Gregg Rolie, singer/songwriter/keyboardist, was a principal part of not one, but two unparalleled groups of the rock era, Santana and Journey. His adroit musical mind helped earn for those bands and for himself an amazing nine multi-platinum records. Twice, Gregg found the courage to walk away in search of his own musical ideals, and twice his instincts were right on target. He began a declaration of musical independence with his self-titled debut solo album in 1985, and his second solo album in 1987, Gringo. Then in 1991, Gregg joined his 'third' group, THE STORM where he joined forces with Kevin Chalfant of 707, Josh Ramos and two other former Journey members, Steve Smith and Ross Valory. He recorded their first album on Interscope Records and had a #3 hit with "I've Got A Lot To Learn About Love" and a #10 hit with "Show Me The Way". Steve Smith left the Storm after their first album and went to on to pursue his Jazz roots in Vital Information. Ron Wikso joined the band on drums in 1992 and they went on to provide tour support to Bryan Adams, Peter Frampton and Tom Cochran. The Storm's outstanding new second album "Eye Of The Storm", on the Music For Nations label in Europe and the Avex Trax/Bareknuckle (EMI) Records label in Japan has also evolved into some real fireworks and proves that Gregg's instincts were right once again.
"The question to ask about any music you hear is, would I buy a ticket to go see it?" Says Gregg. It's an understandable question coming from a man who got his first taste of the big time at the 1969 Woodstock Festival playing with Santana. The Storm's new music is so fresh, it's easy to forget Gregg's sterling history with two pedigree bands; but to tell Gregg Rolie's story, you do have to go back a ways. Seattle born, Gregg settled with his family in Palo Alto, California. Although he had always 'fiddled around' on the piano, he began studying the keyboard relatively late. Developing his own keyboard style, Gregg drew on old Jimmy Smith records for inspiration.
In 1968, before he turned 20, he met a gifted young guitarist, Carlos Santana, and the two became fast friends and musical compatriots. They formed a band, SANTANA, which quickly became a Bay Area favorite. Gregg's unmistakable organ sound was as identifiable a part of the Santana mystique as Carlos's stinging guitar. By the time they released their first Columbia album in 1969, Santana had played Woodstock and already gained national recognition. Gregg was the 'voice' of Santana, singing the lead vocal on the band's biggest early hits, such as "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman, " and "Persuasion." The band's first four albums, Santana, Abraxas, Santana III, and Caravanserai, were considered by many to be among the group's finest, and Gregg's contributions to those records certainly helped make Santana into the world class act it became. After these albums, however, Gregg sensed he and Carlos were moving in separate directions. "Carlos wanted to go one way towards jazz, which was the furthest thing from my mind," says Gregg. "I liked rock and pop music. That's what I really wanted to play." Though he knew he was walking away from a good thing, in 1972 Gregg opted to leave the band.
He temporarily left his musical career behind when he moved back to Seattle with his father to launch a restaurant. But the lure of music proved too great, and after a year or so, when he was approached by former Santana road manager Herbie Herbert to form a unique San Francisco rhythm section, Gregg hurried back to the music world he'd abandoned. That rhythm section, later became JOURNEY, for which Gregg assumed duties as keyboardist, songwriter, and vocalist. A contest to name the band was held on KSAN-FM Radio in San Francisco but, after not finding a name that they felt suited them, they chose "Journey" at the sugestion of Herbie Herbert's Assistant John Villanueva. The original unit featured, in addition to Gregg, Neal Schon on guitar & vocals, Ross Valory on bass, drummer Prairie Prince (who was later replaced by Aynsley Dunbar), and guitarist George Tickner (who left after the first album). "They were putting this rhythm section together basically for studio work with anyone coming to San Francisco because there was nothing like that there," Rolie remembered. "We started playing and those guys were dead serious. It wasn't conceived of as a performing band but, I'll tell you, within two weeks, it was."Journey was born on New Year's Eve 1973 at the San Francisco music hall, Winterland, and rock was about to embrace one if it's all-time great bands. Gregg sang on the Journey hits, "Anytime", "On A Saturday Nite", "Just The Same Way" and "Feeling That Way".
Though initially adopting a progressive instrumental approach, by 1977 the group decided it needed a strong vocalist/frontman and hired Steve Perry after Robert Fleischman left the band. Journey soon evolved into one of America's very best mainstream rock groups. Their early albums have been indelibly entered into the rock lexicon: Journey, Look Into The Future, Next, Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Dream, After Dream, and Captured. Over the course of eight LP's, through 1981, Gregg helped Journey become one of the biggest arena acts of rock. It was a gratifying experience both personally and musically, but the annual nine month grind of touring began to take its toll. Once again, Gregg mustered the courage to leave a good thing when he felt the time was right.
"I knew how far things had gone," remembers Gregg, "When, after a tour, I woke up in my own bed at home and wondered, "What hotel am I in". In 1981, he left Journey to devote more time to his personal life, and once again find the right creative outlet. At the same time he started a family with his wife Lori, Gregg began a deeper exploration of his own musical landscape.
"In the eyes of the public, a solo album may look like an individual effort, but the truth is, it's still a team effort," says Gregg, the consummate team player. "I'd always been in bands before my solo career, and in a band you try to get everyone creating music whose sum is greater than its parts. I need my producers, my manager, the players. Everyone had a hand in making this work." On the 1987 album Gringo the first obvious highlight was the extraordinary re-pairing of Gregg's former bandmates Carlos Santana and Neal Schon, on "Fire At Night". Playing together for the first time since 1971, Santana and Schon trade licks in a seven minute excursion to guitar heaven. It came about through a couple of casual phone calls. "I called them a week or so before the session and asked if they'd like to play on my record. It was as simple as that." says Gregg. The extended jam turned out better than even Gregg anticipated. "Nobody does stuff like that anymore," he says. "It's classic. We had a great time, and the music turned out really good."
Recently, Gregg Rolie and a band named Abraxas Pool containing most of the original Santana band line up; Gregg, Neal Schon, Chepito Areas, Michael Shrieve and Michael Carabello and Alphonso Johnson (minus Carlos Santana and David Brown). The self-titled album "Abraxas Pool" was released on March 25th, 1997.
With the Storm, Gregg Rolie has, in a sense, come full circle, in a band that has the soul and energy of both Journey and Santana, while maintaining its own unique identity. Gregg displays both his rock & roll passions and calm command of the State-of-the-art studio arsenal that so easily gets away from less capable musicians. "If it gets so 'tricky' that it's lost all its feel, then you've gone too far." All this with a band that reflects Gregg's abiding love for R&B and a positive message that is so refreshing for the 90's. As a work of recorded art, the new album "Eye Of The Storm", strikes a perfect balance between Gregg's traditionally whole-grain rock & roll spirit, Kevin's flawless vocals, Josh's raw guitar, Ross's surging bass and Ron's powerful drums with a visionary high-tech studio approach. Songs like "Don't Give Up", "To Have And To Hold" and "Waiting For The World To Change", a powerful song of hope, reflect this positive message and set the stage for the album's overall jubilant tone. Taken song by song, or as a whole, it is about as good as pop music can get. In January, 1997, the "Frontiers Awards" in London, England gave "Eye Of The Storm" awards for "Best Song" and "Best Album". Gregg Rolie has a theory about the art of making music. "To me, it's serious fun." he says. "If you can't have fun making it, it isn't going to be any good. The music is fresh. I'm very excited about it. Win, lose or draw, this is a great record."
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