As an original co -founder of supergroups Santana and Journey, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie disproved the old adage that lightning never strikes twice.
First off, as a founding member and important contributor and architect of the original Santana sound via his exemplary musicianship, vocals and songwriting abilities Rolie, along with master guitarist Carlos Santana, rhythm guitarist Tom Fraser, bassist Gus Rodriguez, drummer Rod Harper and percussionist Michael Carabello forged an original, unique sound which had never been heard before.
True, there had been Latin rock, all the way back to Ritchie Valens in the late 1950's, but it was the groundbreaking vision which melded the ethnic sounds with a British blues sensibility, jazz-like improv and heavy rock that captured the world's attention with the release of the band's debut self-titled album in 1969. Buoyed by the band's historic appearance at the Woodstock Festival in August, a performance immortalized by the inclusion of "Soul Sacrifice" in the 1970 award-winning documentary, it sent them on a stratospheric journey to stardom.
It was Rolie's vocals which were at the forefront of the band's early classics. With hits such as "Evil Ways", "Black Magic Woman", "Hope You're Feeling Better" and "No One To Depend On", it's safe to say his voice and stellar Hammond B-3 keyboard work are heard on a daily basis world - wide on Classic Rock radio to this very day.
Success of that magnitude would be more than enough for 99% of all musicians. For Rolie, though, his musical path was just beginning. After leaving Santana in 1972 after the 'Caravansarai' album, and subsequent to some time spent in his birthplace of Seattle, he rejoined former bandmate Neal Schon in San Francisco. and together they formed Journey, for whom his lead vocals graced the band's first three albums. Although they didn't sell enough at the time to preclude the acquisition of Steve Perry as frontman at the insistence of Columbia Records execs in the fall of 1977, the releases have over the course of the past three decades increased in stature as prime examples of progressive hard rock of the 70's.
After several more albums with Perry at the vocal helm, a shift to a more pop vocal sound saw the band shoot to mega superstardom, going multi - platinum and becoming the AOR icons they are today. Ultimately, following the release of the prophetically named 'Departure' album in 1980, Rolie, exhausted from extensive touring, left the band and recommended pianist Jonathan Cain of The Babys as his permanent replacement.
Post Journey he released two solo albums in the 80's before forming The Storm in 1991 with Steve Smith, Ross Valory, Josh Ramos and Kevin Chalfant. Hitting #3 on Billboard's Album Charts with their self-titled album, which spawned the Top Ten single "I've Got A Lot To Learn About Love" , the changing musical climate and the popularity of grunge caused their follow-up to be shelved until 1996. After reuniting with guitarist Neal Schon in Abraxas Pool for an album, he returned to solo work with the release of 'Roots' in 2001. In the midst of all the recording, Rolie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of Santana in 1998.
Now Rolie is back with a brand new live CD and DVD, 'Live From Sturgis'. A storming set recorded in 2007 at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, the hour plus show is chock full of early Santana classics. With a band featuring fellow original Santana band founding member Michael Carabello and another ex member in bassist Alphonso Johnson, the album is a must have for fans of the orginal sound. In fact, it's so close it's highly debatable that Carlos himself could do better these days.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Rolie during a break in his touring schedule to discuss the new releases, the history of the early Santana and Journey bands, the Woodstock festival and much, much more. Read on as we have an exclusive conversation with one of rock's true legends - Gregg Rolie.....
Special Thanks to Billy James @Glass Onyon PR for coordinating, and a BIG thanks to Gregg Rolie for doing this interview with Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!
Interview and text by Nightwatcher © 2009
July 31, 2009
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : First off, you have an upcoming DVD and limited edition CD release out which was recorded live in Sturgis in 2007. What can you tell us about that, and what material will be featured on the video?
Gregg Rolie : The material that I feature with this band is the stuff that I did in Santana, and about half new material. Even obscure songs that Santana did, such as "As The Years Go Passing By", the Albert King song. That arrangement was changed drastically when I was in Abraxas Pool. We did an arrangement that was off the wall. That's on this, and it's got a whole latin groove at the end of it. It ends up being about 12 minutes long, pretty extensive and totally different. But it's based on latin rock, for lack of a better description. It's an hour long, and the band plays tremendously. There were 17 cameras used, HD. We've done the audio, and the cuts are pretty extensive. With 17 cameras they'll be there for awhile. But it should be out the middle of the year.
NHOR : Will this be just a straight performance video or will there be bonus features also?
GR : I'm trying to also get some interviews together. One of them is with Herbie Herbert, who was my manager in Journey. Who knows more about my history than I do. (Laughs) He probably remembers it better, and he'll tell the truth.
NHOR : The DVD features your current band, which besides yourself includes founding Santana member Michael Carabello on Congas, Adrian Areas (son of original Santana percussionist Jose Chepito Areas) on Timbales, drummer Ron Wikso (who was also in The Storm), Kurt Griffey on guitars, Santana alumni bassist Alphonso Johnson and former Jean Luc Ponty keyboardist Wally Minko. How would you say this current band rates against any of the others you've played in?
GR : I've been telling people for a long time that it's the best band I've ever played in. That's for many reasons. First of all, this band may not have developed the music that we play, but we play it really well. Santana was a phenomenon, a melting pot of ideas and people from different walks of life when nobody else did it. That part I'm extremely proud of. We just played as hard as we could and created a music no one had done before. If you want to talk about crossing borders, we crossed so many of them. I'm Norwegian, Michael Schrieve's Irish, Carlos is from Mexico, and David Brown was a black guy from San Francisco. We created something that nobody had ever done. It never got in the way. The only thing that ever got in the way was the music. When we disagreed on the music, that's when it changed. As far as developing that style of music - that was done by the original six people.
In this band I've found players...Alphonso played with Santana, Adrian Areas is the son of the original Santana timbale player. Mike Carabello was in Santana, and of course, I played in the band as well. Wally gets it, and Ron Wikso has been with me for 15 years. He can play just about anything as well. So they really get and understand this music. So the new music I've heard from people, "Is that an old Santana song that I've never heard?" No, I just wrote it. It really comes across like it's supposed to. It's got all the fire and spit. What I'm getting at is that I don't know if this band would've created the music that we are playing, even though we're kind of doing it now.
But the stage was set by the original group, and I don't ever want to take away from that. Because it never would have been what it is today without that original band. It's a real feather in my cap, as they would say years ago. (Laughs) But the band I have today is phenomenal. The other part of it is being able to travel. It's about the hang. If you can hang with people, you can play with people. These guys, I enjoy seeing them every time I go to play. So it comes off onstage, and it's part of the entertainment. We usually hear from people, "You guys look like you're really happy up there." It's because we are. And, if it looks like we're having an even better time than the audience is even, it's because we are. (Laughs) It's great, and that's kind of it all in a nutshell, what this new band I have accomplishes. I look forward to playing every time we go out.
NHOR : The Gregg Rolie Band is also part of the PBS special Trini Lopez Presents The Legends of Latin Music, which was filmed at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles last November, and is scheduled to be aired in August. What was that like?
GR : On The Legends of Latin Music we're on there with El Chicano, Tierra, Little Willie G. & Thee Midniters and Trini Lopez, and it is based on the latin music that came out in the early 60's through the 70's. All the bands were really great, and it was recorded well. It sounds great. It's really good. We played "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen", "Oye Como Va", and I think they wanted "Evil Ways". We did two other songs, a new one, and "Soul Sacrifice" as well. They're going to post the others some other time.
NHOR : Going back to the beginning, what was the defining moment which was the catalyst for you becoming a musician?
GR : I hate to be simple, and I've heard other guys talk about this, but it was just so easy to get a date. (Laughs) I loved music, and I was tinkering around with the piano, and it was like, "Wow, I don't have to speak. This is great!" It kind of got me inspired. That's kind of the end of the story, but when I was a kid, there always was a piano in the house all the time. My older brother took piano lessons, and he's probably a better piano player than me. But I got into it because he did. It was sibling rivalry. Then I started taking lessons from this woman, and I still can smell her perfume. I hated doing it, and I would've rather been out playing baseball. (Laughs) I only took about six weeks of lessons. Everything else is self taught. But I loved Jimmy Smith, at 11 or 12, when I didn't even know what a Hammond organ even was.
When things evolved, as I got older, about four years, I knew more and more, and bands started developing. I had a bit of talent at it, and I just jumped in. That's kind of it, in a real brief nutshell. I bought a Hammond B-3 when I was in a band called William Penn and his Pals, where I had a Vox organ. It was a take off on Paul Revere and The Raiders, and we were pretty big around the Bay area in San Francisco. That kind of stuff died out pretty quickly, then everybody was into blues and other things. That's when I ended up with the Hammond B-3.
NHOR : Your first band was William Penn and his Pals, and with that band you gigged around the San Francisco area, opening for The Jefferson Airplane, Paul Revere & The Raiders and Them. The band reportedly also adopted Revolutionary War-era stage garb that included ruffled shirts and tri-cornered hats. What do you recall about being in that band?
GR : I think I have a poster of that gig with the Airplane somewhere. The main thing I recall being in the band is that I didn't play other people's music all that well. (Laughs) It was a struggle, so it was better that I played something of my own. We did that stuff well and I learned a lot of things through it, but I just didn't know enough at the time to play it as well as it should have been. But then again that would have been just mimicking what they did. I was more inventive, or less talented perhaps. (Laughs) I ended up creating my own music from that. When I met Carlos, all of that came together for me. It was what I wanted to do. It was based on jamming and playing. It was way cool, so that's the way I went.
NHOR : You were born in Seattle, but came to the San Francisco Bay area, forming the original Santana Blues Band in 1966. What led you to San Francisco, and what was the Bay area scene like for you when you got there?
GR : Well, I was born in Seattle, but I was really raised in Palo Alto. I came to California when I was about 7, when we moved here. But the whole scene there when I moved up from Palo Alto was quite an experience because it was a rougher edged place. I went up to San Francisco purely because of the music I moved into the city... this was the Summer of Love, and we were really into the music, and wanted to be an international band. It was our driving force. It was a great place to get that across.
San Francisco at that time, you could draw an equivalency to what Seattle became in the '90's. It was the same kind of ideal, when the music scene totally changed. It was a very experimental type of music that was based upon blues that all of a sudden was miraculously found by everyone from FM radio. That's kind of what happened. This whole society was created, this culture by this. Everybody was so into music, they'd buy albums, and couldn't wait for the bands to come. The Fillmore with Bill Graham would put these bands together, like Miles Davis, Santana and B.B. King. He would put things together that you would never think of, and people came. They listened, and they liked it, and they'd buy those records. They started a whole musical revolution. They were ready for that. That's what it was like. It was a very cool place to be 21, 22 years old.
NHOR : You first met Carlos Santana in the summer of 1966 at a jam session organized by Tom Fraser. What do you recall about that first meeting, and what was that first jam session like? Do you remember what was played?
GR : Not at all, we were just jamming and playing blues riffs, just goofing on stuff. I've often told this story, but I met Carlos in a tomato patch. What happened there was Tom Fraser found him up in San Francisco and brought him down to Mountain View. We went to this jam session in some garage which was in a farm house somewhere. We were playing, making all kinds of racket, smoking, and pretty soon the cops came. I looked around and said, "We've got to get out of here," because we heard the sirens. I looked over at Carlos and he was already about 50 yards down the road. (Laughs) He was way more hip than I was. We jumped and hid in a tomato patch, and that's where I met him. We just laid there until the cops left, then we went and got his stuff. That was the start of it.
NHOR : Carlos has said that it was Bill Graham who introduced the band to the latin sounds which would be incorporated quite successfully both artistically and commercially. What was it like for you when Bill brought in songs such as Willie Bobo's "Evil Ways" and Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va"? Did you take to the sounds right away?
GR : No. With "Evil Ways", it's a funny thing. Bill Graham gave us that song to play, and we actually played it for him. But at the time we were going, you've got t be kidding? Because we were playing things like "Soul Sacrifice". We were trying to be a jam band, with a lot of playing. We were saying, yeah, we can play this. It turned out to be our first hit song, so it shows how much we knew. (Laughs) We did it for Bill really. We did it really well, but Carlos didn't want to play that song forever. None of us really were digging on it at the time. I play it now and I love it, but back then we wanted to rock, or be jazz, or be something else.
With "Oye Como Va", when that got brought in, I didn't know what to do. I ended up having to assimilate the instruments that Tito Puente had with an organ. We just started doing it, and it turned out to be one of my favorite songs. I love playing it, and I ended up with a solo that I don't know where it came from. To this day I play it the same. I love it. That's how it happened though with those songs. I was kind of in a different place. I kind of came from the rock end of it, which was my contribution to it all, in terms of the arranging, the vocals and such. That was pretty much me.
NHOR : The band caught the attention of Bill Graham during afternoon auditions at The Fillmore in 1967, and made their first appearance at the venue as a last minute replacement....
GR : Yeah it was on a Tuesday night. Carlos played with Mike Carabello, Danny Haro and Gus Rodriguez, and that's where Tom Fraser saw him. Tom saw that group, then Carlos came down to Mountain View, and that's how that story is connected.
NHOR : When you were recording the debut Santana album, did you feel that the material you were coming up with was revolutionary? Before that album, there really hadn't been a meld of latin rock rhythms and heavy blues based rock....
GR : When we were recording that album, we did it in about 16 days. It was a ridiculous amount of time that we spent recording it. We worked on it for about 12 to 14 hours a day, and we just slammed it out. When I knew it was something was, #1, I played it for my mom, and she just cried. She told me, "This is real music." I was kind of dumbfounded. The same thing happened with a woman who worked in our office. She listened to it and started crying, and I thought, Wow! It didn't do that to me, but that's when I knew we were really striking a note with the music. Then of course Woodstock came upon us, right around the release date, which couldn't have been more perfect.
NHOR : Speaking of Woodstock, what are your recollections of playing the festival and what was it like for you?
GR : We flew in to Woodstock, and I remember Barry Imhoff, who worked for Bill Graham, was in there with us. He said, "Look at all those people down there!" I looked down, and it didn't really strike me, because it looked like ants on a hill, peas on mashed potatoes or something. It didn't really strike me at all. We had played in front of 10,000 people, but I had no consciousness of what 500,000 people looked like to know anything else. Especially from a helicopter... yeah, it looked like a lot of people. So we landed, as you couldn't drive in anymore, because they had parked on the highway and blocked everything.
We got there and played, and looking out, it didn't bother me too much because you could only see so far, and past that all you could see was brown, all the hair. So it wasn't frightening because it didn't gel. We'd played as I said to 10,000 before. Thank God it didn't, because I'd probably have been scared to death had I known what was going on. I remember staying to watch Sly & The Family Stone, because I wanted to see him play, then we left after that. They drove us out, and that's when it hit me of just how big this was, because it took forever to get through 500,000 people in a car. It was pretty amazing, but if you were there and you played, then got into the movie you had a career.
NHOR : Warner Home Video has just released the deluxe 40th anniversary box set of the 'Woodstock' movie which has extra footage of Santana's set. What can you tell us about that?
GR : "Evil Ways" is one that they added. "Persuasion" was supposed to be on it, but I believe there were some contractual issues between Sony and Warner Brothers. It doesn't matter, but "Evil Ways" is in it now, along with "Soul Sacrifice". They've done some other cuts and edits as well.
NHOR : Michael Lang has announced that there will be a Woodstock 40th anniversary show, and that he's trying to get as many of the original bands to appear. Have you been approached as a member of the original Santana band to be a part of that? Is that something you would even consider, either with Santana or with the Gregg Rolie Band?
GR : I would love to play. Although getting the original Santana band back together would be pretty impossible. It's a shame, but sometimes you just can't go back. We've done a couple of things, and the last thing we did was for the Voices Of Latin Rock, when Carlos came, and I was there, and Mike Schrieve and Mike Carabello. David Brown wasn't there of course because he's deceased. We played "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and "Oye Como Va". We hadn't been together in 20, 30 years? It was pretty phenomenal, but I think it would just be too hard, with the personality differences.
NHOR : People grow apart too many times after awhile too...
GR : Yes, that's true. It really was a thing in its time that I'm really proud of, and I'm so glad to have met these guys. But sometimes you just move on, and that's just the way it is.
NHOR : You left Santana in 1972 after four albums. What led you to leave at that time?
GR : It was mainly musical differences. We argued about everything, but mostly we argued about music. That was the one thing we really had in common, and when that fell apart, there was nothing there anymore. In fact, I don't think we knew each other well enough to get through an argument about that. It was that serious for everyone, the music itself. So it just kind of fell apart. It was too much, too soon. We all knew we were right, which would be one way of putting it. Everybody had a hand in why it all fell apart. I think also it was just how it was in time. It had its moment, and the band created something that nobody had ever done before, and it just kind of filtered out. It's kind of an amazing phenomenon.
NHOR : So, you don't see that happening again - joining back for a reunion?
GR : No I don't think so. I'd sure entertain the idea, but I don't see it happening. I'd love to try, but I don't think it'll happen.
NHOR : During your time in Santana was when you first met Neal Schon, who joined the band in 1971, when he was actually asked by Eric Clapton to join Derek & The Dominos, but because Carlos called first, he joined the Santana band instead. What was it about Neal's playing at age 17 that had attracted the band's attention?
GR : Actually the way it happened was I brought Neal around. I met him through a band called Old Davis, and jammed with him for hours in a club where he shouldn't even had been allowed in at the time. (Laughs) He was 15, or 16 years old. He was fantastic. I played with him for hours, then brought him around while we were recording 'Abraxas'. He actually played on some songs, did this and that, then Carlos came in and re-did things.
It was late at night and they jammed, but I couldn't very well say, "Carlos, I'd like to see another guitar player in here," although I loved the way Neal played. Carlos had to bring it up, and he did after playing with him. He asked me, "What do you think about having another guitar player in the band?" I told him I thought it was a great idea. We ended up having more harmony guitar lines and different solos, different ways of playing, which just added to the band's music.
NHOR : You left the music business for a year or so after leaving Santana to help run a family owned restaurant in Seattle. What was it that brought you back to San Francisco and into Journey in 1973?
GR : Well, it was Neal and Herbie Herbert. Herbie was the manager of Journey, and he was also the stage manager/equipment manager/roadie deluxe, who did everything in Santana. They got together, put something together, then called me up when I was up in Seattle and asked me, "Do you want to do this?" I said, "Okay, I'll try it." It was really set out to be The Golden Gate Rhythm Section, which was the original name. It was put together to back up solo artists that might come into town, at least that was the story. But they were dead serious about it and within two weeks it was a band. Then we were looking for drummers, and moving on and making records, trying to get a deal. I got a call very early on when they were just starting up, and I wasn't doing anything, so I figured, hey, I'll give it a go.
NHOR : What is your opinion of the first three Journey albums before Steve Perry was brought into the band? Those albums only sold moderately at the time, but have really developed a cult following in the years since....
GR : At that time the band sold more tickets than we did records. We could sell out throughout the country, small halls, so we had a career. But we were out to make records and sell them. At that time as a band, we played music for solos. There were songs, but they were based on solos. In that one regard, it was Santana-esque, but that's all. There was no latin percussion, or a latin feel to it. It was a fusion rock band, with a lot of soloing. It was based on the energy of that at the time. That's why the band always did well when we played live. People were blown away by it. There was some really good playing on those albums, some really good stuff. I've got a lot of compliments on those albums.
But finally we got to the point where it was the fact that, we're in the music business, we need to make a living doing this. The idea of having a lead singer, I thought, was tremendous. I'd never done it before, and it didn't bother me in the least to give up singing leads. Because I was always playing keybords, singing, writing... playing harmonica, and other various instruments. I was pretty well strapped anyway. Plus, it was the sign of the times, and I was encouraged by it.
NHOR : By the time after the third album, 'Next' reportedly the band was told to get a lead vocalist or face being dropped by Columbia. How desperate was the situation at that time for the band?
GR : Herbie Herbert held that back pretty well, but I found out that was exactly what was going on. We found one guy, Robert Fleischmann, and we liked him because he could really scream, and he wrote some good stuff, some of which is on the 'Infinity' album. Herbie had found Steve Perry, and he basically said, "This IS your new singer." So, that's how that went. Herbie just decided. We went, alright, I guess. Then, 80 million records later, he might have been right. (Laughs)
NHOR : Herbie Herbert has stated that Neal hated Steve, and he had to force him to bring him into the band. What was the situation behind that?
GR : Yeah, Neal and I both. We wanted somebody.... We wanted a Sammy Hagar type, and Steve was a crooner. We were just like, "What?!" Neal and Perry then did a lot of the writing. They came up with "Patiently." The first time I heard that song, I think we were in Colorado. They came out and played it, and they'd worked on it all night. I was going, "That's really good." (Laughs) Wow... it was totally different, and that was kind of ther start of that whole thing. Herbie was right about it, and Neal acquiesced, obviously. (Laughs)
NHOR : After the release of 'Departure' in 1980 and attendant tour, you left the band. Was it a case of being burnt out at the time? Herbie Herbert has put forth that there was tension between you and Steve Perry which contributed to your departure. Is there any truth to that?
GR : He added to it. The point was, though, I was fried. I'd had enough. I'd built two bands, been on the road for 14 years, wanted to start a family. That was my own personal decision. I really just didn't want to do that anymore. I didn't want to travel anymore. I disliked it. Steve... no one got along too well with Steve. (Laughs) I don't like to be pinpointed quite that way. But yeah, he made it an easier choice, that's for sure. It was time to go. For both our sakes, for the band and myself. It was just time. I made that choice, and started a family. I'm glad I made that choice. I have a great family. And now my family is kicking me out of the house and making me get out on the road again because they want to have parties and stuff. (Laughs)
NHOR : You actually brought your replacement, Jonathan Cain, who was with The Babys at the time, to the attention of the band. What did you see in Jonathan that made him in your opinion a good replacement for you?
GR : I just figured he could play what I was playing. He could sing what I was singing, and he played guitar, which Neal really wanted, somebody else who could play guitar as well. I just said, "This guy can cover anything I'm doing, so this might be a really good choice." I didn't know then that he was the writer that he was. He ended up penning some pretty big hits for the guys.
NHOR : Have you heard any of the band's recent albums? What is your opinion of Arnel Pineda, who was brought into the band via being found on YouTube for the latest studio album?
GR : Well, he nails the stuff really well. Perry, technically wise, you can find very little fault in what he did. He sang background and lead vocals for the four years that I was there, six to eight months out of the year, and did not falter. That's incredible. Because that singing is at the top of anybody's range. That's pretty good. So this guy Arnel hits that same stuff, and it's really hard to sing up there.
NHOR : And the inevitable question would be, given the hoopla around any major band reuniting these days, what do you feel are the chances of Journey, with you and Steve Perry, reuniting again?
GR : I doubt that would happen. Everybody's just kind of moved on, and that's okay. It shouldn't be a big deal. They do what they're doing, and they've got their singer now. Perry... I don't know what he's doing now as a matter of fact. So, I couldn't answer for him. But for me, I love what I'm doing right now, and I would find it very difficult to move away from it.
It's just like with us, everybody wants us to play all the Santana songs, or old Journey songs. I'm going, "Look, I'm doing as many old Santana tunes as I want to do. I want to play new music." Which we do, but it's based on that music. So it fits and makes sense. But it's really what I enjoy doing. When I went back to do this music, it kind of just came out. I did the 'Roots' CD in 2001, and in my writing I was trying to direct it towards being more of an acoustic album, and just really focusing on what it ought to be. But finally I felt that I'm just going to write stuff and see what comes out. Everything that came out was latin based, or something like it. So I figured this is what I'm really about. I guess it's because I was weaned on it. So I did it first, and everything that came out was in that style. When we recorded it, it started getting really good, and it just got better and better. Pretty soon I thought we'd better start a band, and here I am. It happened that quickly.
NHOR : What do you consider to be the recorded performances of yours which you're most pleased with, either as a musician or a vocalist?
GR : There are many, for many reasons. I think the best song I've ever written is "That's The Way It goes", which is on the 'Roots' CD. But that's a really hard question. I like so many of them, for so many different reasons. But as for penning a song all by myself, that one comes to mind. "Soul Sacrifice", with Carlos, David Brown and Marcus Malone would be another. There are a ton of them, for different reasons.
NHOR : Your last studio album 'Roots' was released in 2001. Are there any plans for releasing another in the not too distant future?
GR : We've got the live CD, with the stuff we did in Sturgis which is out, as well as the DVD. But I'm taking this band live. I love doing it now, the band's playing so well, and it's really a ton of fun. Hopefully more people will see it, and get the same enjoyment I do out of it. We mainly play live from spring until early winter, then take time off, which is probably why we like each other still. (Laughs)
I won't do the grind anymore. So we're pretty much a weekend band, and we try and do it that way. Everyone's older now and has families, and require other things in life. It should be enjoyable. Here's the way I've been putting it for awhile: Here's a group of guys who travel throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and various other countries who travel to steak houses, and coincidentally play music the following day. We just enjoy each other. It's almost like a boys club that has a lot of talent in it.
NHOR : You're doing it more towards a sense of just making music, rather than focusing on commercial concerns...
GR : Yeah, it's a pretty contemporary game these days. Trying to get anywhere these days, I think the record companies have pretty much imploded upon themselves, much like Congress. (Laughs)
NHOR : What is your take on the current music scene, and how has it changed since you first came up?
GR : My take on it might not be completely accurate, but what I do see is this. Back then, the record companies gave you time to create your music, and to have a career. They would build stars. Now they don't. You have to build yourself first, then they'll come and find you. It's almost impossible to do. That could be a nature of the business, where it costs them too much to do it the other way. I don't know their business completely. But in the product that they're putting out these days they've kind of destroyed that essence of it by just trying to be too fast. On top of that, the Internet came along, and they didn't embrace it, they fought it. They wanted to stop it. They finally got hip to it later.
I think iTunes is probably one of the most powerful record companies now on the planet. They're doing it legit. But the record companies should have worked out deals years ago and realized that this thing could explode. And it did. Everybody's got a computer, and you can connect to anyone now. It's kind of like FM radio was years ago, to expand the consciousness of music to other people, that's not so pigeonholed. It's the same kind of ideas, and now that it's gotten broad, it's almost gotten too broad. So it'll have to narrow itself down again in order for it to have any kind of power again, the industry itself.
NHOR : Do you feel that perhaps it's gotten too broad, that there are actually too many choices?
GR : Yeah, there's too many little tribes. Like I was telling you before, there was a real social structure and culture to music, but there was more mystique to it. You didn't get to see a band on TV 24/7, it was rare to see one. So when they came to town you went to go see them. And you had to be a good player. Well, not always. (Laughs) But the idea was that people went to see bands because that was the culture.
Now they can see them on TV, and if they see them live and they don't have all the bells and whistles that they had in a video, people are disappointed. There's no way to have all that without tremendous expense. So none of it makes sense. The real art of music, and going to see people play became more and more theatrical. It became less about the musical aspect than about, "Did you see this band?" Rather than, "Did you hear this band." I think that's a big, grave difference. It's a matter of seeing them instead of listening to them.
NHOR : Do you think that MTV had a lot to do with that situation?
GR : Yeah. Originally MTV was a tremendous idea. But now, even a lot of young people I know think that it's a total joke. It's become... there was a show called 'Shindig' when I was a kid, and it too became a joke. Pretty rapidly. It was, "Are you still watching that?" That's when FM radio popped out, and everybody changed who they were. It's the same kind of game. History repeats itself, I guess.
NHOR : The overall hipness factor is gone fairly quick, and that goes for anything, especially when it becomes popular....
GR : My wife and I talk about this often. There was a quote that was on TV. "Life's Fast... Be Faster", or something like that. That's ridiculous. Life is fast, slow down. (Laughs) Enjoy some of it.
NHOR : Do you think if Santana or Journey were a new young band coming up these days that they would have had the success?
GR : Probably, because of the things that are thrown down people's throats. It's not what they want. When we go play somewhere, I have young people coming up and telling me that they've never seen anything like it in their life. Because they haven't. There's nobody out there putting it out. It takes somebody like Phish or The Dave Matthews Band, who went out and made it happen. They sure didn't do it through CD sales. They created a niche for themselves going out and playing live, a lot like The Dead did.
NHOR : There's also a growing number of young artists who are increasingly being influenced by what was created by bands such as Santana, Led Zeppelin etc in the late 60's and early 70's....
GR : It's the same as me going back to blues. The music that Santana created was based upon blues, jazz and rock, and we created a music called Santana music, as far as I'm concerned. It was just totally different. But we based it off all the greats. That's where we went. I got my stuff from Jimmy Smith, Carlos got his stuff from B.B. King, Muddy Waters and all of that. We put it together and then threw in Gábor Szabó on the side. It was so eclectic. People pick up on that stuff, especially young people.
Most of the bands out today can go record something, fix everything in a studio, but when they go to play live, they can't play it. There's many that can obviously that are really good, but it's kind of a let down when they can't. So when somebody really gets out there and starts jamming away and is feeling something, it attracts attention.
NHOR : Unfortunately though, versus the scene of the late 60's, early 70's, it's not the mega -popular bands who are doing it...
GR : But the vibe is the same. It's like young people are looking for their niche, for their stuff, not something that's piped to them.
NHOR : Are there any new artists whom you've heard recently that you've been particularly impressed by?
GR : You know I've been kind of out of touch with that stuff for awhile. I've been listening to old jazz, and I listen to XM Blues all the time. I'm usually working out on my property, so I'll turn on the blues all the time.
NHOR : Every band and artist has one. What has been your most "Spinal Tap" moment?
GR : Well now, it all depends on how you mean that. They had a song called "Lick My Love Pump"... I've never done that. (Laughs)
Let's put it this way. When I first saw 'Spinal Tap', I didn't think it was funny. And there were a lot of musicians I know who lived through that nonsense who felt the same way. As the years went by and I look at it again, it was funny as hell. A lot of that stuff, the reason why it's so funny is because it's half way accurate. I lived through some of that nonsense, and probably created some as well.
NHOR : Hendrix was a big fan of the original Santana band. Did you ever meet Jimi?
GR : I have a great story about Hendrix. I never really met him, but when we went to go play Woodstock, I was in our truck, and I went swimming every day at this waterhole. I was coming back from it, in our truck, and I got behind somebody in a Corvette doing about 15 miles per hour. I couldn't believe it, and it was on a winding road in Upstate New York. I was honking my horn, and I was really angry. I went by, and looked over, and it was Hendrix. I'm honking and flipping him off, and I went, "Oh my God!" I just kept on going. I'll never forget that. I was like, "Man, he can't drive". (Laughs)
For more information on Gregg Rolie go to his official website.
"Soul Sacrifice" from the brand new limited edition release from the Gregg Rolie Band 'Rain Dance' :