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  • Gregg Rolie Discusses Sonic Ranch & A Few Of His Friends

    January 2020

    Gregg Rollie 2 CroppedBoomerocity readers are already quite familiar with the legendary keyboardist and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Gregg Rolie. If you weren’t already familiar with him and his work in the past, you became familiar with him in our interview with him a couple of years ago (here).

    Gregg has a new album out entitled, Sonic Ranch, that he recently released as he’s between touring with Ringo Starr and performing via other bands and projects.

    I caught up by phone with Rolie at his home in the Austin, Texas, area to chat about the new CD as well as other things going on in his career. As I conducted my research for the interview, I came across an excellent Rolling Stone interview with Gregg that was written by Andy Greene. It answered all the basic questions about Rolie’s time with Santana, Journey, and Ringo that people would want to ask him. Instead of putting him through the drudgery of answering those same questions, I decided in advance to provide a link to that interview and do so right here. It’s an outstanding article and worth the time to read (after you finish this one, of course!). Consequently, we launched straight into chatting about Sonic Ranch. 

    The album felt especially “personal” to me so I asked Gregg if that was the case.

    "They're all like that, actually. Just different periods of time. It's the only way I can put that. And that's true. It took a while, but it was only because I got busy with all kinds of stuff. As far as it being completely personal, yes and no. I mean, some songs are, some aren't. Most are. Most are either experiences or I know somebody who experienced it. It's kind of it.”

    When I shared that I also felt that the disc revealed somewhat of a spiritual change in him, he said:

    “It's too deep to what I was doing. My viewpoint is songwriting is like mountain climbing and playing music. They climb mountains because they're there and playing music because it's there. It comes to you or it doesn't; just sit down and there's nothing there. I don't watch a ballgame or something. If it's not coming, it's not coming. And much like someone who writes a book and they get writer's block. It just goes away. Usually, they sit there in angst over it. I just don't do that anymore. So, it'll come when it does if it's gonna. You’re usually paid off with something that's pretty good because it's supposed to come out.”

    As I’ve repeatedly said in other articles, I never ask an artist what their favorite song on their album is because it’s akin to a parent picking a favorite child. This time around, I asked Gregg which song kind of has its thumb on his pulse more than the others on the album.

    “I must have many pulses. They all touch me in different ways. Some of them were written back in 2013/14 and some are fresher because I had to get off and tour with Ringo for seven years. I've been doing that for seven years now. I got busy with that. I got busy with Santana IV. I got busy with Journey Through Time with Neal Schon. I did all of that stuff. And, then, finally I could finish it. So, some of the songs are newer, but as far as being - they're all important to me in different ways, and the way I've always written music is - and played it - is that I gotta like it. 
    “But what I'm trying to really do is connect with people. If any one of them connect with somebody and somebody else and somebody else and this one connects with them, then I've done a good job, in my viewpoint. That's how I attack all of this stuff. They're all special to me in different ways. And it's a hard question to answer.”

    Then, injecting a little humor into the end of his answer, he said, “Have you got an ear?” Continuing on with regards to the sound of Sonic Ranch, Gregg shared:

     “So, this guy, Howie Edelson, said he could see five different bands. It's one concept. And so, it kind of goes together and yet there's so many different sounds from hard rock to Don't Be Cruel, you know. It's just the way I hear things. If I hear something that is going to strike me, then I try and do it if I think it's going appeal to people. You've got to be playing music for people, not just yourself. I don't believe in that. It is for people. I'm trying to connect to people. And so that's why I've always approached it. I can like some music that no one will ever want to buy or hear. It's not where I go with it. That's for me. But the stuff that I want to try to get to get out to the public, it's made for them.”

    I offered that the song, "Only You," is a great song written for his wife, Lori. So, I wondered what her response was to it. 

    Greg and RingoGregg and Ringo“Quite frankly, she goes, 'You've never written a song about me.' 'Baby, they're ALL about you.' And in her own words, she said, 'That's bullshit'. I said, 'Okay, you got me. I'm going to write this one for you. This one is about you and me.' And that was the song. And it was touching the both of us because it really is the history of how we met. In that short amount of time, it says what we are to each other. And it's pretty difficult to do. 

    Usually, it would take a book or at least a few paragraphs. So, yeah, it means a lot to me. My son recorded it and he engineered and produced it. And he got a tone out of me - out of my voice. It's incredible. I used a microphone that Willie Nelson used here in Austin. And it's like I never heard my voice sound so crystal clear and big and beefy and all that stuff. It was great. Yeah, it has a lot of meaning to me in that one.”

    Another song that I truly enjoy is, “Just You”. I asked Gregg what the story is behind it.

    “Well, basically, it the song, 'You', was there first. What was going on was we were moving on to other things over at Sonic Ranch, which is named after the studio just outside El Paso. And the studio is kind of underground but they had glass where you could see people's feet and all of that walking by. The sound was better and all of that. 

    “I kept seeing my son and an engineer walking by with keyboards over and over. I was sitting at the piano working on something else. They kept walking by with all these keyboards. 'What are these guys up to go into the studio and they set up like fifteen - at least 15 synthesizers. And they were going, 'Well we were thinking that maybe you could do some kind of orchestration in front of the song, 'You'. I went, 'Well, you went to all this trouble, I suppose I ought to do something.' 

    “I put it together based off of the song lyrics and the same chord structure and just kind of varied it and all that and put all these synths on there. It's more orchestrated. And that's the front end of it. The tail-end of it - the solo part - the timing changed. I sped it up from what it was in the song. I remember that they asked me, 'You do realize that's a different time/tempo, right?' 'Yes, I do. Ha! Ha! I can at least count that.' So that's kinda how that happened. That's all it is. The song is about the heartbreak of, 'You did this. You did that. But now I gotta go. This isn't working.' That's basically it.”

    In the Rolling Stone interview, Gregg heaps praise on a good Boomerocity friend, Toto’s Steve “Luke” Lukather, who plays on Gregg Rollie 2“Give Me Tomorrow” and “They Want It All” on Sonic Ranch. We’ve interviewed Luke five times and have meet him face-to-face four times. Each of those times, he’s been kind, gracious, and blushingly funny. The man has a heart of gold. When I shared that – as well as seconded what he had to say in Rolling Stone, Rolie added: 

    “Yeah. I know. He is phenomenal. His playing is unbelievable. But that's not all of it for me. He's just a really good man. I laugh at all those jokes. We're all going the same place, if that's the case. Ha! Ha! He knocks me out. I've never seen anybody so quick to come up with stuff. And that works for music, too. I love him. I think he's a great human being.”

    Gregg’s former Journey bandmate, Neal Schon, also contributes some amazing guitar licks on “Lift Me Up”. Rolie had this to say about Neal:

    “I've known Neal since he was sixteen. Actually, I got him into the band, Santana. Kinda snuck him through. I'd pick him up from high school and while we were recording Abraxas, he came in. We would jam. I really would have loved to see him be in the band because he and Carlos played totally differently, but it could've been really cool. It ended up happening because Carlos goes . . . 'What do you think about having a second guitarist?' I was going, 'What a great idea!' 

    “I really was steering it. And he had the choice of being in Santana or Derek and the Dominos at sixteen years old! He's pretty special; an unbelievable player. I've known him forever, man. I mean, I used to say that he's like my little brother. So, when I asked him to play on a couple of things (on Sonic Ranch), he said, 'Sure.' And vice versa. And that's how that came about.

    What else would Gregg Rolie like to do musically that he hasn’t done yet?

    Gregg Rolie Pointing“I'm in the process of doing it. Funny you should ask! It's like I know this just came out, but we're already working on new material. My son and myself, Deen Castronova and Mark Mendoza. I met those guys through Journey Through Time with Neal, and that kind of blew up and he's going to be in Journey. I said, 'Well, let's go do something?'. So, we started this up. And I've got a young guy, Yayo Sanchez, who, if you ever saw it on Facebook, he was the 'kiss guy'. He's 26 years old. It's just nonstop music, this guy. 

    “The engineer that we ended up recording three songs already - it turns out that he's a fantastic guitarist, especially acoustic guitars. He's from Colombia. When we start this thing up and it's totally different. It is and it's not because I can't help it. I'm in the band. So, it's going to go somewhere with my sound on it. It's just the way it is. But I'm trying to open the door to the whole thing and make it fresh blood. I mean, instead of going through the same procedure that's always happened, I wanted to do something totally different. It's really alive and young. 

    “So, I got young guys and they come up with fantastic things. You know, I can get music down my age in a second. But coming out with some of the young stuff that's there and I'm putting those ideas to work with my own, it's pretty interesting. And my door is open to that with these guys. It's like we're going to come up with some great stuff. The three of them are already good.

    “We've been writing some more and will record some more in January and February. Hopefully, we'll do something next year (2020), time permitting, because we're doing Ringo again in the summer. And that, by the way, has been a fantastic trip. Playing with this band and, you know, got to know Lukather through that. He's become a very good friend of mine. It's almost like kindred spirits. We kind of have the same viewpoint about a lot of things and it kind of comes out. 

    “I think the main part is that, as you get older, the hang is everything. And all these guys in all of the Ringo bands, the hang has been phenomenal. Everybody is really cool people. Right now, it's Hamish Stuart from Average White Band and Colin Hay from Men at Work; Lukather and myself and Bissenett has been there longer than all of us. And, of course, Ringo has been there longer than all of us. Warren Hamm on sax and harmonica and vocals. You know, a utilitarian guy. It's really a good band and a lot of fun. We just hang and play!”

    I asked if Billy Joel’s sax man, Mark Rivera, was still with Ringo (we had interviewed Mark a few years ago, here).

    “He's the music director, still. He went off to play with Billy Joel. Billy Joel has been playing Madison Square Garden I don't know how many times. Selling it out. A residency at the Garden. Are you kidding me? Pretty crazy! He goes, 'I gotta do that.' 'Yeah, you do!'.”

    In the meantime, Gregg is doing his own thing when he’s not playing with Ringo. You can find out what all that is – as well as order Sonic Ranch – by visiting GreggRolie.com

  • Guitar Heaven

     

    guitar heaven cover photoGuitar Heaven
    Artist: Santana
    Label: Arista
    Reviewed: October, 2010

    Guitar Heaven is the appropriately named latest project from Carlos Santana. I say “appropriately named” because the song selections and Santana’s treatment and interpretation of those songs are absolutely heavenly. I picked up the disc while vacationing in Phoenix and couldn’t turn the darn thing off. I LOVE IT!!!

    From the opening riffs of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, with a more than phenomenal vocal delivery by Chris Cornell (Soundgarden and Audioslave) to the duet with Jonny Lang on I Ain’t Superstitious, this CD delivers a delightful bundle of great songs that you’ll more than likely hit repeat repeatedly. Also enjoying the rare and special opportunity to work with this guitar legend are such incredible artists as Scott Weiland, Rob Thomas, Chris Daughtry, Nas, India.Arie, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacoby Shaddix, Pat Monahan, Gavin Rossdale and Joe Cocker.

    One very interesting and pleasant surprise on the album is Santana’s version of the Doors hit, Rider’s On The Storm, featuring Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) and Doors co-founder and keyboardist, Ray Manzarek. Delivered with a similar, but completely different, eeriness, the unmistakable ivory artistry of Mansarek provides a consistent thread from the original recording to Santana’s interpretation of this iconic hit. I’m not sure but I think Jim Morrison would be proud of this one.

    If you love the original versions of the twelve songs on Guitar Heaven, then you’re going to also love Santana’s version of these same tunes. Download now and find out for yourself.

  • Invitation To Illumination - Live At Montreux 2011 (CD)

         

    Invitation To Illumination - Live At Montreux 2011 [2 CD] Live
    Santana & McLaughlin
    Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Review Date: October 25 2015

    Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin recently released the CD version of their previously released concert DVD, Invitation To Illumination – Live At Montreux.

    On July 1st, 2011, the famed Montreux Jazz Festival hosted the reunion of master-guitarists with their Invitation To Illumination concert. This is the first ever release of the audio from this unique concert, which includes most of the tracks from their classic 1973 album Love Devotion Surrender.  Invitation To Illumination - Live At Montreux 2011 also features the late Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, playing harmonica on the final track.

    Both Santana and McLaughlin have been regulars at Montreux throughout the years but this was the first time they headlined their own concert together. The show features compelling performances of the beloved tracks from Love Devotion Surrender as well as songs that have influenced Carlos& John’s incredible careers, including songs by Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan & John Lee Hooker. 

    This show is an incredible display of supreme musicianship by two of the most prolific guitarists to ever grace the world stage.  The line-up for this performance featured Carlos Santana (Lead Guitar & Vocals); John McLaughlin (Lead Guitar & Vocals); Cindy Blackman Santana (Drums); Dennis Chambers (Drums); David K. Mathews (Keyboards); Tommy Anthony (Guitar & Vocals); Raul Rekow (Congas, Percussion & Vocals); Etienne M'Bappé (Bass); Benny Rietveld (Bass); Tony Lindsay (Vocals); Andy Vargas (Vocals)

    The evening captured on Invitation To Illumination - Live At Montreux 2011 was truly worthy of its title: Illuminating. A showcase of supreme musical virtuosity and spirituality, this 2CD set typifies the approach of these two great artists.

  • Santana IV Live At The House Of Blues Las Vegas

    santanaliveatthehouseofbluescoverSantana IV Live at the House of Blues Las Vegas (CD/DVD)
    Santana IV
    Label/Studio: Universal Music Group/Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Release Date: October 21, 2016
    Review Date: October 17, 2016

    What has become known as “Santana IV” has released a phenomenal performance on your choice of DVD+2CD, Blu-ray+2CD, or Digital Formats. Entitled “Santana IV Live At The House Of Blues Las Vegas,” this release captures the long anticipated reunion of the classic late-sixties / early-seventies line-up of Santana: Carlos Santana (guitar, vocals); Neal Schon (guitar, vocals); Gregg Rolie (Hammond B3, lead vocals); Michael Shrieve (drums) & Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals), joined by Karl Perazzo (percussion, vocals), Benny Rietveld (bass), David K. Mathews (keyboards), along with special guest vocalist Ronald Isley.

    A show that was for the record books can now hold an important place in your personal audio/video library.

    The Santana IV album, released in April, has been both critically and commercially successful, charting at #5 in the US, #4 in the UK and Top 10 in many other countries around the world. Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas includes several tracks from the new album plus classic hits from the band’s first three albums, to which “Santana IV” is the natural successor, including: “Jingo,” “Soul Sacrifice,” “Samba Pa Ti,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” “Oye Como Va,” “Everybody’s Everything” and more!

    On March 21st, 2016, a few weeks prior to the release of the Santana IV album, this classic line-up of Santana took to the stage at the House Of Blues in Las Vegas. This was a hugely anticipated reunion of a line-up that had not performed and recorded together since the early seventies. It brought back the scintillating combination of rock, Latin, blues, jazz and African rhythms which was the band’s trademark and made them truly unique.

    In addition to this fantastic concert, Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas includes interviews with the band as a bonus feature.

    Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas was a celebration of the chemistry, dynamism and pure musical joy that had made the original band so special and earned them a place in so many fans’ hearts. It is a show to be enjoyed over and over again.

  • Santana IV Live At The House Of Blues Las Vegas

    santanaliveatthehouseofbluescoverSantana IV Live at the House of Blues Las Vegas (CD/DVD)
    Santana IV
    Label/Studio: Universal Music Group/Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Release Date: October 21, 2016
    Review Date: October 17, 2016

    What has become known as “Santana IV” has released a phenomenal performance on your choice of DVD+2CD, Blu-ray+2CD, or Digital Formats. Entitled “Santana IV Live At The House Of Blues Las Vegas,” this release captures the long anticipated reunion of the classic late-sixties / early-seventies line-up of Santana: Carlos Santana (guitar, vocals); Neal Schon (guitar, vocals); Gregg Rolie (Hammond B3, lead vocals); Michael Shrieve (drums) & Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals), joined by Karl Perazzo (percussion, vocals), Benny Rietveld (bass), David K. Mathews (keyboards), along with special guest vocalist Ronald Isley.

    A show that was for the record books can now hold an important place in your personal audio/video library.

    The Santana IV album, released in April, has been both critically and commercially successful, charting at #5 in the US, #4 in the UK and Top 10 in many other countries around the world. Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas includes several tracks from the new album plus classic hits from the band’s first three albums, to which “Santana IV” is the natural successor, including: “Jingo,” “Soul Sacrifice,” “Samba Pa Ti,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” “Oye Como Va,” “Everybody’s Everything” and more!

    On March 21st, 2016, a few weeks prior to the release of the Santana IV album, this classic line-up of Santana took to the stage at the House Of Blues in Las Vegas. This was a hugely anticipated reunion of a line-up that had not performed and recorded together since the early seventies. It brought back the scintillating combination of rock, Latin, blues, jazz and African rhythms which was the band’s trademark and made them truly unique.

    In addition to this fantastic concert, Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas includes interviews with the band as a bonus feature.

    Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas was a celebration of the chemistry, dynamism and pure musical joy that had made the original band so special and earned them a place in so many fans’ hearts. It is a show to be enjoyed over and over again.

     
  • Vortex

         

    Vortex
    Neal Schon
    Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings
    Release Date: June 23, 2015
    Review Date: June 21, 2015

    Neal Schon's upcoming all-instrumental album utilizes rock as its foundation, while also embracing elements of jazz, classical and world music in an 18-track stunning, sonically explosive collection of original compositions.  The release is dedicated to Schon's best friend and wife, who serves as his true inspiration every day (Both "Lady M" and "Triumph of Love" were written for her, the latter of which he performed at their wedding on December 15, 2013).  

    Schon shares, "This is an evolutionary album for me.  I’ve always aspired to be a better player and push musical boundaries. And sure, I’ve sold 80-million records with Journey, and I’m proud of that, but this album is really me — all based on my guitar, which is my ‘voice.’ It’s bold. There’s love, and there’s definitely fire and an element of danger. And the energy level is off the hook.”

    That’s evident from the first, mysterious-sounding measures of “Miles Beyond,” the scalding tribute to jazz genius Miles Davis’ pioneering fusion recordings that opens the album. The tune blends Schon’s soaring leads, tectonic plates of grinding rhythm and brilliantly layered melodies within an arrangement that embraces Middle Eastern flourishes plus flashes of African drumming by Steve Smith. 

    “Schon & Hammer Now” is a furious jam between the guitarist and his longtime friend and creative foil, Grammy-winning keyboardist Jan Hammer, whose many accomplishments include charter membership in the groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra.  And the two match their brilliant technique and relentless invention throughout, sparring with the grace and speed of a young Mohammad Ali.  

    Schon reveals, "Jan is all over this album. I wrote the material to give Jan room to stretch.  There are not many three minute ditties. It’s all huge, epic, bombastic…futuristic.” 

    “Airliner NS910” is further proof. It’s all speed and swagger, with Schon skywriting the song’s sweetly singing theme in the indelible vapor trail of the instantly recognizable operatic tones of his signature model Paul Reed Smith guitars. He reflects, "Since Vortex is a two-record set, it's both my ninth and tenth solo albums.  That’s where the ‘NS910’ comes from." 

    The music of Vortex originated in the hard drives that Schon is constantly filling with ideas for riffs, melodies and chord progressions at home. But they came to life at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios, his preferred spot for recording since Journey cut the 10-times-platinum number-one album Escape there in 1981. Schon states, "It’s my home away from home.  I spend so much time there that they’ve given me my own locker.”

    Schon produced and played bass on Vortex, too, and was joined in the studio by Smith and keyboardist Igor Len. Hammer and Len also appeared on Schon’s seventh solo album, The Calling, which was followed by the blues-inspired hard rock album So U.  He offers, "Igor and Jan complement each other, and me, beautifully."  And Vortex’s “Eternal Love” is a testament to Len’s creativity. The song, a richly emotional ballad, features Len alone on piano. The guitarist observes, “He sat down and played the tune spontaneously, and it was so gorgeous and deep that I had to have it on my album.” 

    Schon offers his own reflective solo performance on Vortex with the sparsely arranged acoustic guitar meditation “Mom,” dedicated to his mother, Barbara Schon. He reveals, "Like most of the performances on this album, it wasn’t premeditated.  I’d just pick up a guitar and tell my engineer Jesse Nichols to hit ProTools.”

    The intensely creative guitar giant has always had a seemingly innate ability to make glorious music. He began playing at age five and was inspired by soul vocalists like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, and blues and jazz guitarists ranging from B.B. King Albert King, and Eric Clapton to Wes Montgomery. 

    When Schon was just 15 years old, Carlos Santana invited him to join his band. Schon’s recording debut was on the classic 1971 album Santana III. He played the solo on the LP’s hit single “Everybody’s Everything.” Recently Schon has been working with Carlos Santana on a new album, co-writing songs and playing key performances including homecoming Santana concerts in Guadalajara and Mexico City that included Journey as the opening band. 

    Schon formed Journey in 1973 and has led the band through its astonishing 42-year history. Along the way Journey has sold well over 80 million albums, amongst which the band's Greatest Hits release was certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales in excess of 10 million copies.  To date sales now exceed 15 million copies.  Eight other Journey album releases have been certified multi-platinum.  Neal Schon co-wrote the timeless hit “Don’t Stop Believin,’" which now holds the title as the most digitally downloaded song in history.  Seventeen additional Journey singles were Top 40 hits,  Schon has received multiple Grammy award nominations for both his work with Journey and his solo recordings. And Journey has been nominated for the Rock ‘n’ Hall of Fame. 

    Besides solo albums and tours and his historic work with Journey, Schon has an extensive history of blue-ribbon collaborations. These include co-founding the supergroup Bad English and forming bands with vocalists Paul Rodgers and Sammy Hagar. He released two collaboration albums with Jan Hammer, Untold Passion and Here To Stay, while also performing on releases from Michael Bolton, Return to Forever’s Lenny White and many others. 

    One thing he’s never done is considered resting on his laurels. Schon reflects, "I feel more aware and alive now than I've ever been.  Part of that is the sobriety I've had for the last seven years. I’ve also evolved as a person and a player though understanding the value of being in the moment – letting things happen and not thinking too much. There's an old blues saying: ‘If you’re thinkin’, you’re stinkin’.  When you stop thinking and just play from the heart, you discover your own voice. That’s the real thing, and that’s what Vortex is about for me.”