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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 05, 2002

His 'roots' are showing His 'roots' are showing (April 05, 2002)

Santana co-founder Gregg Rolie honors the past on his latest CD

by Robyn Israel

Gregg Rolie remembers the first time he met Carlos Santana.

The year was 1967, and 19-year-old Rolie was jamming with some buddies in a Mountain View garage. His friend, Tom Frazier, had recently seen Santana play at the Fillmore on one of the venue's local-talent nights, and had subsequently invited him for an evening of music-making. Santana accepted and came down.

That night, they were so rowdy that the cops were called in to quell the noise. Rolie and Santana took off and hid - believe it or not -- in a tomato patch, where they became better acquainted.

Not exactly your classic meeting of two musicians, but nonetheless that simple garden setting sparked a relationship that became the foundation for one of the legendary rock bands of the 20th century. With Santana on guitar and Rolie doing lead vocals, the band produced classic hits like "Black Magic Woman," "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va."

Thirty-five years later, both are still rocking out. The Santana sound can be heard loud and clear on Rolie's latest release, "Roots," a 12-track album that is both nostalgic and novel. Released last year, it is characterized by the familiar Latin percussion, lead guitar solos and instrument-driven rhythms. Written, produced and arranged by Rolie, it also features him on lead vocals and keyboards.

"I think this CD is one of the best things I've done to date," said Rolie in a recent phone interview from his San Diego home. "And it's got that extra thing ."

Like what?

"Magic," Rolie replied. "There's a sense of excitement to the record that's very alive. It's just that. It seems to move people."

Locals looking to be stirred and shaken can do just that on Wednesday, when Rolie returns to play the Icon Night Club in Palo Alto on Wednesday (he recently played the venue in November). Joining him will be former Santana band members Alphonso Johnson on bass and Michael Carabello on congos, as well as Adrian Areas on timbales (son of original timbales player Jose Chepito Areas), as well as keyboardist Tom Gimbel from Aerosmith and drummer Ron Wikso, a Cher and Foreigner alumnus.

Although Rolie went on to co-found Journey in 1972 after leaving Santana (along with former bandmate, guitarist Neil Schon), it is his rock origins that remain embedded in his heart and soul.

"It ("Roots") does relate back to Santana more so. It's the most natural way for me to play - it just comes out. (With) Journey I had to think of what to come out with. This is like my first-born."

A native of Seattle, Rolie grew up in Palo Alto, where he attended Ohlone Elementary School and Cubberley High School. As a youngster, he listened to a variety of artists: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Smith, the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra (his parents' influence), Sergio Mendes, Herb Albert.

Back then, finding a blues record was "next to impossible," Rolie recalled. Even playing that genre, as well as Latin rock - that was purely academic -- until he met Santana.

"Here was a guy who was playing his own stuff," recalled Rolie, who, at the time, was covering Top-40 songs by the Animals and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

"He introduced me to Latin music. I introduced him to rock stuff he didn't play. We started mixing and matching. We hit it off."

But the industry didn't rush to embrace the band's unique sound.

"Electricity and congas?! That doesn't make sense," Rolie said, recalling the reaction of music-business executives. "They were looking for the next Jefferson Airplane and we weren't that."

Undaunted, Rolie chose to pursue music full-time, leaving Foothill College after his second year. His goal had been to study architecture, but he spent the bulk of his time taking business classes.

Any regrets about not finishing college?

"None. Experience is your best teacher," Rolie said. "But I wish I had taken a few more accounting classes. You can look at those spreadsheets and you know when someone's duping you."

Asked which "Roots" song is the most personal, Rolie replied "Ordinary Man," a tune inspired by Rolie's departure from Journey in late 1980, two years after the addition of Steve Perry as lead vocalist. Rolie worried about his fianc»e, Lori, still loving him, minus the rock star glamour and glitz.

"When someone's rich and famous, they could like you for that and that alone. So how do you weed through that - other than to not have it?"

"So I asked my wife -to-be, 'If I was just an ordinary guy living in a tent, would you feel the same way?' She immediately barred the door and said, 'Are you out of your mind?!" Rolie joked.

After 20 years of marriage, the couple is still together and the parents of 16-year-old Sean and 12-year-old Ashley ("the one mature act I really pulled off"). Rolie credits his son with introducing him to new music, like Tool.

"They're like the Pink Floyd of fresh music. I think it's cool what they're doing, instead of lowering their jeans and jumping around the stage. There are some great musicians in that band. They're very creative."

Words of praise from a man who's utterly disgusted by the music industry today, adding that FM radio has become like AM radio.

"Nowadays, you're being pumped full of N*SYNC and Britney. They're killing this industry. A handful of people are dictating what's going on."

"There's so much music that's out there, that's closed off to the world. The Internet is helping, opening up avenues for people. But the best way to do it is to go out and play. I'm glad to get out there."

So at the urging of his kids, who want Dad out of the house, Rolie is back on the road, shooting for 30 U.S. dates this year. So where does he fit in today's music world?

"I don't care," Rolie said emphatically. "I've played the game and I hit the lottery twice. I feel very secure. I'm playing great stuff. The band's phenomenal. We're just enjoying it."

E-mail Robyn Israel at [email protected]

Who: Gregg Rolie

Where: Icon Nightclub, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto

When: Showtime is 9:30 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $14 in advance; $15 on the day of the show. They are available at ICON and all Ticket Master locations.

Info: Call (650) 289-0222 or visit


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