Friday, July 31, 2009

Of A Lifetime : An Exclusive Interview With Legendary Vocalist Gregg Rolie Of Santana, Journey

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, a close encounter with Jimi Hendrix and much, much more. Read on as we have an exclusive conversation with one of rock's true legends - Gregg here to access the interview.

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