We always wished for money.
We always wished for fame.
We thought we had the answer.
But some things never seem to change.
-- From the hit single "Change" by John Waite.
Those words from John Waite may not mean much to people like you and me but to musicians, the meaning of the word change is far more significant than one could imagine. When the word change is mentioned in context with a band, it more often than not signifies the beginning of a new era. What that era holds, only time will tell.
Today, Journey is undoubtedly the superstar of American pop rock and roll bands. They have rolled with the "changes" the past few years with their gambles and have won . . . millions of fans, millions of albums sold, and the highest compliment of all, respect, especially from their musical peers.
To fully appreciate Journey and the position they have attained, you have to look at the "change" this band was willing to make that has enabled them to come to the forefront of the superstar groups.
Journey was formed in 1973 when Ross Valory and 18 year old Neal Schon broke away from Santana to start their own group. Under the auspices of their manager Herbert Herbert, Greg Rolie and Aynsley Dunbar were recruited to round out the band. A contest was held with a radio station in San Francisco to pick the name for this new band, and Journey was born.
Journey was more a heavy metal band than anything else when it first got together. Dunbar was a critically acclaimed drummer, and Schon's incredible talents were surfacing at the guitar. Valory held everything together with his smooth but solid bass work, and Rolie sang and played keyboards.
"We started out as a far more instrumentally oriented group," recalled Valory, "and we were extended soloists, not necessarily arranged. We left a lot of room for experimentation and innovation and stuff like that."
This continued for five years through four albums until a decision was made by Herbert and the band to go toward a more vocally oriented style of music. The free-wheeling heavy metal days were about to change, and so was the personnel.
Steve Perry was in Los Angeles about this time anticipating the signing of his group to Columbia Records. In a few short days, the dream would come true for Perry, but a change was about to take place.
"It was July 4," said Perry softly. "We were going to sign a record contract in three days. I got a message that day that our bass player, who wrote and sang vocals, had been involved in an automobile accident and was dead. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that this had happened. Here we were, ready to sign a recording contract with a major label, and then, this. We had no other recourse than to break up."
Perry sat very silently and stared straight ahead as he recounted the story. Tears welled ever so slightly in Perry's eyes as he took himself back in time to those fateful days. "I didn't know what to do after that happened," he said. "Here I was, a singer without a band. Every musician's dreams, a recording contract with a major label, gone as quickly as it was there. Where do you go from there?"
Perry's future certainly seemed in a tailspin. A few years earlier, he had heard that there was a new band forming in San Francisco and he sent them some demo tapes. He got a reply back that they weren't interested. It was Journey.
"After all this had happened, and the band breaking up, I was sitting at home and I got a phone call from this representative from CBS who told me that a band in San Francisco was looking for a singer. He gave me a number of someone to call if I was interested. I dialed the number, and believe it or not, it was the management office of Journey."
The death of Perry's friend coincided with the change Journey was going to make musically. They were rehearsing their repertoire for the Infinity album and convinced they had to have more vocally supported, vocally oriented songs. About that time, Perry's tape arrived.
"Herbie was the first to hear the tape," said Valory, "and I was the second one to hear it. Eventually everyone in the group heard the tape and the immediate reaction was Steve had a great amount of talent in his voice."
"I was quite captured by his voice when I heard his tape. I don't think he sent tapes to any other groups because he dug this band and on several occasions he had hoped to join. I had never met him before, never heard of him trying to join before, though I heard later he had tried to approach the band."
Journey's release Infinity marked the beginning of a new era for this band. A single from that album, "Wheel in the Sky", has become sort of an anthem for Journey over the years. Not only did Journey cause a stir with the music community and fans alike with Infinity, it caused quite a bit of commotion within the band as well. Dunbar was asked to leave the band.
"We asked Aynsley to leave mostly for musical reasons," explained Valory about the events surrounding Dunbar's departure. "Without subtracting or taking away from Aynsley's talent or ability in any fashion, I would say that he, being the challenging experimental player's player he is, our change to a vocally oriented music was a little too boring for him. In other words, he was either unable or unwilling to play for the part, play for the song."
"Aynsley did a very noble job I think, a good job of recording Infinity, but in a very simple style. But after we released Infinity and went on the tour, all of the songs started getting really busy, and basically, Aynsley got bored with the new approach and he was unwilling to hold to the parts."
Dunbar's replacement was Steve Smith. The members of Journey became aware of Smith's ability during their Infinity tour when Smith was drumming for the Ronnie Montrose Band that opened for Journey on the first leg of their tour. The Montrose band split up leaving Smith without work for several months. Then Journey called.
Journey refined and honed its music over the course of the next two and a half years. Their popularity soared to new heights with the albums, Evolution, Departure, and the live LP Captured. Finally, Greg Rolie announced he was retiring from the band. The strenuous touring Journey had become noted for year after year had taken its toll on Rolie. Journey's management decided to take a chance on a young keyboardist from Chicago, Jonathan Cain, who was a member of the group, The Babys, who were opening the entire 1980 nationwide tour for the group.
The decision to ask Cain to join Journey has been the most critical decision ever made by the band's management. Perry and Smith in a very real sense were logical decisions. Cain's choice as a successor to Rolie was much different. Here Journey was hoping that Cain's songwriting, singing, guitar and keyboard work would add a new dimension, or perhaps direction, to Journey that it had not explored before. Cain's entrance into Journey indeed would change this band into bonafide superstars. But the decision on his part was not easy.
"I loved The Babys," said Cain as he recounted his days with the band, "but things just happened, like the day after John Lennon was shot, John Waite (lead singer of the group) hurt his knee. He was going to have to take six months off and that was going to put the band into an even heavier debt. No records were selling and there was no new single to push really. The new stuff went down the drain and in lieu of that, we lost our record and we lost our band."
When Cain received the phone call from Journey, he called up John Waite about his decision.
"John had decided that he wanted to go solo," recounted Cain, "and I called him in New York and told him I had an offer from Journey. I told him that I didn't want to pass it, that I felt I could relate to the guys in the band, and that I wanted to go with them. But, I wanted his blessing. He said, 'You got it!' and that is where it ended. I told everybody that I was leaving after Christmas."
Cain's next move was to San Francisco to begin work on Journey's next album, Escape, that would mark a change in musical direction for the band. Cain helped write the songs, lay down the tracks, and produce the album that would become the most successful Journey LP ever recorded. Cain proved his presence with Journey was no fluke on Frontiers. It currently is ranked No. 2 in the Billboard charts and already has three singles getting steady airplay. Cain co-wrote every song but one.
Yet the pain of The Babys demise is very evident in Cain's face when he looks on the days he spent with this band.
"There is a lot of pain involved," admitted Cain. "There were a lot (of) second thoughts. I talked to Wally (Gilmore) and Tony (Brock). We had it out, we cried, but we knew there was no saving it especially since John wanted to go."
"The difference between Journey and The Babys was management. Herbie is a genius and we owe a lot to our manager and our crew. By the time The Babys had a decent manager, the ship was sinking and it was over. He couldn't save us and he just threw his hands up in the air and said, 'I don't know.' That was the end of the story."
When you look at Journey in retrospect like this, perhaps chapter would be a better descriptive label than change. Their story reads like a book, with each chapter connected to another with a common purpose. Is it coincidence? Chance? Or Fate? All the questions that confronted people like Steve Perry, Steve Smith, or Jonathan Cain were answered with one word: Journey. And, you can be sure, Journey's story will continue happily ever after.
© Jam Magazine Enterprises Inc., Vol 3 #43 (Transcribed by Kate)