Steve Perry
Off the Record w/Joe Benson

January 1999
Westwood One
Joe Benson: In the 70's there was a struggling band named Journey. They put out three albums which were mostly instrumental, reminiscent of Pink Floyd and early Genesis fusion type stuff and, although the albums highlighted the band's musical virtuosity, commercially they tanked. So the band, founded by ex-Santana members, Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie, rethought their musical direction and hired a singer, named Steve Perry. Well, this Perry guy helped Journey sell 35 million albums in nine years and guided Journey to the stratosphere of rock stardom. And we were lucky enough to get that Steve Perry guy to come down to our studios and tell us his story... Off the Record.

Joe Benson: Hey, this is your Uncle Joe Benson and as I mentioned a minute ago, Journey was around for four years before Steve Perry joined the ranks. Gregg Rolie had been handling both the vocal and keyboard duties and 24 year old Steve Perry was in another band, which was on the verge of signing a record deal. But before Perry's band signed, the bass player and his co-songwriter died in a car accident, leaving Steve not only bereaved, but without a band. Shortly afterwards, the record company that was considering Steve's band recommended his talents to a suffering Journey and together they clicked.

Steve Perry: I went to my Grandfather and, ah, I asked him, who's now no longer with me, I said, you know, I had my band and this is what happened to 'em. He was an older gentleman, and I say, I think you know Grandpa that I just, I don't know if I'm supposed to be in this business 'cause every time I get this much closer, something equally as big comes and knocks it down. He says, well I don't know your business, he said, he used to talk like this... I don't know your business (Steve imitating his Grandfather's broken English) he says, but you know, I think these Journey guys they got jobs and you need a job. [Laughs] Basically, that was it.

Joe Benson: With Steve on board, Journey took off. In fact, even before Steve officially signed on the dotted line, he had written "Patiently" with Neal Schon. Their first album together was titled "Infinity", which stayed on the charts for over two years, selling over 3 million albums in the process. But Journey worked hard for that. They rocked their fingers to the bone in support of Infinity, playing 178 shows in nine months. But at that stage, the excitment of their success was enough to propel them.

Steve Perry: It was exciting, you know, when you, when, when you're in the midst of it and you have a mission. Ah, those were the days when from that mission there was a spirit and the music reflected that, I think. And I think that there was just a, a drive that we all got caught up into and just went with. And the goal was to reach large stadiums and to, to play such venues and have all those people know for once and for all that maybe you're pretty good at what you do.

Joe Benson: Journey's energy was limitless at this stage in their career and with the songwriting partnership of Schon and Perry, rock stardom was quickly becoming a reality.

Steve Perry: I mean, it's amazing what goes on in the mind of a, of a guy like me. Why would a guy like me, come outta the San Joaquin Valley, a small farm town, insist upon myself that this be my goal? Well, there's a lot of reasons you know, some sick ones [Laughs], some not so sick ones, you know. But it's, it's an insistent thing and I was caught up in the momentum of all of that and excited for it and reaching for it. And vocally I was fortunate that my voice was keeping up with my demands. You know, I was really asking a lot of it and it was going along for the ride, you know.

Joe Benson: "Lovin', Touchin', Sqeezin'", a double-edged sword of a song. On one hand it was based on a true story. Steve Perry walked in on his love interest fresh from lovin' someone else. But on the other hand, it became one of their most popular songs. This is your Uncle Joe Benson and coming up, Steve will tell us how Journey's work ethic ended up working against them, so stay here for more of Journey, Off the Record.

Joe Benson: Ah, this is your Uncle Joe Benson back with more of Journey, Off the Record. And after Steve Perry jumped on board with Journey, they developed a pattern of making an album in the studio, then going out on the road forever. Nine month tours, during which they performed almost as many shows as there were days. After which, they would go right back into the studio to start work on their next album, never taking a break from the work, or each other, and it proved to be destructive.

Steve Perry: We were the hardest touring band. I mean, we just, we would stay out there. I came back to, like I said on that other time, I came back to my Mom's house, 'cause I didn't have an apartment yet, 'cause I'm still on tour, you know [Laughs]. I parked my car in the garage. And uh, I remember the phone rang, where one Christmas again, the phone rang and I leaped out of bed and I ran down the hall, thinking I was late for the bus. I mean it was so... and then I'd reach to the phone and dial 9 for a line out, you know. I knew that I'd been on the road too long.

Steve Perry: Yeah, I was pretty burned out, but I gotta tell ya, I don't know where it kept coming from, but somehow, once you walk on stage, and especially as the audiences got bigger and bigger, it didn't seem to matter. You just were on this adrenaline, into a hyperdrive, and you would crash after the show, not even knowing how tired you were.

Joe Benson: Okay, life on the road was tough, but there were some perks. Journey was quickly becoming the biggest band in America, and as with most famous rock stars, Steve and the guys were getting a lot of ladies, ah, shall we say, expressing their appreciation.

Steve Perry: We'd play some shows and my god, you know, the tops would come off and there would be like, you know, boobage and you know, and they'd be sitting there shaking boobage. So I think they were projecting their own little intimate moment during the lyrics. So yes, that has happened. Especially in the hot summer days in the outdoor stadiums. I mean, it was unbelievable. There were times when we'd even... I'd bring a hose on stage and I'd cool everybody down, 'cause I felt so bad. Everybody was like packed in there and just dying of the heat and, you know, exhaustion.

Joe Benson: After the band's sixth album, Departure, their third with Steve Perry, and the enormous world tour that followed, founding member Gregg Rolie left. He couldn't handle the incessant touring and the increasingly small number of lead vocals he was sharing with Perry. But he hand-picked his replacement, ex-Babys member, Jonathan Cain, who seemlessly flowed into the band and instantly became a strong song writing force.

Steve Perry: One of the first things we did was a song called, Who's Crying Now, which I had showed up, driving up from Los Angeles. I was in my car and I always keep a mini cassette player with me and I had heard in my head the chorus. I heard the whole chorus. I don't know where it came from. I had the (Steve sings) one love for you to find, da da da.... and wonder who's crying now. I had this. All this stuff going on, but I didn't have all the lyrics finished. But the melodies were done and the rhythm was done. I knew what the pocket was. Got up there, met with Jonathan Cain and boom, he just like zeroed in on it. We had the beginning, we had the middle, we had... and then he helped... he did... he did the lyrics with me. It was done.

Joe Benson: Can you believe, with all their great songs, Journey never won a Grammy? Well, as long as they're still making music, I guess there's still hope...

Joe Benson: When we come back, Steve Perry will tell us how he and Jonathan Cain wrote their first million selling song, which was also their highest charting number.

Joe Benson: Ah, this is your Uncle Joe Benson and we're back, Off the Record with Journey, who dominated the airwaves in the early Eighties. Their 1981 album, Escape, the first to feature songwriting with Jonathan Cain, sold 6 million copies, stayed on the charts for three years and was their first album to go to Number One. Again they performed an exhausting world tour. The crowd just couldn't get enough. But when I talked with Steve Perry, one of the most remarkable things about him is, besides his voice, he remembers the origins of almost every one of their songs, including their first million selling single, Open Arms, which Steve co-wrote with Jonathan Cain.

Steve Perry: He had the, the opening melody (Steve sings da da da... ). He had that melody. He said, well you know, he came over my house with a Wurletzer (sp?) piano, he said, you know I got this idea, and forgive me, this is the god's truth, he says, I played it for John Waite one time. He never liked it. I said, well what is it? He said, well I'll play it for you. And he played it for me. And I said, god, that's a beautiful melody. I love that. He says, you don't think it's too, you know, syrupy or soft, or something. I said, are you kidding me? That's gorgeous. I love that melody. Can we at least finish it? So he was open enough to finish it. And then when you took it to the band and you turned the heat underneath it and make it a power thing, well... open arms.

Joe Benson: By the time Journey finished making their Frontiers album, they were like a bunch of cranky 8 year olds who had been stuck in the back of a station wagon on a cross country trip - irritated, tense and in need of a nap. The last thing they wanted to do was pack their bags for another world tour, but they did.

Steve Perry: I don't think anybody had the guts to just say maybe it's something intelligent to do, like we should just stop. Because there was this impending doom sorta lurking that once you stop, it's over. And I'm not sure if that came too much from the group. I know if came from management pretty strong. And, uh, and I think it came from the group too, now that I look back.

Steve Perry: At that point, I think that we had worked so hard. I think that we were, as a group, seeing so much of each other. We had made some money. We were actually starting to run into some conflicts, which would just be normal. That's what happens in bands. But I must tell you that the Frontiers record was absolutely made with all the same strength and all the mission that the group had in the Escape record. So, but it was at the middle of that Frontiers tour, maybe even before the Frontiers and definitely at the end of the Frontiers tour, we were pretty stressed and I was burnt.

Joe Benson: In 1983 Journey was the most popular band in America, according to a Gallup Poll. But after the Frontiers tour, they finally took a break from each other. And that's when Steve Perry made his first solo album, Street Talk. But the success of that album put him at a crossroads, should he stay with Journey or should he step out on his own. Steve himself will tell us how he made the decision, when we come back.

Joe Benson: We're back, Off the Record with Journey. This is your Uncle Joe Benson. And after Steve Perry released his solo album, and a million people bought it, he wasn't sure if he wanted to return to Journey. Things were so tense within the band, plus he had been on the road for so many years, he just wanted to stay close to home in the San Joaquin Valley.

Steve Perry: When the Street Talk record was done, and it was, it had sold over a million copies, I said, Mom, you know, should I go back to do Journey or should I do another solo album? I, for the first time in my life, I have this choice and honestly, I don't know what to do. And it wasn't that I was wimping out on my ability to make a decision. I just was confused, because everything had led to that point. The band was a little singed. We were all a little crispy. A new solo career had just opened up. It was inticing. So I said, you know, if I did Journey, I wouldn't be able to see you as much, because I'd be in San Francisco recording and writing. If I do a solo project, I'd be able to record a little bit, come spend a month with you, record a little bit and do it at my leisure. So I want you to think about it, Mom. I mean I really would like to spend it with you. Not to put it on you. And she couldn't speak at that point very well. She could whisper. And she said the word Journey. And I said now you're sure you know what this means, 'cause I'm gonna be up there working hard and I'll do my best to see you... [uncertain of his words here]... so a little more Journey. She said Journey. So if you look on the back of the Raised on Radio record, it says, this one's for you, Mom.

Joe Benson: It was after Journey's album, Raised On Radio, that the spirit left the band and they broke up.

Steve Perry: I was apprehensive because you know, we never ended on a good note. These groups, they never fall apart because, gosh, it's been great, love ya brother, see ya in ten years. [ Laughter ] No. You know that's not what happens to none of them. It's usually a little explosive.

Joe Benson: Like a marriage?

Steve Perry: Yeah, an awful lot. And it's like a divorce.

Joe Benson: So, after the ride of their lives on the roller coaster of rock, Journey called it quits. Oh , they tried reforming a few years back, even put out a million selling reunion album, but when Steve couldn't tour behind it, due to a degenerative hip condition, they went their separate ways once again. Steve has no bitter feelings towards the band and when he looks back on those days, it's with pride.

Steve Perry: You know, when we were at our biggest peak there was such a lot of conversation about how groups at that point didn't really have too much identity, which I found very, very disturbing, because I've always felt, and still do, that Journey had it's own identity. And I would like to see it remembered for a group, the incarnation of myself and the guys, as a group that had honest, honest heartful music, that really came from aggressive angst and pasionate heart and all the stuff in between.

Steve Perry: As I look back now, um you know, I have nothing to say, except, boy, I'm really proud of everything we've accomplished as a band, when we were together. I really am. And when I listen to these songs, you don't know what you were doing when you were doing it, but you knew in your heart you were gonna sorta listen to what was pulling ya and I'm glad that whatever that was, did that, because I love those songs

Joe Benson: No, Steve Perry has not lost his voice and yes, he hopes to tour again. But for the time being, he's recovering from major hip surgery and has just released a collection of his solo work titled, Greatest Hits + 5 Unreleased, and he plans to work on new material this year.

Journey - Off the Record is a presentation of Westwood One.

Joe Benson: This is your Uncle Joe Benson and I'd like to give a special thank you to Steve Perry for coming in to talk with us and I'll see you next time, off the record...

Steve Perry's December 2000
"Off The Record" Interview

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Transcription: Used with Permission