Journey was a concept before they were a band. Manager Herbie Herbert wanted to put together a super session band of great instrumentalists who could play behind anybody. So he called up some of the best musicians he knew: Neal Schon, then the whiz-kid guitarist for Santana (he's started with the group at 15); Ross Valory, at that time Steve Miller's bassist; and rock veterans Gregg Rolie and Aynsley Dunbar.
Herbert soon realised that this band was too good to keep in the studio, and so he got them a deal with Columbia Records. If you've heard their first album, you know that their sound was a lot different than it is today. And their shrewd manager realised that the band needed a lot of work to become successful.
"Originally, the band was very self indulgent," he recalls. "A lot of long solo excursions were set up specifically to set up Neal Schon for his guitar statements. But who was he talking to? Our first album sold about 100,000 to our cult, our peers: the musical community of America. And if we wanted to rise above that, we had to decide that we were willing to apply ourselves."
And willing they were. They took sensitivity training and voice lessons. They began the touring that has turned them into some of the most proficient performers in the world. And they put out two more albums, Look Into The Future and Next.
It was at that point that they decided that they really needed a lead singer, someone who was as capable vocally as the rest of the band was instrumentally (Neal had been assuming the vocal duties on some songs, but didn't feel he could carry a whole album). And did they ever find one!
Steve Perry had wanted to sing with Journey since he heard their first album. But, at the time, the group wasn't interested, and so when they finally did invite a singer to join, they invited someone else. Then they heard a tape of Steve, whose band at the time had just been signed to CBS. They flipped at what they heard "It was a flawless voice," Herbert recalls - and, after Steve flew to Denver for a day to hang out with the band he was asked to come aboard.
And Steve's arrival finally brought the group a taste of the mass success they'd been dreaming of. Infinity, their next album, went platinum. Then came Evolution and their first Top Twenty hit, "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'".
At about the same time, founding drummer Aynsley Dunbar left the band, explaining, "They started tying down things and complaining about my drum rolls." (He now plays with Jefferson Starship). He was replaced by Steve Smith, who the band had met on the road when he was drumming for their opening act, Montrose.
Two more successful albums followed: Departure and Captured. And then, keyboard player Gregg Rolie decided to take off and start a solo career. But Journey had no trouble finding a replacement, and in fact already had someone in mind, Jonathan Cain, then with The Babys, who had also opened for Journey on tour.
"I was in shock for a week after I joined the band," Jonathan says now. "I thought it was a mistake at first." But it was no mistake. The band really needed his help.
"Steve was having a real tough time writing all the lyrics," Jonathan explains. "He needed someone to work with."
Jonathan was clearly that someone, because on his first album with the group, Escape, he co-wrote its two biggest hits, "Who's Crying Now" and "Open Arms". As the newest member of the band, he felt he had to prove himself and he did!
Journey has been a busy band since they solidified their lineup in 1981. Each band member spent some time on a solo project. Steve Perry and Kenny Loggins did some writing together. Neal Schon collaborated with jazz great Jan Hammer on an album. Jonathan Cain produced an album by his beautiful wife, Tane.
After a mega-tour of the nation's biggest arenas which, it has been estimated, netted the band members an average of $45,000 per hour, they went back into the studio to produce their biggest record yet.
Before its release this past January, Steve Smith said of Frontiers, "I would call it more angular and angrier - it has a harder and more ragged edge. It's hard to describe it in words, but it's got a great vibe to it."
Millions of fans certainly agreed, because Frontiers immediately zoomed to multiple-platinum status, and has so far spawned two hit singles: "Separate Ways" and "Faithfully". Every night of their current tour has been a sell-out, with scalpers selling tickets outside at $150 and up apiece for front row seats.
Journey certainly seem to have arrived at their destination. But such is not the case, at least according to Steve Smith. "What we've seen too many people do," he says, "is have an album that sells millions of copies, and then come out with another one that sounds like they recorded them both at the same time. There's no growth and no new information. We're very aware of that, and with this record, there's a completely new Journey sound. We're trying to combine progressive kind of sound with something that is commercial."
And Journey certainly is achieving that goal. But they will always have new frontiers to push towards, because they're always trying to improve themselves. Herbie Herbert remembers the criticism he gave them when they first started out:
"Number one: Songwriting and composing. You guys are a bunch of zeros."
"Number two: Performing and entertaining onstage. Forget it! You don't wanna move a muscle."
"Number three: You can't sing!"
At least one thing is for sure: they've more than compensated for those original problems! And now, they're looking off into the future.
As Neal says, "Journey is forever. There's no limit to what this band is capable of."
© Tiger Beat presents ROCK, Summer 1983, D.S. Magazines Inc.