Steve Perry's favourite colour is red, and if he had a million dollars he'd "worry about how to keep it." His favourite actress is Gilda Radner ("I want to marry her. I want to bite her kneecaps..."), and he thinks Dustin Hoffman is a genius. His favourite ice-cream is chocolate from Superior Dairy in Hanford, California (where he grew up), and suggests that "you do a lot of sit-ups" if you want a career in show business, "'cause you're going to need it to take all the punches." And if Steve found himself stranded on a desert island, he'd need music of some form, a guitar, and a woman.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's go on with the serious stuff.
Two years ago, Steve Perry teamed up with Journey, essentially an instrumental band with a cult following and three moderately successful albums. With Perry, Journey recorded Infinity - and things began to happen. Combining the instrumental virtuosity of Neal Schon, Aynsley Dunbar, Ross Valory and Gregg Rolie with Perry's vocals added dimension, made them more accessible, and resulted in their first platinum LP. As of this writing, Evolution - their fifth and latest album (with drummer Steve Smith replacing Aynsley Dunbar), has already been certified gold and is headed toward platinum.
The obvious question is why did they suddenly become so successful? Did Steve Perry's vocals do the trick? Had their time come after all these years of touring? Or was their success built on the talents of Roy Thomas Baker who produced their last two albums?
Sitting in the bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel shortly after the group arrived in New York City, Journey's 26 year-old lead singer smiled when he said, "I think it was a combination of all the elements. The mere reason of why there was even a consciousness of me being able to get into the group is because they wanted to add more vocals. They thought it was an important step to take because they had already taken the instrumental virtuosity as far as they figured they could take it and they wanted to get more vocally oriented.
"But they never wanted to surrender that instrumental virtuosity - all they wanted to do was add vocal virtuosity...Hopefully, the idea would be you'd have a really nice super-group.
"A lot of people would like to sit back and say 'Oh, it's all me, yes, I did it' but it's a combination of things," he adds. "I definitely put my fifth, my energy, into it and maybe it was just a small missing element that they needed to put it over the top but that's only a fifth. It's like a puzzle - you need all five pieces to make the picture."
Perry admits that Roy Thomas Baker was influential in Infinity's success, but feels that the group deserves most of the credit. "We all know what we want," he says, "and we all pretty much used him as the instrument.
"He doesn't do nothing really special except multi-track, and Geoff Workman - his right-hand engineer - is a very talented man who needs mentioning beyond any engineer I know. Roy doesn't hang out too much, he just comes and goes. Roy comes in, has a piece of cheese, says 'I love it' or 'I don't' and he leaves."
Did that annoy the group?
"Yes it did." Steve admitted. "He was more involved on Infinity. I can't really say what it was - the guy gets the ball going and then sits back and says, 'okay, next'.
"I personally don't want to work with him again. I may work with him again, we may do it with him again, but I don't think he provides a positive feedback through the control room glass that you need from a producer.
"I'm happy with Evolution 'cause we pulled it through. We did it ourselves."
Steve has show business in his blood. "My mother was a Can-Can dancer," he says. "She used to do musicals and my father was a singer - but I never was on the road with them. I was always singing around the house. They're very, very happy that I'm doing this - very pleased. Very concerned - Pop's very happy, Mom's a manager basically, she knows everything about the business, she turned me on to Billboard.
"I don't think of myself as a star. I think of myself as an entertainer - I'd rather be an entertainer." What's the difference? "I don't know," says Steve, "I guess we're rockstars. I guess that's what people want to call us. Sometimes I feel like one, nine times out of ten I don't.
"I haven't created nothing - you're looking at me, I'm me. I'm a little more active when I'm onstage. I'm nervous offstage, I'm comfortable onstage.
My audience wants me to be what they are, what they've lived and what they've experienced. They want to see it. They want to hear it and they want me to sing it. They want to go through it and know that I've gone through it and I can relate to it. It's nice to be able to relate and have a common goal."
Some groups are constantly being compared to other groups and when it happens to Journey, Steve isn't amused. "I've heard people say Foreigner, and I just go 'what?'", he says incredulously. Can you believe that? Some guy said we sounded like The Who. The Who?
"If you listen to the album, and you sit there and you tell me it sounds like someone else, I'll tell you why it doesn't. I don't know why people compare - it's very hard to explain liking something unless it sounds like something you like. I don't know...
"What makes us different is Neal plays guitar like nobody I know. He has a style of his own. I sing, in my opinion, very different than most singers. I'm into making a different vocal style - aggression with feeling...Everybody in the band is very unique in their own way and the combination of all that really makes something.
"When you play rock & roll you're bound to be classified in the rock & roll vein, as every disco song sounds like the next, but I think rock & roll's so much different than that. I don't see how anybody can compare a rock & roll band to another rock & roll band."
© Hit Parader, November 1979, Charlton Publications, Inc.