While euphorically discussing the feelings surrounding his first solo album, Street Talk, Journey's lead singer Steve Perry sounded remarkably like a freshly freed slave: "It's just the beginning. I feel like I've been set free for the first time. Freedom is an amazing thing. Once you get it, you don't want to give it up. I'm really feeling the freedom - it's this incredible thing rushing through me."
But his freedom is only temporary. This fall it's back in "bondage" - that's when he and the other members of America's premier pop-rock band regroup to record an album for release a year from now.
The intense, fast-talking singer, interviewed in his suite at L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, wasn't really equating membership in Journey with being enslaved on the ol' plantation. He was saying, rather melodramatically, that he finally had a chance to sing his way.
Listening to Journey's albums, it's evident that there's an R&B singer in Perry struggling to get out. He's taken a basic R&B style and refined it to suit Journey's lush, middle-of-the-road/rock sound. On many of the band's songs, he seems on the verge of cutting loose and forging beyond those confining pop boundaries, but he never does.
"Journey's stuff is very melodic and polished," Perry explained. "What I sing on my solo album is much more gutsy. The Journey sound doesn't allow me to do this kind of singing. I wanted to do stuff that had the flavor of the early Motown era."
On Street Talk Perry returns to his roots. In the late '60s and early '70s, he used to sing R&B. In those days he was also a drummer - a singing drummer. But in 1972, he gave up drumming to concentrate on singing.
The Street Talk album on Columbia Records - is Perry unleashed. There's a roughness and stark emotionalism in his voice that's rarely evident in his Journey vocals, which are generally sweet and somewhat silky. Those of us who admire his R&B-textured vocals finally get to hear him stretch out on some grittier material. His vocals on the solo album, particularly on his single, "Oh, Sherrie," are far superior to anything he's done with Journey.
So is Journey about to lose its voice? Is Perry so enamored of solo singing that he's reluctant to return to the "bondage" of Journey?
"I'll go back and record with those guys as planned," he replied. "I'm not planning to leave Journey."
But Perry hinted that, having recorded a solo album and savored freedom, he may not be as happy in Journey as he used to be.
"I'm not sure what it's going to be like when I go into the studio with them," he said. "I don't dare speculate. I know I like calling the shots in terms of writing and producing and what the band plays. It may be hard working with a band again and being part of that system where everybody has a say in what happens."
"I'll have a different attitude with this experience under my belt. I'm not sure how they'll react to me now. I'll have to wait and see."
When Journey assembles this fall to record the next album there is likely to be tension between Perry and a member who doesn't like his solo album. He declined to name the dissenter. All that he would say is that it's not drummer Steve Smith.
"Steve called me and said he liked it," Perry said. "I heard it through the grapevine that there's another member, who I won't mention, who thought the album was something I can't repeat. He's entitled to his opinion but I certainly don't like it. I'd be lying if I said otherwise."
Perry has changed his tune about solo albums. A few years ago he thought they weren't a good idea for Journey members.
"I use to think solo albums would defuse the nucleus of the band," he said. "I thought they would make the group seem scattered and not together. I was a real gung-ho Journey person. I wanted us all to stay together and I was against anything that might pull us apart."
But the other members, particularly lead guitarist Neal Schon and drummer Smith, disagreed about the divisive effects of solo albums. "When those guys started to do solo albums I was concerned," Perry recalled. "I thought they shouldn't do them but they went ahead and did them anyway. I waited a long time but I finally figured I might as well do one too. If they weren't worried about it, why should I?"
The group may be sorry that Perry did a solo album. If Street Talk is very successful, he may eventually decide a solo career is preferable to singing with Journey. Such a decision would be disastrous for the band. Perry's vocals are integral to the band's identity. He's the only indispensable member.
When Perry joined the band 6 1/2 years ago, it was a modestly popular, primarily instrumental band that was switching from jazz fusion to song-oriented pop-rock. By 1980, Journey was a superstar band, thanks to the band's pop songwriting skill and, more importantly, to Perry's marvelously expressive vocals.
Without his vocal signature, Journey wouldn't be the same. Perry attempted to downplay his importance but was quite unconvincing. He knows, as well as the other members, that as Perry goes, so goes Journey. In the best interests of the band, the other members had better make sure that Perry doesn't go.
© Faces, 1984 - Supplied and transcribed by Grace H.