Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gregg Rolie's Woodstock Memories

During this past week, the media - broadcast, print and online have been giving extensive coverage on the 40th anniversary of the historic, legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.

Drawing anywhere from an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 during the weekend of August 15 -17, 1969, it helped to galvanize a generation, becoming over the past four decades the most famous, mythical event ever held in rock's five decade plus history. While quite a few of the legends who performed those three days - including Janis, Jimi, Keith Moon and Jerry Garcia - have since passed over into rock and roll heaven, thankfully there are still those around who have not only survived, but thrived in the years since performing during that iconic weekend.

One such survivor is vocalist/keyboardist Gregg Rolie. A co - founding member of the Santana band who were show stoppers at the festival, after departing that band in 1972, he then went on to establish with guitarist Neal Schon, San Francisco AOR superstars Journey.

Subsequent to leaving the group he has recorded both in band situations and solo, with the latest release being the Gregg Rolie Band 2009 limited edition 'Rain Dance'. Recorded live in 2007 at Sturgis, it captures the musicians at a high point as they storm through many early Santana classics, including "Soul Sacrifice", immortalized in the award winning 'Woodstock' documentary and accompanying soundtrack.

While interesting to read modern day pundits' perspectives and opinions of the Woodstock Festival, it doesn't compare to the recollections of those who were actually there. Recently this very site had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Rolie for an exclusive interview, which contains the Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer's memories of being at the fest as a 22 year old performer with Santana on August 16, 1969. Excerpted below is the section of the interview referencing the event :

"We(Santana) 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.

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 info on Gregg Rolie go to his official website.

1 comment:

RFWoodstock said...

WOODSTOCK LIVES ONLINE!!!! We're a small group of folks based at Utopia Studios in Woodstock who are keeping the spirit of Woodstock alive.

Listen to RADIO WOODSTOCK 69 which features only music from the original Woodstock era (1967-1971) and RADIO WOODSTOCK with music from the original Woodstock era to today’s artists who reflect the spirit of Woodstock.

Win a Woodstock special limited edition white Stratocaster guitar (like the one Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock) and Collector's Edition Woodstock DVD.

Go to for details and to join our Woodstock Universe online community.

Peace, love, music,

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