The Rogues
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The Rogues

Band World Folk


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The best kept secret in music



August 2002


“I really couldn't imagine listening to an entire album of bagpipes... Well, I couldn't
until I heard The Rogues latest album, 5.O.”

The fifth release by Houston's remarkable bagpipe & percussion quartet, The Rogues, is not just another bagpipe album. It's the crossover album that will
make fans of those who never before liked the bagpipes. The Rogues take a very traditional instrument, add modern arrangements and a very Celtic world-beat
sound, to create a Grammy-nominated masterpiece.

"Gypsy" was my first favorite tune from the album. It opens with very simple flamenco-like percussion and adds The Rogues' signature dual bagpipes of Jimmy Mitchell and Lars Sloan. Then enters the percussive magic of Randy Wothke who backs Leandra La Greca...a Gypsy Flamenco dancer! The song stands out as an introduction to the beautiful mischief yet to come.

"Bonny Portmore" belongs in a movie. The familiar melody opens with Wothke on keyboards and Brian Thomas of the Houston Symphony on French Horn. How they were able to blend that horn with two Bb bagpipes that enter in the second verse, I don’t know, but the result is amazing and sounds wonderful, as does Wothke's original aire, "The Rose of Sharon."

5.0 has tunes for the traditionalists, but also features some of the newly, vogue bagpipe rock. "Cullen Anderson" by Lars Sloan is an epic bagpipe rock song with beautiful guest vocals by Emily Vacek. It smokes with a full drum kit, blazing bagpipes and some rocking Bazouki-playing by Wolf Loescher. And of course, the one
thing you can always expect from any of The Rogues albums is that their roguish sense of humor permeates throughout the album.

5.0 has something for everyone from the newbie to the seasoned Celtic music fan. When you listen to it, you will find something that will bring a smile to your face and have you listening to the album again and again for many years to come.

Marc Gunn - - Marc Gunn

"Dirty Linen Magazine"

October/November ‘98 #78 p. 70

The Rogues - Live in Canada, Eh?

What would a Texas band be doing at a ceilidh in Burlington, Ontario? Well, judging from the sound of this, having one hell of a good time. With two Highland pipers (Lars Sloan and Jimmy Mitchell) and two percussionists (Randy Wothke and Nelson Stewart [formerly Bryan Blaylock]), the music The Rogues play is anything but subtle. Recorded live in front of an enthusiastic audience, the band powers its way through a number of sets of bagpipe tunes, many of which they composed themselves. There are a few breaks for songs, but the emphasis is on the pipes (as well it should be), as both Sloan and Mitchell are fine players. The set winds down, as any good ceilidh should, with renditions of “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” Play this loud, it’s guaranteed to annoy the neighbors and the cats.

JLe - Jle

"Piper and Drummer On LIne"

10/3/99 12:20:55 PM

The Rogues Create a Celtic Joyride
Unique and fun interpretations result in an often brilliant recording.

Only a decade ago, most North American Celtic groups were just loose imitations of bands like Battlefield, Tannahill Weavers, and Osian. Today, the United States, in particular, appears to be not just riding the wave of interest in Celtic music, but creating its own tidal force.

The Rogues - the Houston, Texas, quartet of two pipers and two percussionists – have just released “Off Kilter,” their fourth recording, which presents a quite unique and distinctly modern take on the Celtic idiom.

It would be a mistake for competing pipers and drummers to take one look at the group and dismiss them as a bunch of Rob Roy revivalists, like those seen around many North American Highland games. The Rogues’ puffy shirted look is part of the overall spectacle.

“Off Kilter” is a distinctly modern approach to piping and drumming. But, unlike many of today’s Celtic music groups, The Rogues don’t seem to have much time for synthesizers or anything electronic, for that matter. With only one exception, their stuff is done using traditional instruments.

Their music, though, is anything but traditional. “Off Kilter” is a ceilidh of musical surprises, the most intriguing of which seem to be from piper Lars Sloan. Three tracks in particular – “Miss. P.,” “’Scuse Me?” and “Guinness Dog” – are wonderfully creative. From the dog barking samples in “Guinness Dog” to the bizarre vocal interjections in “’Scuse Me?,” Sloan’s compositions put an accent on fun, and usually come up with a percussion groove that makes the pipe music surge.

And it is the percussion that is perhaps the best overall part of “Off Kilter.” Bodhran, congas, bongos, claves, and God knows what else drive the whole thing along at a crazy pace. The only parts of the recording that get a bit ponderous are the points where the groups goes only with Highland pipes and pipe band snare, as in the start of the last track of hornpipes and reels. It’s relatively unexciting, but then the group gets grooving again with drum set and a more driving tempo.

“Off Kilter” is a difficult thing to summarize musically. The piping is very good, the instruments are well tuned, and the spirit is intensely positive. One thing’s for sure: the piping puritans will hate it. - Andrew Berthoff

"The Rogues-"Glad to be Plaid""

February - March 2003 (#104)

The Rogues, one of the biggest names on the Renaissance Festival circuit, want you to know that it’s not all about cantilevered bosoms and steak-on-sticks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Houston, Texas’ self-proclaimed “bad boys of Celtic music” are best known for the powerful live sets that showcase their bagpipe-based Celtic/world-beat sound, performances which have made them the best-loved RenFaire act that doesn’t involve sharp objects or fractured Elizabethan pentameter. At such venues as the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, their shows pack the small taverns and stages to overflowing. They always seem to gather longtime fans, including beautiful, lively women known as “Roguettes,” who move to the sinuous percussive beats of Randy Wothke and Nelson Stewart.

But the Rogues can also rock out or go transcendentally mellow. During their Crownsville residency in the fall of 2002, they headlined a benefit concert that raised over $6,000 for a widowed friend. Their set featured newest member Stewart, whose band mates jokingly call him “Nelvis,” wailing away on electric guitar and bass. In contrast, the highlight of their fifth CD, appropriately titled Rogues V.0, is Wothke’s tribute to his wife, “The Rose of Sharon,” featuring Brian Thomas of the Houston Symphony playing a haunting melody on French horn. When Thomas guested at the Crownsville festival, with Wothke on keyboards, Stewart on bodhran, and Lars Sloan and Jimmy Mitchell on pipes, “Sharon” ‘s blend of traditional Celtic and modern electric sounds stopped festival-goers’ mead cups halfway to their lips.

Wothke and Sloan are two of the band’s founding members. When asked “How long have you been a Rogue?” Wothke replied, “You’d have to ask my wife.” A sly joke? No. Sharon Wothke is the group’s institutional memory. “If you want facts, come tell me, ‘cause they don’t even know this stuff,” she laughed.

The Rogues have had more names than Spinal Tap. (Also, possibly, more drummers, though the departures of Rogues drummers don’t generally involve spontaneous combustion.) In 1987, Sloan, Randy Wothke, E.J. Jones, and J.W. McCormick founded a band called Clandestine. Then career and educational changes drew Jones, Sloan, and McCormick out of the band. Sloan, who left to work in the film industry, took the Clandestine name with him. Sharon Wothke christened the ‘94 incarnation--Wothke, Jones (who left and then came back), Thomas Campbell, and Paul Rendon--the Scottish Rogues. A year later, when Jones and Rendon left to form a new Clandestine with Sloan, the Scottish Rogues picked up Bryan Blaylock and Jimmy Mitchell and recorded their first album to sell at the Texas Renaissance Festival. Its overwhelming sales led the group to record more albums and tour more extensively, even as the personnel shifted yet again with the departure of Mitchell in ‘96. Sloan came back, and the group recorded Hollerin'’ for Haggis that fall. In ‘97, Campbell left, Mitchell rejoined, and the band shortened its name to The Rogues. A show in Ontario was released as Live in Canada, eh?

Off Kilter, released in 1999, and and V.0 picked up six preliminary Grammy nominations in new-artist and folk categories. “We made it to the second level,” said Randy Wothke. Thrust into a pool of diverse musicians, many with more national exposure, the Rogues material failed to make the final batch of nominees in its categories. “Until we get a [Celtic] category, it’s going to be next to impossible” to reach the final five, Wothke said.

While still undeniably Celtic, V.0 gains strength from its eclecticism. Besides the usual dyed-in-the-wool instrumental compositions by Mitchell, Sloan, and Wothke, it contains a Gypsy dance based on “John MacKenzie’s Fancy” (featuring the flamenco tapping of dancer Leandra La Greca), as well as Sloan’s song “Cullen Anderson,” with lyrics by his father and guest turns from vocalist Emily Vacek and electric-bouzouki player Wolf Loescher. Marc Gunn at called V.0 “not just another bagpipe album. . . the crossover album that will make fans of those who never before liked the bagpipes.” Well, that might be a bit of a stretch--there’s no escaping the bold, often rousing, often mournful sound of the pipes at a Rogues show. Jimmy Mitchell plays shuttle pipes and Highland pipes, and Lars Sloan plays, he said, “the great Highland warpipe--the loud obnoxious one.”

When asked what Texas and Scotland had in common, Randy Wothke quickly answered, “Bagpipes. There’s a school down in our home town--” St. Thomas Episcopal School in Houston--“where they teach bagpiping instead of wind band.”

“There’s a strong Celtic community in Texas,” added wife Sharon. “People don’t realize. There’s a lot of people who immigrated from Scotland and then just went down to the South. There’s a lot of people who ended up in Texas with Scottish or Irish links. And when you go to Houston, you think it’s all cows and oil wells, but it’s actually a very strong Celtic community there.” Sloan, in fact, founded the Hamilton School of Piping in Houston nearly 20 years ago, and Mitchell attended St. Thomas Episcopal School.

Besides percussion and pipes, there’s another element to the Rogues’ success. Call it charisma. Or maybe call it sex appeal. The boyish Stewart, who shamelessly mugs for the crowd, seems to be especially well loved by the ladies. He’s been enjoying his Roguish experience since joining in January 2002, after the departure of Blaylock and just in time for V.0. “I love it. It’s awesome.”

At some point, the Rogues began to notice a group of dancers who showed up at Texas shows. The phenomenon has spread, and the guys--and Sharon Wothke, who’s sometimes called “the fifth Rogue” and who can be spotted in the audience, undulating in bare-midriffed peasant wear and flogging Rogues swag, when weather permits--have encouraged it. “Sharon came up with the idea of having Roguette shirts,” Randy Wothke explained. “We just started selling those last year.”

It’s all in good fun. “We’ve got family all over the place,” said Sharon Wothke, and she wasn’t speaking of relatives. “That’s the neat thing about the Rogues--wherever we go, we’re more than just a group that entertains. People really take us into their hearts and homes. People give us food and presents. I think the music really opens people’s hearts up. They don’t think of us as stars. They think of us as family.”

They hope that the family will grow with the release of their next album, planned for later this year. “We’re doing a live album, Nov. 23, at the Mucky Duck, a club down in Houston,” Mitchell informed.

“We’re gonna have a little driving sound,” added Sloan, “with the keyboards, some bass guitar. We’re gonna have a lot of guest musicians from local bands, friends of ours down in the Houston area.” Those friends will include Clandestine’s E.J. Jones--you can’t keep an old Rogue down.

But they aren’t giving up the sound of the old country. When asked whether the Rogues were going to change too much, Sloan patted his bag: “With the bagpipes in it, you’re always gonna have that little bit of Scottish.”

by Pamela Murray Winters

- Dirty Linen

"Rogues Rock the Bagpipes"

Rogues rock the bagpipes

Celtic band performs tonight at Mucky Duck
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Bagpipes and drums in the wrong hands could be deafening.

But under the influence of the kilt-clad Rogues, the effect is smoothly mesmerizing.

Fans follow the Houston-based band around the country, from Renaissance fairs and Highland games to McGonigel's Mucky Duck tonight.

What's the attraction?

"It gives them chills," says E.J. Jones, formerly of Clandestine, who plays the pipes. "It's the kind of music that raises the hackles on the back of their necks."

When it has recovered from that initial reaction, the audience is often incited to dance to the Celtic sounds sometimes set to a rock beat. Others say they lull their children to sleep with Rogues music, and some proudly report the music makes them feel like fighting.

"The bagpipe is very much a rock instrument because the bagpipe is very uncompromising," Jones says. "It has a wildness to it. It never has been tamed by an orchestra."

Beyond nine notes
The Rogues make the Scottish instruments sound even wilder by layering in drums and stretching the bagpipes beyond their traditional nine notes, particularly on their original material. Such an approach is forbidden in formal competition and in most schools, including Houston's St. Thomas Episcopal School, where Jones and fellow piper Jeremy Freeman learned to play.

But the Rogues feel qualified to take a few liberties when they're having fun, the flip side of serious competition.

New member Freeman, a piping instructor at St. Thomas with a master of arts from Yale University, won a silver medal in piping at the prestigious Northern Meeting at Inverness, Scotland.

The tradition of competition, Jones says, kept the bagpipe alive through centuries of "unpopularity" and even the persecution of the Scottish people who used them as a powerful voice against the British.

"That's the competitive side," Freeman says. "This is the other side, playing to connect with real-life folks rather than some old judge."

Freeman says the percussion half of the band adds texture. "The bagpipe has no vibrato and very little nuance to it. There's no soft and loud, and there are only nine notes. It's easier to play (the bagpipe) with drums for me, and way more fun."

The Irish bodhran is among percussion instruments the band uses. It's a shallow, hand-held drum played by striking the single drumhead with alternate knobbed ends of a beater.

Percussionist and composer Randy Wothke is a founding member of the band, originally formed as the Scottish Rogues in 1994. Percussionist Nelson Stewart, an instrumental-music teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, commutes.

The band's sixth album, Made in Texas, was recorded at McGonigel's Mucky Duck in 2003. On fifth album The Rogues 5.0 the Rogues were joined by Brian Thomas of the Houston Symphony playing the French horn on Bonny Portmore.

Much of the Rogues' material is original. "We want to advance the tradition by contributing to it," Jones says.

Fans who fall under the Rogues' Celtic spell tonight can catch them again at the Mucky Duck on St. Patrick's Day. Also on March 17 — at noon — Jones will play the pipes on top of the pub's roof, an annual tradition.

"People who are really into Celtic music take the day off work," Jones says. - Houston Chronicle


Made in Texas (DVD) - 2003
Made in Texas (double-CD)- 2003
The Rogues 5.0 - 2001
Off Kilter - 1999
Live in Canada, Eh? - 1997 (out of print)
Hollerin' for Haggis - 1996 (out of print)
Scottish Rogues - 1995 (out of print)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Formed in Houston, Texas in 1994, The Rogues have now become international performers, with appearances all over North America and Scotland. They have shared the stage with Natalie MacMaster, The Battlefield Band, Steeleye Span, and Eric Rigler (Bad Haggis), and have become the favourite act at numerous festivals and Scottish events around the country.

The first thing that sets the Rogues apart from other Celtic music groups is the quality of the piping. E.J. and Jeremy are award winning pipers, both in North America and Scotland. The percussion is perhaps the most identifiable element about The Rogues. Randy has a degree in music, as well as musical awards, and Nelson is a band director in Canada.

Their shows are also filled with humor unique to The Rogues. Funny antics and clever spontaneous banter make every performance memorable.

Their fifth album, "The Rogues 5.0," and the previous album, "Off Kilter," listed them in the Grammy book 6 times, including the categories of Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Folk Album. Their latest release, "Made in Texas" is a live album available in a double-CD format, and also as a DVD. Their music, combined with their unique presentation, makes for an unforgettable show. For more information on The Rogues, go to their website at