By now, the saga of Journey is a well known one. Originally envisioned by manager Herbie Herbert as the Bay Area's answer to Muscle Shoals studio bands, Journey initially indulged in technically impressive but poor selling records. Enter Steve Perry, vocalist and songwriter extraordinaire in 1977, and Journey began to find its audience. The tunes became more song-structured and original member guitarist Neal Schon's prowess was elevated to even greater heights. While their albums slowly turned from vinyl to gold and platinum, drummer Steve Smith was selected to replace Aynsley Dunbar and ex-Babys keyboardist Jonathan Cain entered the scene by 1981. Together with bassist Ross Valory, Journey, as we know them today, was permanently on its way. To celebrate their new line-up the group released Escape, the album that catapulted them into America's consciousness forever. Thanks to the saturation of the album's top ten single "Open Arms", radio stations greeted their next album, Frontiers, with open playlists! While various singles from Frontiers climbed the charts, Journey criss-crossed the country last summer, selling out wherever they went.
OK, that's all very nice. But what's happening with Journey right now? Are they going to sit back and cruise on the machinery of their multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art rockmobile? Whatever simplistic ideas others may have about rock and roll, it comes as a sobering revelation that Journey tours and performs with more paraphernalia than most small circuses! There are the 7 or 8 tractor trailers, 5 trucks and 4 buses full of lighting, video, sound and merchandising equipment. And that doesn't even take into consideration all the people (between 30 and 40) who travel with them. Every way of milking success (i.e. videos, programs, hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, calendars, even a video game) has been thoroughly exploited by Journey by now. The truck carrying all the group's merchandise has been known to do well over $100,000 a night on the various tour stops! And remember, this has nothing to do with tickets and records sold.
Taking advantage of every opportunity available to them, Journey has become a "sensible rock corporation", reinvesting most of their mega-bucks into their shows, records and merchandise. With the machinery currently running without a hitch, one can't help wondering what Journey does for new excitement. Is there danger the guys will simply nod-out on the fame and fortune of it all?
"No way!" manager Herbie Herbert roars. "We always live as if we were in training. You gotta train for platinum, just like an athlete trains for a gold medal in the Olympics. It's as simple as that. It takes tremendous application. A lot of people work as hard as we do but they spin their wheels and they blow smoke."
"We've started writing for the new album," Steve Perry says, watching the San Francisco skyline in the rear view mirror. "We can't do as much writing as we'd like when we're on tour because of my voice. A guitar player gets callouses on his fingers, and that means he can really burn. He's got callouses so his finger won't hurt him anymore. The drummer gets big muscles and callouses on his hands. That means his hands aren't going to get blistered anymore. But if a singer gets callouses on his vocal chords - he's finished! For me it's the complete opposite situation as it is for the rest of the guys in the band. You can get callouses on your chords by abuse. So I try not to abuse myself. I provide myself with preventative medicine. What that often means is that when we're on tour and I have to sing for two hours every night - I have to forget songwriting during the day! Sometimes you just want to get drunk out of your mind, but you can't because alcohol dries you out too much, and you're travelling in air conditioning and the next thing you know you've got a little laryngitis. And out there, a little laryngitis is a lot! The voice is a very fragile thing. It breaks down instead of toughening up. You have to be walking that fine line all the time where you can make it through one more two-hour show and then the voice needs 24 hours to sleep again."
Answering the inevitable "over-commercialisation" accusations is something Steve Perry and all the Journeymen are getting used to.
"Look the people are the ones who decide whether we are a success or not. We don't give a diddly sh*t what some people accuse us of. It's like some of the reviews we get. We can't get hung up on all that. We can't, because the night before when some guy was there writing about us, the people went crazy and had a great time and had as much fun as we did and had good memories about it! Then the next morning we're still charged up and looking forward to the next show and we open the morning paper and some jerk who's been to the show is writing about what a mess it was. He has absolutely nothing to do with what really happened. Why should we concern ourselves with him?"
Neal Schon, who just returned from his vacation in Australia and is currently finishing up a recording project with Sammy Hagar, agrees with Steve.
"Journey is on top because Journey never stops working," California raised Schon insists. "It's funny but a lot of people are afraid to admit that they make a lot of money. I'm not. I also admit that I spend what I make on my family, my friends and myself. I just get rid of it. I'm just as happy when I have money as I am without it. I love cars and buy them (Porches, Ferraris and motorcycles). I bought a house for both my mother and my grandmother. But mainly the truth of the matter is that there isn't much time to do anything outside of Journey. Sammy Hagar and I got into doing this project because we wanted to do a hard rock 'n roll thing together. NO. I'M NOT LEAVING JOURNEY. It's just an outside project. All the guys are doing outside projects. But again, mainly we do Journey!"
With his debut jazz album, Vital Information, doing reasonably well, Steve Smith - who used to call himself a 'Buddy Rich clone' when he graduated from high school, admits that he will always have to save some of his drumming juices for projects outside of Journey's brand of rock and roll. Hailing from Whitman, Massachusetts, Smith left Berklee's school of music for a stint with Jean Luc Ponty in 1976 and things have never been the same since. By 1978 he joined Ronnie Montrose's band and was seemingly on the road to a fairly stable career in jazz when he collided with a bunch of rock and rollers from the Bay Area of California. "I joined Journey in order to understand rock and roll and learn how to make records," Smith says today. "I felt that Journey's musicians were probably the best I could play with. I wanted the experience of being in a rock band."
For the next two years Steve toured and recorded with Journey but soon felt he wanted to play jazz again. In his off time from the group's summer tour he teamed up with former Santana keyboardist Tom Coster. Playing on his debut album, Smith realised no matter what else was going on with Journey, he had to find time and outlets for his jazz. "I want to express a personal point of view using the background of acoustic jazz, fusion and rock and roll. I want to play in every vein from new wave to straight ahead jazz."
Like Neal, Smith's outside projects are conducted in a way that not only doesn't detract from Journey, but actually enhances the group's ultimate power. "It gives everybody a chance to grow individually. Then when we reassemble to work, we can all bring the various things we've learned to each other. We can only get stronger this way."
Jonathan Cain, Journey's 'newest' member, thinks like the others. "Oh all the outside projects have the support of everybody. People are afraid we will get too successful and stop caring about what we're doing. This is one way to keep things fresh. We're in this because we love it. We love the idea of making records and performing and going out and getting that exchange with people. If you don't keep taking new risks, then your music doesn't grow and you don't grow as a person. We really pushed ourselves on the last tour. The end product was of a higher standard. We brought video to the people indoors and a new stage presentation. We always try to outdo ourselves. We feel, because yes we are very successful, that we have to give 200%!" In addition to the 200% Jonathan gives Journey, he has recently finished producing a second album for his wife, Tane, including several songs he wrote especially for her.
And just in case you still think Journey is floating around on clouds of success, taking it all for granted, the guys want everyone to know about their new movie.
According to Ross Valory: "It's great. This is the first rock and roll thing NFL Films has attempted. They have a very fresh perception. It's very literal. It's not the jaded Hollywood look at rock. These are not people who have been on ten Rolling Stones tours and are consequently all burned out. They made us feel real comfortable. They almost disappeared into the woodwork, they were so unobtrusive and unassuming. They blended right in and their questions were more universal than the questions that would be asked by someone in rock. I think it will be a real strong movie."
Steve Perry concludes: "The film will be an honest approach to what we really are, a realistic insight into things people want to see and should see but never get to see. I think people will be very pleased when they see our movie."
© Rock Fever, May 1984, Harris Publications Inc.