[EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't miss our 2015 cover story with Gregg HERE]
Gregg Rolie is no stranger to rock and roll royalty. A founding member of the iconic bands Santana and Journey, Rolie now tours the world with both his own group, and as a member of Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
This week, Rolie will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his work with Journey. He spoke to me from his home in Austin, Texas about the music that takes him there.
Congratulations from all of us at KEYBOARD on your upcoming induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Journey. But I did some research - this isn’t your first trip to the “dance,” so to speak. You were first inducted back in 1998 for your work with Santana.
Yeah. The difference is that this is my second time being inducted. I’m in a very illustrious group of musicians to go in there twice. My drummer actually looked it up. [He laughs], and I’m the 22nd guy to do so. So, having been a founding member of two bands of that caliber, and now playing with Ringo [Starr] and my own group… my life’s been pretty cool.
When did you get the word that you were being inducted again with Journey?
It was back around January. We had an idea it was going to happen because the voting for us was very heavy – it was out on the Internet like everything is these days!
Speaking of things out there on the Internet, there’s a great video on YouTube of you guesting with Journey a while back.
Yeah. I was here in Austin [Texas] and [guitarist] Neal Schon called me up and said, “Why don’t you come down and we’ll play a few songs?” I said, “Sure.” So we went-over a couple of them and [former drummer] Deen [Castronovo] really wanted to play some of the older songs that were prior to [vocalist] Steve Perry. I said, “Cool!” But that didn’t really work out, so we did “Just the Same Way” and I was amazed. When I came on-stage, there were nearly 8,000 people whose jaws dropped. I think in some people’s eyes, I was never supposed to do that again. But I’ve never closed doors on things. You never know! It’s just like when I got the call to make [the album] Santana IV. I would never have expected that.
How would you compare your roles in Santana and Journey to each other?
Both bands were so different. In Santana, Carlos and I did the “lions share” of the work, but it couldn’t have been done without everybody else. Ever. In fact, I think Neal should have been included in Santana’s Hall of Fame induction. But while Santana was a phenomenon that after three years just exploded, Journey was a built band. In this industry, it’s almost as if you’re not supposed to repeat your success. You’re not expected to win again. But Journey was really built. We toured it – we could sell more tickets than we could records, so we just kept doing it. Then we did the Infinity album and it took off with Steve Perry, which changed the whole structure of the band. And I welcomed all of that, because I was spread pretty thin playing three keyboards and harmonica and singing leads. It was great, and I had never done that before – playing songs built around singing and harmony. It couldn’t have been any farther from Santana. Journey started out as progressive rock with a lot of soloing, but it then went into a vocal driven sound. And that’s hard to do. If it wasn’t, everybody would be doing it! Some people said we “sold out,” but I don’t think so. Each endeavor was difficult, so to win for both is great. So the only comparison between both bands is that they were each hard work.
But another similarity seems to be that your intention was in the right place. The last time we spoke, you said to me, “I’ve said ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘no’ to the right things. But ultimately for me, it’s always been about following my heart.”
Yeah, that is true. I never looked at it that way, but you’re right. I said "yes" to Herbie Herbert, Journey’s manager, and Neal. When they called me, I was up in Seattle running a restaurant with my Dad. They saved my life, because I think the restaurant business is the hardest business in the world! [He laughs]. When they called and asked me to join Journey, I said “Sure.” And then we got to work. It was a long haul. I was there for eight years and the first three were tough. We toured in rent-a-cars and Winnebagos. I remember we were playing with the band Heart in Spokane, Washington and we had to push our Winnebago into the venue. That was it for us. Neal and I took our proceeds and jumped on a plane and went home.
Does it surprise you that four decades later, Journey can still play to sold out venues all over the world?
Not really. Neal has been the key all of it. It was really always his band. To the public it was Steve Perry’s, but Neal is the one that started this whole thing, and also the one that found [new vocalist] Arnel [Pineda]. Finding Arnel was a stroke of genius, if not luck, and then Neal acted on it. And what a fantastic story it is, and these days, you’ve got to have a story besides just playing your music. It reverberated with everybody and even ended-up on TV. Pretty soon, they were right back in the game.
What did you think of Arnel’s singing when you sat in with the band?
He’s great. But I’ve got to tell you – I focus more on the person someone is, and Arnel is a real, good human being. Now in my later days, that really counts, just like the weather.
The 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Friday, April 7, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. It will have its television premiere on HBO later in 2017.
Find out more about Gregg Rolie at http://www.greggrolie.com