Florida Book Awards, Bronze Medal for Florida Nonfiction
Florida Historical Society Charlton Tebeau Award
Beloved raconteur, environmentalist, and down-home philosopher, Gamble Rogers (1937–1991) ushered in a renaissance of folk music to a place and time that desperately needed it. In this book, Bruce Horovitz tells the story of how Rogers infused Florida's rapidly commercializing landscape with a refreshing dose of homegrown authenticity and how his distinctive music and personality touched the nation.
As a college student, motivated by personal advice from William Faulkner to stay true to himself, Rogers broke away from his family's prestigious architecture business. Rogers was a skilled guitar player and storyteller who soon began performing extensively on the national folk music circuit alongside Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, and Jimmy Buffett. He discovered a special knack for public radio, appearing frequently as a guest commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Rogers was known across the country for his intricate fingerpicking guitar style and rapid-fire stage act. Audiences welcomed his humorous homespun tales set in the fictitious Oklawaha County, which was based on places from his own upbringing and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters. His stories evoked rural life in Florida, celebrated the state's natural resources, and called attention to life's many small ironies. As Florida was experiencing colossal growth embodied by the new Kennedy Space Center and Disney World, Rogers's folksy style cheered and reassured listeners in the state who worried that their traditional livelihoods and locales were disappearing.
Horovitz shows that even beyond his genius as a performing artist, Rogers was loved for his compassion, integrity, connection with people, and courage. Rogers displayed these widely admired traits for the last time when—on a camping trip to the beach—he tried to save a drowning stranger despite back problems that made it almost impossible for him to swim.
This heroic effort led to his untimely death. The life of Gamble Rogers is a window into an important creative subculture that continues to flourish today as contemporary folk artists take on roles similar to the one Rogers established for himself. A modern-day troubadour, Rogers delighted in entertaining audiences with what was familiar and real—by championing the ordinary people of his home community who were closest to his heart.