With the addition of lead singer Steve Perry, Journey is finally paving their way into the commercial market. The band consists of such old pros as Neal Schon, guitar; Gregg Rolie, keyboards; Ross Valory, bass; and Aynsley Dunbar, a star drummer in his own right, having played with such artists as David Bowie, John Mayhall and Frank Zappa.
Liz Derringer: The show was good last night. You've been doing interviews all day. What have you been talking about?
Aynsley Dunbar: The usual routine, how the band is - how it is with Steve Perry?
Liz: Well, Steve just joined the band so I guess that stands out most.
Liz: Why'd you decide to get a singer?
Aynsley: We wanted more vocals in the band. He just sent us a tape, and it turned out that he'd been trying to join the band for three years. And he came to the Starwood when we played there. And it was one of those cases where, "Hey, you're looking for a singer? "Well, not really, but leave your name, and we'll call you when we need you." And then when it came about, nobody really remembered anybody. And then Steve happened to hear that we were sort of wandering around, a little bit wondering what we were going to do about singers. And he sent us a tape, and it was a great tape.
Liz: Did you recognize the fact that it would be more commercial to add a singer? You were saying in Billboard Magazine you had to compete with Boston and Foreigner and bands like that?
Aynsley: I don't know if it was competing so much as . . . we were going down well even with all those bands. The band was going down well without a vocalist. But what we needed to do was just get more popular, and not just stay as a good underground band.
Liz: So how has it changed the group?
Aynsley: Well, it's changed to be more vocal-oriented than instrumental, which helps the band get over to a larger populace than the instrumental side.
Liz: You were saying yesterday that you were getting more into the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac because we were getting on in our years.
Aynsley: Yes, getting more into the feeling, which I was listening to more when I started playing anyway, rather than the technique. It was just the sound, the overall sound has to be felt above the overall technique. It's not how much you play, it's how much you feel.
Liz: Well, did you get out of that?
Aynsley: Well, I still have the technique, but I want to play more with a feel. I gave myself 'til I was 30 to decide. If I didn't make it when I was 30, playing progressively out there, then there's something wrong.
Liz: Times have changed.
Aynsley: Exactly. So you have to reconsider your values. You either want to play for a couple of hundred thousand people or else you want to play for millions. And my idea is to play for the crowd. Although I have enough to progress a crowd, if they're not interested in listening, then there's no point in me progressing them, because I'm just progressing myself to the grave. That's a case of understanding the fact if people want to hear a certain thing, you can adapt and play to them what they want to hear.
Liz: Does that bother you that you have to succumb to what other people want to hear from you?
Aynsley: At first, if you have to succumb to what they want to hear, that's fine. It's also maybe helping them to understand where you're at, to a certain extent. It's not necessarily that you have to immediately come out with a progressive album - once you've got them, you come out with a completely progressive album. What you do is to educate them into listening a little bit more. When I first started playing, I was told by all the jazz people that I was playing with, that rock never paid and that I was an asshole - "That asshole's way out." And then I went and started playing rock, and I found the crowd appreciated it; there was more money in it. I could live better and feel better because I was playing to people who liked what I was playing.
Liz: But did you enjoy it more in your heart?
Aynsley: Oh, I love rock and roll. I always have loved it, since I first started playing.
Liz: And you started in Liverpool. You were saying yesterday that you knew the Beatles back then. How did you know them?
Aynsley: At the old Blue Angel Club in Liverpool. They always used to hang out there. It was a hang-out place for everybody. And that was before it actually became a rock club.
Liz: What was it?
Aynsley: It was a trio jazz club. A pianist, bass and drums. Upright bass and upright piano; in fact, at that time, it was all jazz.
Liz: When they started becoming the Beatles, what were you doing then?
Aynsley: I was playing jazz.
Liz: And did their success influence you to go into rock?
Aynsley: Not at all, no. I went down there one day and saw Ringo Starr trying to show some of his friends how to play something, and I couldn't believe that his guy with no technique, at that time, was trying to impress some kids. They were really impressed by what he couldn't do. I looked at that, and was amazed at the whole situation. And I said to myself, "Well, oh boy, with my technique, I should be able to do it somewhere along the line." I was in the wrong direction at that time.
Liz: So where'd you go from there?
Aynsley: Kept playing jazz.
Liz: Well, obviously you came into rock and roll somewhere. John Mayhall?
Aynsley: Well, I kept on playing jazz at a cabaret club backing all the famous stars from London, seven days a week. I was there for three months as a backing hand. And then I moved back to Liverpool after that and found out every club in Liverpool had changed to rock and roll, including the Blue Angel. And instead of going down there and having dinner with about 30 or 40 people, I went down there and found it was like 300 people downstairs. Like so when I got back there, it was like I walked into the club expecting like a few people to be down there, instead I walked into a jam-packed situation. Every club in Liverpool had changed to rock. So I realized that if I wanted to really keep on working as a musician, I had to think about working in rock. So I joined rock, and all these significant people that had told me that rock never paid - I could have died when I got my first paycheck. I'd been earning like thirty shillings a night playing with a rotten little jazz band. Playing rock, I suddenly came out with six pounds, which is like four times as much.
Liz: And then what was the first big band you joined?
Aynsley: The Mojos. They had a hit single in England around that time.
Liz: You have a strange history. From there, you played with John Mayhall, then with David Bowie and then you moved to San Francisco. How did all that happen?
Aynsley: Well, in progression - after the Mojos - I jumped out of the Mojos after being with them for 18 months. I auditioned with Alexis Corner to join his band, but I didn't. I wasn't really knocked out by his band, and John Mayhall was in the audience, and he called me up the next day. He found my number from Alexis. He called me up the next day and offered me a job with his band, so I joined his band. I stayed there for six months with Peter Green and John McVie, and then I got fired because I was playing . . . too technical. And Jeff Beck offered me a job. I was with him for four months, but it didn't work out, he was too loud on stage. After that I formed my own band, the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation. That was for about three years.
Liz: So then when did Frank Zappa get in the act?
Aynsley: He called me up, and he brought me to L.A. He had played with my band in Brussels. Sat in with the band and offered me a gig then.
Liz: How did you like that?
Aynsley: That was great fun.
Liz: Musically, what did you get out of it?
Aynsley: Well, musically, a lot, a tremendous technical personality.
Liz: You did the movie 200 Motels? I saw that. It was funny. When did you play with David Bowie?
Aynsley: After Flo and Eddie and Lou Reed.
Liz: After jumping from band to band, did you want something more stable?
Aynsley: Substantial. That's what I was looking for all the time. But you have to live, and therefore, you have to jump around. I didn't want to become a side man and just get lost in somebody else's situation, so you have to keep jumping around, until the situation's right. Fate. I always believed in fate.
Liz: Are you difficult to get along with?
Liz: You are? Did you have trouble in the bands?
Aynsley: Oh, no, I just had my own ideas which I relayed to everybody.
Liz: Did you like having your own band best?
Liz: No? So this band Journey - there is no leader?
Aynsley: No, it's a democratic band.
Liz: How did you all get together?
Aynsley: Well, I had done some sessions with Neal Schon, and he called me up - or his manager - our manager had called me up, had called me up on my answering service for six months. And I never knew who the hell he was 'till one day I got back, and it said Neal Schon wanted to talk to me. So when I saw Neal, I did a couple of sessions with him.
Liz: And you've done four albums since?
Aynsley: Four albums, yes.
Liz: How have the other three done?
Aynsley: Well, they started off at 150,000, 175,000 and then about 200,000 and 250,000.
Liz: You never really had a big single?
Aynsley: No, this is the first time.
Liz: Which is the single?
Aynsley: "Wheel in the Sky".
Liz: You're into a three-month tour, now?
Aynsley: Uh-huh. One month into it.
Liz: You like traveling every day?
Liz: And you said you were pretty bored in San Francisco as far as living there?
Aynsley: Well, I would like to be in more of a happening night-life town.
Liz: You've uprooted so many times, and you've gone so many different places.
Aynsley: I always stay on the West Coast, I'm sure, because I do like the weather better than any other place.
Liz: Did you find that difficult, getting up and moving from England to L.A. to San Francisco?
Aynsley: Not really, no. It's one of those things; I'm dedicated to what I'm doing so wherever it's happening, that's where I have to move to.
Liz: What do you do when you're home in San Francisco?
Aynsley: It's slow.
Liz: You're not married, are you?
Aynsley: I was married at one time.
Liz: So what do you do usually when you're there?
Aynsley: Basically, I just hand out with my friends, play cards.
Liz: What's this flying stuff?
Aynsley: I haven't flown for a long time because in San Francisco, the airports are so far away. It takes a while to get out there. I also like driving cars pretty fast. I'm usually hassled by people on the road so by the time I get there I've lost all the feeling for flying. In L.A., it was like a fifteen-minute trip to the airport and then just straight up and away.
Liz: So what you plan to do if the band's successful and you make lots of money?
Aynsley: What I really think I'd like to do is get a nice house with everything I need, in San Francisco or out in the country somewhere. Get a helicopter or a plane, two cars, and maybe also an apartment in L.A. Then relax.
Liz: That sounds good.
Aynsley: But when I want to work, I'll be in San Francisco rehearsing the band. I'll be able to work in my own house.
Liz: So you're going to stay in America forever?
Aynsley: Oh, yeah.
Liz: You're not going to go back to England?
Aynsley: The English people are getting really uptight, you know. It's either a rich or a poor community there. There's no middle class. It's causing a lot of conflict. That's why punk rock started in Britain. It's getting the masses of poor people to rebel against the upper echelon. It's pretty stupid in London because everybody who reads history of the upper echelon always wins because they have the money to pay the other people to shut up.
Liz: How old were you when you started playing drums?
Aynsley: Eleven and a half.
Liz: Why'd you start?
Aynsley: I just got influenced by the power the drums had over the rest of the band and over the people.
Liz: What do you guys do on the road for kicks?
Aynsley: Well, I'm such a nice, quiet guy, I just go back to the hotel and read books all the time.
Liz: Sure you do! What do you think about David Bowie saying that he's outgrown rock and roll, and about people like Mick Jagger who are in society now?
Aynsley: I think it's because we missed it when we started off. I reckon that society is something we want to gain hold of, because we were always on the road. You don't have a chance to really work with things like that. And I'm form a working class family, and basically, I never want to get back to the working class. Although people would hate to admit it, being a drummer is a working class job. It's hard work. It's not just sit back and relax and have a good time.
Liz: But you know what's funny. I did a TV show and the host gets on and says that to be a rock star is the ultimate. To be Rod Stewart is like being the Clark Gable in 1978. But then other people in other media put down rock and roll.
Aynsley: That's the problem.
Liz: But there's a classy side to it.
Aynsley: Yeah. The classy side to it is how much advance you make while you're there. If you sell a lot, then you're upper echelon, as far as rock and roll is concerned.
Liz: Well, you're really a drummer personality. So's Keith Moon - or Ringo - it's easy for a drummer to become a star.
Aynsley: If you told that to a promoter in London, he would never believe you. He told me that I should give up my band and forget everything because a drummer would never become a star.
Liz: I guess you showed him!
© SuperRock, August 1978 (transcribed by Kate)