Local musician, feeling rejuvenated, shares his talent


Colleen Slater, KP News

Key Peninsula resident Roger Gemelle plays with his mandolin, “Blondie.” Photo courtesy Roger Gemell


Roger Gemelle’s musical career began in New York City at age 19, when he hustled to a studio from school to play on a keyboard.

He signed with the Tokens (of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” fame) and played with them until he formed his own band, “We Ugly Dogs,” which recorded under the Tokens label, BT Puppy.

“Our single, ‘Spring Rains,’ was No.1 in Duluth, Minn.,” Gemelle said with a laugh.

The band, renamed Canterbury Music Festival, moved to Boulder, Colo., where bluegrass was popular.

They played Ebbetts Field, opened for Mickey Nelson in Chicago and did various radio and television spots.

Only 150 copies of their album, “Rain and Shine,” were released in 1968. Gemelle didn’t even know that until several years later.

The album, including a bonus track of “Pamela” with Gemelle on lead vocals was reissued as a CD by devotees of “sunshine pop” music and has been released in the United Kingdom and South Korea.

Gemelle left that band to play soft rock in California.

The new group played at Laguna for six months, then elsewhere for six months.

On a trip to Las Cruces, New Mexico, Gemelle was relaxing at a jukebox between gigs when “this really cute blonde walked in,” he said.

“I fell in love instantly,” Gemelle said of Dinah, his wife of 36 years. “It took her quite a bit longer,” he added.

Dinah, invited by a friend to hear the visiting band, said, “I don’t know; I wanted to stay home and wash my hair.” Ever since, she said, “Any time there’s a problem, I say ‘I should have stayed home and washed my hair.’”

The Gemelles moved to Seattle in the early 1990s, where Roger played at the Cameron and Edgewater hotels. He didn’t want to live in the city, and bought property near Vaughn.

He and Roy Denton, of Gig Harbor, joined forces and became The Denton Brothers, playing and recording.

“I’m still writing music for some of his songs, even though he’s passed away,” Gemelle said.

He said that about a dozen years ago, work just dried up. “I was burnt out and for 10 years, I didn’t touch an instrument,” he said.

Two years ago, Dinah bought him a mandolin. He wouldn’t touch it. One day, he picked it up, started playing it and that night when Dinah came to bed, she asked, “Is there room for me with you and Blondie?”

The mandolin was named, christened, accepted and loved.

Gemelle began playing here and there, joined the Key Singers, met new friends and felt he was “brought back to life.”

Rusty Roots, his local band, was organized with Bill and Lynn Lloyd and Dorene Paterson.

They play locally, at venues like the Longbranch Bluegrass and Barbecue and Old Timers Day.

Saturday evenings the Gemelles hold an open mic at Lakebay Marina, and added to the entertainment at their grand opening and the beer-tasting events.

Gemelle is now getting booked for other locations and events. His latest musical love is his new Fender Strat named Franny, for his mother, he said.

He enjoys being able to “pay back” the people, churches and food bank in the community that helped him through the hard times.

“This is like a love affair,” he said, “for love of music.”