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Hard Knox or Scott free?

Atlanta clubs and bands help guitarist fight the law

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Friends and family describe Scott Rogers as the kind of guy who hated to go to bed -- the one who was constantly leading the charge, creating the plan, promising that the payoff was just over the next hill.

He brought that sort of leadership to his corner of the Atlanta music scene -- as lead guitarist for spy-rock instrumentalists the Penetrators, as the creative force behind the popular annual retro-fixated music and movie festival Drive-Invasion, as the designer of album covers, the creator of Internet discussion groups and an ever-present figure among the community of locals whose tastes tend toward classic cars and vintage guitars.

So last May, when Rogers died in a car wreck on his way to go jam with a buddy, his loss left a gaping hole in the scene.

Almost nine months since the accident, Rogers' friends are hosting a two-fisted benefit this weekend in East Atlanta, simultaneously at the Echo Lounge and The Earl. (Two more will be held Feb. 20 at the Star Bar and Feb. 21 at 9 Lives Saloon.)

The shows, however, aren't aimed at raising money to aid Rogers' widow (he wasn't married) or kids (he had none). And they're not designed to create some sort of memorial in Rogers' memory. The benefits, in fact, are for the man who was behind the wheel of the car when Rogers was killed. They're meant to help him raise money for the legal fees he'll accrue in his battle to beat his vehicular homicide rap.

Among Scott Rogers' closest friends was Johnny Knox, a respected local rockabilly guitarist and leader of the band HI-TEST. He's also the guy facing one to 15 years in prison for Rogers' death.

Knox and Rogers were buddies from the time Rogers first moved to Atlanta from Alabama in the mid-'90s. They shared a love for early rock 'n' roll; Knox occasionally filled in with the Penetrators, and they played together frequently. They also shared a passion for old cars. Rogers drove a 1965 GTO before it got rear-ended by an SUV, and Knox drove a 1963 Ford Galaxie until May.

In recent years, their friendship often manifested itself in the form of Knox serving as Rogers' chauffeur. "Seems like I was always carrying his ass around, going to pick up posters or some crazy adventures," Knox says.

A decade back, Rogers had cracked his skull falling off a skateboard. He recovered, but doctors said another head injury could ignite serious problems. Sure enough, after Rogers got hurt in a car accident years later, he started having occasional seizures. In recent years, with the possibility of blacking out at any moment, Rogers had stopped driving altogether. He got around pretty well, though, taking cabs or public transportation, and bumming rides with friends.

On the night of May 10, 2003, Rogers was hanging out at the Star Bar, walking distance from his home. Local band Gargantua was headlining. Knox had been over at the Echo Lounge checking out L.A. rockabilly band Three Bad Jacks. After that show ended, Knox and some friends hopped over to Little Five Points and joined Rogers at the Star Bar.

As the hour pushed 3 a.m. and friends started heading home, Rogers and Knox conspired to go back to Knox's Lakewood-area house to jam. The two jumped into the Galaxie and headed to Knox's house. As they crossed a railroad bridge on McDonough Boulevard, Knox lost control of the wheel. The car hit a railing, the passenger door popped open and both Rogers and Knox were ejected over the bridge onto the ground below. Knox was pretty badly beat up, with a concussion and cracked ribs. Rogers was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott Rogers' mom, Cheri Rogers, happens to serve as a grief recovery counselor at her church in Huntsville, Ala. Though her work provided no easy comfort when it came to dealing with the loss of her own son, she was able to apply some of her professional knowledge in important ways. In particular, she knew that families of those killed in accidents tend to feel an intense need for answers. And if loved ones don't find those answers, they can find themselves stuck in the horror, obsessively racking their brains, unable to move on and cope with the loss.

So she made sure to ask a lot of questions right away -- to investigating officers and friends who'd been with her son. She quickly reached a conclusion at which few mourning parents would likely arrive: It wasn't the driver's fault.

"The most amazing thing was there was no struggle within me about whether to forgive Johnny," Cheri Rogers says. "We'd heard Scott talk so fondly for years about Johnny, what a great friend he was. I understood he was happy to be with Johnny that night. And I knew Scott, and he could talk anybody into doing anything. He was the kind to convince Johnny to stay up later than he wanted to. So there just wasn't anything to forgive. Parents always look for somebody to blame and they never look at their own child. I'm not blaming Scott, but I know the way he lived his life. He was never ready to go home."

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