Roget Pontbriand: Both my father's grandparents were French, but I was born in Queens and lived in the Bronx until I was 8. Then my family moved to Thomaston, Connecticut. Mine was the first "mixed" generation.
Songfacts: When did you start playing an instrument? Did your mother or father push you to take music lessons, or was it something you chose to do on your own?
Roget:: I asked my father for a trumpet when I was 5. When he asked me why I wanted a trumpet, I told him I was going to be a jazz trumpeter when I grew up. I taught myself to play the trumpet by listening to jazz records.
Songfacts: Who were your favorite bands/musicians when you were a teenager -- what kind of records did you listen to?
Songfacts: Your became a professional musician at a very young age. What did your parents think about that?
Roget:: My parents did not approve of music as a career for me. I began to spend less and less time at home when I was a teenager, and moved out when I was 15. I moved back to New York City shortly afterwards
Songfacts: Tell us about Bullet. How did the band get started, and what was your role in the group?
Roget:: When Ernie Sorrentino recorded "White Lies, Blue Eyes," Bullet didn't really exist. When the song started to move up the charts, a booking agent named John Apostle was asked to put a band together. At that time, I had been playing with Joey Stann and the late George Ruiz at an upper Manhattan club called Churchill's Plum. John knew us and asked us to be part of Bullet along with Sorrentino and a drummer named Mike Micara. Joey played organ and sax, and George was our bass player. I played trumpet and keyboards and sang backup vocals. We shot the promotional photos for Bullet in Central Park the day after we met. I was only 17 years old at the time.
Roget:: We performed it on American Bandstand, the Merv Griffin show, the Mike Douglas show, and several other TV shows.
Songfacts: What did Bullet do after "White Lies, Blue Eyes"?
Songfacts: Do you have any good stories about life on the road?
Roget:: At our first concert, the roadies drove the truck into a snow drift and got stuck, so we had to rent equipment. Another time we got stuck in a blizzard in Minnesota. Our tour manager had gone ahead to our next stop. We ran out of cash and had to leave a guitar at a toll booth.
Songfacts: After Bullet broke up, I understand you played with KC and the Sunshine Band, which was a Miami-based group.
Roget:: I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and a state college in Connecticut for awhile, but decided I wanted to get away from New England and the snow. My tenure with KC and the Sunshine Band was short. The valve trombone player had quit -- some kind of power play was going on -- so I was hired by TK Records to replace him. Two weeks later I was offered a position with Wild Cherry playing trumpet, which was my preferred instrument. The former Sunshine Band trombonist was more than happy to return to them, so everyone was happy.
Roget:: Yes, I toured with Wild Cherry for 2 1/2 years -- from 1976 until 1979. We recorded far more material than ever appeared on record. Unfortunately, the tracks I recorded didn't make the albums.
Songfacts: The only Wild Cherry song that most people know is "Play That Funky Music." But they released four studio albums and about a dozen singles. What Wild Cherry song deserved to be a bigger hit?
Roget:: "Hold On," which was released in 1977. It should have been released sooner. The record company wanted to brand us and that song was a rock ballad -- totally different from "Play That Funky Music." By the time it was released we had lost all momentum. It still reached #61 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Songfacts: I understand you got a lot of attention on one of your TV appearances with Wild Cherry.
Roget:: When the group appeared on Dinah Shore's daily talk show, the sax player and I exchanged boots. His left boot was blue and his right one was orange -- with a lightning bolt up the side. So my left boot was orange and my right one was blue. All Dinah could talk about was those boots!
Roget:: There were so many great groups. Some of my favorites were Earth Wind and Fire, who changed everything. Also Parliament-Funkadelic, Chicago, and Blood Sweat and Tears. Jerry Hey, who played trumpet on many Earth Wind and Fire albums and was also a legendary session musician, was a great arranger -- he wrote the most challenging horn parts.
Roget:: I became bored with pop music. I went back to college at the University of Akron and earned two degrees -- one in jazz studies, one in music composition. I played in the pit orchestra at a couple of theaters in the Cleveland area, and also composed music for commercials and industrial films. Eventually my wife Lisa and I moved to Nashville. I taught at Middle Tennessee State University for five years, played at Opryland and on the General Jackson, a paddlewheel riverboat that does dinner cruises.
Songfacts: I assume that playing trumpet in a disco group and playing trumpet in a traditional jazz big band are very different.
Roget:: Disco required very articulate tonguing. You had to be very precise. Jazz is more legato, smoother.
Songfacts: Your website lists an amazing number of great musicians that you've played with. Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Mel Tormé, Maynard Ferguson . . .
Roget:: . . . Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jay and the Americans, Leslie Gore, Anita Bryant, and many others. I toured North America with Elvis Presley's backup singers, the Jordaniares. And I spent a season in Branson, Missouri as the lead trumpet in Shoji Tabuchi's orchestra.
Songfacts: Who are some of the contemporary recording artists you admire? Who are you a fan of today?
Roget:: The Yellowjackets and the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band are terrific jazz bands. Wayne Bergeron is one of my favorite trumpet players. I like John Mayer a lot. I have to mention Bill Holman, a jazz composer and arranger I've admired for many years -- I had the privilege of subbing in his big band while I was a student at the Grove school in L.A.
Songfacts: I know that you've been a committed Christian for a number of years.
Roget:: For many years I struggled with faith issues. Many Christians had shared their faith with me over the years, both on and off the road. It was when I was a college student at the University of Akron that I decided I had come to the end of myself. I've worked with many devoted Christians -- including the Jordanaires, Anita Bryant, Nancy Honeytree, and Shoji Tabuchi -- who have helped my faith to grow.
Songfacts: You currently are on the faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.
Roget:: Yes, I am the founder and director of the popular music program at Palm Beach Atlantic University, which is a nondenominational Christian university. As the theater department's musical director, I've conducted the university's productions of several musicals. I direct the university jazz ensemble, which has performed many of my big band arrangements, and I've been part of the music ministries at several local churches. I spend a lot of time composing as well. I have written over 50 big band charts, a symphony, opera, and many church arrangements for orchestra. And I still play in local big bands, salsa groups, and pit orchestras and tour with the Gaither Vocal Band, which is a Grammy-winning southern gospel group.
Songfacts: You're the hardest-working man in show biz, Roget. Seriously, you've done a little bit of everything in your career.
Roget:: It's been an interesting ride. I've played in pop, rock and funk bands, jazz, pit orchestras, salsa group, etc. -- but I still love the energy of disco. I'm still a white boy who loves to play that funky music!
Get more from Roget at rogetpontbriand.com. Gary Hailey can be found at the outstanding blog 2 or 3 Lines.
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