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Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Posted August 2017

 

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 01aChris Robinson has been rockin’ for over thirty years. Atlanta residents have loved him since the 1980’s when he and his brother, Rich, conquered their city – first as Mr. Crowe’s Garden, then as The Black Crowes. It was that last band name that the rest of the world became gleefully aware of them when their album, Shake Your Money Maker, was unleashed.

In 2010, Chris and Rich put the band on an indefinite furlough and began to work on their own projects. Chris’s is The Chris Robinson Brotherhood and has been described by some as what you would get if you blended the Allman Brothers with The Grateful Dead. Chris would say they’re just making music.

The CRB is hitting the road in support of its latest CD, Barefoot In The Head. It was about that album and supporting tour that I recently chatted with Chris

In preparation for the interview, I had watched a documentary about Chris and the Black Crowes entitled, Who Killed 

That Bird On Your Windowsill. In it, Chris said that the question he hated most usually involved being asked if it was hard working with his brother. The film then went on to show Chris a ration of you-know-what each time he was asked such a question.

Since Chris is now a solo act, I mentioned the documentary comment and asked if there was a similar question that I needed to avoid asking. He laughed and said, “No! No! No! No! Are you kidding? I think, at this point, that question is moot. I mean, you know what I mean? I mean, I’m a solo act, too. The Brotherhood definitely is a band. We just put my name on it to jump in line, occasionally, when we have to.

“It’s so different. I hope it sounds right. The one thing is about the Black Crowes is the way I see it at fifty years old compared to how I saw it when I was twenty-two. We worked hard. We loved music. Believed in rock and roll, art, and writing. All of that sort of outsider culture appealed to me. You did it and things happened and, hopefully, you were talented and you were lucky and all of the above. But that stuff happened to us, you know what I mean? You can try all you can and you put your coin in the slot and it either comes up three cherries or whatever, right?

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“The one difference about where we are and what we’ve built and the kind of time and patience but also fulfillment and excitement about what the CRB is we’ve built this, you know? It might not be a lot on the outside but, for us, to start from absolutely nothing and not relying on any sort of – I didn’t put the Black Crowes on anything because it had nothing to do with that presentation or what I did in that band. I wasn’t going to ask people for their hard-earned money for something that they weren’t gonna get.

“So, on one level, it’s funny, answering the same questions every day when you’re twenty-four years old. Then, I went for years when I didn’t need to talk about anything. So, for the CRB, it’s a totally different mindset, unlimited energy and imagination and feeling about what we’re doing.”

Obviously, the Black Crowes was incredibly fulfilling to Robinson as an artist. I asked him in what different ways does the Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesburg 02Brotherhood fulfill him.

“In one way, the Black Crowes were like marrying your high school sweetheart and then everyone changes, you know what I mean. But it’s completely different. Again, life is different. The scenarios, the people, the energy, locations. For me, I’ve just been trying to position myself however way I can; to make things. Be creative. Everything has its paradoxes and its relations to the negatives and the positives.

“So, what a unique and unbelievable opportunity to be in a band like the Black Crowes. But, it also limits you in terms of the idea of, ‘Well, no one wants to hear your new music.’ That’s kind of the idea people have with classic bands. It’s like, well, I’m just crazy enough – I love the Black Crowes music. I plan on performing it again at some point. But I also have all these other stories and all these other songs – you know, as a singer, I love to sing! So, when these songs kind of begin with my ideas – melodically and musically – and then the rest of the band take them. They’re malleable things. From point A to point B, hopefully, we can create something beautiful like a palm tree or a walrus or whatever it’s going to be.

“So, to be honest, that was the kind of relationship and magic that I was looking for as a youth. And that’s where I am, now. That’s where I feel it’s come full circle, in a sense.”

Early in our conversation, I mentioned the Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead analogy and asked Robinson if that was a fair assessment.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesburg 03“Well, I think the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead probably listened to a lot of the same records growing up just like the Rolling Stones listened to a lot of the same records that the Beatles did. As much as music has influenced and is an inspiration – I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where my father was a folk singer on ABC/Paramount. I grew up in a house full of roots music. So, on one hand I think it’s a broader influence or can you find inspiration in the tradition you work in and take that and sort of turn it inside out and then find a place that’s ultimately big in the now or being in the present.

“So, I think those qualify but I do think – between all of us in the CRB there’s over a hundred years of people making records or have been on tour. I’ve been doing it thirty years and the others have been doing it twenty-five years or whatever – thirty years themselves – Adam (MacDougall) and everyone – Tony (Leone) included, and Jeff (Hill). At a certain point, you just – what becomes you becomes part of the whole. And, to me, that whole is music as a cosmic idea or a vibration.”

In describing Barefoot In The Head for fans, Chris said:

“I think it’s the natural progression of the CRB’s sonic cycle that we’re on. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to describe. Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesberg 0940They’re songs and they’re melodies and images and sometimes those images are musical and sometimes they’re literary. Sometimes they’re cinematic and sometimes they’re super earthy and real. Hopefully, the songwriting makes a connection and the band takes the material and presents in an interesting, dynamic way. We’re super lucky in this day and age to even have the opportunity to go into amazing studios and have this time to work and continue doing something that other people find archaic. Hopefully, listening to the record is like an awesome evening of stimulation and conversation and culture with, like, the people you love the most.”

As for how this album was different to record compared to the past projects he’s worked on, Chris said, “To me, that kind of stuff – I mean, I came in making records at the end of it all before everything was dig and the old school way. To me, it’s about integration. I mean, making records is hardly that tricky. You take your best material. You try to get your coolest sound and you get your best performance and that’s a recording session. For us it doesn’t make a difference between this record and the last record – well, one major difference was we had less time. But, also, before we went in, the idea was nobody can bring any of the gear that we’ve used on the road, you know what I mean? It’s our rigs. They sound like the CRB. That’s the guitar and the same amp that I’ve been using for hundreds and hundreds of shows for years now. I haven’t changed.

“So, this time it would be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play that guitar or hear that amp. We consciously, I think, went a lot more acoustic and, also, let everyone in the band stretch out. I mean, Adam plays a multitude of keyboards. Jeff got to play cello and some different stringed instruments. Neil’s playing banjo and Tony’s playing mandolin and marimbas. Neil’s playing a multitude of stringed instruments, as well. Even having the great Ali Akbar Khan’s son, Alam Khan, play sarod on the track, Glow, is like one of the highlights of being in the studio for me – of my life. Also, we didn’t have any songs completed. In fourteen days we wrote, recorded eleven new songs.”

Artists don’t like picking favorite songs because it’s like picking your favorite child. So, I asked Robinson which song would he use as a calling card for the rest of the album.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 02“I’m the worst with stuff like that because I’m so weird. You know what? To me, the song I’m kinda most proud of – the song that I really think is the – I don’t know. In one way, I guess it would be “She Shares My Blanket,” which is the second track on the record. A flimsy attempt at a Robert Altman-esque romance or something. And, in a weird way, my dark horse song that I really love is ‘Hark The Harold Hermit Speaks.’ I think it’s indicative of – it has the genetic building blocks that makes our band but in a totally different sequence. It’s a the muta.”

Because I personally like, If You Had A Heart To Break, I asked Chris the story behind that song.

“You know, it’s funny. Neal is the one in our band who – on the last record, it was a song called Sweet Lullaby. No matter what we’re doing, once or twice a year I’ll sit down and write a sad kind of country song and that song was really like a country song. But that didn’t really fit us – the way I was playing it in my mind. So, I kind of brushed off some of it and Neal was really into it. He said, ‘You need to finish that.’

“So, I put a little elbow grease in it. Yeah, you know, I love a good, sad, bitter, love song – country song. I think of them as stories, these songs. They’re scenes, in a way. How you juxtapose them or place them over something or vice versa, that’s what it is. That kind of vague description hopefully benefits the emotional response that people have by having their own relationship to the words.”

Responding to my question as to whether the CRB has performed any of the tunes from the new CD yet (and what the response has been, so far), Robinson said “Yeah, yeah. Well, the whole thing has started to morph into this – the shortest song on the record will now probably be nine minutes but the time we get on tour. We played ‘High Is Not The Top’ a couple of times on the last run. We played ‘Blue Star Woman’ a little bit. Yeah, I think there’s some songs on this record that – a song like ‘Glow’ I don’t really know if that’s a song we try to add. I mean, we have some of those kinds of pieces. Hopefully, some of these dog eat songs – maybe a little more conceptual.

“That was kind of the other idea, too: We don’t have to make a record that we feel that we have to play every track every night. We could make some other statements, you know? They’re there to share.”

And the response?

“I think it’s been awesome. Like anything else, songs change tour to tour. The little differences. Then we find little things. Everyone finds their paths. Usually by the time you find your path, we realize we’re in the wilderness again so we kind of start all over. If you’re into that kind of thing it’s an excellent thing.”

As for what can fans expect from this tour, Chris said, ““We’ll keep what we’re doing. I think the more we keep our head down and just concentrate on this music – our scene grows every year. Knoxville is a great example. The first time we played, not that many people. The next three times, it’s like there’s always another one hundred, two hundred more people – another two hundred and fifty people. Like I said, I don’t think we have to beat anyone over the head. It’s not the average jam band experience and it’s not the average rock and roll experience and it’s not this and it’s not that. I think you just have to come see if it’s something that works for you - if you like the sound.

“I’m really proud of the scene that’s around us. Our audience and the people that come to see us is super kind, welcoming place, do you know what I mean? I know that in the jam band scene, a lot of parties have been going on. Panic. Phish. String Cheese. Whatever. Those bands are all great bands and their scenes are huge. So, we have our party going on, too. It’s just a lot smaller.”

I asked Robinson what was on his radar for the next year and the next five years.

“We’ve written a lot of songs the last fourteen, fifteen, sixteen months. We’re just ready to tour and with the record out – and there’s another Betty’s Blend she’s working on. There’s plans for us to go to Japan early next year and go back to Europe and do Australia, New Zealand and we just want to keep playing.

“The other reality is the only way people can really know what it’s about and be a part of it is to come see you. And we get the most out of it, too. That’s one thing, we’ve all be through a lot of scenes and scenarios and bands and ups and downs. But, at the end of the day, musicians want to play and that’s what’s happening and that’s what we want to do.

“We have a little bit of time off. I have a solo show here in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. I’ve been playing some gigs around here. I’ve been lucky enough to have Terrapin Crossroads – which is Phil Lesh’s venue – that’s been going on for a while. I play with Phil. I have my own nights to jam with whoever. You know, here in the Bay Area, live music is what people like to do with free time.”

With some time left in the interview, I shifted gears by asking if Chris thought that the music industry is broken and, if so, what would he do to fix it.

“Is it broken or is it crash-landed somewhere and we’re taking parts off of the mother craft to survive in a hostile environment? To me, it’s awesome. To me, there’s a place for the independent person to work now. You said we made six records in the CRB and not one asshole from a record company has walked through the door and told us the bass is too loud or that he didn’t like that chorus, you know what I mean? That was something I always found hard to stomach as a young man. And, as an old man – or an older man – I’m definitely not going back to that.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 01a“Without the music business being the way it is – if you’re a part of it and you’re in the system and you own the labels and you’re listening to those people and you’re in the producer-driven, kiddie music business, then that’s good. Fame! Money! Yay! That’s cool! I’m into this for completely other things. If you’re creative and have good ideas and you have something to say and people want to hear it with your music, then this is a great time!

“Think about it, man! No one’s doing anything! It’s the best time to do something! I travel around America and kids have nothing to do except play video games. I’m, like, ‘Dude, there’s still bands and records.’ You know what I mean? You don’t need to be on TV. You don’t have to have anything happening. You just need friends that care about the same stuff you like and, then, you’ll see how that changes everything.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Chris how he wanted to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy would be.

“Oh, my word. I’m the Draymond Green of rock and roll. I’m sorry, man. We have the best basketball team in the world six miles from my house! I never thought about that. I mean, I would hope that the songs would speak for themselves. I dedicated my heart and soul to the muse. For better and for worse – my opinions notwithstanding about how much I love music – it would be nice – in that pantheon of people who dedicated their lives to their muse – I would like to be put in there. I don’t know what that means except – life is beautiful and strange and sad and there’s loss and there’s hope and there’s madness and, at the end of the day, I’ve been lucky enough to experience all that stuff through the lens of music. As a dyslectic, weirdo kid from Atlanta, I just see it as a gift.”

Greg Kihn ReKihndled

Posted July, 2017

GregKihn cropIf you listened to the radio at all in the early eighties, no doubt you heard two songs that seemed to dominate the airwaves: The Breakup Song and Jeopardy – both by The Greg Kihn Band.

Ever since those award-winning days, Kihn has continued to record albums as well as DJing in the San Francisco area and writing novels.

Quite the renaissance man, huh?

It was to that first and original activity that Greg recently contacted me. We chatted about his new CD, “ReKihndled”. He called from his California home and we started with him updating me on what he’s been up to the last few years.

“People say, ‘Hey, Greg, where have ya been, man?’ Actually, where I’ve been for the last eighteen years is I’ve been on the radio, too. I’ve been on the morning show on KFOX radio in San Francisco and did that for eighteen years straight. You know how radio is. One day you’re in. One day you’re out. Actually, at that point in time, I had it with getting up at 4 a.m. You can’t have a life if you get up at 4 a.m.! It took some taken used to. Then, when they say, ‘Hey, do you want to go and play a gig on the weekend?’, I go, ‘Hell no!’ I just wanted to sleep! Whenever I got a couple of days off, I just wanted to sleep!”

Answering my question to verify that ReKihndled was his seventeenth Album, Kihn said:

“Yeah. You know, and I’m proud of this one because, number one, it’s got my son on it – Ry Kihn. And, I think, materially,

it’s a lot better than the other albums. And, you know? You get these song ideas and, if you’re not in songwriting mode, a lot of them just get pushed off to the back burner. At the end of a year, I had a ton of really good album ideas. You, know, writing the songs was, actually, the easy part. Once we got everything in place, I had Robert Berry help me out. He’s the bass player and also the producer. But, it was just me and Robert and we have a new drummer now – a guy by the name of Dave Lauser, who is on loan from the Sammy Hagar band. He’s a friend of mine – Sammy is – and he said, ‘Hey, look, I’ve gotta do Chickenfoot and all this summer. And, after that, I gotta do this reunion tour and this, that, and the other. Why don’t you take Dave for the next year and you can work him out. I got too many gigs. I can’t fit him in.’ So, that’s how Dave really kinda wound up playing in the band. He’s kinda like Keith Moon. He’s a very busy drummer. It’s a lot of excitement. I just love playing with him.”

When I commented that the band sounds like they’ve played with him for years, Greg agreed.

“That’s the way it is in this band. We’re a heritage band. We’ve been around since, like, the early Paleozoic era. We’ve been around for a long-ass time. The beauty of it is we get a guy like Dave who’s new to the band and we get a whole new lease on life. I tell ya: It’s a very small band. It’s me and my son. So, half the band is Kihns, right there. Then, Robert and Dave. It’s a very small, close-knit group.”

Why the title, “ReKihndled”?

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“I hope it ‘rekindles’ my career! How’s that? I figured when we started making these ‘Kihn’ puns, it was early in the game. We named the first album – it was just ‘Greg Kihn’. And, then, we got the second album and they said, ‘What do you want to call it?’ and some wisenheimer said, ‘Let’s do it ‘Greg Kihn Again’. Okay. So, now we got two albums. Then the next album comes out. ‘What do you want to name it?’ ‘How about, ‘Next of Kihn’? It just started and it never stopped. Kihnsolidation, Kihnspiracy. There are dozens.

“My mother, when she was alive, thought that was great. She really loved it. She thought it was real clever. Me, personally, I don’t know. I probably coulda ditched that after three or four albums. But, hey, look! It’s my name and it actually really is my name and people keep coming up with more titles. As long as they keep coming up with titles, I’ll keep making albums.”

Most artists say that each album they record is always different from the previous projects they’ve recorded. I asked if that was the case with Greg.

“Yeah, that’s a good question. It was our first album that we made at Soundtech Studios – which is owned and operated by our bass player, Robert, so it was really comfortable. It was the same room that we would rehearse in so we could come down there and work on a song all week and, then, cut it on a Saturday and it was pretty cool.

“The best thing about, I think, working on this past album, was that, usually, I don’t really have a direction. I’m a flapping fish! But this time, I seem to know where I was going with every album and every song. I really felt like there was a definite sense of ‘me’. I had a little special message I was putting in the album work that it’s never too late. It’s a very positive message. It’s never too late. You’ve gotta keep on trying and all of that kind of stuff. It’s a message to never give up is, basically, the message. A lot of the songs really fell into that category and they had that same message.

“The best stuff that we were doing – when we first started working on the album, we would think of things. I remember telling Ry that I wanted to do a song like, ‘Oh Well,’ by Fleetwood Mac. Remember that? It had an instrumental passage and, then, stopped and, then, they sang and it stopped. Then, they’d play again. And, my son, ‘Yeah! You mean, like, Black Dog, by Led Zeppelin?’ ‘Yeah! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!’ The next day, he comes back. He’d been doing his homework. Came back with the riff that became Pink Flamingos. I started sing big, pink flamingos. I don’t know where it came from. It was floating in the air right in front of my head and I just started singing it. That song was written in about 15 minutes which is how the really good ones get done.

“You gotta have a little luck involved but if it hits you just right, a song will write itself and the less that you that you try to force it – to be something that it’s not – the more happier it’s going to be. Now I’m talking like these songs are like my children and they’re all going to college now.”

And which song would be the CD’s calling card?

“Oh! That’s a great question! You know, I would say my favorite is Big Pink Flamingos. But if you wanted the best song that really reflected what the album was all about, I would say – you know, that’s a good question. It’s thought provoking but there’s the first song on there called, ‘The Life I Got,” which is very autobiographical. I say that would be the album cut that I would think would most represent us. The Life I Got. That’s cut one. Side one.”

It’s not unusual for artists to pull previously unused songs or recordings to populate an album they’re working on. When I asked if that was the case with ReKihndled, Kihn said:

“Oh, yeah! I’ll tell you. One of the songs that had been hanging around in my brain was The Brain Police. It was a half way written song for about two or three years. I just never really go around to finishing it. That particular day for drummers, we had our original drummer from the Greg Kihn Band forty years ago, Larry Lynch, happened to drop by the studio. He listened to the song and goes, ‘I gotta play drums on that song!’ We set him up and I did that thing in about two takes. He goes, ‘Wow! What a great idea!’ I said, ‘Well, Larry, that song’s been laying around here for years and years!” I played him The Brain Police and it was, like, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that!’ But he didn’t recognize it. So, what are you gonna do?”

Then, out of the blue, Kihn says:

“You know? It’s a good life being a musician. I’ve been real lucky in my life. I feel like it’s been a long, successful career and I just feel like I was blessed. When I was a little kid, my mom used to say, ‘Well, if you can get a job being a musician, you’re blessed!’ Low and behold, I did it! I don’t know how I did it. I just did it.

“There’s a big gulf between writing songs and just covering songs. When you’re writing them, they’re inside you. They’re autobiographical. I just try to let the song be what it wants to be. I think that’s the key, right there. If you leave the song alone - you don’t try to force it to be something it doesn’t want to be - nine times out of ten it’s going to be the song that you originally tried to write to begin with. Songwriting – it’s a weird thing. I would call it a craft because, as you get better at it – like, if you do it for twenty years, you get better at it. It’s a craft. Just like playing the guitar or writing a novel or something like that – it all comes together in the end. If it’s not coming easy, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s going to sound like you forced it. Let’s face it: songs that you force are never as good as songs that just come out organically.

“Like I said before – I say this all the time. I probably sound like a broken record but I’m blessed! I really am! I had a wonderful career and written a whole bunch of songs. It was never hard for me. They say that someday you’re going to run out of your ideas. It hasn’t happened to me. The last forty years it hasn’t happened to me so I feel like I’m really lucky and just having that gig where, ‘What do you do in life?’ ‘Well, I play music.’ That’s pretty good, man.”

Regarding how long the album took to record, Greg said:

“It was less than a year. I’d say, maybe, about eight to ten months. We started easy. We didn’t dive into it. We just kinda tip-toed into the water. I remember, because we started it – we weren’t really starting an album. It’s like, ‘Let’s record a couple of our songs here and see where it leads.’ By about the third song, we said, ‘You know what? Let’s make a whole album because this it’s too good!’ I never really understood what I was doing, thank God! Because, if I understood it, I’d probably over-analyze it and I wouldn’t be able to do it!”

And what has been fan and crowd reaction to the album, so far?

“Oh, I’m glad you asked me that because the crowd reaction’s been outstanding. You know, you go out there and you play, you tell everybody you go out there and do two or three of your hits and then you say to everybody, ‘Hey! We’re gonna do a new song from the album!’ That’s where everybody goes out and gets a beer right there. But people are diggin’ it, you know. Songs like Big Pink Flamingos, they’re loving it. There’s another song called Cassandra that’s kind of like a punk rock song. We started off with playing four or five album cuts in the live show. Now I look at it, The Life I Got, Pink Flamingos, Anthem, Cassandra, Tell Me Something Good, are all songs that can stand on their own and they do well when we play them live.

“You know, it’s always cool the first time you ever play a song live and people are already singing along! It’s, like, ‘Okay, I must’ve hit the nerve here.’”

Regarding tour support for ReKihndled, Greg shared:

“We’re planning on being out there this summer. We’ve got a bunch of shows. If you wanna see where we’re going, you can go over to the GregKihn.com website. It’s got the full schedule there plus all the albums plus all the books. Everything you wanted to buy about Greg Kihn is right there at GregKihn.com.

“We’ve got a bunch of gigs this summer. We’ve only played maybe a handful – like maybe a half a dozen, so far. But, really, it’s going great. The guys are itching to get out there. We’ve got some more dates. Everybody’s loving the new songs.

“You know, the other drag was going out when you didn’t have any new songs. I did a couple of tours maybe five or ten years ago where we were just playing the catalog stuff. I remember thinking, ‘You know, I wish we had a new album out here so I could play some of that stuff.’ And now it’s working out better than I even planned it so that’s great!”

Artists who have been in the business for a lot of years as Greg Kihn has been have seen a lot of changes in the business. I was curious as to what he felt has been the biggest positive and negative changes in making a record since he first started recording.

“The biggest positive and negative changes are the same thing: How they market music these days is completely different from when we made records. We made records and you went around and you went to radio stations. You toured and you just worked your butt off. Then, you were lucky, maybe radio would play your song and then you’d have a hit.

“Nowadays, I really don’t know how it works. I mean, our part of the bargain is the same. We go out and write the songs, record them, and then we hand them to the people that actually merchandise these things. But now you’ve got so many online services for a song. If you’ve got Big Pink Flamingos right now, you can hear it on iTunes. You can buy it on Spotify. It’s everywhere. Right now, there’s so many ways to market a song. It’s like the old wild west. We’re just kind of enjoying what we do and having a good time doing it rather than trying to sell a million records. Nowadays, guys like Bruno Mars sell – we would sell a hundred thousand copies in my day. Now, these guys sell, like, ten million copies. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know but the business has changed. The way they record it has changed and the way they market it has changed. Really, everything has changed.”

Still on that subject, I asked Kihn were made music czar, what would he do to fix the business or does it need fixing?

“I don’t think it needs fixing. I think it’s very healthy right now. The nice thing about rock and roll is that every generation has its own interpretation of it. If you go to a high school right now, you go in there and you find out what they’re listening to. That’s kind of like their generation music. The other thing, too, I think is important to note is music used to mean a lot to me. When we were kids, if there was a new Beatles or a Stones or a Dylan album, we ran out and got it and then you had to treat the records really good or they would warp or scratch or something like that. You had to really respect the music. I remember every time that was a big deal. If a new album comes out, and I was really into the artist, it was a big deal. I would get it and I would bring it home. I’d play it in my room a thousand times. I’d learn all the songs on it.

“I remember when I was a kid, I always wanted to be Bob Dylan on the cover of the Freewheelin’ album. Here’s a guy – he looked great. He had a good-looking girlfriend and he wrote great songs! The nice thing is, in your life as you get older, you think, ‘Hey, look! I’m doing this! How did I get here? I don’t know but I’m doing it!’”

GregKihnWhen I asked what else would Greg would like to do, career-wise, that he hasn’t done yet, he replied:

“Well, let’s see. I’m involved in novel writing so I’ve written a couple of novels. There’s a new one I’m working on right now. Really, one of the things that I always wanted to do was to have my own creature feature show on Saturday night. Show old horror movies. I think that would make me happy. I told my manager that and he just looked like, ‘Why would you want to do that? That’s crazy.’ It looks like fun! I just want to do it! ‘No, you don’t want to do it. It’s stupid. It’s crazy!’ In real life, I think it would be a hoot having your own horror show every Saturday night.

“I’ve been on the radio. I’ve been involved in writing novels. I’ve been a musician. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good life and I’ve been blessed and I’ve got this far. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d have to say that was a good run.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Greg Kihn what I asked him what I ask other artists of his tenure and stature: When he steps off the tour bus called Life many years from now, how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?

“You know, that’s a really good question because nowadays – this was never the thing before – but nowadays I got grandchildren and I’m really thinking about grandpa’s legacy. I come over to their house for dinner and me and my son, Ry, go down there and they always say, ‘Get out the guitars! Get out the guitars!’ and now they want to play the guitar. They want to sing songs. They’re five and eight years old. But it really makes me think about my legacy. When those guys are teenagers, hopefully, I’ll still be around and they’re still gonna want to be playing my songs. One of my dreams is that - I’ve got my son in the band – wouldn’t it be great to have my grandkids in the band and have three generations of Kihn up there on stage? That would blow my mind!”

Keep with Greg and his, uh, Kihn, at GregKihn.com

Sonny Landreth

Posted June 2017

SLandreth promo press1Cropped2 byTravisGauthier crop cropPhoto by Travis GauthierI gotta tell you a true story. I first became aware of blues great, Sonny Landreth, when received a review copy of his CD, Elemental Journey, before it was released. I had it in my car when I was picking up Andy Timmons to head out to see Boston in concert. The disc was playing when he got into the car and the first words out of his mouth was, “Great tone!” and he didn’t even know it was Landreth. Even without Andy’s enthusiastic endorsement, I became an immediate fan.

So, when the opportunity recently presented itself to chat with Sonny, a) I immediately and eagerly agreed; and, b) I started our chat by mentioning the story, above, to which he said:

“That’s a great sign. I like that! That’s cool. That’s really cool.”

The main purpose of our chat was to discuss Sonny’s latest live CD entitled, Sonny Landreth Recorded Live In Lafayette. I asked if I had counted correctly that this was his seventeenth album and second live disc, to date.

 “Uh, the first number is kind of a gray area. It’s kind of a tough question. But, yeah, it’s the second live album. There’s been various incarnations of some really old stuff. If you count all those incarnations, it adds up to more than it actually is. Ah, it doesn’t matter. As long as they’re all out there, I’m glad to know that.”

I was curious as to why this album and why Lafayette.

“Well, Lafayette because advantage of proximity and resources here. The venue, first of all, is downtown. It’s a beautiful place. It was designed for performance arts. Real nice theater. I played there with a bunch of other people in other shows. And we’ve played there with our band with some gigs. So, there’s that and it’s set up really well for production.

“My engineer is only a few blocks away. Some of the other players are real close. Some just down the road. So, we would pull all our resources in the way of gear an being able to get back and forth. And, really, there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed at night and, at least, take the discomfort factor out of it. And it also enabled us to get in and have different nights – more than just one night. We went in on Monday and set up and did sound check and went through the songs with our guest artists. Then we recorded Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the end of January with the idea of getting the best out of all of that. So, that was the deal with the venue.

Sonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 002Photo by Marco van Rooijen“And it felt like a good time to do this in terms of a retrospective album with a body of work over the years and different time periods in my career. I’d been thinking about doing the acoustic thing but I didn’t know if I wanted to just to do that or do some of my trio like we typically do. I knew that I wanted to get a couple of my close friends – Sam Broussard and Steve Conn. We’ve never done that together – just the three of us like that. We just ended up doing all of it. I can’t really say I planned it that way but once we got into it – well, I should back up a little bit.

“We booked a number of shows going into the recording days that was really important to get a head of steam going and to sort of sort some things out, musically. So, that helped to have a little bit of an edge. As that progressed -and as the set kind of evolved – then that helped me determine kind of what we were going to do as a concept and which songs and so forth – in particular, with the acoustic material; sort out which ones worked and would bring a different version that we have done before. So, I think the end result is – I hope that it’s something that fans and people are familiar with our work will appreciate the diversity of it and the different versions of these songs and they were played. And, also, I think for someone that’s never heard us before and heard any of my songs, I think it’s a good introduction, as well.”

Which cut would you point to as a calling card, if you will, for this album?

“Well, that’s a little bit of a tricky call because what ended up happening, in a way, is two albums in one. Like I was explaining earlier, the end result was we would come out and do a set – an all acoustic, take a short break, then go out and do the electric material. What that involved in terms of production was setting up the acoustic instruments in front of the backline that we normally use for playing the electric songs, so that was really cool. Having done that, it helped set up for production when we cut into the album.

“So, I’d have to pick one song from each of those, I guess would be the best thing. And, probably, Blues Attack – and that’sSonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 001Photo by Marco van Rooijen kind of what we led off with on the acoustic disc. And, then, on the electric, I would have to probably pick Bayou Teche, which is the first one, because all of us played on it, including our guest artists and sort of embodies the spirit of it, I think, in a good way.”

Regarding if there anything unique about recording this album compared to the other live work he’s recorded, Landreth responded:

“Yeah. Absolutely! Just the very fact that we had two completely different experiences with the acoustic and the electric. That took some work and it brings up a whole different vibe and the dynamics of the room. That was different because before Grant Street’s an old warehouse and your sound’s bouncing off the brick. It’s real cool live, edgy sound where this was a real nice venue tailored for sonics and was a completely different feel and vibe to it than Grant Street. Also, as we got into the third night, we noticed how the crowd got more and more into it even though it was a lot of different people each night, be that as it may. Maybe because it was closer to the weekend, people were ready to let loose more. I don’t know but most of what we kept was from the last night.”

As for tour support for this album, Sonny shared:

“Yeah. Yeah, we are, actually. We’d been doing that and we continue to do that on through our shows; through the festival season that kicked off with Jazzfest and our usual run of dates that we do that time of year. We played in Sao Paulo, Brazil recently. We didn’t do it there because it was just too hard to bring that down there under the circumstances. But we will be doing that. When people come out to the shows, they can expect to hear – we’ll do a short acoustic set, take a break, then come back. We’ll probably change up some of those. There’ll be some different songs just to keep it fresh. I think that’s real important, too. That’s basically what we’ll be doing.”

In conducting my research for this interview, I read somewhere that Landreth actually got to meet Jimi Hendrix. I asked him to fill me in on that lucky meeting.

SLandreth promo press3 byTravisGauthierPhoto by Travis Gauthier“Well, yeah, I had a run of it there for a while in kind of the beginning with big influences on me as a teenager because I heard B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Clifton Chenier – the zydeco king – all within about a year – a little over a year, maybe a year and a half. I met all of them on those gigs.

“For Jimi’s, me and my buddies went early during the day, which is funny looking back on it. What the hell are we all gonna accomplish if we all are gonna try and find Hendrix?  And we did! I mean, there was a hotel next door to the venue and he was in a room. He had adjoining rooms – two rooms and the doors open and he had a reel-to-reel tape player that he was listening to and he was smoking a cigarette.

“This big, English road manager ran us all off. Me and a friend of mine was hiding. There was a little convenience store in the hotel in the lobby. We’re hiding in there, hiding from the tour manager. And in walks Hendrix. He was buying some toothpaste and a toothbrush. We’re like, ‘We got nothing to lose’. We couldn’t believe it, how this came about. We went up and started talking to him, met him, and shook his hand. That was a big mojo for me. I was real surprised. He was much shorter than I thought he would be. But, when I shook his hand, I couldn’t believe how long his fingers were. I was, like, ‘Okay. No wonder I can’t reach those positions.’”

Shifting gears, I asked Sonny Landreth what he thought the state of the blues is today.

“Well, I think it’s evolving, as always. I don’t think it’s going anywhere in the way of being lost. I think it IS going somewhere in the way of some of the young kids coming up. What I’ve noticed - the connection of families, very similar in my area where the Creole and Cajun communities’ music is a huge deal. It’s part of the culture. These kids are all growing up in a family. There could be four kids in a family and they all play music. They all play an instrument. And they’ve all gone on to play with others and make their own music. They have one foot in the path with traditional music, which they learned from their parents who learned it from the grandparents. There’s some cool stuff, too. Incorporating new ideas and I think that’s good. Music needs to mutate in a way to evolve and to stay – not just relevant – but to resonate with people and to make a difference in people’s lives. And I see that with the blues, too.

“I’ve noticed over all these years, there always seems to be like a ten-year cycle where you think it’s going away and not SLandreth promo press2 byTravisGauthierPhoto by Travis Gauthieraware of its presence. Then, there’s this resurgence in the way of a revival, of sorts. It can happen with individual artists and different groups. There’s definitely something to that. I don’t really worry about it as long as there are people that hand down to the next generation their ideas and their values with the blues. I think it will always find its way into good hands. The old masters are gone. I mean, we lost B.B. – just a handful of them left in that generation who came after Muddy Waters and earlier Delta bluesmen – a lot of the migration to Chicago and so forth. And, here, with Zydeco music with Clifton Chenier and there was a lot of people who ended up in Texas but even more like entire constituency went out on to the west coast in California when they were looking for work. I think the same thing has happened.

“But the blues is much more, in my mind, I feel that it’s the universal language. And that’s what the last album was really pretty much about in the way of a tribute to heroes and those songs and how the themes of grace in the face of adversity is something everyone relates to. And ever though the language has changed, the blues speaks to everyone universally in that regard. That’s always going to be the spark that lights the flame for a new generation coming up with new ideas.”

Sonny has played with some great people like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffet, and John Hiatt. So, I was curious as to whom he would like to play with that he hasn’t already.

“I’d like to play with Jeff Beck. It almost happened a couple of times. So, I’ve just sort of given that a rest. Ha! Ha! It didn’t work out. Maybe one day. I hope so. But, I tell ya, I wish – I have this fantasy of amassing the chops to play with Wynton Marsalis. I’m not even sure he likes guitar players. I’m open. I like doing other projects with people that creative because it’s good to keep the antenna’s up, pick up something new from working with people. You always hope their cosmic dust rubs off on you, too.”

As for what he’d like to record that he hasn’t done yet?

“Man, that’s a good question. I would like to do another instrumental album and incorporate classical and jazz. I have a lot of exposure to that as a kid growing up playing trumpet in school band and orchestra and so forth. There’s some of that I’ve hit on in some of the albums – just a taste, you know? The concepts. I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician because I don’t have the repertoire. It’s something you have to live and breathe every day. But I do relate to it. I think that’s a valid thing. As long as I can keep pushing the boundaries and come up with new ideas. A lot of times it’s good to try something that’s out of your element, so to speak, because that’s where the really cool surprises – that’s when they happen. One thing can lead to another. As long as that’s happening, I’m in.”

Looking ahead for the next one to five years, Landreth shared:

Sonny Landreth Photography C Marco van Rooijen 2002Photo by Marco van Rooijen“Well, we’ve got a lot of shows coming up. I’m really excited about the fact to do that. In addition to the double disc, we’re also doing a vinyl. It’s coming into prominence and really cool. We’ll be out playing the shows. Concentrating on that. For me, in particular, it’s trying to perfect more of the acoustic thing, keep improving on that. I got my work cut out for me.”

I often ask artists how they want to be remembered and what they hope their legacy will be so I asked Landreth the same question.

“I hope that people remember me not just as an instrumentalist and anything that I may have accomplished in my own right with that, but also maybe more so the songs. In particular, the lyrical style of writing. I hope that these songs stand the test of time for people and that it still touches those that hear them on down the line. You never know. I always strive to write songs that would last. It’s easy to sit down and write a song. Not so easy to listen to it a week later. ‘What was I thinkin’?’ you know?  But to write a song that really stands the test of time, there’s something about that. Well, it’s not a fad, just kind of the latest thing, whatever. That would be my hope, that those songs do hold up and people find something in music that touches them in a way that makes a difference in a good way.”

Please do keep up with the latest on Sonny Landreth at SonnyLandreth.com.

Ruthie Foster

Posted July 2017

RuthieFoster001 cropped 3Rarely does an artist grab one’s attention right out of the musical chute. Sometimes, their music must grow on you. Other times, you’ll love some aspects of their work but other parts turn you off.

In the case of Texas born and bred Ruthie Foster, her voice, musicianship and songwriting mastery will grab you from the git go and won’t let you go. Such is the case with Ruthie Foster. To say that the woman has the voice of an angel my sound a bit hokey but it would, in fact, be an understatement.

Her amazing talent has placed her on stage with the Allman Brothers as well as singing with such greats as Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi.  The accolades and awards she’s received aren’t too shabby, either. She’s received the Living Blues Critic’s Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, seven Blues Music Awards, and three Austin Music Awards.

Not too shabby.EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

I caught up with Ruthie while she was on tour. She’d literally just stepped off the hotel elevator and walking into her hotel room when I called. After she got settled in and caught her breath, I asked about her church related musical background and influences while growing up in Gause, Texas.

 “Well, it was Baptist – the Missionary Baptist Church. The artists that I did a lot of were Dorothy Norwood on guitar, a lot of

Andre Crouch. So, yeah, that was the stuff that I was listening to growing up. And, of course, the staple songs that come out of the church. We had a youth choir, I guess you could call it, that would take the songs and spin ‘em around, which is really where a lot of that comes from when I do that on my own albums. Just take a song and put a little spin on it so that it doesn’t sound old timey. Try to give it a little something.

“We would take songs like Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior and speed it up a little bit and give it a little guitar riff. We’d push the limits as far as we could go with the sisters in the church. They kinda liked it, though. They were glad to see us involved in the church. We made it fun because we were there all the time. I grew up with a lot of cousins and we were always involved with the church, whether it was helping keep it clean, keeping the graveyard clean, or just cleaning the church, even. I was always there – choir practice on Wednesdays. It was just down the road from my grandmother’s where I spent a lot of my summers and a lot of my time. It was just another house. It was our other house. Yeah, very much part of the family.”

I was curious as to what or whom had pushed her towards playing the guitar.

RuthieFoster002“I grew up watching a lot of TV and it was during that time when everybody had a variety show. I remember watching the Glen Campbell Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Midnight Special Olivia Newton-John had a show for a minute and I loved that. The Mac Davis Show. A lot of these people were musicians that played guitar. I just thought that that was the coolest thing to play guitar. Plus, it’s portable. So, I could do that to bring something different to the gospel music I was doing as a kid, traveling from church to church. I had played piano but bringing a guitar, that was something really different. And, it kind of opened me up to different types of churches. The Church of God in Christ, they were more contemporary instruments that they would use. And what we called, ‘Holiness Churches,’ that’s where any instruments were used. It really opened up my world to going to being in a different type of denomination when it came to playing the songs that I did. So, I loved that! I played piano, but guitar became my mainstay because it was something really different.”

If you haven’t heard Ruthie’s latest CD, Joy Comes Back, do. Order it now. It’s that good.  I asked Ms. Foster why she chose that title for the disc.

“Well, it was the title of one of the songs on the CD. We looked through them all and thought, ‘Well, this one pretty much says it all’ because this CD came about in the middle of a big transition. My personal life was changing. I was moving out of a long-term relationship and trying to figure out how to co-parent a small one in a respectful way. Turning into my fifties, getting well into my fifties, that was a big transition, has been. Turned fifty-three a few weeks ago. That was the age that my mother passed. So, getting to that age was something really different.

“And, quite frankly, I was really working a lot on the road and I needed a break from recording. I didn’t spend much time in the studio all at once to make this record. I kinda went in when I was actually rested. That way, I was able to find my joy, if you will, in recording again. It didn’t feel like, ‘Well, it’s time to make another CD.’ I was able to do it in my own time. I paid for it myself, the recording part of it. I felt more in control of what I wanted to do on this record. Not to say that I never had control, I just felt more in it even though I didn’t write much for it. I did write a lot but a lot of the songs I had, I wasn’t ready to share that just yet.

RuthieFoster003“Dan and myself just had a pow wow and decided to put the one about opening up to a new relationship on the CD because that was part of my transition: coming out of a relationship; being single – learning how to do that, again. And, then, meeting someone I really wanted to be close to – a really, really delicate part of my life. Learning how to navigate around that and having a kid and having an ex – all of that.

“I had some difficult times but I had music and I had this studio, this little, tiny studio that Dan had around the corner and I just kind of found my way back to music, to recording, to being okay with where everything landed and where everybody landed, and my personal life, and just my own journey, being in my fifties and all.”

Ruthie shared about the process of putting together Joy Comes Back.

“It took about two and a half years to do because I didn’t sit down in one week and just record. I really took my time with it. On a few days when I thought I was ready to record, Dan knew enough about me to just hold that space for me and let me just kind of sit and drink coffee and watch funny videos for a while so I could come down from being on the road. So, it took a while. I didn’t go into it ready, I really didn’t, to record. I spent a lot of time just doing side work – as a background vocalist or doing commercials that he (Dan) was working on. It gives a chance to meet a lot of side guys – side men like Joe Vitale, the drummer on this album, was working on another project when I met him. We met at the studio. He was working for someone else.

“So, it gave me a chance to kinda be a musician and be a listener. I did a lot of listening to a lot of different songs and RuthieFoster004different types of genres. So, yeah, it took a while – about two and a half years. And, this was different because, I guess, because of that. I took my time with it. I didn’t write it and I do get a little beef about that sometimes but I’m over it. You know? When a song – when it just says what I want it to say, there’s just no reason to not re-record these tunes. They were done so well! Like the two written by Grace Pettis who happens to be the daughter of somebody I actually toured with. I toured with Pierce Pettis for a while – a few shows in Texas, anyway. So, first of all, getting the chance to see Grace, again. I had met her a few years ago and see how her songwriting has just come full-blossom was exciting to me! And to even to hopefully be a part of her career as it grows and to honor her writing, that was just huge for me to be able to do.”

When asked which song would she use as a calling card, so to speak, to entice them to purchase the CD, Ruthie said:

“Hmmmm. Probably War Pigs just because it’s different. Ha! Ha! My version! A lot of them, really. Good Sailor that was written by Grace because that, again, is saying what I wanted to say. Working Woman is another great one. That’s my Phenomenal Woman. It’s the new version of woman power. Yeah, those are the ones that stick out.”

Since Ruthie revealed that the CD is revealing and introspective, I asked which song was the most personal to her.

RuthieFoster005“Oooh. Probably Forgiven - the last cut - because it really started with that song. Dan asked me to go along with him when The Weepies came to town to play there in Austin. I’ve been a big fan of theirs. I didn’t even know that they were on the road. So, we went to go see them and had a great time at that concert. I met up with Dan a few days later and he let me hear this song because he’s a good friend of Deb Talen.

This song just floored me. He put this song on and by the end of it, I was in tears because it said exactly where I was. This is the song that started the whole recording process for me. Up to that point, I was just in his studio doing backup work. But, then, it occurred to me that that was where I was in my life – with my personal life. It was just time to let go and just gently move out of the dark side of it all. I pushed myself to just go through it. I tried to go around it. I tried to close the door and avoid it. But I just gently pushed myself through it. That song is exactly that.

“That song has a way of opening up – it had a way of opening up my spirit and touch me in a way that I didn’t expect at all. So, it kinda started with Forgiven. Learning how to forgive myself. All the shame and blame that goes along with leaving a relationship – especially with a kid involved. It was HUGE.”

When I offered that one finds out who their true friends are in situations like a divorce, she said, “Yeah, you find out who – I had friends who held me up. They definitely kept me up right. That’s very true.”

The compelling question that was weighing heavily on my mind and I was dying to ask was what made Ms. Foster choose to RuthieFoster006cover the Black Sabbath classic, War Pigs. Don’t get me wrong. She does an amazing, bluesy, acoustic version of the tune that won’t let you go. I just couldn’t get my head around what provoked her to cover that song and what would the ladies back at her childhood church think about her singing it.

“Ha! Ha! It’s not a statement at all for me. I always thought the song was a blues song to me. It’s like, what would it be like if Son House was in a room somewhere with his resonator and stompin’ the floor and doing what he does with that big, booming voice and just sing it and Ozzy walked in and they decided to just sit down and have a little acoustical moment. I just thought the song really needed that. Throw it down. Let that melody in how it starts really ring out. I happened to have the resonator on. I think that I had just done Richland Woman Blues. I’d been sitting on the idea but I put my slide on and asked Dan to roll some tape because this could be fun. And it turned out that it really worked. We stocked the tape, set up the mics, and recorded it for real. It really was an experiment. It was something that was in my head. The idea was in my head – just seeing if it would even work or just fun. And, what it says, I found it interesting because it’s pretty much right on time, too, as far as what it’s talking about. For whatever it’s worth, hopefully that song – I can do my part in putting it back out there and letting folks realize that the song is very relevant, even now. Very interesting.”

As for what she hopes people take away from Joy Comes Back, Ruthie said:

“That this is my journey and that I am a real person even though I do these kinds of inspirational songs and I know that a lot of our shows are very uplifting. But, at the same time, I want folks to know that, yeah, I’ve been there and I’ve been there recently and had to re-learn to get myself back up again. If anything, to give people permission – it’s okay, it’s okay to be down. But the deal is to surround yourself with true friends, first of all, and know that time is huge healer. And that time, plus music, is a beautiful thing! Keep music in your life. I think it’s really important.”

Looking ahead, Ruthie shared what is on her radar for the next year to five years.

“Mmmmm. Goodness gracious! Well, watch my baby girl grow up and come up with more exciting costumes for Halloween that blow her away. Every year’s a challenge. I hope to keep recording because I’m finding my love for that, again. I like travelling. I would like to get to where I’m actually doing more work within communities that I’m visiting and actually get a chance to visit with people when I’m there. That means less shows and more time really engaging with schools and all that. I’m fine with that. I hope to become more of a teacher because I’m learning a lot. That’s the best way to learn is to teach through my music. That may just be to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’m cool with that.”

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Ms. Foster how she wanted to be remembered and what she hoped her legacy would be.

RuthieFoster007Yeah, that’s really close to what I just said. I want to make every day count. I want to be remembered for putting out the healing aspect of music can do for you. Just reminding people that music can heal in any situation – whether it’s my music or someone else’s. I just think it’s really, really important. And these are things that I’ve learned over the years with being able to have conversations with folks like Pete Seeger and Odetta and Peter Yarrow – people who’ve been there when music was a huge part of change within the government. These people stood up and put their own careers on the line in order to be a part of that change with what they do and that was music. That says a lot – so the rest of us can get out here and sing songs like Phenomenal Woman and Working Woman and just be true to who we are. We’ve had these people come before us and they stood up for change and they used their music – they threw down a gauntlet through song and voice. That’s a beautiful thing.

“So, yeah, just that folks remember that music has played a huge part in our history and our culture – in any culture, and that starts healing.”

Enjoy Ruthie Foster’s healing music on her latest disc, Joy Comes Back, and keep up with the latest on her at RuthieFoster.com.

Gregg Rolie Discusses Ringo, The Rock Hall, Santana, Journey, and Life

Posted June 2017

Gregg Rolie by Maryanne Bilham 001Photo by Maryanne BilhamOdds are pretty strong that you have heard Gregg Rolie on some of your favorite songs but you probably aren’t familiar with his background and his huge accomplishments.

Let me fill you in.

The first big band that Rolie was involved with – and made his voice and organ work internationally recognizable – was the original Santana band. The opening organ notes and his voice on “Black Magic Woman” is, to this day, instantly recognizable. It took the band to Woodstock and, ultimately, provided Gregg’s first induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The next huge band Rolie helped form was none other than Journey. He was keyboardist and vocalist/co-vocalist on the band’s first six albums. He left the band (“retired”) in 1980. However, Gregg recently re-joined the boys of Journey for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making it his second induction to its sacred halls.

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited the past six years, Gregg has been keyboardist/co-vocalist in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. How cool is that? I recently called up Gregg to chat about his induction, his work, and what it’s like working with Ringo.

As I did in my recent interview with Rolie’s All-Starr Band mate, Todd Rundgren, I mentioned about meeting him backstage a couple of years ago at a Ringo show in Greenville, North Carolina, and how gracious and friendly each of the band were to their guests.


“You know what? That’s because everybody is that way. I think it’s one of the major reasons why it’s lasted five years. Have a good time and treat each other 

with respect and love the music. It doesn’t get much better than that. You travel well. You’re playing with great players. Good music. A Beatle. And, everybody gets along. It’s just so enjoyable!”

At the time of our conversation, it had been a few days since Gregg was at the induction ceremonies with the other Journey bandmates.  Since he had some time for it all to sink in, again, I asked the obvious question of what his thoughts were about it.

“Well, you know what? That’s what I always said. I’m so stunned by it. It got to the point where I was going, ‘Are they sure they got the right guy?’ I’m in there with people that I hold I such high esteem. It’s a very select group of musicians to be in really good company. I was blown away by it. I still am when I look at the list. It’s all of my heroes! So, to be added to that list is just stunning! And now that I’m home, it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool. I did do the work!’ I mean, there’s no doubt about it!

Gregg Rolie color by Scott Robert RitchiePhoto by Scott Robert Ritchie“Still, I always looked at music as just one foot in front of the other. It’s never been a goal to have – just play great music and have a nice living and enjoy myself while I play. Just take it one day at a time, basically, because you just never know. In my life, it’s just gone on and on and on. When I gave my acceptance speech, I mean, think about it: From Santana to Journey to Ringo Starr, various solo projects, back to Santana IV, and up on stage with Journey, again.

“The other part is, about eighty percent of my music has Neal Schon on it – from Journey. I had to go back and take a look at it being that this is kind of his historical event. I went back and took a look at it. I go, ‘My god! He’s on almost all my solo projects. Whether it’s one song or two songs. We’ve stayed together apart for a long time. I found that amazing. Without Neal and Herbie calling me in the first place, I wouldn’t have been there. It really was Neal’s band all along. When the singer appears, it’s like it all changes. But it really is Neal that started the whole thing.”

Looking over his career, being a co-founder of Santana, playing Woodstock, co-founding Journey, in his sixth year playing with Ringo, and reuniting with Santana to recreate that past magic, it all begged the question of where does he go from here.

“I know! It’s one foot in front of the other one! Who knows? I’ve retired several times and it just doesn’t seem to hold. I get calls to do things. ‘It’s a great idea! Let’s do that!’ I mean, it just keeps going on and on. I’ve been so fortunate. Going back and taking a look at the history of my work with all the guys I met, when I met them and everybody had the same ideas. We just grew. It was all about the music and all going forward and building it. We have played to so many generations of people. And it continues. Santana will never – I don’t think it will ever stop because of the style of music it is. Blues. It won’t go away. It is what it is. People still love it. Young people get hold of it. ‘Wow! This is great!’ It just keeps going on and on.

“The best news for me is I’m like a lot of painters like Van Gogh who didn’t get any acclaim. Probably died a pauper, as far as I know. He didn’t get any acclaim until he was gone. I’m still alive and I get to look at it! Ha! Ha! I get to see this and realize how much impact the music I’ve been associated with has had on the world. Yeah, it’s pretty incredible!”

Shifting our focus to working with Ringo Starr, I asked Gregg for his thoughts about working with such an icon.

“The best that I can say is you’ve seen movies on Ringo. You’ve seen interviews on Ringo. That’s Ringo. There’s no façade here. He runs a band really well. I’m minimizing it but, basically, it’s like (going into a Ringo accent), ‘Don’t be late or I’ll leave you on the tarmac.’ It’s cut and dry just like his wit. It’s very simple. Everybody has such respect for him in the band and respect for each other. That’s why it works. It comes from him! It took me a year and a half to not sit there and spin my head around when I was on stage with him going, ‘I can’t believe I’m sittin’ here!’ Rivera told me, ‘That’s going to last about a year.’ ‘Oh, c’mon!’ I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. I finally feel comfortable – really comfortable.

“It’s because of the Beatles – I was going to be an architect. The Beatles came out and I was, like, ‘Wow! This is cool! So, I should try this!’ Ha! Ha! It’s cool. Adding up everything, like I said, going from the groups that I’ve been in and the amount of time that it’s taken. I had retired pretty much at thirty-three and it just didn’t hold when I left Journey. Things just started poppin’. The Ringo thing came out of the blue. I was blown away. It’s been one of the finest things that I’ve ever done in my life.”

When I asked if he were made music czar, how would you fix the business – or does it need fixing, Rolie said:

“The business needs fixing. I think that one of the main things that’s happened is just in the record company side, they got a bunch of bean counters in there instead of real music people. You know, there’s not many Clive Davis’ or Ahmet Ertegun’s – there’s just not a ton of those people around any more. Rick Rubin – a great producer – has kinda gotten into Sony and has the right idea about it.

“But the business has changed so drastically because of the internet. There’s a million bands out there. There’s a lot of music out there and selling CD’s is a thing of the past. It’s really about playing live and we still do and a lot of younger musicians really don’t play live. So, where are ya gonna go? I think that it limits what can happen because if you can’t do it live, you’re not going to sell anything because it just doesn’t sell like it used to. If you sell two hundred and fifty thousand units nowadays, you’re doing really well. Back when I was doing that, you were fired. The real place to make money is to play live, which is what’s happening. Younger bands, they’ve got their own little tribe of people and they go all over the place. They can do quite well. I think that the days of the enormity of it have gone by the wayside. That’s about all I know.

“The only thing that I can say about playing music is that even if you’re just doing it for yourself, it’s so good for your soul. If you can do something like that, you can disappear on the world if you can play. You sit down and play something, you become yourself and forget about all this stuff that’s going on in the world right now – which has gone crazy, by the way. To quote Perot, ‘The world gone crazy!’ Ha! Ha! Anyway, playing music is that for me. It’s good for your heart and soul no matter what.”

My final question for this rock and roll royalty was: When you finally step off the great tour bus called life up at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

His answer was humble and heartwarming.

“I’ve thought about that before and it’s very simple. My epitaph would be: Great guy. Cool job. It’s that simple. It’s all I want to be known for. ‘He was a great guy and what a cool job he had!’ Ha! Ha!”

You can keep up with Gregg Rolie’s activities at GreggRolie.com as well as his work with Ringo Starr at RingoStarr.com.