Rolie at the Roadhouse—whoa, surprise

The prospect of going out on a cold, Sunday night, as opposed to holding court on the trusty sofa, didn’t sound attractive. The idea of hanging out at a bar with a bunch of avid Santana and Journey fans, furthermore, placed the appearance of Gregg Rolie at the Roadhouse high on my list of things not to do.

However, after a bit of careful coercion—make that incessant plodding—from a neighbor, I ventured out to Raley Boulevard and Bell Avenue in Del Paso Heights, home of hard-rock nightclub the Roadhouse, which has been giving Orangevale’s Boardwalk a run for its money lately. Recent bands that have appeared at the Roadhouse include Faster Pussycat, LA Guns, Ratt, UFO’s Michael Schenker and the annual reunion of Y&T.

The parking lot was, surprisingly, packed. Who would have expected that Rolie, an ex-member of Santana and founding member of Journey, would be much of a draw in Sacramento—a town where even Metallica can’t sell out its Arco Arena date in advance?

Around 8:30 p.m., Rolie and company took the stage in front of a capacity crowd of around 200, rocking the house with a set of originals, a few Santana staples and even a Journey classic, “Just the Same Way.” The latter featured guitarist Dave Amato, from the current lineup of REO Speedwagon, doubling as Journey’s Neal Schon and Steve Perry—a task that he handled surprisingly well.

Rolie was touring to support Roots, his recent album on 33rd Street, the Tower Records-owned label; it was the final night of a six-date West Coast swing. According to the band’s soundman, these were merely “test shows,” the precursor to an opening slot on a major shed tour coming sometime in 2002. From the spicy opener “Going Home” to the immensely popular “Oye Como Va,” the band played a spirited set of blues, Latin rock and world beat.

The guys in Rolie’s band were no slouches, either. Alphonso Johnson held court on bass and played alarmingly well with drummer Ron Wikso. Tom Gimbell played both keys and saxophone, while percussionists Adrian Ares and Michael Carabello served up the definitive Santana sound with relative ease. On such tracks as “No One to Depend On” and “Black Magic Woman,” it was apparent that rock royalty was in the house. Even Rolie’s tracks from Roots—“Love Is Everything” and “Con Todo Mi Corazon”—easily could’ve been included on an early Santana release.

Rolie’s tenure in two of classic rock’s biggest bands was not by mistake. His vocal and keyboard talents, as evidenced by the night’s performance, remain in fine form. Once more, his backing band knows how to serve up a healthy platter of whupass. If “Jingo” or the instrumental dabbling on “Domingo” didn’t set the people inside the club on a musical journey, then at the very least we were given an experience—the kind that people talk about for years to come.

Gregg Rolie will be back. More importantly, he never left.Scene & heard was reported by .