Believe it or not, Flint, Michigan native Roger Epperson had no interest in autographs as a kid and most likely would still not have any interest in them today had it not been for a serendipitous event that occurred when he was in the eighth grade.
“I wasn’t into autographs at all,” said Roger. “But I was really into music and, in 1977, when Led Zeppelin came to town, I had a friend whose father worked at the airport where the band was scheduled to arrive. He arranged for us to meet the band and when Jimmy Page asked us if we were going to the concert I said ‘Hey, I’m in eighth grade! Where am I going to get $10.50 for a ticket?’”
That blunt response earned Roger tickets to the show and the signatures of Page and his band mates – John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham on his copy of their Presence album.
While this might have provided the spark to turn young Roger’s life into one of quixotic autograph hunting, the spark never ignited.
A high energy guy with a great sense of humor, Roger Epperson is nothing other than serious when it comes to authenticating the icons of Rock.
“Autograph collecting wasn’t that big in the United Sates back then,” said Roger. “I certainly had no interest in autographs, and before I met Led Zeppelin, I had never asked anyone for an autograph.”
Oddly enough, while Roger never actively sought autographs, they just managed to come his way. In 1982, he decided to leave Michigan to find his niche in the world. “I moved to Houston for one reason,” he said with a laugh. “I had heard that there was three girls to every guy there.”
Having come from a family where money was always tight, Roger decided he would be able to make a good living by going to a trade school and learning the printing business. That training led to a job with a company that that did a lot of work for various musicians and, as time went by, Roger had accumulated signed material from Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon and Stevie Ray Vaughan. “I started getting offered a lot of money for the signed items I had,” said Roger. “I even had dealers calling me. Things just took off from there, and, in 1991, I started my company, Signed, Sealed & Delivered.”
As a young novice in the autograph biz, Roger was fascinated by how things were authenticated and before long he was learning from such luminaries as George Sanders and Charles Hamilton. “I learned that knowing the history of a person is a very important part of authenticating their signature,” said Roger. “How they historically signed. For instance. Jimi Hendrix would have never signed “Stay Groovy”. It just wouldn’t have happened. So when I see something like that, I know it’s not in line historically.”
“A vintage guitar still has value even if it’s in poor condition,” says Roger. “But with an autograph, it’s either real and worth something or it’s worth zero.”
While Roger freely admits to having a rather limited understanding about political and American history, he stands his ground as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the history of the men and women of Rock & Roll. “I know where many Rock stars were practically every day of their life,” he stated proudly. “That’s important because if someone tells me they have something that was signed on such and such a date in San Francisco, I can check to see if that could have actually happened.”
Today, Roger Epperson is recognized as one of the top experts on music autographs. Collectors from all over the world rely on him as a valued, and trusted authenticator for all genres of contemporary music from Elvis and Pink Floyd to Springsteen and The Stones.
When it comes to offering advice to his clients, Roger says there are a few rules that should always be adhered to. “If something looks too good to be true – it’s bad!” he said matter-of-factly. “I buy authentic Beatles signed albums for $10,000-$15,000. So, if someone is offering you a signed Beatles album for $1,000, believe me, they’re not your friend. Remember, autographs are different than any other collectible – they are either worth something or absolutely nothing, There’s no in-between. A vintage car still has value even if all the original parts have been changed out. A vintage guitar still has value even if it’s in poor condition. But with an autograph, it’s either real and worth something or it’s worth zero.”
Roger also suggests that collectors really get to know reputable dealers and experts. “That’s how I learned,” he said. “And don’t get fooled into thinking that a dealer is reputable just because they have the biggest, flashiest advertising. Ask around. Get to know who the good people are. This is a relatively small business and the good people are the good people – the bad ones are the bad ones – and the people who are involved with this business know who is who.”
While Roger Epperson is clearly “The Man” when it comes to authenticating the signatures of singers and musicians, even he says there are some that are just too difficult to judge. “I will not authenticate any Bob Dylan material from after 1985,” he said. “From ’85 on, his signature has become far too inconsistent. It’s just impossible to authenticate a scribble. It’s the same thing with recent Madonna autographs – it’s not an autograph at all – it’s just a squiggly line.”
He said that, by far, the signatures of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix are the most desired of all Rock stars. “Elvis was the king,” he said. “He had an appeal to everyone – kids, old people, music people, movie people, men and women alike. There’s a lot of good Elvis material out there – but there’s a lot of bad stuff out there too.”
When it comes to Hendrix, Roger pointed out that collectors should be extremely leery if they are ever offered a Hendrix signed album. “In all my years in the business, I have never seen one,” he said. “Hendrix generally only signed for people he knew so virtually everything that is authentic is going to be inscribed to someone.”
Roger also pointed out that just because a Rock signature is very rare doesn’t necessarily mean it is greatly desired. “Janis Joplin’s autograph is extremely rare,” he said. “There’s just not much of a supply of it. However, just like the Big Bopper, or Ritchie Valens or Jim Morrison, there is also not much of a demand for it. To a serious Joplin or Morrison fan, their signature would be extremely valuable, but at the prices they command no casual collector is ever going to be interested.”
As for what he suggests clients to always be on the lookout for, Roger said performance contracts, handwritten lyrics, notes and letters are the most desirable. “I always tell people to collect the icons not the pop stars. Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones – they will always be desired. On the other hand, I just don’t see material signed by Michael Jackson as ever being greatly valued.”
When asked for his feelings on the state of the autograph hobby, he quickly responded that it is strong and getting stronger. “PSA/DNA is responsible for that,” he said. “They have brought regulation and a standard to the business. Autographs and memorabilia never had a standard until PSA/DNA came along. They have brought in the best of the best to do their authenticating – the upper echelon of people who really know what they are doing and who have incredible reputations. Guys like John Reznikoff. That guy is incredible. I bow down in front of him when I’m in his presence. PSA/DNA really went the extra mile to clean up this business and make it as strong as it can be. They did it by putting together a team of people who both know what they are doing and who really care. Believe me, I really care. I’m from a poor family so I know what it means when people are spending their hard earned money!”
You can contact Roger Epperson by mail at Roger Epperson’s Signed, Sealed & Delivered Autograph Memorabilia, 6025-B Edgemoor, Houston, Texas 77081, by phone at (713) 664-7498, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also visit him online www.signedsealeddel.com