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Gregg Rolie delivers a 'Sonic' solo album

The talented Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Gregg Rolie releases his first full-length solo album in 18 years, Sonic Ranch, and it's worth the wait.
 Gregg Rolie. Publicity Photo

Gregg Rolie. Publicity Photo

By Patrick Prince

To be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame once is an honor. To be inducted twice… well, that’s quite special. Singer-songwriter and keyboardist Gregg Rolie is one of those special musicians, being inducted for his work with Santana and Journey. Rolie’s gift for songwriting and performing made it easy for him to adapt and succeed in burgeoning bands. He helped lay the foundation for both Santana and Journey, and continues to be a loyal contributor to Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.

It has been 18 years, however, since Gregg Rolie released a full-length solo album. You would think someone with that amount of talent would be putting out a solo record (at least) every few years. Regardless, Sonic Ranch is worth the wait. The album is packed with an eclectic body of music and a plethora of supporting musicians, from Neal Schon to Steve Lukather, including Rolie’s own son, Sean. The peace and love anthem “What About Love” highlights the album, as well as one of the most interesting takes on an Elvis standard that you’ll ever hear. It’s a record that is enjoyable from start to finish and it is easily Gregg Rolie’s best solo effort to date. Goldmine sat down for a chat with Rolie during a recent press junket in New York City.

GOLDMINE:It’s been 18 years since your last solo album. But you’ve been actively touring with Ringo’s All-Starr Band since 2012. Has Ringo’s music influenced this new material?

GREGG ROLIE: It did on the single, “What About Love.” It’s from Ringo’s own mantra; his own mantra of years and years. I just took a little twist on it. I mean, the lyrics are: “The revolution of no solution. Don’t we need another point of view?” What about love? How about it? Are you listening? This guy has been saying it for about 50 years. That’s the major influence, other than playing things joyfully, which he does. Totally positive — positive vibes. He’s just a positive guy.

GM: You took “Don’t Be Cruel,” you gave it some Gospel, made it more positive, as if it were almost John Lennon-infused. It can be seen as referring to more than just a personal relationship. It expands to being about your neighbor and even the world.

GR: I never looked at it that way but, yeah, it can be taken that way. Out of all the music I’ve ever done, I don’t care how somebody takes it. If it’s good for them, then it’s good for me. I might be writing something the way I perceive it and it comes out different for someone else. Journey, for instance…“Look Into the Future.” These two religious girls came up to me and said, “This is about Jesus, huh?!” And I said, “Of course!” No. But if that’s how you take it, that’s not a bad thing. My effort on “Don’t Be Cruel” was truly about taking an Elvis song and kind of turning it around. I saw it (performed) on a television series, a version done by Billy Swan back in 1975. It was cool but it was more pop. I turned it around to be more Gospel, which is the best thing I can call it, instead of a rock song. It’s a soulful song.

GM: You have all these great supporting musicians on Sonic Ranch, which is wonderful.

GR: I just asked them. That’s all. “You can lean on the blues for me.” That’s how I put it to Steve (Lukather) for “They Want It All” and “Give Me Tomorrow.” I’ve already played with Steve and I know what he’s capable of playing — he can play just about anything. So you give him just a little bit of direction like that and ‘boom,’ that’s it.

GM: Every song on this album has great guitar parts to it.

GR: I think part of it is that I’m a frustrated guitarist. I can’t play one, so… You ever notice I never played with a sh*tty guitar player? Never have.

GM: You’ve seen Neal Schon evolve from Santana to Journey, forward.

GR:When I met him, he played Clapton like Clapton. And then he got with Santana, and with Carlos he was totally different. He started adapting but he always could burn. Always. And then he just got more and more knowledge about what to do and was willing to play just about anything. With me, he goes, “Everybody wants to hear me shred.” And I said, “Ah ah. Your melodies are incredible.” Really, his choice of notes are brilliant.

GM: Another great thing about the new album is that it’s eclectic. You didn’t just stay in one lane.

GR:I’m glad you picked up on it because that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’ve got new stuff that’s even more eclectic than that.

GM: Well, I hope it’s not another 18 years until your next solo album.

GR: I’m all ready for the next one. When you start being prolific, you better take advantage of it because it can stop at any time.

GM: When you do tour for this solo album, you plan on playing some Santana and Journey, right?

GR:Yeah, but when I do go do this, I’ll do anything I want. There are no rules. I’m going to do what I want to do.

Ringo Starr and friends never miss a beat