I never knew
By Bruce Horovitz
I never knew Gamble Rogers.
In fact, I never even saw him perform. Not even once.
Yet somehow, I feel like I’ve known him all my life.
That’s what happens when you have the good fortune to write a biography about one of Florida’s most iconic, cultural legends.
I came to write Gamble’s story innocently enough. A neighbor and friend, the late Honorable Bruce McEwan showed me a 1937 photograph of two babies crawling on a blanket.
It was a photograph of McEwan and James Gamble Rogers IV, clad only in diapers. Their friendship would last a lifetime. The old photograph would set me on a personal journey to discover everything I could about “Jimmy” Gamble Rogers.
Like so many others, I was familiar with the name Gamble Rogers. I even knew about a state park in his honor and that a musical festival bearing his name was held somewhere in St. Augustine. But beyond that, I knew scant little about this giant of a man. It turns out I wasn’t alone. A quick search of the public library and the internet revealed little if any about this ordinary man with an extraordinary gift. The more I learned about Gamble Rogers the man, the more passionate I became about wanting to tell his story.
During my research I learned of a movement to remove his name from the state park in Flagler Beach. “No one really knew who he was,” remarked one city official. I was astounded. My passion to tell his story turned into an obsession.
What I learned on my journey was that Gamble Rogers was so much more than the charismatic performer who wowed audiences with his unforgettable choke style guitar picking and who left bar patrons laughing out loud at the “skull orchard” tapestry of Oklawaha County. For sure Gamble will always be associated with the apocryphal Terminal Tavern, Still Bill, War Bunny and Agamemnon Jones. Their images are forever etched in Florida’s folk culture.
What I felt needed to be told was the story of Gamble’s humanity, his compassion and his ability to connect. Gamble’s friend Jim Carrick once told me, “Everyone wanted to play guitar like Gamble, but more than that, everyone wanted to be like Gamble.” It was a tall order.
Time and again while writing his biography I found people whose lives had been touched by Gamble. Even more so, while on speaking engagements to talk about the book, I was constantly approached by individuals with a poignant Gamble Rogers story perhaps known only to themselves.
Writing the book, “Gamble Rogers, A Troubadour’s Life” was an honor and a privilege. I am grateful to so many of his friends and family who were so giving their time and insights.
For me, it was an inspiration. I got to know about a hero I had never met. I learned the true meaning of a humanitarian. I learned about decency and humility at a time when such virtues seem all too scarce.
I never knew Gamble Rogers, but I will carry his message with me forever.