Rock Cellar Magazine: Fast forward decades later and you get the call to be a member of the All-Starr Band. Was it a mind-blower to play or the first time with Ringo?
Gregg Rolie: Oh hell yeah. I’m just calming down now. When I first came into rehearsals, Ringo came in and he was very congenial; that’s him, he’s a joy to work with. He came in and said, “It’s gonna take a couple of days for us to get used to each other, we’ll play and here we go.” He made it so simple. I didn’t know what to expect but he’s just like you expect him to be. It was a no-brainer. Everybody did their homework and came in wanting to play and it’s turned out to be a great band. We’re really having a lot of fun. Ringo loves it too but I was blown away playing with him.
Rock Cellar Magazine: This All-Starr Band in particular has really built a strong personal relationship with each other, which is why the band has not splintered like other incarnations.
Gregg Rolie: Yeah, it’s really true. Todd made a little speech at the press conference the other day saying that each member of the band can do something he cannot do and that’s what makes it a great band to play in. And that’s very true. I told him that his music was so intriguing to me that I could never come up with what he comes up with. Like the opening of Love is the Answer, I would never in a million years have come up with something like that together.
Santana music was the same six guys with the same two chords. Todd came backstage after saying that and I told him, “Damn!” I’m left with going “Ditto.” Ringo told him too, “Well said, Todd.”
Rock Cellar Magazine: Bring us up to speed on the latest with the reunion of the classic Santana band.
Gregg Rolie: We want to record in 2014. We’ve got some ideas. We already played together for two days in Vegas in Carlos’ rehearsal studio and taped it.
The connection with us was still there 40 years later. It’s like riding a bicycle, you don’t forget how.
The way we play off each other is really powerful. Bands are bands, you can get another drummer of bass player but it won’t be the same. It just doesn’t feel the same. There’s that whole little twist to it. Being in Santana, we grew up with this music together. We built something that nobody had ever done so when we get together it kind of goes there; the instinct to listen at the right time and attack at the right time and all that stuff is there. That’s exactly what happened for two days.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What prompted Journey to make the jump from progressive rock of your first three albums, Journey, Look into the Future and Next to a tighter, commercial sound?
Gregg Rolie: Music is music and there’s different kinds and what we were doing we loved – but it had kind of run its course. We could sell more tickets than albums and that was the day of albums and radio. If the original Journey came together now we’d be out on the jam band circuit and kickin’ it big. That’s just the way it was, that’s what we did. It was like fusion-rock and it was totally different for people and a lot of people didn’t get it and a lot of people did. But the label wanted a front man and that was the era of having that happen and (Steve) Perry was the guy.
And they were right in the essence of selling albums and getting that across. The Infinity album had an air of the other stuff—there were a few more solos—but it became a vocal band, which was totally different for me and I was into it. I thought it was a great idea. I was spread pretty thin playing four keyboards, playing harmonica and singing lead. I didn’t see anything wrong with editing your own material to make it radio-friendly. The Beatles did two-minute songs. What matters is what suits the kind of music you’re playing and that’s what we did. We went from being a vocal band from being basically a jam band.
I became a better writer learning how to write for a singer instead of just playing some chops and making a song fit to it.
Rock Cellar Magazine: After Infinity, your role as writer/lead singer was lessened considerably, how did you reconcile that? Is that what led you to ultimately leave the band?
Gregg Rolie: I always wanted to sing a song or two, a couple would have been nice but then it got less and less. I don’t think Perry liked me singing. It was never discussed but I really think that’s what was happening. But he was the lead singer. My point about all of that is the Beatles did great with four singers. Why not? I liked when we sang and traded off of each other.
I would have loved to have done more, but you get tired of hearing one voice. I know that I do. So hearing someone else sing adds another flavor and makes it more interesting. That didn’t have anything to do with my leaving the band; it was more personal than anything. I built two bands, I’d been on the road for all my life up until then and I was done. I wanted to start a family and didn’t want to do it from the road. And that was it. I’d really had it. I’m glad I did it and making that family is my best work so far. I have a great family; I have two wonderful kids and a beautiful wife and couldn’t be happier about it. That was my choice and I had to leave. I ended up drinking too much and was just unhappy. I didn’t like where I was going in my life so I blew it off and had to go.
I think the hardest part about it was I really did help build all of that. That gypsy life is wonderful when you’re the gypsy and when that’s’ over with and you’re tired of living out of a suit case, it’s like anybody else who gets bored with it. It doesn’t matter how exciting it is, it’s not as much fun as it used to be.
You’re older and you want to do something else with your life. It was time to go.
Q&A with Steve Lukather
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s the experience been like to be a part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band?
Steve Lukather: First off, getting a call to work with Ringo was such a kick, I’ve had the chance to work with Paul (McCartney) and George (Harrison) and I became friends. But I really wanted to do this gig and be a member of the All-Starr Band because I’ve always heard about it. Knowing some of the guys in the band they told me, “You’d be perfect for the band” so I said, “Throw my name in and I’ll drop everything and do it!” And that’s what I did, I got the call and I dropped everything.
I was thinking, “Oh geez, I hope he likes me.” The first night we rehearsed everyone in the band got on so well and had so much fun. We were rehearsing in Canada and we were onstage and I looked over and Ringo is singing With a Little Help From My Friends and I’m playing.” I was very moved, it was the full circle. I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and it changed my life. I got a guitar, I got Meet the Beatles and I taught myself how to play to those records. It was always the go-to place to go. It’s still the best music in the world to me.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Take us back to how you first came to play with George Harrison.
Steve Lukather: It was a benefit for our drummer Jeff Porcaro when he passed away. We invited all of our friends to play this benefit. Then I met George three nights prior to it, I said, “I just want to introduce myself, thank you for making me want to play the guitar. You were the guy. I played the solo on I Saw her Standing There so much that my parents almost took it away from me.” And he laughed and we just started talking and talked about other things.
As we were leaving I said to him, “’You know, we’re doing this benefit for our drummer who just passed away and we’re playing With a Little Help From My Friends as our last song. Why dodn’t you come on down and hang, you don’t have to play. I know the guys would be flipped out if you came down.”
And he said, “Yeah, yeah yeah” and I thought, this is never gonna happen. (laughs) So I’m at the gig and somebody walks up and says, “There’s somebody here for you and his name is George Harrison” and I said, “Come on!” and he came in.
It was already a star-studded event; he just put the cherry on the top. Donald Fagen came out of retirement, we had Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, David Crosby and Eddie Van Halen. Ed and I are dear old friends. When George walked in, Ed and I were like little kids. We’re looking at each other going, “Can you believe this?” (laughs)
I have a picture of George playing my ’59 Gibson sunburst and me standing there. We became friends. I had a jam with George, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Jim Keltner and myself up at Jeff Lynne’s house.
George calls me and said, “Meet me for dinner, I have a few friends with me” and Bob Dylan walks in and I’m going “Oh God!” I’m sitting between Bob and George and going, “Man, if my friends in junior high school could see my ass right now.” (laughs)
- Q&A with Todd Rundgren on His Career and Being in Ringo’s All-Starr Band
- Ringo Starr Comes Together: Life, His New ‘Photograph’ Book and the Beatles (Interview)
- Ringo! (Previous Interview with Members of the All-Starr Band)
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