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Chris Sautter believes in second chances. The Recount Primer, his 1994 book on electoral recounts, became the book to chatter about during the 2000 Florida fiasco. Now, his second film, So Glad I Made It, finds him championing one-time Next Big Thing Roger Salloom and the singer-songwriter’s attempt to reclaim a derailed career after 20 years.
Both men attended Indiana University in the late ’60s. “I didn’t know him,” says Sautter, “but Roger was kind of a big deal on the campus.”
Indeed, the film chronicles Salloom’s travels through years of stunning near-misses: He was one of the few white artists signed to Chess Records by the legendary Marshall Chess—who then promptly left to work with the Rolling Stones. When he later landed on the fledgling Fantasy Records label, the owner told Salloom he had more potential than Fantasy’s other act, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Following Dylan’s lead, Salloom was hanging with Guy Clarke, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Rodney Crowell in Nashville. A vintage newspaper headline reads: “Salloom Makes a Mark on the Music Scene.”
Unfortunately, the mark wasn’t permanent. By the mid-’80s, bad luck, bad decisions, and bipolar disorder had combined to send Salloom back to his home state of Massachusetts, raising two sons alone and working day jobs.
Over those same years, Sautter—now 55 and living in D.C.’s Chevy Chase neighborhood—became a lawyer and Washington-based political consultant. In his downtime, he made mix tapes of songs from his collection of rare Salloom albums. In the spring of 2002, curious about what the singer was up to, he Googled Salloom, found an e-mail address, and contacted him.
“I identified myself as a fan,” Sautter chuckles. “I think he thought I was some oddball.” After learning that Salloom was writing new songs again after decades away from music, Sautter proposed the idea of making a documentary.
Sautter had gotten most of his film training making political commercials. “I think I naively thought, OK, I can do a 30-second spot. I oughta be able to do a film,” Sautter says. (Naive or not, his first feature, the 2001 documentary The King of Steeltown [Artifacts, 9/7/01], won several awards.)
“Within a month, I showed up at [Salloom’s] doorstep with a crew,” Sautter says. “He was completely unprepared for what was to follow. I think he thought there was going to be me and maybe one other person.”
Salloom agrees. “They took over the house,” he laughs over the phone from his Northampton home. “They blocked out all the natural sunlight and brought in their own light.”
The film’s title comes from a recent Salloom song, in which the singer takes down mainstream notions of success. Sautter acknowledges that “it would have been great if the film would have been ‘Roger gets a big record deal and he’s got a hit.’ I knew more likely what would happen [was] that people would say, ‘Well, we love your music, but we can’t help you.’”
Which, unfortunately for Salloom, is exactly how things turned out. A filmed meeting at Artemis Records goes poorly as Salloom’s then-manager tries to finesse his client’s “maturity situation.” When the deal fails, the camera finds the ever-sanguine Salloom saying, “I care, but I don’t.”
“The record business has changed so dramatically because the radio business has changed so dramatically,” says Salloom. “The little record companies don’t do that much good for you, in terms of tour support, so you might as well sell on the Internet.” Salloom is using So Glad I Made It as the opening act for his live appearances.
The film’s DVD cover calls Salloom “America’s best unknown songwriter.” Sautter says that he and his subject “have joked about the sequel: Unknown by Millions More.”
Roger Salloom will perform following a screening of So Glad I Made It on Wednesday, June 29, at the Avalon Theater.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.