Steve Perry looks and acts like an alley cat who has knocked off his biggest enemy on the street. It's a cocksure champion's strut. He walks like someone who's beaten the odds.
The reason Perry posture is the success of his first solo album, Street Talk. The LP's initial single, "Oh Sherrie", hit the top 10, and three other potential chart-topping songs are in the wings. Journey's lead singer has seemingly done the impossible. He's satisfied Journey fans , surprised critics of the band's popular mainstream rock sound, and established his own music identity.
"I've always wanted to do a solo album, " say Perry. "There's a lot of things that I've wanted to say musically which didn't fit into Journey's format".
"When you're in the band, you have one vote in the group. I was my own boss on my album". Perry produced, co-wrote the songs and even did background vocals on the album. "I wanted the thrill and challenge if making a record that would succeed or fail on its own merits," he says. "When Journey rehearses our next album this fall, I know I'll be able to contribute more, because I've expanded my musical abilities with Street Talk."
Perry once recorded and co-wrote a duet with Kenny Loggins, "Don't Fight It," which was nominated for a Grammy. "Doing that song was a fun experience," says Perry, sipping a cup of coffee. "I learned from Kenny that each song doesn't have to be a hit. Our attitude was if we didn't come up with something we liked, then we wouldn't record it. Unfortunately, when lawyers and accountants get involved, they sometimes forget that musicians just want to make music, not money."
It's difficult to imagine the lean, affable, low-key singer having such a powerful dynamic voice. "Steve is capable of hitting high notes most rock singers can't conceive of," Says Kenny Loggins. "He also has a soulful quality that makes his voice truly unique. When you hear Perry's voice on the radio, you know instantly that it's him. His vocal talent is so special that it draws attention on it's own."
Perry's ability wasn't always that easy to recognize. In 1976 he was the lead singer in a San Francisco band, Alien Project. While the band was searching for a record label their bass player was killed in an auto accident. Alien Project then disbanded, although Perry would later use some of the band members on Street Talk.
Journey manager Herbie Herbert later heard the tape and signed Perry as lead singer of the band in 1978. Five years old by then, the San Francisco band had been founded by Herbert, Neal Schon, Journey's current guitarist and Gregg Rolie, Journey's keyboard player until 1980, when he was replaced by Jonathan Cain. Herbert, Schon and Rolie had all been with Santana,and Journey was known primarily for its progressive instrumental rock sound.
Perry not only gave the band a new voice, but promoted a change to Journey's now more familiar hard-pop sound. After Perry's addition, the band scored it's first platinum album, Infinity.
Since then, five of the group's last seven LP's have gone platinum (at least a million albums sold), and all told, Journey has sold some 22 million albums in the U.S. In fact, Journey is America's most popular rock band, according to a 1983 Gallup Poll.
"I credit a lot of Journey's success to our music being very rhythm-oriented and polished," says Perry. "It's also very melodic and structured. The main difference between Street Talk and a Journey album is that my songs are more romantic and personal. They have more of the emotionalism that you associate with early Motown songs."
In any merger of talent and egos, there is always the possibility of friction. Perry found the musicians working on Street Talk to be initially apprehensive towards him. "It was only natural," Perry explains. "They thought I might come to the studio acting like a big-time rock star and starting ordering them around. I was the complete opposite." Perry suddenly stops, then adds with a warm smile, "Once everyone sat down for a pizza and beer, which are my personal vices, all the tension was gone."
Life on the road, Perry confesses, takes its toll on friendships and more intimate relationships. "I'm not an easy person to be friends with, because I'm always on the road. When you sing for 2 1/2 hours each night, you tend not to socialize after the concerts because you want to save your voice I try to drink tea once a concert is over, but drinking a beer seems more like I've put in a day's works."
Perry and his long-time girlfriend Sherrie Swafford seem to have overcome the pressures of the singer's fame. The offbeat, charming video of "Oh Sherrie," which was written about Swafford, also features her as his attractive object of desire. "Female fans can often be more aggressive than men in a singles bar. The lyrics to 'Oh Sherrie' candidly tell the traumas our relationship has had. I owe Sherrie a lot. She keeps the rock star thing in perspective for me."
In spite of his wealth and fame, Perry still likes a cheap thrill. "When I was drive down the street and I hear my song on the radio, I want to tell the person in the next car to listen to me on the radio. I did that once and the person thought I was nuts. But I had a smile on my face for the rest of the ride."