Los Angeles is not a good place to talk to a San Francisco band, especially if Disneyland is closed. Journey, a normally communicative and easy going Bay Area band stuck in LA are tight-lipped and totally preoccupied with the recording of their fourth Columbia album, Infinity.
Journey was a post-sixties psychedelic-sounding four man band formed around the nucleus of Neal Schon (guitars) and Gregg Rolie (keyboards and vocals), both Santana dropouts. With Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Ross Valory on bass, Journey had a hard time breaking free of their past and creating a solid, new identity. Their first three albums (Journey, Look Into The Future, and Next, all Columbia) wavered between establishing a musical identity or a lyrical one, and so in the end, they wound up having neither.
Early in the summer of 1977, though, Journey began auditioning singers in the hopes of injecting a shot of seventies inspiration into a firmly entrenched sixties band. After a false start with one singer who didn't fit the format, Journey decided on Steve Perry, a young unknown backup singer from Southern California.
From the beginning, Steve knew he wanted to sing with Journey, "But," he explains, "how do you walk up to someone and say, 'Hey I wanna sing in your band' when they're already happy with their singer?" So Steve went on to sing with a band Tim Bogart was starting, but kept thinking of Journey all the while.
"One day I got a call from Gregg. He suggested getting together with him and Neal to see if we could write some tunes. We did, and it came out real well." So well, that Steve was immediately hired and seven of the ten songs on Infinity are Steve Perry-Neal Schon compositions.
The image was beginning to fall into place. Steve's lyrics and vocals were just the catalyst the band was searching for, and they knew that hiring Roy Thomas Baker as producer, the man behind the crisp, clean sound of Queen and Starcastle, had to be the piece de resistance.
Baker, well known for his Rabelaisian sense of humour, is still trying to live down the destruction of His Masters Wheels studio in San Francisco, the original recording site for Infinity. Billed as a "complete" facility, the studio turned out to be little more than a moderately equipped basement which "somehow or another" got drenched in fire extinguisher suds after a post-recording melee. Baker dutifully cleaned up, giggling wildly the whole time, no doubt, but Journey had to relocate to Cherokee Studios in Beverly Hills.
Baker offsets his playfully destructive nature by being one of rock's most prolific, hard-hitting producers around. Although credited with revolutionising harmonies, one of his real strengths lies in tightening a band's usually scattered energies into one explosive package. It's impossible to overlook his impact on "Open Up The Door", the final cut of Infinity. From the sonic swish of harmonies to the clunky ashcan sounds of Dunbar's drums, Baker is the perfect producer for Journey. Finally there is someone who knows how to present Neal Schon's guitar as white-hot as it really is. Combined with Ross Valory's kickass bass line on "Can Do", Journey comes up with a song that truly embodies the sensation of being 14 and hot for the very first time.
Unlike Gregg Rolie's chameleon-like vocal quality in which he manages to sound like Christine McVie on "Anytime" and evoke a Chicago-esque mood at the beginning to "Feeling That Way", Steve Perry's voice is more direct. There's no mistaking his vocals for someone else's. The sweetness in his voice "comes from listening to a lot of Sam Cooke," he says, and provides an interesting contrast to Schon's burning guitars. "Patiently" and "Something To Hide", written with Neal at Caribou Ranch, are two examples of the Led Zeppelin "Speak softly and carry a big stick" school of rock ballads Journey has now mastered.
Infinity is the closest thing to a definitive Journey album there is. Even the album cover reflects the change. An amazing piece of artwork adorns the front, create by Kelley Mouse (remember their eerie Blues For Allah Grateful Dead cover?), giving Journey an instantly recognisable logo their name majestically intertwined in an infinity symbol.
Good rock & roll has always had its share of risks, and Journey has faced them with a new singer, a new producer and an entirely new sound that yields a brand of honeyed heavy metal uniquely their own.
© Circus, March 30 1978, Circus Enterprises Corporation.