By Rick Coates
Keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rolie has accomplished something few in the music business have been able to do. It is tough to create one great rock and roll band, yet Rolie cofounded two legendary rock groups, Santana and Journey. He now fronts the Gregg Rolie Band that performs all of the hits from the early Santana days along with originals Rolie has written over the years. They will take the Bayside Entertainment Stage at the National Cherry Festival on July 4.
Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie co-founded Santana in 1966 during a chance meeting in Palo Alto.
When I am asked, I like to tell people I met Carlos in a tomato patch, said Rolie. It sort of went down that way. A buddy saw Carlos playing at the Fillmore during what was called locals night where Bill Graham invited local bands to come and jam. Well my friend said you got to hear this guy. So he drove into San Francisco, found Carlos at a hamburger joint and brought him to the house I was jamming at. Well the music was loud, and there was some pot smoking going on, and the police were called and we ended up hiding in a tomato patch until the police left. So that is how we met.
When it came down to naming the band, the Santana Blues Band emerged, but when they debuted at the Fillmore the Blues Band was dropped to fit the marquee and they became forever known as Santana.
Actually Carlos didnt want the band named after him, he saw himself as just a guitar player in a band, said Rolie.
Because of the name, the assumption was that Carlos Santana was the band, and to this day many believe he was the vocalist.
Rolie was actually the lead singer of the group and his powerful vocals and keyboard talents on Evil Ways, Jingo, Persuasion, Oye Como Va, and Black Magic Woman, combined with the guitar wizardry of Carlos Santana lifted the band Santana to superstar status literally overnight.
Certainly Carlos and I were the driving forces behind the band, said Rolie. But what made Santana a great band was we were a melting pot of musical ideas and talent. Everyone in the band brought something to the table. Each member was important to the groups success. We were not one style, we were blues, rock, jazz and Latin all blended together.
That group process is why it took the band a whole year to record Black Magic Woman, after Rolie brought the song to their attention.
I loved that song the first time I heard Peter Green (founder of Fleetwood Mac) play it, said Rolie. I thought it would be great for us, but the way we worked was everyone in the band had to take ownership of every song and it took a year before that happened. It didnt take that long for Santana to catch on. Without an album the group took to the stage at Woodstock early on day two of the festival and mesmerized 400,000 fans with a two-song set that featured Rolies vocals on the song Persuasion, and an extended instrumental Soul Sacrifice, that electrified the crowd.
Within weeks of Woodstock, Columbia Records would release the debut album by Santana. The group would also make an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show just two months after Woodstock. Because of Rolies role as the groups lead singer he would receive about 90 percent of the camera time.
In 1972, Rolie, along with 16-year-old guitar prodigy Neal Schon, left the band.
When we formed Santana we really didnt know each other and things happened for us so fast that we didnt get to know each other. We all got pretty full of ourselves and what we realized back then was the only thing we had in common was music.
Rolie didnt stay out of the music business for too long.
I was pretty much done and headed to Seattle and opened a restaurant with my father, said Rolie. Then Neal called me and said lets start a band and before I knew it we formed Journey.
Rolie spent 10 years building Journey, recording seven albums and singing lead vocals on the hit songs Just the Same Way, and Feeling That Way. In 1982 he left Journey to raise a family. The musical experiences were different but the end result was two bands that rose to the top of the rock music charts.
Besides the musical styles being different, the difference for me was Santana happened so fast we were barely together and without a record contract and the next thing we are on stage in front of 400,000 people at Woodstock, said Rolie. Journey was a nice musical progression, it was a long journey.
Rolie still keeps in touch with his former band mates.
Carlos and I stay in touch and we keep in better contact then I do with the guys from Journey, said Rolie. We always stayed in contact and I produced several songs for Santana after I left.
Rolie also reunited with Santana for their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When the original band Santana got back together in 1998 to perform at our induction ceremonies for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the magic was definitely there again, said Rolie. We did Black Magic Woman; we brought Peter Green on stage who made that song famous with Fleetwood Mac. Green was also inducted that night. I think for me if I would have stayed with Santana for all these years it wouldnt have worked for the band or me. As I look back on it I have a real appreciation for what we accomplished.
The Gregg Rolie Band will perform Sunday night at the Bayside Entertainment Stage, part of the National Cherry Festival. Rolie will perform hits from Santana (No songs from Journey -- the timbales dont lend themselves to those songs) along with some originals. He assembled an all-star line-up of musicians featuring Alphonso Johnson, the internationally acclaimed bassist and Chapman stick artist. Johnson was also a member of Santana during the 1980s and is a legend around jazz circles. Wally Minko is the famed keyboardist for Jean Luc Ponty, Tom Jones and Barry Manilow. Ron Wikso has played drums with Foreigner, David Lee Roth and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi and guitarist Kurt Griffey who has taken the stage with such legends as Randy Meisner and Spencer Davis. On timbales is Adrian Areas the son of the original Santana timbale virtuoso Jose Chepito Areas.
For a complete lineup of this years National Cherry Festival offerings visit www.cherryfestival.org.