To hear adorable Steve Perry tell it, he gave his family a really hard time when he was growing up. He can still remember his exasperated mom putting up with all his energetic shenanigans, and today, even he shakes his head in disbelief at some of the stunts he pulled. It was basically a very normal childhood for Steve though, with the best proof being his continued warm and very close relationship with his folks.
A California Boy
Steve was born in Hanford, California to his homemaker mom, Mary, and a dad who loved nothing better than singing around the house - some of Steve's love of music came out of those early years. An only child, Steve can remember learning early on that it was possible to "get away with murder" in that situation, but discovered later, that being an only child could be lonely too - especially on those long, rainy days!
He established a life-long pattern in those early years of his life. Steve was always brimming with energy - "hyperactive," he says - and his wanderlust was never satisfied - Steve was always on the lookout for greater adventures. All that running around left him on the "thin and scrawny" side, but Steve was too busy having fun to notice. He had so much "fun" then, in fact, that he really didn't start doing well at school until after the third grade - a matter he regrets very much today. Another of his big regrets is that his parents' relationship began deteriorating as he grew older, and by the time he was seven years old, they divorced. It was a very sad time for him just then, but like all kids - and with the help of his loving mom - Steve made all the necessary adjustments. So much so that, he can still recall many a childhood prank that followed.
At age seven, Steve and his mom were in the Azores Islands off the coast of Morocco. They went sightseeing, and while at the top of a huge open crater (a sheep herder and his flock were all the way down inside it), Steve decided to go exploring. By the time his mom noticed ("she could never turn her back on me!"), he was on the other side and in real danger of falling into the enormous hole! Another time, Steve can remember crawling out on a rock over the ocean and not realizing he was in serious danger of falling in. In an effort not to frighten him so he wouldn't lose his balance, Steve's mom crawled out after him and saved him. "You took 20 years off my life!," she said. And indeed, Steve agrees he was something else in those days, but there was even more to follow in his teenage years.
Good Times . . . And Bad
There were all the usual adolescent problems - Steve was teased about being thin; he wore braces, and was teased about those; he was small, and that was a subject that intrigued his cohorts too; and of course, there was his very long hair - in those days, the mark of a kid who loved rock 'n roll. Not everyone approved!
The great thing about this part of his life though, was that his mom re-married, and his new step-dad, Marv, was really the greatest. He taught Steve many of his carpentry skills, and served as a big, strong, knowledgeable guide in his life. It was great having a new dad, but it was greater having a new "buddy" too!
Steve didn't lack for adventure in those teen years, lest you think he completely got over all that silliness. He can remember a particular incident - with friends Doug, Judy and Rose - when the foursome were in a condemned house shooting at hubcaps with their B-B guns (an activity he strongly does not recommend, by the way!). They accidentally broke the window of a passing car! The driver stopped; they ran; he caught them and drove them directly to their parents! They had to pay for all the damages with their hard-earned money - and they never engaged in such dangerous "play" again!
The thing that really stopped all the childhood pranks in Steve's life was his ever-developing love of music. He was in many bands - one group, The Sullies, is pictured on this page! - and it was his total involvement with them that made those adolescent years worthwhile. Although he was never one to make many, many close friends, Steve has maintained his musical relationships for all these years. Of Sullies' drummer. Dave Geffken, Steve says, "He's still playing better than ever in Huntington, West Virginia." Or guitarist Rick Stephens, "He's still playing and is one of the best guitarists around Porterville, California." And about keyboardist Bill Bilhou, "He's known to his friends as 'Magic Fingers'!" These were warm and satisfying friendships to Steve ones he cherished and which gave him a lot of personal courage when he struggled to get into the business of music - and ones which leave him very fond memories of those hectic childhood days.
Today, Steve looks back on those times with the patience and understanding of the young adult he is. He knows that he had to get a lot out of his system in order to get on the right track, and he's sincerely thankful to his folks for standing my him in even the most trying of times. Steve sees the entire experience as such a loving, learning experience, in fact, that he is looking forward to the days when he has his own kids to raise! And you know that if they're anything like their "dear old dad," one day you'll hear Steve Perry say, "I don't understand those kids! You just can't turn your back on them!!!"
© 16 Magazine, August 1981