By Brian Ives
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson, Curtis Mayfield and Jimmy Page are part of an elite group of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers: they’ve all been inducted twice. Tonight, Gregg Rolie joins them: he’s the founding keyboardist/singer in Santana (inducted in 1998), and tonight, his other band, Journey, will be inducted as well. We spoke to Rolie about both bands — and his possible future working with both — as well as his other gig, as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
Congratulations on your second induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
I’m honored to be there, it’s been a trip for Journey to get there, and a political one. But it’s great to be there, especially two times. That part knocks me out. I’m in a group of people that I had thought I’d never be a part of, the Beatles and [Jimmy] Page and just all of them. I never thought about it, and here I am and it’s happening. It’s kinda cool.
Some of the other two-time nominees, as you mention are all four Beatles, along with Jimmy Page; also David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Michael Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck and Ron Wood, to name a few.
Oh, man, and I love em all, and I get it, but at the same time, I’m almost going “Really? Me?” But I started two bands, had a lot to do with both of them when they started up. I accept! I’ll put it that way. I accept it.
None of those guys who I just mentioned could probably go to the supermarket or a bar without being noticed; I imagine you may get recognized sometimes.
Yeah, I actually find myself to be very fortunate for that very reason. I can’t imagine living that kind of life where you can’t go anywhere. I really can’t, and people come around, and yeah, it happens, they say, “Aren’t you that guy?” No. I’m not. And I like that because the real point to me was all about the music in the first place, of doing it.
Ringo says, “What else would I do? I’ve wanted to do this since I was 13,” so this is what he does. Along with that came all these other things that everybody dreams about, but that [fame] wasn’t the real point, and he’s still doing it for the very same reason, and I am too. It’s about the music and this is what I do.
So I don’t need bodyguards, for God’s sake, I wouldn’t want em, I wouldn’t wanna go through it. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to do all the things I’ve done, lived the life I have, play the music I’ve played, even with the people that I’ve been with, Santana, Journey, Ringo, and live a full life on the outside. It’s very cool.
I imagine you might be somewhere—a store, or a party—where one of your Santana or Journey songs are playing, and people don’t know that it’s you singing.
That’s right, and it doesn’t bother me whatsoever. The music is what it is, and it’s for people, and people love it, and it’s being played all the time. Whether I get the accolades or not, it’s never interested me. It really is all about the music. It’s about music and people and people loving what you do and making my life great. I don’t know how to express that other than these people that love what we’ve put out as bands that I’ve been in have made my life tremendous. But I recognize it, and there’s a lot of guys that just don’t.
You and Neal Schon were in Santana together, and then you formed Journey. Have you always been in touch since you left Journey?
No, it’s been off and on, but it’s never gone away. When I think about it — this induction made me think about this — I have done an awful lot of work with Neal Schon, maybe more so than anybody else: Abraxas Pool, my own stuff, a current project that’s coming out, Santana, Journey… I started to add it up, it’s like four-fifths of my discography has got Neal Schon on it. Yeah, so we’ve kind of stayed connected, but if I told him that he’d probably go, “Oh, yeah, I guess we have, huh?” We just don’t think of it that way I guess, but this makes you think about it.
Yeah, and I’ve become closer with Neal because of Santana IV and his involvement of getting that whole thing going. It’s great, it’s great. So now here I am again with Neal for Journey in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And by the way, I always have thought that he should’ve been inducted with Santana, but the voting process, whatever it is, he didn’t get in there. But if I had voted, he would’ve been there.
He played on Santana III, a classic album, and played a few guitar solos on that record.
I can tell you categorically, yeah, he had a lot to do with it. And then there’s Santana IV, which kinda proves the point. That’s just the way this goes, man. I’m also kind of astounded that Journey got in there anyway. It’s such a political game. You named off the people that are not in the Hall of Fame, like Todd Rundgren. Why isn’t this considered? What’s going on? If it’s to be about who changed music, who did something that was extraordinary, that made a difference in music during their era or any era, that’s what it was supposed to be set out to be, and I think it’s been politicized. I’m not going to yell about it, it’s just, that’s what it is.
You just mentioned that he’s playing on a project of yours that’s coming out; can you talk about that?
I’m doing my own record. I’m finishing my last CD, Neal’s played on it. I’m gonna finally get that done since I’ve put it off. I don’t have that much left to do, and I hope to get it out this year. I put it off to do Santana IV, so I didn’t have time. And so now I do, I have a moment in time, so I’m gonna take it and we’re gonna finish this and get it out.
Back to Journey – you and Ansley Dunbar are going to be at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Are you guys going to perform with Journey?
There was something I would like to do that’s not gonna happen, but yes, Aynsley and I will play on a song.
About a year ago, Santana IV and Journey played Madison Square Garden, and Neal played with both bands. A lot of fans thought you might join Journey for a few songs from your era, but that didn’t happen. Why didn’t you sit in with them?
Well, I’m not quite sure other than there’s a couple of guys… I’m not in the band. Neal wanted me to do that, and I wanted to do it, and I think it would be tremendous for fans, but there was a couple guys that voted no.
And so that’s the way it went. I think it’s a shame. People would’ve loved to have seen everybody on that stage gelling together. That’s what I got into doing this for, and having it be otherwise is kind of silly. I don’t know the reasoning, I don’t care about it. If that’s what it is, that’s what it is.
Neal and I will do more stuff, and that’s really where it’s at. Remember, between Herbie Herbert and Neal Schon, that’s who started this band. It’s always been Neal’s band.
We’re hearing that Steve Perry is going to show up for the induction ceremony, but he doesn’t want to perform. Do you know what his deal is: why wouldn’t he want to sing one song with Journey, one more time?
I can’t even answer to it, I really can’t. That’s a shame because again, it goes back to: people would love it. I haven’t been in the band for a long time and neither has Perry. Whatever is going on there, I really don’t know, but I think it’s kind of a shame. At the same time, at least he’s coming to it.
So, Ringo has announced more tour dates; last time I spoke with you, I asked about why you do Santana songs with his band, but no Journey songs and you said, “Ringo wants to play the hits.” But now that Journey is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, do you think you, or Ringo, may entertain the idea of playing a Journey song?
You know what, that might come up. He’ll try stuff, and if it doesn’t work you don’t do it. We could do “Just the Same Way.” This band could really pull that off, and it might excite people, and I still can sing it in the right key, and we’ll see. I just love the fact that he’s playing on the Santana stuff. He goes, “I’m ‘Mr. Pop.’ Who would’ve ever thought that I was gonna play this Latin kind of groove?” And he loves it. So whatever he wants to do. But the band will probably bring up, “Let’s do a couple things different,” and whatever he wants to do is what it is, and I love it anyway. I love all of it.
The Santana IV show at the Garden was great; it was the first time in decades you guys did a concert together, and people in the audience were genuinely moved. Is there any chance you guys will pick that up again and do more shows?
I have no idea. It’s on Carlos’ plate, I’d love to, Neal would love to if the other guys would like to do it… Again, everybody got busy. I don’t know what his plans are for himself and his band, but the music was incredible. The shows that we did do went over tremendously. So yeah, I’m in. It’s just a matter if we are or not.
Seeing you, Carlos Santana, Neal Schon, Michael Schrieve and Michael Carabello on stage was something I never thought that I’d get to see.
Yeah. And there’s a lot of people there that felt the same. We got a lot of emails and messages about that. It’s like “glad I got to see it.” That could’ve gone on for quite a while, but Carlos has prior commitments too. So we’ll see, we’ll see. The door’s not closed… but it’s closing.
For people who were – excuse the expression – raised on radio or at least FM rock radio, your knowledge of Journey probably starts with Infinity, when Steve Perry joined the band. But how do you feel about the first three Journey albums?
Well, the band was more instrumental. There were definitely songs and vocals but not like what it came to be known for from Infinity out. It was more — what do I call it? — “experimental” rock in a way. It was jazz and rock and it was built on solos with song structure. And then it became a vocal structure, which I had never done before, not like when we got a lead vocalist where I’m not playing three instruments, a harmonica and doing lead vocals.
It completely reversed [the direction]. The first part of the band was very experimental, a lot of solos, good playing, great musicianship, and there’s a lot of people that loved it. And there’s a lot of current Journey fans when they go back and go “Wow, this is what they came from?” But it’s all good, man. Same guys, we just tried something different. There were still solos. There was less of it, but we wrote songs for vocals and vocalizing and harmonies. I’d never done that. A lot of people say, “You guys sold out.” The way I look at it is we didn’t do anything except change the way we wanted to look at things, and if it was so simple to sell out to make money, everybody would do that. And we didn’t do that. We were able to sell more tickets than we could albums, and we needed to change our lifestyle, and we did. This was the road we took, and it was still Journey.
Well, congratulations again, and here’s hoping there’s some way that you can play a bit more with Journey in the future.
Thank you very much, but you never know. Neal and I’ve been talking about a bunch of stuff; we’ll see what goes on with Journey. I love playing with him, I always have. I’ve known him since he was 15, I got him into Santana, for God sakes. So he and I have crossed paths so many times, and we’re older and kinder to each other, so we’ll see what happens.