There is nothing that distorts all sense of time quite like a mid-morning sound check for the upcoming night's show. Everyone, band members and people in the crew, is in a state of constant motion, moving amplifiers, switching guitars, going back to play with the levels on the sound board, and no one moves any faster or slower than anyone else, and no one ever really stops moving.
When the sound check drags on into the late afternoon, and the show is the kick-off gig of a Journey concert tour that will cover four continents and last through October, and when three amps have blown already and the band hasn't been able to play one song completely through yet, and the whole thing is going on in the whale-huge 14,000 seat Oakland Coliseum, the distortion of time is so complete that even the janitors seem to be affected. Cleaning their way slowly through the very top rows of seats in the back, directly under the only windows in the whole place, they seem oblivious - like the band and crew members a couple of acres down and away on the opposite side of the area - to the fact that a glorious day is going on outside, or even that there is any outside at all, anything other than aisles of Oakland Coliseum.
Even Gregg Rolie, Journey's dark-haired, deep-eyed keyboard player and veteran of sound checks since his days with Santana - with whom he played keyboards and sang vocals through the group's first four albums - is alternating between beer and coffee, going into the dressing room holding a can of beer and returning to his two-sided fortress of keyboards and synthesizer with a styrofoam cup of coffee.
Bassist Ross Valory, also having paid his dues sound checking through many months of Sundays during the course of a pre-Journey stint with the Steve Miller Band, passes the time mimicking the Scottish accent of crew member Chris Turvit, who is especially vulnerable since his job mixing sound on stage forces him to remain in close proximity to the band. "Ye cannot shove your granny off the boose," sings Valory in a dead ringer for Turvit's Glasgow lilt, repeating a Scottish schoolboy song Turvit has taught him the previous week.
Onstage, lead singer Steve Perry is shaking his bangs out of his eyes and playing schoolyard recess supervisor into his cordless microphone, trying to keep everyone clear of the back of the stage, where the crew is attempting to perfect a special-effects explosion for the end of guitarist Neal Schon's solo in "Line of Fire." So far the band has played the song through four or five times, and still have not managed to get the explosion quite loud enough to be heard over the level of their instruments and the anticipated noise of the crowd.
"Okay, can we keep everyone away from here," supervises Perry from the drum platform at the back of the stage, and the band launches into the number once more. Schon picks and scowls his way through the guitar solo, his face accustomed to this expression of severe guitar concentration - accustomed to it since he first began playing with Santana nine years ago, at age 15, the boy wonder guitar prodigy. Schon finishes his solo, looks up expectantly, and the blast goes off, much too loud this time, and directly behind Rolie and his banks of keyboards.
"All right, Gregg is dying, and we just killed half the crew," announces Perry, still supervising the playground, blowing the whistle before somebody gets hurt.
Rolie shakes the ringing out of his head and surveys the scene. "But Herbie's okay," he says, amused, eyebrows high under his thick ruff of hair.
"Yeah, Herbie's not uptight," Perry echoes and suddenly grins, the stern expression gone from his face.
And indeed, Herbie isn't uptight. Sitting on the drum platform in bright yellow sweat pants and a football jersey printed in rainbow colors with "San Francisco '80", Walter "Herbie" Herbert, Journey's manager and head of Nightmare, Inc., the conglomerate of businesses set up to serve both the needs of the band as well as outside commercial demand, is grinning like a polecat. His legs swinging off the platform and his round baby face the picture of contentment, he looks like a beach ball against the dark backdrop of the black stage and the jeans-and-work shirt blur of the crew. Herbert seems incredibly relaxed for a band manager on the eve of a seven-month Boiseto-Budakon tour involving three semis, three buses, a road crew of 22 and an expected gross of five million dollars.
Later that night, it's Perry, in white tails and red pants and a stable of moves smooth enough to trip up even the most firmly rooted of concert goers, who isn't uptight. His cordless mike allowing him free run of the entire stage, Perry is a paradigm of the master frontman, tightrope walking across the tops of the PA cabinets, leaping onto the drum platform, not only moving in traditional rock-glory postures, but with a certain grace and underlying humor, as well.
And then there's his voice. Lingering on the high notes and drawing them out until the crowd can't take it anymore and starts to scream, Perry primps and wails his way through the first two songs as the roses start coming in. Flung by knots of girls pushing down the aisles with Maybelline-curled eyelashes and center-parted hair, roses hit the stage at regular intervals. Perry fields them mid-note, catching them one and two at a time with a skill that even a seasoned second-baseman would be forced to admire. Perry never lets up on the audience, teasing his way through the band's first real success with an AM single, "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," while the girls stand transfixed - not sure whether to sway to the music, twist their hair around their fingers or just haul back and scream - and the stack of roses in front of drummer Steve Smith's right bass drum continues to grow.
Perry very obviously enjoys this, reaching way out across the no-man's land that separates the stage from the audience to accept a tiny scrap of paper a fan has climbed halfway up the barricade to thrust at him. Two nights before, at a black tie, $20-a-seat show Journey put on to benefit the structurally ragged Palace of Fine Arts, Perry halted his stage antics long enough to stand perfectly still while a fan - hoop-skirted and corseted like Scarlett O'Hara - tossed first one and then the other of her elbow-length white gloves across the orchestra pit to him.
As a band which has spent every year on the road since it first came together in 1973, the story of Journey is, as much as anything else, the story of thousands of 14-year-olds across the country - girls who hole up in the bathroom for hours before the show with curling irons, girls who think that "Not Fade Away" is a song about an eternal suntan. Positioning themselves at the front of the aisles, they plan which note of which note of which song to throw the roses, anticipating the show for weeks and then dally among the seats when it's over, not ready to go home yet.
"Steve Perry stood right here," a girl in a Hawaiian shirt announces to her girlfriends after the show at the Palace of Fine Arts. She taps the front of the stage with one of the drumsticks tossed audience-ward by Smith after the last encore and which she has managed to retrieve. She beams at her girlfriends, then shrugs and looks down at the collection of Journey programs and T-shirts in her other hand. "Well, we only got about ten souvenirs of the show," she grins, and the crew of girls starts trudging slowly toward the exit doors. Halfway down the aisles, she stops and looks back to the empty stage and the almost-empty auditorium. "Shit," she says, "I wanted about 20," and follows her girlfriends out the doors to the car.
Journey's music wasn't always as accessible to this many 14-year-olds. For their first three albums, Journey, Look into the Future, and Next, the band's music was rarely heard even on FM radio, and their following was a cult one. Drawn to the band in their eagerness to hear what Rolie and Schon were doing now that they were no longer with Santana, Journey's original fans liked the long instrumentals and recurring musical themes - such as those on "Of a Lifetime," and "Kohoutek" off their first album - which earmarked the group's early style more so even that the raw, upbeat singing of then-lead vocalist Rolie. Co-writer of nearly every song on Journey's first three LPs, Rolie kept the band's instrumental meanderings consistently melodic, the guitar and keyboard lines catchy and hummable, never falling backwards into the vaguer and less structured territories inhabited by such largely instrumental groups as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Yes. "In the beginning, after our first album, the band was kind of tagged," Herbert says. "Because of our self-indulgence and the lengthy songs, and the real orientation toward music that was - not just lobotomy rock and roll - clearly there were heavy melody lines, but this was not readily accessible to the general public. That's why we were tagged the "Mahavishnu of rock and roll."
It wasn't until just prior to the recording of Infinity, their fourth album, that two people entered who were to play a large part in the greening of the band for AM airplay. Like the giant letters on the billboards advertising roadside restaurants, they ultimately proclaimed: E-Z Access. Both of them came highly recommended from the brass at the group's label, CBS. Vocalist Stephen Perry and record producer Roy Thomas Baker each brought with them a firm leaning towards shorter, more singable songs that resulted in a major stylistic shift between the pre-and post-Infinity Journey.
A veteran producer of both Queen and Foreigner albums, Baker's production style did not exactly please Journey. His penchant for a toothpaste clean vocal sound and overall musical polish resulted in an album which disturbed the band enough to fly Rolie and Perry to Los Angeles (where Baker has mastered the San Francisco-recorded tracks) at the last minute in order "to fix a couple of things he'd done to the album," Perry says.
"Gregg and I re-mastered the album," Perry explains, "because it lost some of the fire that it could have originally had. I think he didn't really capture some of the energy, vital energy that was there when we recorded it. Capturing the energy means a good band and a good producer and a good flow between those two. Well, we had a good band, but we didn't have a good producer."
Journey's dissatisfaction with Baker's work on Infinity didn't prevent them from using him to produce their next LP, Evolution, at CBS's suggestion. Internal disputes notwithstanding, Infinity's two singles, "Wheel in the Sky" and "Lights," slowly but surely began to sell. Evolution spawned another two even more widely successful 45s, "Just the Same Way" and "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'," Album sales followed single sales, and both Infinity and Evolution went gold then platinum, with sales of over a million and a half each.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility for the overall shift in Journey's musical tactics from their Next to their Infinity albums rests with the decision to include Perry in the band. It was the group's decision to take on another voice as a fifth member, not a voice behind a drum set or over an organ, but simply a voice, a lead vocalist and frontman.
With Perry in the band, Rolie began to author fewer and fewer songs. (Perry co-wrote on all but two of the Infinity tracks, and all but one on Evolution.) The majority of their songwriting now being done by a singer, Journey was suddenly a band with a focus on vocals rather than instruments. "When Journey first started, they couldn't even sing," Herbert says. "Neal Schon not only did not sing, but he said, 'I will not sing'." Somewhere along the line, somebody's mind must have changed, because the band began taking voice training lessons, and by the time Perry joined them, "they could sing like canaries," Herbert says.
While a few of the songs from the group's first three albums, such as "To Play Some Music" on the Journey LP, do not sound all that far from the Infinity-and-after material, most of the pre-Baker, pre-Perry stuff does. To place the title song from the band's second LP, Look Into The Future, up against "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'' or "Anyway You Want It," - the single off the new Departure album, is like putting "Riders on the Storm" up against the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You."
"At this point, I would say that Neal and I are the primary writers of the group," says Perry, but he maintains that the band's decision to move towards a more pop/vocal sound was already in the works when he joined them. "That would have had to have been or there would not have been an opening for me," he says. "They were looking for another voice to fill in with their voices, and also, someone who wrote material." That Perry's material is largely made up of love songs whose lyrics are so pre-fab as to bring them to the brink of anonymous cliché, is something he readily admits.
"I'm a simplistic lyricist," he says, slouched against a coach at San Francisco's Automatt recording studios so that his long, dark hair falls flat across his chest, bared in a wide white V of skin under a black leather jacket unzipped to the waist. "I'm into things that just say want you to say, I don't want to make people get too deep with what I'm trying to say. But I do have some tunes where it takes a couple of times before you listen to it and kind of get what I meant." Perry looks up from the scrap of tinfoil he has been reshaping with his fingers and throws his hair back over his right shoulder. "Or maybe you never will," he says. "'Precious Time' off the latest album, for example. It just all of a sudden was a revelation, and I kind of went, 'Hey.' I realized that time is really of the essence. It touched me and I kind of went, 'Hey now. Now before it's too late. Now.'"
In contrast to his wan, fairy-tale-shepherd-in-a-meadow good looks, Perry often bites off the ends of his words and stutters a bit when he talks, not due to any nervousness on his part, but because he always seems to be impatient with the speed of the words coming out of his mouth. It is as though, wishing they could hurry up and come out faster, he trips over them, stuttering in his impatience. "There's a definite message in 'Precious Time,'" continues Perry. "I almost feel like waving my good old fashioned freak flag and peace sign because it's basically that kind of feeling done 1980s style. You've really got to hear the lyrics to get the point," he says, and right there, in the refreshment room at the Automatt, facing a popcorn maker, a micro-wave oven, and a bank of ice cream and baloney sandwich vending machines, he begins to recite, deadpan and without any punctuation, the words to the song.
The Automatt is where the band recorded Departure, their most recent album, which was produced not by Baker, but by long-time Journey road sound crewmember Kevin Elson along with Geoff Workman (who, interestingly enough, has worked extensively with Baker, as well as on early King Crimson and Cars LPs). Perry is back here with the rest of the band one month after the album's release and five months after it's recording, to videotape the group singing "Anyway You Want It" for pre-tour publicity in Japan and Australia. The mild-mannered British man in charge of the videotaping, dressed as though ready for an afternoon of lawn bowling, entirely in white, finally announces that the band can all go home, except for Perry and Schon who are still needed for more taping. Perry holds a Styrofoam cup of coffee with both hands and pulls the side of his mouth very long, in a kind of a thoughtful wince.
"I work hard, I do," he says. "I definitely go for it. It's kind of an internal thing that's a necessity, I think. I'm a pretty hyper person and I need a release like that. If I didn't have something like that as a release, I'd probably go nuts." This is said by a guy who shows up for band rehearsals in a gray sweat suit and running shoes, because "this is my workout." He proceeds to loop and grind his way through a rehearsal that almost reaches the same intensity as an actual performance, for the benefit of no one other than the rest of the band, a few crewmembers, and a large Irish Setter.
"Sometimes you get mad at it because it takes so much of your time," Perry says as the cars whoosh by the window outside Folsom Street and a church bell rings somewhere six times; another beautiful day that the band has spent indoors. Perry takes another sip of coffee. "But you know that you can't live without it," he finishes.
Perry has indeed been very much living with it since his high school days in Lemoore, a small farming town in the heart of the real valley in California - the San Joaquin - where he played drums in the school band and sang in the choir. From there on in, through a succession of moves shuttling back and forth between Los Angeles and his home near Visalia - whenever he ran out of money - Perry continued to play the drums and sing in an even greater succession of rock and roll bands. Somewhere in there, he put together a band called Alien Project. "They were a really unique rock and roll band," says Perry. "A band of the '80s and this was late '77. Then everyone wanted to get this band. CBS wanted to buy us."
As he begins to talk about this particular band, Perry's demeanor changes entirely, his voice grabbing less at each word, his eyes intense through the spaces between his bands. "I'm telling you, it was happening," he says. "It was dynamite. Very unique. Very unique, very simple. Very simple, very palatable, you enjoyed it, you could understand it. It was no chore for your mind - it was right there, everything you wanted to hear and nothing more. And it was fun because everybody enjoyed it." Perry is repeating himself because he is really feeling this; he truly cared about this band. "It was a fun band and," his voice suddenly lightening mid-sentence, "then the bass player unfortunately got killed in a car accident on the freeway in Los Angeles. On the fourth of July weekend he was a statistic, and on the seventh we were supposed to talk to Columbia about a contract."
It was on the rebound from that tragedy, ironically, that Perry wound up with Journey. Columbia called up to say that they liked Perry's voice and his influence in the band. They were sorry to hear about the accident, but wondered if he would be interested in singing with, in Perry's words, "a group that they felt was just waiting to break." He sent Herbert a copy of an Alien Project demo tape, "and he called me back, like immediately, and the next thing I knew I was in Denver, Colorado," where Journey happened to be gigging at that point in the middle of one of their half-year touring stints. Steve the singer/songwriter met Neal the singer/guitarist and, in what sounds like a rock and roll fairy tale, wrote two songs together that first day in Denver - "Patiently" and "Somethin' To Hide" - which the band later recorded when they went into the studio to make Infinity.
There were not all that many die-hard Journey fans, according to Perry, who objected to his presence in the band. "But there were a few, and they made themselves known in the ways that they knew how," he says, euphemistically describing the catcalls and extended middle fingers which freckled the receptions he got from audiences during the first two and a half months of the Infinity tour. (Interestingly enough, Perry is not the only person presently associated with Journey ever to be subjected to the wrath of a hall-full of outranged rock fans. Immediately following Carlos Santana's conversions to the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, during Santana's 1972 world tour, then-Santana manager Herbie Herbert was saddled with the disagreeable task of prefacing the group's appearance onstage with a request for, as he recalls, "a moment of silence for the purpose of meditation." He would then take two steps back and assume a posture of prayer. "And every night I did that - " Herbert says, "Because it was wrong to do that in a rock and roll environment - every night without fail, I would either catch a beer can upside my head, or somebody in the back of the hall would yell, 'Hey, cut this meditation crap out!' or 'Boogie!'")
While he admits that a portion of the especially hard-core, dyed in the wool Journey followers may have been put off by his addition to the band, Perry bristles at the suggestion that perhaps a large percentage of the group's cult following was permanently estranged. Hordes of ticket-buyers from Woodland Hills and Walnut Creek that began to flock to Journey shows and buy Journey records. "I think we used to be and still are a cult band," Perry says. "I think we have a whole lot of new followers, but I think we still have a lot of the cult followers because, musically, some of the things we do are so different that only cult followers would appreciate them. On the other hand, there's a certain kind of person that would appreciate 'Anyway You Want It.' That has not happened by design," he stresses, "that has happened by us just being ourselves. We have to do what we want to do, and if it sounds cultish then it's got to be done because we like it, and if it sounds like it could be played on the radio well, that's fine too. We don't really care."
Whether or not the individual songs themselves were crafted with marketability in mind, Herbert boasts that the entire three-album sequence, from Infinity to Evolution to Departure, did in fact happen by design. It was conceived in advance as a kind of musical triptych, with not only the musical content, but also the album cover artwork intended to link the trilogy together in some type of overall artistic continuum. It comes as no surprise that a band that takes itself seriously enough to title it's albums "Infinity" and "Evolution" should be involved in such long-range projects.
"Evolution was a continuation of where Infinity was," drummer Smith explains. "We wanted to just try and further grow on that Infinity concept a bit more. The concept was: good songs, and a lot of vocals. Before, the band wasn't really song-oriented, it was playing-oriented more than anything."
However, the general sentiment among the band seems to be that Departure is a departure. Not only was the album written almost entirely on the road, but it was recorded in an entirely different fashion from the usual laying down of instrumental track over instrumental track over vocal track. "We didn't record basic tracks with drums, bass, and guitar, and then overdub keyboards and vocals," says Smith. "A lot of it was done live in the studio - both the guitar solos and the vocals you hear - they all happened spontaneously. We did do some overdubbing, but basically the whole band just played together."
Perhaps because so much of it was written while the band was touring and playing to four nights in a row of aisle-to-aisle faces with one night off before four more nights of faces, a lot of the material on Departure, "People and Places" in particular, does come off with a sense of rawness and believability largely lacking from their two preceding LPs. When the band hits that song in their concert set and Perry sings, "Are we people that you want to know?" an then drops both hands to his sides and faces the audience almost shyly, his head drooping ever so slightly like a Raggedy Andy doll, the audience responds with a "Yeeeeeesss" that rolls onto the stage with such a force that it is obvious somebody has been touched.
True to its name, Journey has probably logged more miles on the road that just about any other rock and roll band. From its outset in 1974, when manager Herbert put the band on the road before they had even released an album in order to keep them together while he spent the year haggling over a record deal with CBS, Journey has broken more than their share of 'Sanitized For Your Protection' seals on the tops of hotel toilet seats. "In the beginning, my attitude was, we'll play with anyone," says Herbert. "And literally, one night we would play with Mahavishnu Orchestra and the next night we would play with Uriah Heep, the next night we would play with Weather Report, and the next night we would play with Kiss."
"I've been out on the road for so long I don't know where home is anymore," Perry says. "I feel more at home on the road than I do anywhere else."
"I really like the road," says Smith, who came to Journey in 1978, himself a veteran of a world-tour's worth of drumming in Jean Luc Ponty's band, and a subsequent tour with Ronnie Montrose when that band was the opening act for Journey on their Infinity tour. "When I first joined groups to go on the road, it was a way of getting out of responsibilities. I didn't have to have an apartment, I didn't have to have a car, I could just go on the road and play. It's changing for me now, though," Smith says, smiling once quickly under a wide mustache and wispy brown hair. His smile, almost shy around the edges, is that of someone who knows very well what he thinks and what he wants, but has trouble constructing those bridges necessary to convey that to the outside world. "Now going on the road isn't quite the same as it was when I was younger - just going on the road to go crazy. I find that I look forward to going on the road still because it's a chance to play a lot and I love that."
But it is in between the playing that the road can be very disconcerting. Enough so that the band has taken to foregoing planes, preferring to travel from gig to gig by bus whenever their scheduling will allow it. "You can sleep on the bus," says Schon, who along with Rolie has been seasoned to the road since their wild-and-destructo days of touring with Santana from Ghana, Africa to Miami to Peru. "You can go to the back and sleep. Plus you can also write songs on the bus. And you don't have to wait like you do for a plane."
We prefer the bus," Perry says. "Because when you fly, all you see is an airport and then another airport, and the next thing you see is a room in a hotel, and the next thing you see is the show, and then you see the hotel after the show, and then you see the rent-a-car in the morning, the airport again, the plane, and then the next thing you see is another airport," pausing to catch his breath, "and then you go and do it all over again. That goes on for nine months out of the year and you're about to go crazy."
Craziness is not the only symptom of touring-hypnosis. Perry recalls the time about a year and a half ago, when he went to see a doctor mid-tour because he'd been feverish for too many nights running and "the voice was getting a little weak." The doctor informed him that he had walking pneumonia and, if not for the fact that he was young and in good health, chances were good that he just might not have woken up one of those nights. "And I was just going, 'What? Wha-a-at?' It would have happened in St. Louis because that's where it was the heaviest, that's where I was the sickest. I had to play the Checker Dome, that was a big show, and I was the sickest in St. Louis."
Ironically enough, St. Louis, the town in which Perry was the most seriously ill, is also the home of Budweiser Beer, a company which has been very good to Journey since 1978, when they first began a symbiotic relationship largely unprecedented in the rock business. Initiated by Herbert, the Journey-Budweiser business arrangement was part of an ongoing effort on his part to generate a steady cash flow into the coffers of Nightmare, Inc., in order to facilitate year-round Journey promotional activities without the usual heavy reliance on the dictates of the dollar-doling record company. A man with a self-deprecating sense of humor, 32-year-old Herbert sits behind his desk in the plush three-story Union Street offices of Nightmare, Inc., with nothing but harsh words to say concerning those record companies.
"They couldn't get anything straight even if they wanted to. They don't even have a clue. 'On track' - do you know what it means for a record company to be 'on track'? That a train's going to run them over any minute now. Because even when they get on the right track, they don't know how far to go, or how fast or how hard to push - they just don't know." Herbert has worked himself into quite a state during the course of this tirade. Turning away from his spectacular window view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the white triangles of sail across the bay, his words are a sharp contrast to the backdrop. "A record company could f**k up a wet dream in a whorehouse," he says, "and I think everybody else in my business has decided the same thing."
Herbert did, in fact, do much of his learning about the rock and roll business by way of a completely unsolicited apprenticeship to one of the most formidable figures in the business end of the rock industry, a man who himself, has always demanded a lot of elbow room for his work ventures - Bill Graham. Positioning himself at a little restaurant table just outside the door of Graham's old offices in the Fillmore West, Herbert would sit and eavesdrop on Graham's end of telephone conversations for hours at a stretch. "I hung out and just refused to go away," Herbert grins. "Bill Graham is a very verbose person, and loud. And I would go to the extreme part of the building and still hear half of the conversation. I learned more than you could ever imagine form half the conversation."
Whether or not Herbert's apprenticeship-by-overhearing played a part in developing his own desire for as much slack from the record company as he could get, it was this deep yearning for autonomy that, oddly enough, led Herbert to get enmeshed in the workings of yet another huge company - the world's largest manufacturer of beer, Anheuser-Busch. "See, I am of the opinion that if anybody touches anything that we're working on, the best thing they can do to it is adulterate it and f**k it up," he says.
Up to his neck in rock and roll since he played drums in a band at 15, Herbert put in a managerial stint with a group called Frumious Bandersnatch which included one-time Journey member George Tickner and bassist Ross Valory, and then a long stretch of time on the road with Santana, first as production manager and then simply manager. So by the time he became Journey's manager, he had been exposed to the business long enough to know that the only sure way to get free of reliance on the record company was to look elsewhere for pocket money. The only question in Herbert's mind was where. "Gregg Rolie was sitting there, drinking a Bud [which promoters supply backstage according the band's contract rider] and he said 'Well f**k, why not Budweiser?' and I said, 'Well f**k, why not?'"
While it has long been traditional for musicians to endorse any and all of the entire spectrum of music-related commercial products, for a rock and roll figure to cross over into the wider realm of hair coloring and furniture polish and beer was at that time virtually without precedent. Despite the fact that nearly everyone involved in Journey - both band members and crew - were already endorsing the usual glut of instruments, amplifiers, microphones and equipment cases, the Budweiser brass in St. Louis were not exactly aching to do business with a rock and roll band.
"They were so conservative, I can't even tell you," says Herbert, who although proud of his ability to "sell ice cream to an Eskimo," had to make two trips to St. Louis before clinching a deal.
What finally convinced the boys at the brewery was that the demographic breakdown of the purchasers of both their beer and Journey concert tickets largely overlapped. Seventy percent of Journey fans are under 21 (on the tender side of the legal drinking age in most states), ninety percent are white, seventy percent are male, and the band's top market is the Midwest - Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis. There is even a framed document actually signed by the mayor of St. Louis, which hangs on a wall of the Nightmare offices just opposite the gold and platinum record plaques, officially proclaiming May 14th as "Journey Day" in St. Louis.
Their apprehensions somewhat mollified by the prospect of a lucrative commercial arrangement, Anheuser-Busch came through to the tune of more than $100,000 spent on promotional schemes over the course of the next two years. Magazine ads, free concert programs (that fold out into a color poster of the band, Buds in hand), T-Shirts, mini-flashlights, and free hot air balloon rides to concert goers were all bankrolled by the brewery in exchange for the recording of twelve versions of three different Budweiser radio ads - for which the band created original jingles - and a gala arrival at their St. Louis concert in the Checker Dome, drawn through the parking lot and to the stage door by nothing short of the Anheuser-Busch team of Clydesdale horses.
Not only is Herbert proud of his unprecedented beer-boogie business marriage, but he is equally proud of the Journey-composed Budweiser jingles. "They were great - hit singles in themselves," he crows. His green eyes narrow, as if he is suddenly hurt, when I wonder if any of the band members objected to the deal. On the contrary, Herbert explains, "They got into it - like if Steve Smith starts getting into a drum solo, you don't stop him dead cold and say, ' I don't know if you're going anywhere with this,' or 'I don't see where this is going to end up,' because he'd say, 'Well, god, I was just improvising, I don't know where this is going to end up, I was just blowing my chops - ex-per-i-ment-ing,'" he finishes, drawing the last word out into five separate ones, not at all uncomfortable that he has just placed his own 'improvisions' in the world of business and balance sheets on par with those of a musician. To Herbert, there is no difference between blowing one's chops on the neck of a guitar, or on Wall Street; he views both as creative art forms. And he takes great pride that the original financing and subsequent growth of Nightmare, Inc. was done, as he puts it, "pure business."
Obviously not among those who feel that "pure" and "business" are two irreconcilable terms, Herbert's concept of "pure business" is as pristine to him and as much an end in itself as "pure rock and roll" is to many other people. The band he manages does not seem to disagree with him. "We all like to drink beer," Perry says about the Journey-Bud deal, "that wasn't any big thing and they gave us a lot of beer, so we went for it. And we got the programs. And we gave the people - from that little gesture - we gave the people something for free."
This arrangement with Anheuser-Busch is only one in a long string of what Herbert affectionately refers to as the "coups" he has pulled off managing Journey and building up Nightmare. "Engineering Aynsley Dunbar into this band was a great coup," he says of the virtuoso drummer he claims to have talking into joining the then-fledgling Journey, and whom he ultimately asked to leave four albums and thousands of touring miles later.
Getting world-famous poster and album cover artists Jim Welch and the Alton Kelley-Stanley Mouse team to work in-house under the umbrella of Nightmare, Inc., was another. In exchange for setting the prices and negotiating the business end of the trio's artistic output, Nightmare now claims 50 percent of the earnings of the prolific artists, best known for their Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, and Journey album covers, as well as their vintage posters for concerts at the old Fillmore West and Avalon Ballroom. "Bill Graham paid more for that poster," says Herbert, pointing out a past New Year's Eve Winterland concert poster in a book of the compiled works of Kelley-Mouse whose recent publishing was Nightmare-instigated, "than he did for all the others put together. And he did it with pride, he did, because he knew that he'd been exploiting them for all these years. 'Herbie,'" Herbert begins, in a close imitation of Graham's accent culled, no doubt, from the many hours put in eavesdropping outside Graham's Fillmore West office, "What am I supposed to do, Herbie, offer them the moon when I can get it for marbles?"
What differentiates Journey and all other rock and roll bands is Herbert's brainchild, Nightmare, Inc. Born out of his desire for autonomy, Nightmare satisfies Herbert's quest to include as many aspects of a functioning rock band as possible under the same roof. With "everything in-house" as a rallying cry, Herbert today sits at the head of a corporation which netted $4 million in 1979. It includes Nightlights, Nightsong, and Daydream, lighting, sound, and real estate companies, respectively, along with the stage production and T-shirt, belt buckle, and poster merchandising businesses. The company is also on the verge of bringing a San Francisco club band, Area Code 415, into the Nightmare fold.
"I am not trying to create the military industrial complex rock group here," Herbert says, "but I have acquired the autonomy over the years to completely create everything we do under one roof - in-house. We produce our music, record it, master it, we create parts, and we ship those parts direct to the manufacturing plant around the world. We create our art, come up with the image, the layout - we do everything from the spine information [on the album jacket] to the bar code. We know how to magnetically strip in a bar code so that when it is run over a computer, the cash register will go, 'ding - $7.98,' and no other company, nobody else touched this," he says, gesturing to a new spanking copy of Departure. Although he has perhaps carried his quest for non-interference on the part of the record moguls in the twelfth floor record division at Columbia's "Black Rock" headquarters in New York to the point of fanaticism, Herbert has in fact, via Nightmare, achieved that goal for Journey. But if artistic autonomy - perhaps the thing most sought after by all signed rock bands - results in the type of music which is right up the alley of the record moguls on the twelfth floor anyway, as it does in Journey's case, then perhaps some major reconsidering is in order.
Because Nightmare operates year-round whether Journey is on tour or not, the band's road and production crew are employed on a permanent basis and covered by a comprehensive health insurance plan - both practices which are virtually unheard of in the largely seasonal rock and roll employment market. In a business where it is not unusual to go from earning $500 a week one month to drinking up unemployment checks at the Troubadour bar the next, in Nightmare, Inc., Herbert has created an oasis of long-term job security.
Perhaps it is the unique manner with which Herbert goes about following through on those ideas that keeps the band, crew, and office staff speaking about him as those the sun rose and set over his round, boyish head. An example of his inimitable style is the story of how Herbert re-routed Neal Schon's love life. Herbert visited Schon when he was living at the Cadillac Apartments right off the freeway in Burlingame with a girlfriend from Chicago whom Herbert saw as a definite obstacle in convincing Schon to play guitar in the as-yet unformed Journey.
"Neal ha built up this little apartment with furniture from Levitz," recounts Herbert, "and I didn't like the chick, and so I went in there, and her mother, the chick's mother was there. So I went in there with this film that I had personally filmed in the old Santana days with Neal in it doing some extra-curricular activities with various groupies on tour. And I sat down with this girl's mother and I said, 'Now this is what you're getting your daughter into,' and I played her this film of Neal, and BLEW HER MIND! She grabbed her daughter and split, at which point I took Neal downstairs and said, 'Let's go for a ride in my car'"
© BAM, 27 June 1980