A connection Kris Rodgers made as a member of The Connection has made all the difference for his current band and their new album.

“Still Dirty” was released July 23 on the label Wicked Cool Records, owned by Steve Van Zandt, a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and known as Little Steven whose acting credits include “The Sopranos.”

About a decade ago, Van Zandt featured The Connection, a New Hampshire-based power-pop act, on his syndicated radio show, Little Steven’s Underground garage. A few years later, after Rodgers – a Portland-based pianist, singer and songwriter – had formed Kris Rodgers and The Dirty Gems, Van Zandt spun their single “Headlines.”

For “Still Dirty,” Van Zandt gave them more than airtime; he sent Rodgers voice memos for all the songs with his ideas on arrangements and other notes.

“It was pretty cool to have him playing and singing along to our music, making suggestions here and there,” said Rodgers, giving the track “Don’t Turn Around” as an example. “The chorus and verse are actually in two different keys, and that was Steven’s idea.”

Having listened to “Still Dirty” several times over the past week or so, I understand why Van Zandt is drawn to Rodgers and the dynamic, engaging sound of a group of musicians having a heck of a good time. From the opening romp of “She Likes to Party” to the ballad “Across the Galaxy” and the absolutely righteous take on Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot,” there’s not a dud to be found on “Still Dirty.”


Along with Rodgers, The Dirty Gems is Tom Hall is on guitar, Ryan Halliburton on bass and Craig Sala on drums. “Still Dirty” also features Jamie Colpoys, who played trombone and handled the horn arrangements, Brian Graham on saxophone, and Susanne Gerry, Amanda Tubbs Arnold and Ashely Ellis on backing vocals. Rodgers and his bandmates produced the album with input from Van Zandt. It was mastered by Geoff Sanoff and Pat Keane.

Kris Rodgers. Photo by Lauren MacLean

Rodgers has impressed me for years because he makes being a master of the piano look easy, and his passion is evident every time his fingers hits those keys. Not only that, he’s a heck of a songwriter and more than capable vocalist.

Rodgers – who was born in Presque Isle, grew up in Standish and now lives in Portland – told me that his daycare had a toy piano that he’d use to figure out how to play Disney songs. At age 7, he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

“Right at the same time, I asked for piano lessons, and my parents felt so bad about my diabetes they said yes, thinking it would help me cope. I still have diabetes and still have my piano,” explained Rodgers with a laugh.

Singing came a bit later to Rodgers.

“It took me almost 10 more years of piano lessons to open my mouth and sing. I had always sung to myself, but never to anyone else and that included my family,” he said.


When he joined his high school band as the keyboard player, he became the singer because, according to Rodgers, he was the “least bad … I really wasn’t great but over the years, if you do something enough, you’ll eventually get the hang of it, and that’s what happened to me and singing.”

As for putting pen to paper, Rodgers has always written songs and poems and has a journals full of what he calls “terrible lyrics.”

At the moment, Rodgers’ favorite track on “Still Dirty” is “Don’t Look Back” because musically it reminds him of the bands that got him into rock n’ roll like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.

“The lyrics also speak to the current state of the world and certain people letting go of past assumptions,” he said.

“If you’re tired of the same old song, don’t look back,” Rodgers sings with Elton John-esque conviction.

Speaking of Elton John, he’s Rodgers favorite songwriter and performer. “But over the years I’ve found that the best music I write and the band writes is pulled from multiple sources,” he said. Rodgers said that “Still Dirty” was influenced by the original Star Trek theme, David Bowie, Ace Frehley (KISS), Smokey Robinson, Chicago and Van Halen. “It’s the most dynamic list of influences we’ve had yet, for sure.”

“Still Dirty” is available on streaming platforms. You can buy it on CD or vinyl at Bull Moose stores.

Rodgers said he and the band will have some fall shows soon, including a November date at Sun Tiki Studios in Portland. Keep tabs on the band at krisrodgersmusic.com.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.