sideman for artists including Dan Bern, Christine Lavin, and Maura Kennedy; and opened shows 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; and The Complete Singer-Songwriter, recently published by Backbeat Books in an expanded second edition.

A “renowned guitar teacher” (Boston Globe), Rodgers leads workshops on guitar and songwriting, and teaches courses on songwriting and creative nonfiction writing in the honors program at Syracuse University.

Fast Facts

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, my brother 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. In performance, I draw on this training in several original songs accompanied only by frame drum, cajón, or kanjira, a tambourine-like Indian instrument. I have spent several long stints in south India with my family.

I play a guitar custom-made by luthier Linda Manzerbuilder of Bruce Cockburn’s and Pat Metheny’s acoustic guitars. The guitar’s headstock inlay is inspired by kolams, a form of Indian folk art. Each morning, many south Indian women create these beautiful symmetrical patterns with white rice flour on their doorsteps.

My guitar reunited with its maker at the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. @manzerguitars #woodstockinvitationalluthiersshowcase

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