The scene was backstage at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia; the start of the Rolling Stones' most recent tour. Behind one of the huge painted canvases that surrounded the stage platform, Journey's Jonathan Cain casually watched the mayhem that surrounded the day's festivities. As he strolled through the hectic dressing room area, he seemed totally oblivious to the fact that his band had agreed to open for the Stones in front of 90,000 screaming Jaggerites.
At that moment, Bill Wyman, nattily attired in a lemon yellow suit, strolled by and flashed a million dollar smile in Cain's direction. Suddenly the keyboardist's cool demeanour evaporated as his face turned the sickly colour of week old tuna casserole. "Holy shit," he mumbled to no one in particular. "We're gonna open for the Rolling Stones."
A year later, Cain looks back on that day with a mixture of joy and regret. "It was quite an experience," he admitted during a short break in Journey's current national tour. "But I think it may have been something of a mistake for us. We had the best-selling album in the country at that moment, yet we were there showing 90,000 people that we were still willing to be an opening act. We were only given 45 minutes to play, and, let's face it, a Stones crowd really isn't a Journey crowd.
"It was the thrill of a lifetime in one respect, a nightmare in another," he said with a laugh. "I couldn't believe some of the assholes who were at that show. They were yelling that Steve Perry couldn't sing like Jagger. I should hope not; Steve Perry's a trained vocalist. I'm not sure what Jagger is."
Having exorcised the Stones' 'demon' from his rock and roll soul, Cain paused as if to savour what Journey has achieved over the last year. During that time, Cain, Perry, guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith have sold over five million copies of their chart-topping album Escape, successfully toured the world, and completed work on a variety of solo projects. Yet, as Perry explained, Journey's learned to take their accomplishments in stride.
"It's not like success has come overnight for us," the dark-haired singer said. "We've worked damn hard to get where we are today. Some bands can crank out an album in a couple of weeks then tour for a month and take the rest of the year off. Sometimes I wish we were like that," he joked, "but we've based our success on working harder than just about anybody else. The type of music we do is rather complex at times, and it can be difficult to write and record. The only thing that really concerns us, though, is making the best music we can. That's why we'll never let anybody rush us to produce an album before we feel we're ready. One of the benefits of success is that you can be your own boss."
The facts seem to support Perry's claim that Journey will never be strong-armed into completing a new record. It's now been well over a year since the release of Escape, yet the boys from 'Frisco have only recently returned to the recording studio.
"We're playin' it cool," Cain said. "The last album's still doing pretty well on the charts, and we're enjoying life on the road. That's not to say that we haven't been thinking about new material. It's just that the time to go back into the studio hasn't come yet. We may just take our time and not have anything new out before next spring.
"We've been kicking around a few new ideas, but nothing's been set yet," he continued. "One thing for sure is that we want to write songs that are more beat oriented. I don't mean that we want to make the next album louder. It's just not gonna have as many ballads. Songs like "Who's Crying Now" served a purpose for us. We felt that we had a void in our live set before, so we agreed to record a few ballads to fill that void. Now we want to concentrate on more uptempo songs that will get everyone's feet moving.
"I'm very happy to get back in the studio with Journey, I think we can make very good use of the experiences we've had playing live on this tour, as well as the experiences we've had on our solo projects."
The solo projects that Cain alluded to include Schon's second collaboration with keyboard-whiz Jan Hammer, as well as planned efforts from both Smith and Perry, and an album that features Cain's wife Tane (pronounced Tah-nee). "The two Steves are thinking about opening up a kosher deli in Fresno," Cain joked. "Perry's convinced that sour pickles will strengthen his singing voice.
"The project with my wife is very exciting," he continued. "It's called Vertigo, and I co-produced it with Keith Olsen (noted for his work with the Babys and Rick Springfield, among others). We used Springfield's touring band, and everything turned out remarkably well. I was able to play a lot more synthesizer than I do with Journey, and it displayed another side of my musical personality. It's a lot more experimental than we'd ever think of being in Journey, but that's the fun of solo work."
"I take an entirely different view of my solo work than my work with Journey," Neal Schon chimed in. "When I work with Jan, I feel totally free of the restrictions that are naturally part of any band. There is a 'Journey Sound,' and a more fusion-oriented style just wouldn't fit in with that sound. The solo projects are very beneficial in that they allow us to really show what we can do musically."
Another of the benefits of Journey's solo projects is that they've helped establish the band's individual personalities. Throughout their decade-long career, the group's operating philosophy has always been to "make the band more important than its members," according to Schon. Their detractors have picked up on this, taking every opportunity to declare that Journey is rock's most "faceless" band. As Jonathan Cain was quick to point out, however, "there are worse things in the world than being faceless."
"Sure the solo albums will help make our identities more distinguishable," he admitted, "but that wasn't even a consideration for any of us. We're all very happy with the way things have been going for Journey over the last couple of years, and wouldn't do anything to change it. Our solo projects are really diametrically opposed to what we do in Journey. They're not intended to be an extension of the band. My wife's album is not gonna have a day-glo sticker on it proclaiming 'her husband's in Journey'," he laughed, "Vertigo is one side of my personality, Journey is another,"
"I really don't understand all this talk about 'faceless' anyhow," Steve Perry added. "It isn't my fault that some rock critics don't think we're as exciting to look at as the Clash. That's their hang-up, not mine.
"Obviously, there are millions of people around the world who not only know who were are but who also appreciate the music we produce. That's the most important thing. We've kind'a been lumped with what I call the 'American Bands' like Styx and REO, and just because we don't have a Robert Plant or a Jagger, people say we don't have an identity. Rock and roll isn't a personality contest. It's music, and I'd match our music against anybody's."
With international sales for their last two albums recently surpassing the 10 million-unit plateau, Journey can certainly match their success against that of any other band in the world. They've recently completed an extensive tour of the Orient which Cain labelled as, "one of the most successful tours we've ever had." Now they've set their sights on two remaining pockets of resistance - Europe and Australia.
"I'd really like to see us break on the Continent and in Australia," Cain said. "These are about the only places in the world where we're not very successful. The last album really broke things open for us in Canada and Japan, so now we've set our sights elsewhere. I don't see why we shouldn't be just as popular in Europe as we are here. But it's healthy for us to have places where we still aren't successful," he laughed. "With Journey, we'll always be looking for new worlds to conquer."
© Hit Parader Annual, Spring 1983, Charlton Publications Inc.