By now, most of you must know the story of Journey's arduous, Horatio Alger climb into the land of platinum.
But, for the record: Santana refugees Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie formed Journey in '73 with ex-Steve Miller bassist Ross Valory, and a rhythm guitarist named George Tickner. Original drummer Prairie Prince left early for The Tubes, but was replaced by superstar Aynsley Dunbar.
For about the next four years (and as many albums) the band worked a sort of Pink Floydish jamrock that has yielded only modest success. Tickner, who evidently detested touring, dropped out and the band stayed on the road to keep eating.
Disheartened by a lack of commercial success, Journey revamped its sound. The long solos were deepsixed in favour of a more lyrical, song oriented approach. More importantly, vocalist / frontman Steve Perry joined Journey in '78, artist producer Roy Thomas Baker lent a phase shifter and the result was Infinity.
Arena rockers raised on the Styx-Foreigner-Boston ethic immediately took to this 'new band' and pushed the album to platinum and the tours to the big halls.
This year, Infinity was followed up by the similar Evolution and an even more prestigious (read: lucrative) tour. RECORD REVIEW caught up with Steve Perry, Neal Schon and new drummer Steve Smith on the eve of yet another massive tour.
Quick impressions: Schon is a spontaneous talker, while Smith comes off more thoughtful but no less friendly. Perry was playful and didn't miss an opportunity to boost Journey.
Obviously, Infinity was a rather radical shift in the Journey sound. Was it disappointing to the band that it had to dramatically change its sound to capture a larger audience?
Schon: You've got to do what you have to do to make them listen. I mean you can only beat an audience over the head for so long with what you know before you realise that it doesn't work and you have to move on to something else. I'm really proud of what we've done. I think we've learned to play a totally different style of music that we would have never probably have tried.
Smith: I think it also has to do with the time. Right now there is just not much of a market for high energy instrumental rock the way there used to be. People who come and see the band now say that we are better than we ever were. The instrumental thing in concert is excellent and the vocal side is really strong as well.
Still I imagine that it wasn't easy to throw away the former approach. Ideas are very personal and they don't die easy.
Schon: We of course expected to do better with our early albums but it didn't happen. I still think some of the stuff we did then was great. Some of it was self-indulgent, just jamming for ourselves, but I also think a lot of other things hurt us in the early days. It took awhile for the politics to sort of shape up.
Gregg Rolie said in another interview that Journey's music is a reflection of what the people want to hear. It almost sounds as if Gregg is giving up his artistic aspirations in favour of playing some sort of common denominator music.
Schon: I think what Gregg meant is that you can put us next to anyone and we're still very different, we're very diversified in our sound. What he's saying is that we are out in the public eye and we want to be even more so. We want to be known world-wide.
Smith: Also, I think Gregg is saying that he doesn't want to play for himself as much as he wants to play for people. He could play for himself forever, we all could. I've made my decision and it shows in the moves I've made through the music world. I could have stayed where I was, playing what I was playing, but I wanted to do other things and experience other facets of music.
Of course I'm sure you've been asked why you would leave Jean Luc-Ponty and turn down a gig with jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, for Journey. Some critics have suggested that your motivation was purely financial .
Perry: First of all this guy is the most anti-money guy I've met. He could live on crackers. (laughter) He doesn't give a damn about the money.
Smith: It really was a decision that came with knowing these guys as people and friends. I love the way that Steve sings and I love the way Neal plays guitar. I felt like I really wasn't satisfied doing the other thing. I wanted to learn new things. Don't get me wrong, I haven't learned all I could learn with Jean-Luc but I just came to a place where I wanted a whole new approach. Also I have always been a sideman and I wanted more input. In other situations I would just have been a sideman with no say in anything.
Perry: In those other situations the only joy you get is in playing your solo every night - that's it. But when you become a mature player like Steve you start wanting to be a songwriter and a musical player. All of a sudden you find that playing real busy just doesn't get you off anymore.
Smith: Jean-Luc gave me a chance to show one side of me. My style was totally coordinated with what he wanted. Which got to be a drag because I grew up playing all kinds of things. Now when we come up with a tune I get to do the tune with what it calls for and what I think would fit. I'm just real glad to be in a band and not just a sideman.
You replaced Dunbar in the band, who lately has been badrappin' the band, saying this music is too simple for him.
Perry: Yeah, Aynsley has been kinda contradicting himself, so we haven't felt a need to bad rap him. There is no reason, he's a great drummer, a stylised drummer, We sound better as we are now and he probably sounds better with the Starship.
Smith: I talked to Aynsley a lot about it. He tried to get into what the band was doing but he really didn't have a concept for it. He couldn't really hear it in his head so it never really felt right for him.
Perry: Aynsley has one style really down, he's excellent in the freeform majestic progressive stuff. But when it comes to doing other things he really can't. He's so stylised that he's locked and that's because of his background. Steve is not locked and this band plans on going everywhere. To be truthful, I don't think Aynsley could have done the Evolution album for us.
Neal, you've been recognised as a fine guitarist ever since you joined Santana at 15. Does Journey's current sound afford you the space to do everything you'd like to do?
Schon: Ooh! I could tell you some things if Perry wasn't in the room! (long laughter all around) I love to play real crazy, as everybody knows, sometimes Smith and I just get together and play burnout rock and roll. It's still a lot of fun. But you know I used to play a lot in the past and, to be honest, I just got tired of playing that much on every song. I think I just went into an extreme of self-indulgence. Now I'm trying to hit the middle ground, playing shorter solos, but with a lot of content, nothing wasted or extra.
There is a place for virtuoso playing within accessible rock and roll, isn't there?
Smith: Well that's the way we play, everybody in this band is really good so that is the way it comes out. But again, playing a lot is not the most satisfying thing. I think our new way of playing has helped everything, even the old material has a better place to come from.
Evolution is a rather obvious follow-up to Infinity from the title and cover art all the way down to the actual sound of the songs.
Perry: In writing the tunes for Evolution we wanted to keep the strong elements from Infinity and then add some new elements. I think that Evolution has a little more fire than the last album, it's a little stronger. We kept the high quality in the vocals with a definite stronger instrumental thing. We're already thinking ahead to the next album.
What can we look for on the next one?
Perry: It probably will be called Departure and it will be Journey goes disco! (laughter) It will have lots of the elements of the Infinity - Evolution period, some of the feelings from the albums past, and then some elements of itself. It really will be a departure.
Schon: I think you will notice the successful elements from Infinity - Evolution, but there will be a new intensity there. We will have room to stretch out because I think it will be a double album. I think it will be a bridge between what we are doing now and our past work. Everything will just be intense, whether it is acoustic or electric, and I'm looking forward to making it.
Does the band feel that San Francisco has influenced its music, either past or present?
Perry: Some people say we have a San Francisco sound which I find real strange. I think we have an international sound, which we may have worked up in San Francisco, because in the early days San Francisco was the only West Coast stop for everybody, Hendrix, Cream, Vanilla Fudge, just about everybody stopped in the Bay. Before anybody in Los Angeles was even talking about a concert, we had the Fillmore. So if we have a San Francisco sound, it's an international sound, made under the influence of everybody who has come through San Francisco.
Schon: San Francisco has had a lot of influence on me, not so much now, but when I was younger. When I was about 15 playing in the clubs, the scene was hot. If I got out early enough I could see three different acts. There was a lot of jazz clubs and I would sit in with Gabor Szabo and then take off and play Latin music with some other guys.
I guess it was about this time that both Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana asked you to join them. A tough, flattering dilemma for a 15 year old.
Schon: Oh yeah! My mind was blown. I had figured that eventually I would join a band but I didn't think I would get this chance of a lifetime.
Which guitar players are you listening to these days?
Schon: Oh that's easy. (laughter) Besides myself, I listen to Eddie Van Halen and Alan Holdsworth. I guess I listen a lot to Jan Hammer, he sounds to me like he wants to be a guitar player on the keyboards.
Steve, which drummers are your particular favourites?
Smith: I listen a lot to Steve Gadd but I like guys in different things. I like Jon Bonham and Charlie Waters. You see, that's another thing about Journey, I feel there is a potential for me to show everything I like. The guys here aren't musical bigots.
Perry: No, we are not and there ain't nothing that this band can't do. I don't think anybody knows the great things that we are going to do.
© Record Review, October 1979, Ashley Communications Inc