First published on the Technicians Make it Happen website. Below is the full version.
Name: Alan Rogan
DOB: 15th February 1951
DOD: 3rd July 2019
From: Gateshead, UK
Area of work: Guitar technician
Without him… Alan skill and knowledge of guitars and amps was relied upon by Pete Townshend and many other rock stars. He helped them achieve the sound they wanted and was vital to their on-stage performances.
When, with characteristic anarchic gusto, Pete Townshend of the Who smashed another electric guitar on stage, somebody had to put it back together, that person was Alan Rogan. Alan worked as Townshend’s guitar technician for more than 40 years putting those guitars back together with “with Super Glue, Band-Aids, wire, whatever I could lay my hands on.”. As well as Townshend, Alan worked for some of the biggest names in rock; tuning, repairing, and handing guitars to the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. In the trade he was thought of as “the king of the guitar techs” thanks to his knowledge, skill, and attention to detail.
Alan was born in Gateshead in 1951 and was 12 years old when the Beatles first album came out. He said, “When I was a kid, when I saw George Harrison play, that was it for me – I had to have a [Gretsch] Tennessean.”. However, his tastes changed when “about two years later, at a local shop in the window was a brand-new Telecaster. When I saw that, when I was about 14, that was the end of it, and it still is.” He had fallen in love with guitars, in particular Fender guitars – a love that would last his entire career.
While still at school he took a Saturday job at Barratts music store in Newcastle. On leaving school he was apprenticed to a baker, but that did not last long and he was soon back at Barratts working full-time alongside a side-line buying, selling, and repairing second-hand guitars and amplifiers. In the evenings he would attend concerts at venues like Club A’Gogo, where the Animals were the house band.
In 1974 Alan left the industrial North East for the big smoke and found a job at the Top Gear musical instrument shop on Denmark Street in the West End. Top Gear had become the hub for guitarists during the golden age of British rock and the players and instruments that passed through the shop went on to make rock history. Alan was 24 and about to be made an offer he couldn’t refuse. The Who were planning an 81-day world tour and needed new crew. The band’s management rang Top Gear to ask if they knew a good guitar technician. When Alan answered the phone, he recommended himself. “It starts with a phone call: ‘Do you fancy helping out tonight?’ or ‘Somebody’s ill’,” he recalled. “And then all of a sudden it’s 35 years later…” From that point on Alan was a fixture on every Who tour up until this year.
As a guitar technician on tour Alan had to find the best and rarest guitars for Townshend, ensure they were modified to his specifications, get them on site for gigs, tune them onstage and hand them to Townshend as and when required. Of course, if he got something wrong, that same guitar might come flying back at his head. “When Pete’s on stage, you have to pay attention,” Alan recalled. “If anything went wrong, with the Who it’s not a case of ‘It’s cool’; it’s ‘That better not bloody happen again.’ There’s no messing around. It’s a cause and you’ve got to be ‘on’ at every gig.” Even when one of those flying guitars broke Alan’s glasses, his calm response underlined his affable nature – he handed Townshend another guitar from the rack of 15 or 16 Fender Stratocasters and hoped the replacement was more to his liking. “If a show goes well, and they usually do, he uses two guitars. One for regular tuning and one with capos on.” he said. That said, Alan’s key to being a good guitar tech was to “always have a spare to the spare to the spare.”
Describing Townshend’s treatment of guitars, Alan said, “He’s rough on [them]. Very physical with them, and he’ll use them until he’s mildly murdered them.” As such, Alan often had to repair the guitars during gigs. “I do it very much on the hop,” he said, “while the guitar player is waiting.” Otherwise, he’d put them back together afterwards. Wiping blood off the guitars also became part of Alan’s role. “Pete often cuts his fingers because he just goes for it,” said Alan. He was clearly proud of work, remembering, “When Pete says, ‘Alan has helped me get my sound’, that’s a proud thing to hear.”
When the Who weren’t touring, Alan would work for other musicians including Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Tom Petty and Joe Walsh of the Eagles. Despite working with all these big names, he wasn’t in awe of them. “All bands are different — and all bands are the same,” he said. Alan once walked out on the Eagles because “they suddenly wanted me to fly everywhere economy and I took it as the slap in the face that it was.” Such was his reputation as the “the king of the guitar techs”, there were plenty of other bands prepared to pay for his services.
Alan’s daughter, Kerri, described his interests in life as “guitars, guitars, guitars, guitars… and amps.” A noted expert and collector of guitars and amplifiers, in later life advised manufacturers like Gibson, Rickenbacker and Fender on artist editions, innovations, historical accuracy and artist endorsements. He knew how to modify a guitar to get the right sound for the right person – bridge, pick-ups, strings, all adjusted to whatever the player wanted…or what Alan suggested they might want. The Fender Stratocasters that Townshend played were actually the result of Alan’s recommendation and Alan’s lifelong love affair with Fender. Fender CEO Andy Mooney wrote of Alan that “Anyone who knew [him] knew him as someone who’d brighten every room and make every conversation fun, but Alan was also the consummate, professional guitar technician… He was proud of his work and no detail was too small.”
Alan was also a performer and accomplished musician. One of his proudest moments was playing on Aretha Franklin’s version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. In the late 90s he started a band called BluesClub in which he played bass guitar. He also earned credit as a co-writer on Townshend’s song The Sea Refuses No River, which appeared on a solo album in 1982.
Alan died of cancer in July 2019. In a tribute to him, the Who wrote, “Much of our crew were hand-picked by Al, and we are honoured to be part of his chosen family – spending many years with him all over the world. No words can express the hole left by this overwhelming and large personality, such a bold and funny charmer of a man. Alan was at home in a world of music legends and “big rock stars,” as he had confidence and a sparking persona that could keep up with the best of them. Although always working on the support team side, he was as big a star as anyone he worked with.” They added, “He’s dodged a few flying guitars in life – but he’s free of any such worries now.”
Most of the information about Alan is recorded in obituaries and some really touching tributes written after his death. Here is a selection:
- B. Kehew, Alan Rogan – A Tribute, thewho.com, 4th July 2019.
- Unknown, Alan Rogan Obituary, thetimes.co.uk, 16th July 2019
- P. Davison, Alan Rogan, Keeper of Rock Guitars, Smashed Ones Included, Dies at 68, New York Times, 17th July 2019
Saying that, there are also a few fascinating interviews with Alan:
- J. Peden, 28: Alan Rogan, Sidetrack Liner Notes Podcast, 10th November 2018
- Fender, Mix – Alan Rogan, Guitar Tech for Pete Townshend of The Who, YouTube.com, Published on 25th April 2007.
- P. Hewitt, Ex-Rolling Stones guitar technician gigs in Chichester, Chichester Observer, 23rd January 2017
You can also see a list of his musical and technical credits on discogs.com.