PART 1: KIMONO MY PLACE
First stop on the Journey journey is the Miyako hotel on Japantown, San Francisco, teriyaki burgers and formal teagardens, nip and tux stuff. And up in the lobby, stomping outside the lift, several large lumps of raw meat in dinky sandals and oriental dressing-gowns. A convention of Sumo wrestlers.
They're here to fight in Frisco, the same night Journey are playing. I want to stay and watch them stomp. CBS want me to go and see Journey, This is their junket after all seemingly a way of getting the rest of the world to catch on that Journey is big (though not as big as the Sumos admittedly) - and with the promise of lots of Japanese beer it's on to
PART 2: RECORD TIMING
A bus ride away is Berkley, a place where people say wow man far out with straight faces (albeit psychedelically- painted ones) and girls part their hair in the middle. Here is Fantasy Studios where Journey make their records, including the new one, Escape, which the assembled are about to hear for the first time.
They feed and water us. They play Journey records. They sound just like the old ones. They are the old ones. The new one's saved till the moment when every journalist's face is flushed and smiling. It sounds pretty good.
The band wander in, some with their old ladies, and it's the pre-interview informal chat time. Affable fellows. Steve Perry tells me how it's so much more of a band now. Neal Schon mumbles the name 'Jan Hammer' before making a sensible direct route to the bar. Jonathan Cain asks me why the British gave the Babys such shit when they were together and did we know we've driven John Waite to New York and Iggy Pop?
We have a consolation Japanese beer or two and toast the old band's memory. I meet Journey's publicist who tells me that this nice guy stuff is no act. True, he gives me another beer. They pour us onto the bus and back to the Miyako. Someone's complaining to the desk clerk that a Sumo wrestler has been stomping on the floor above her for the last hour and a half. The bar is closed which is all well and good because we have to get up bright and early for
PART 3: BEAR NECESSITIES
Up with the lark and back in the bus, we're headed for a spot in the mountain called Bear Valley which will be our home for the night. No Sumo wrestlers but there's campfire sinaglongs and real pine cones on the floor, fatally fresh air and more affable Journey people handing out Journey hats, Journey shirts, and passes to get us into the beer tent at this mini-Woodstock we're to attend.
Yes, school's out, sun's shining and it's festival time again, time for all good writers to tie a handkerchief on their head and get third-degree burns while watching America's finest through opera glasses.
The Mountain Aire festival (as healthy as it sounds: all the girls are wearing white cotton embroidered tops and the tanned boys are shirtless; no-one's throwing up on the grass) is a bit more off the beaten track than usual at Calaveras, where I'm told they hold an annual frog-jumping contest. Talking of animals, I muse how easy it would be for the Chipmunks to record a live album here. Daryl Hall and Steve Perry on the same bill; they wouldn't have to change a note. One of the Journey people comes by with a huge early morning smile to see how we're holding up. I castigate myself for such sarcastic thoughts.
PART 4: I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD
415 are on first, a local band managed by Journey's people. Then Billy Squier, all of Cheap Trick rolled up into one cheap-to-feed package with lots of pop anthems and a curly head that resembles John Oates' chest. Then Hall & Oates, which in the open air at 500 miles is like Gucci. It just doesn't travel well. But the earth-shoed masses sit around on their Indian Blankets, wafting to the sound of a horn in the breeze, sax and rugs and rock and roll, and you can watch helicopters whirring above and maniacs doing those obligatory festival aerial stunts.
I wandered off to the stands round the back where you could buy handmade leather peace signs, cosmic yoyos, Journey hats and T-shirts or watch the belly-dancers, who had nothing on the disgustingly fit teenage California girls who seem to make up a good 90% of Journey's audience (other 10% unpimpled males ditto).
And then the band we've all been waiting for.
Journey. One of those all-American heavy-melody bands heavy enough that headbangers don't have to hide their shame in their sisters' record collection, but soft enough not to disturb the nice people meditating. The crowd loves them.
The Calaveras frogs have got nothing on Steve Perry. The hardest-working frontman in rock, he leaps, he bounds, he twirls, he soars, he tosses himself around like a Zen pancake and stirs up frenzy in the front rows. One of those bands made for big venues, Steve doesn't even need a microphone. His voice stuns at 500 yards. Those high notes! Not so much a battered baby seal as a cockatoo having his little claws pulled out one by one.
They play five from the new one, tasteful hard rock so American sounding I expected the helicopter overhead to drop popcorn on the crowd. You can see why it was a hit so quickly. Singalong catchy rock with the occasional HM shriek and guitar flourish, helped along by the peppy pop sensibilities of new keyboardsman Cain.
The audience gets encores and the press gets a party - barbecue, more beer and time, if you want it, with the band. I want it. The only quiet place is the back of a nearby van where Journey members file in one by one and say a few words in the microphone.
PART 5: A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY
First a bit of history. The name was tagged on them by chance either the winning entry in a Name the Group contest or a last-minute suggestion by the office manager, whichever you prefer. The group was suggested by manager Herbie Herbert. Bassist Ross Valory was in a Haight-Ashbury band called Frumious Bandersnatch, then keyboardist Gregg Rolie played with William Penn & His Pals and Neal Schon was in high school, about to switch from clarinet to electric guitar.
While Valory moved on to the Steve Miller Band, Rolie was helping then-unknown Carlos Santana to form a band and Neal was becoming something of a guitar virtuoso. Aged 15, Eric Clapton invited him to tour. He joined Santana and took drugs instead.
"Those years were crazy," recalls the tiny wiry guitarist. "We lost many brain cells a long time ago. Probably when I was 19 I really peaked on my craziness and something in my body said, "wait a minute, pull yourself back man, if you keep on doing this you're not going to live much longer. So I keep a low profile when I can. They say your brain cells come back if you don't abuse yourself every day. We're pretty respectable now."
From self-abuse the entire band has turned to a pretty strict keep fit regimen, suggested by their manager. "Not that you don't get plenty of exercise onstage."
But back to those days of flinging TV sets through hotel windows (yes, Schon admits to having done this, even confesses that "once in a while the urge still comes over you to pick one up and I shouldn't say this,". Santana broke up, not particularly amicably, and before it put the pieces back together, Neal moved on to Graham Central Station where he met Herbert and was talked into forming a group with Valory and Rolie.
Along with George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince of Tubes fame ("a very short experience," according to Valory. "He was never really committed to it he recorded our first demo which no-one has ever heard") they formed a free-form progressive rock band.
By the time it became called Journey it got a new drummer, Aynsley Dunbar from the Mothers of Invention and his own Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation, a record contract and a debut album, Journey.
Two more interesting and very Northern California-sounding albums went nowhere. Then came Steve Perry to replace George Tickner, and the first of the platinum albums, Infinity, a departure from the old spacey sound, doing a Foreigner as many put it. "Trying a different concept," according to Neal. "There's nothing wrong with being commercial. It's just another way of saying you're successful, getting a wider audience.
"There's a brand new audience out there, a totally new generation. A lot of kids who've never heard of Cream or Jimi Hendrix and they don't hear Led Zeppelin anymore, and they want to hear something like that, something out of the same era but new. I don't think what we're doing now is a cop-out. I don't care what they say about you. You know who you are."
Steve Perry, the Californian of Portuguese descent with the Cher hairdo and the killer vocal chords, was in his first rock band at 13, left home for L.A. to be a star at 18 and was in a group called Alien Project, about to be signed to CBS until a member was killed in a car crash. The record company mentioned that another of their groups was looking for a singer.
"I sent them some tapes," says Steve, "and went on the road with them while they were touring with ELP. Neal and I started writing songs straight off. Next thing I know they asked me to join the band and we went straight into the studio and worked on Infinity."
His arrival gave the band a whole new focus, for the first time more vocal than instrumental based. And for this low-profile bunch, his "poncing around the stage" (Jonathan Cain's words, not mine, honest) grabbed them out of anonymity and into radio mass-acceptance.
"We wanted to do something different, says Neal. "We were on the road so many years not really being successful in what we were trying to do, even though we liked it. Finally we realised that we had to make a change so that we could get through to everybody. We wanted to be an international band that all sorts of people could understand. Not just musicians' music - I myself wanted even harder rock," he confesses later, "but I'm happy with the sound right now."
Even dedicated musicians like to eat and sign autographs once in a while and Neal was won over.
Aynsley Dunbar wasn't won over. "He was just gritting his teeth and doing it," according to Neal. Because of his background, progressive-jazz-rock, "he couldn't get the concept, he couldn't feel good doing it. He complained constantly. He's better off where he is now." (Jefferson Starship),
His replacement was 25-year-old Steve Smith who got to know them when he was drumming for Montrose, Ronnie's band, that was supporting Journey on a tour at the time.
Several platinums later, co-founder Gregg Rolie upped and left. A bit like having a tooth pulled, according to Valory, "personally through missing him and giving up all that we'd been through together, but musically, as far as the group goes and the career goes, not difficult at all. He was tired of going on the road for years and years; he wanted to do other things like have children and spend more time writing and recording.
"For our end of it, it was fairly smooth in acquiring Jonathan Cain in that he's even more versatile than Gregg and in that he sounds like he's been with us for a while, at least that's the way it seems to me. So it wasn't such a traumatic experience as it could have been."
Cain was nabbed on another tour. At this rate soon-to-break bands will be holding lotteries to get a position as Journey's opening act. When Gregg left. Journey "didn't have to look to far. It seems," says Valory, "that the people who end up joining the group end up being around the group first. An expression", ah, California!, "of What Was Meant To Be."
"It feels good to be part of Journey, an American Institution," Jonathan tells me later, "but I did cut my teeth - pardon the pun - on some very great music, and I think the Babys have probably been the most misunderstood band, and someday people are going to realise that we did make some good and serious attempts at making statements and musical concepts, and I'm proud that we went out on a high note. The Babys, if we'd been called anything else, if we'd been called The Adults, we would have sold more records. It's just the name ah sucks. It's just the way Fate had it I guess. We toured with Journey and I'd say probably The Babys are the reason I'm here today."
And was he a Journey fan before he joined the band, I wondered?
"I liked a certain essence of them. Some of the things I hated."
"The ponciness of the band. They seemed to ponce around a lot, you know, sometimes it looked strange to me. I was on tour and I'd think 'I don't like the way he (Steve) is dressed. I don't like the way he's even acting, you know. It just needed to be toughed up, to have some mud thrown on it and get more gritty and be more open.
"All the things I don't like are slowly going. There's just a different attitude with the band. It's a little tougher, a little freer, more of a street sound. I guess it's a different combination of people changing the chemistry in a band, like when Rod Stewart went through all those changes with all those different bands. That's what's happening now. We know what rock and roll is and we know who our audience is and it's a blue-collar band.
"This band has a tremendous opportunity to say stuff to people, you know, like the Who does, and I think we're in that sort of league. We could go into the Zeppelin league.
"I want to do that, I want to make it a working-class concept that we write songs for people who go to work every day. That's what I did before I joined the Babys I worked for Manpower stacking beer cases and sweeping stores in a stereo shop and coming home so tired that I didn't even have the strength to touch the piano, and now when I'm up there onstage those things are just background. It wasn't easy. But it was either push a broom or sing top 40 songs and I'll push a broom anyway."
TALKING Top 40, Cain's listed as co-writer on every one of the new songs. He wrote their first hit single from Escape as well. He was a bit surprised at the early acceptance in the songwriting department but found out "this is a great kind of family unit and we don't get into those head-trips."
You see it in the band offstage and in the people who work with them, who've worked with them a long time, who look as happy as gurus most of the time and go much further out of their way to be nice and helpful than most in this business. Even though you know deep down inside that that's one of the points of this kind of industry trip, to let you spend time with the band, get to know them, find out what nice people they are and the rest, not be so inclined to take potshots, you can't help but like them and you don't begrudge them success.
Journey the public performers have gone down amazingly well as always at the festival. Journey the artists are working on various solo projects. The band worked on the soundtrack to a Japanese fantasy film (performed by French actors and dubbed in Japanese for some reason, a strange story about people falling in love and turning into birds).
They hired the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra with Neal's father Matt Schon conducting. Steve Smith has been doing studio work with Tom Costa who played with Santana, and has been jamming with Jan Hammer and working on more soundtracks with Ross Valory, who's just worked with a group called Thousand Lights (made up of ex Journey members).
"We feel like a real band now. There will be no more changes in the line-up. We're all very close and we're all on the board of directors of our company. We sit down and make decisions like businessmen do. I can't see myself out of work for a while. I think we have a long future ahead." (Neal Schon).
© Kerrang, No. 4 October 1981, Spotlight Publications.