SAN FRANCISCO - Journey is a busy band. Last October the group finished up their grueling six-month international Departure tour with five sold-out concerts in Tokyo and Osaka. Right afterwards, in a whirlwind two-week wrapup, they laid down - at Tokyo's highly advanced Shinonomachi Studios - the soundtrack for Dream After Dream, the debut film for the Paris-based Kenzo Takada, Japan's most popular fashion designer. They then came home and, within a month, made the announcement that keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, who had been a founding member of both Santana and Journey, was leaving the band, to be replaced by Jonathan Cain of The Babys.
Shortly thereafter, the remaining Journey members - guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Ross Valory, drummer Steve Smith and lead vocalist Steve Perry - began rehearsals with Cain. The band's first live album, recorded on the Departure tour, was released on January 26. Now Schon has taken some time for himself to travel to New York to do some exploratory work with the internationally respected jazz keyboardist Jan Hammer, which they hope will lead to music suitable for a recording project. In March the new Journey begins full-scale rehearsals for its next studio album.
Such non-stop, wide-ranging, able-to-adapt activity provides some clue as to why, over the past several years, Journey has become perhaps the most internationally successful San Francisco band, as well as the band most lionized locally by hordes of ferociously devoted young rockers.
Rolie's departure comes at a time when his band is at its commercial peak. Rolie, at 33, is older than his Journey colleagues, and after a dozen years with heavily touring bands says it is time "to enjoy the fruits of my labors" and to start raising a family.
The move is designed only to get Rolie off the road, not to get him away from his keyboards and microphones. He will record an album of his own original solo material and also will produce a debut album for the young local group 415. 415 is only the second band signed for management by Journey's Walter "Herbie" Herbert, who conducts business affairs under the company name Nightmare Productions. What Herbie has done with Nightmare Productions - building a top-to-bottom, side-to-side business empire that, under separate logistical divisions, provides Journey with everything it needs from trucks to T-shirt merchandising - is a story in itself.
"There are also high hopes," says Herbie, "that Gregg and Carlos Santana may get back together again to do some recording." The two have not worked together since the early 1970s when Rolie, after having sung lead on several of Santana's first hits, left that group in a difference of opinion over Carlos' turn to jazz and spiritualism.
The soundtrack work for Dream After Dream - perhaps the most fascinating item in this list of recent developments - came about when Journey guitarist Schon, on a promotional tour of guitar-crazy Japan prior to the concert dates, learned from CBS/Sony vice-president Hiroshi Kanii about Takada's plans. Simultaneously Herbert, at home in San Francisco, learned of the film via a magazine item, and upon discovering that Takada was looking for "an American group that could do a Pink Floyd-type soundtrack", Herbert sent to CBS/Sony (Japan's equivalent of Columbia Records here) a tape of a song called "Little Girl", which had been recorded for, but not used on, the Departure album and which he thought fit the feeling of the script that Nightmare had been furnished.
"I knew how tremendously popular Takada was in Japan," says Herbert, "and I knew we would benefit from any association with him because this came at just the time that we were working very hard at building our careers in the Japanese market." Thus the Journey players met with Kenzo in Paris to watch rushes of the dream-sequence film shot in the Moroccan desert, and then carried videotapes with them to work on the score later.
The entire soundtrack was written and recorded in the space of two to three weeks, with Schon's father Matthew - a tenor sax player who has worked many local clubs in his time and who had previously scored strings for Journey songs - traveling to Japan to write and conduct the string section for the film music.
The album, in a delectable pastel package that shows off the general superiority of Japanese records, is currently in release only in Japan, although it is available as an import here and has been played on a number of local FM stations. This airplay will, of course, create a certain demand, and while Herbert admits that "it wouldn't necessarily be prudent to release it here since it would confuse the fans and disrupt sales of the live album," he says also that "I'd like to see it sell a little in the US. Who knows? It might catch on. If it were just a Journey album the music would be considered self-indulgent, but as a soundtrack, it works."
As for the live album, the majority of its sixteen songs were taped in three cities - Detoit, Tokyo, and Montreal - although Herbert says they recorded all dates "and the album has material from everywhere from Little Rock to Paris." Schon, comparing the Journey album to the recent live packages from the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, says flatly, "This stomps on 'em."
Referring to the jazz/rock fusion nature of Hammer's music, Schon says his experiment with the keyboardist developed "because we are both interested in each other's playing and we just want to see what happens when we put it together. I've got a lot of really fused-out material that's not Journey material but is worthy of being heard. I think it's really healthy to play with a few different people from time to time, because then when you come back to your main thing it's so much fresher. Of course since Gregg left the band there have been all sorts of rumors that I'll be leaving too. But there's nothing to that. The guys in Journey know what our new direction will be and Cain is a great replacement. During rehearsals he'll have a guitar hung around his neck and he'll play it and then jump on the keyboards in the middle of a song. So on our new album we'll definitely step out a bit."