"Carlos Santana told me I was like a shaman on stage and he wanted to do a band with me": Gavin Rossdale's stories of Keanu Reeves, David Bowie, Bono and more

Gavin Rossdale studio portrait
(Image credit: Shervin Lainez)

Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale has always been of the opinion that ‘best of’ compilations are the death knell for a band. But, checking in with Classic Rock midway through a run of US dates to support Bush’s Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994-2023 album, he says he has revised his opinion. “I didn’t expect it, I thought ‘greatest hits’ were like, sayonara, swan-song records,” he says, “but it’s been really powerful. It’s been a celebration.” 

Over the course of a career spanning three decades, Londoner Rossdale has rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s biggest stars. But the one tale missing from his collection is an encounter with Lemmy. “I never did meet Lemmy,” he sighs. “Maybe in passing, in a hallway? Does that count? Not really.” 

No matter, Rossdale has plenty of other proper encounters to tell us about.


David Bowie

David was effortlessly brilliant and really funny. I first met him properly in South America when we toured with him, and we managed to stay friends with him through the years. He was everything you’d want. You don’t think of him as funny, but he had a good sense of humour, and a high level of art and music and context and inspiration. 

Our friendship began with a lunch in Argentina. He invited me for lunch with [Bowie’s wife] Iman, [thenguitarist and now Cure man] Reeves Gabrels and [Bowie’s long-time pianist] Mike Garson. I became pretty much lifelong friends with Mike Garson. It was outdoor, a lovely table, loads of people. It was a bit of a pinch-yourself moment, like: “I’m really sat at lunch with Bowie.” 

That’s where it began. I think that when you have conversations, you transcend the reality of who they are. Sitting having a lunch or dinner, breaking bread, having a laugh, you break all the barriers down. Although whenever I got an email from him it was still an email from David Bowie.

Shirley Manson

I was just thinking about Shirley yesterday, because I’m in Madison, Wisconsin. Back in the day, [Garbage drummer/producer] Butch Vig had heard a demo of Bush, and I think he was interested in me for Garbage before Shirley, because he liked my voice more than I think he liked the material. He had asked me to come to Madison and meet, but it never came about because I was like: “Well, I’m in this band…” I was just about to sign a deal, so I was already on my way. I’m not saying I was asked to join Garbage. He was interested in some capacity… maybe as a guitar tech, I don’t know. 

I first met Shirley when I did the Details magazine cover with her and she walked in and bit my face for the picture. She’s great, Scottish, smart, no-nonsense, hard-core, funny as fuck, super-opinionated, really talented, gorgeous, she ticks every box. I probably lost her during the divorce fire [Rossdale and No Doubt singer Gwen Stafani split in 2015]. That’s how that goes. I haven’t spoken to her in a long time, but I thought about writing to her yesterday because I’m in Madison, where she must have been many times. She may even be here now, writing a new Garbage record. 

Tom Jones

I first met Tom Jones when I did The Voice with him. When we stayed at a hotel in Manchester, he invited me for dinner and I sat next to him. We ate the same, we had the steak cooked the same, he was drinking his Bollinger, I had a bit of red wine. Then there was the subsequent five months, fifteen hours a day. I’ve got some great stories about Tom, some really fun things that being around him led to some brilliant behaviour, but I’ll have to wait until I get permission from Tom. He’s still very much in demand. 

Talking with Tom, it’s about listening to him, because he’s on this road in this life and is that much further along than you and wildly more successful, with wildly bigger stories, sitting and talking about Elvis, or just anyone – that guy has met everyone. He was really fun and like a father figure. I’d ask him every question under the sun about music, about other people. Fifteen hours a day for many months gives you a lot of time. I’d give him a cup of tea and go: “Go on, then, what about Chuck Berry? What was he really like?”

Jerry Cantrell

I’ve known Jerry a long time. Back in the day, he was really friendly from the get-go. He was extremely friendly. It was when Layne [Stayley] was alive, and we’d see them out and about. But it’s weird at the beginning, you have to work so hard, you’re always away, always on tour, so the only bands you get to know and get friends with are the ones you tour with. Jerry really tried to meet up and be friends, but we just never found the time. 

Then when we went on tour with Alice In Chains last summer it was so much fun, and it was obvious that we should have been friends. I’ve been to his house a few times because of our mutual friend Tyler Bates. When I went into his house it was really fun because it was a long-overdue hang. We had a good time and stayed friends, then going out on tour together, seeing him every day. I’d go out and sing Man In The Box with Alice In Chains, so that was brilliant.

Sometimes I’d be backstage talking to someone and I’d say: “I’ve gotta go, I’m in Alice In Chains. I’ll be back.” But playing with them is a bit of a buzz. They get a sound so heavy when they play, it’s really strong, so it’s fun to sing with them.


I’m friends with Bono, but I think everyone is friends with Bono. He knows everyone in music. I’ve had some really fun times with him and his wife, Ali. We went through a spell where we would share records. I’d send him records or play him Bush records, and he’d send his appraisal of the records and what he thought, so we had what was like a cultural exchange. 

I’d always felt reticent to say too much about U2, because it’s U2. I asked him where he was on the last thing he did – that album of very soft musings, reworked U2 [2023’s Songs Of Surrender]. It was done! It’s a very, gentle vulnerable record. I think the main advice you get from someone like Bono is seeing the incredible set-up they have created with the friendship of U2, the talent and the friendship. They know how to live, and the way they set their lives up is inspiration.

Tupac Shakur

Sometimes it’s about transcending those meetings where it’s just at an awards show. I met Tupac, and I was upset I didn’t force him to take my number and be friends. This is when hip-hop was really happening and really breaking and starting to take over from rock music. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with him? You have relationships where you see people in that sort of celebrity club, or musician to musician. I’m always really friendly. I love saying hello to people and seeing what they’re like.

Amy Lee

I met Amy a number of years ago. We toured with Evanescence many years ago in Southeast Asia and we’ve been friends ever since. I think she’s one of the greatest singers, one of my favourite top-ten vocalists of anyone making music, a spectacular singer and piano player. I asked her to sing a song with me at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. I sent her the song, and she sent me a recording of her voice on it and I was blown away. I said: “Can we have this as a record?” That’s how the version of 1000 Years with her came about. She’s a great contemporary and I wish I toured with her more.

Keanu Reeves

I did a song for John Wick: Chapter 3, so I was reunited with him [Rossdale appeared with Reeves in the 2005 film Constantine]. They’re doing a new Constantine, so I’m hoping to be in that. He’s lovely. Some people you meet and they stay contained within their island, or they invite you in and say let’s hang out. I’m friends with Robert Downey Jr. – I’ve been on to his island! 

I get on great with Keanu and know him, and I’ve worked with him and sat with him at lunches and in trailers, but never extended the friendship beyond working together and being super-friendly when we see each other. But Keanu is great, I have a lot of respect for him.

Carlos Santana

Me and Carlos were meant to do a band together, and he’s let me down! His idea was to do a band called Mud, with me, him and his wife, and it was a Delta blues band. I was like: “I am up for it!” He told me I was like a shaman on stage and that I reminded him of Jim Morrison, and he wanted to do a band with me. He’s amazing. He’s super-sixties, he really is the real deal, going: “Uhhhh, your aura is beautiful, man.” 

He really is that guy. We did a show together and me and him did Get It On, and he was like: “Hey, man, us cats like to jam.” And I said: “Cool. What do you like your singers to do?” He said: “Just feel it, man.” I went for it, leaning on him, falling over him. That’s why he enjoys being on stage with me.

Mark E Smith

He’s my total hero. I met him for a joint interview we did, and he tortured the journalist. He was fucking brilliant, mean and acerbic: “Go on, ask a question… What a stupid question!” But I lost contact with him. I saw him a few times and he was great. I love The Fall, love everything about him. I always felt that kinship that he drove The Fall in the way that I drive Bush. I have full-time band members, but I drive it like he drove The Fall… although I didn’t have as many members. I’ve always felt a great connection to him. I could have done with more cool like he had.

The Bush compilation Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994-2023 is out now via Round Hill Records.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.