WELL, WELL, well! Strike me with the Smirnoff, bottle me with the Bourbon, what a turn up for the books! Would you Adam 'n' Eve it, there I was passing another OTT day in the Kerrang! HQ, manfully holding the fort while Doc Doom, the Baron and Deaf Barfly went off a-printin', when the jelly-bone rang for the nine millionth time.
Who should be dangling on the end of said line? None other than CBS press person Sharon Wheeler. Could I believe my ears? Nope, there it went again: "Would you be interested in interviewing Steve Perry?"
Could this be a dastardly Bonutto wind-up? Could Journey press mogul Sandy Einstein have finally lost what faculties he had left? Steve Perry?! Come on! We're talking Steve Perry, Journey vocalist, the man who lives in his own separate trailer whilst on the road, the man who spits in the eye of anyone who even mentions the word 'Press'!
"Er...OK...ya!" quoth I in reply to Ms Wheeler's question, and less than a week later I'm sitting in front of the phone again, dialling the number, which will bring me, if not face-to-face, then at least mouth-to-mouth with the man himself. I'm still not convinced that this isn't a wind-up, mind! I mean, calculating time differences between London and San Francisco leads to the inconceivable thought that Perry is primed 'n' ready at nine in the morning.
But, ye gads, it is him, it is the bane of the press holding court - and what's more, he sounds like a pretty decent geezer to me!
"I tend to get up pretty early these days. I dunno, I've burned the midnight oil in my time, believe me, but I seem to be leading something of a more healthy existence these days."
And a more personally satisfying one too, by the sound of things. Perry's debut solo album away from the Journey spotlight, "Street Talk", has scaled remarkable heights in the States. The album rides high in the US charts while the first 45 culled, "Oh, Sherrie", has proved to be a monster hit, proving once and for all who is the band's true focal point.
"I really believe in "Street Talk", claims Steve, "I was hoping it would do well, but of course you don't count your chickens before they've hatched. Naturally, I'm very pleased!"
Well he might be too, for "Street Talk" is a personal triumph for the man, a marvellous collection of rock songs, R 'n' B tinged and saturated in melody. If it ain't intensity and density you're looking for in your rock music, but rather songs, then you should despatch your fiver pronto and tell it to give itself up in return for this wholesome hunk of music. You'll probably be almost as satisfied as Mr. Perry himself.
"Y'know, when I received my first gold album with Journey, I was on top of the world. Then, when we had our first US top 20 hit with "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" from the "Evolution" album, I thought that I would be satisfied if I never had any more success. But I soon found out that that wasn't true, because when you've had a taste of success you start craving more. The success of "Street Talk" is the most satisfying thing that I've ever experienced because I co-ordinated the whole product myself. I financed the project, I booked the studio, I co-produced the record, found the musicians and wrote the material.
"It was hard work, but if you really enjoy it then you don't feel that way. The kind of neuroses that you feel in Journey because of the pressure can tend to sterilise your work. With this album I just said 'f**k it, I got into this business to hear my own songs as they should be heard, to see the ideas take form, to build a track . . . that's all. That's what I'm gonna do with this record!'
"I didn't call up Jimmy Page to play guitar, I didn't sit worrying about the tracks, I left things pretty much as they went down. Songs can often be like wine, the longer they sit, the more charming they become. What's needed is a large amount of enthusiasm, and surprising results will then come by themselves."
Which also explains why the main man relied on somewhat unknown musicians; friends who were enthusiastic about the project. "Street Talk" provided what Perry terms "an infectious freedom" which you can really feel throughout the grooves of the album.
Yet, with the vocalist spreading his wings so obviously successfully, could this mean that the days of Journey itself are severely numbered? After all, each band member is off doing his own thing, Perry is happily street talkin', bassist Ross Valory is putting his own project together, drummer Steve Smith has delved into the realms of his first love, jazz, via solo album work, Jay Cain is busy helping out wife Tane in Tryanglz, and guitarist Neal Schon has worked with both Jan Hammer and Sammy Hagar.
When I mention the prospects of Journey, Perry uses the words "if and when we get back together". I pick up on it.
"It just seemed like the right time for everyone to do his own thing and I didn't want my product to be nothing more than a set of demos, a w**king session. I am taking the project seriously, but I use the terms 'if' and 'when' very loosely. The group is having fun on its own. I'm not the only one, y'know. Whether it will bring us closer together or take us further apart is hard to say. What I can say, however, is that if we do another album, I'd certainly like to participate a lot more. If you're in a band situation you can't do everything, you sometimes have to take a back seat. The musical direction has to fit the group."
Which, to my reading between the lines, doesn't sound too positive within the context of Journey. And taking a look at the streamlined approach of "Street Talk", it would seem perhaps that Steve Perry isn't the greatest hard rock fan alive.
"No, that's not true at all. I love rock 'n' roll. I love HM. I love it! I had a coupla hard rock songs for my album but they would've stuck out too much within the context of the record. I couldn't vent all my frustrations in one fell swoop, on one album. But some of the new Heavy Metal is very good, there are some great hooklines in the tunes of all these bands, even down to Twisted Sister. Those guys really know what they're doing."
A comment which I find gracious in the extreme, considering the utter disappointment of the last Sister release, despite its marvellous US success. Place those tunes alongside the likes of Perry's own "Strung Out", "Captured By The Moment" or "I Believe" and there really is no contest!
"I'd really like to think that the album could do something in Britain. Don't you think that it would go down well in the pubs? The last time I was in London all I heard in the pubs was Motown and R'n'B. That stuff is definitely in the groove of my record.!
What's more, deciding to talk to the press again certainly helps the cause.
"I stayed away from the press for two years, I stopped reading everything. The other guys in Journey would go, 'Hey Perry, look what they're calling you now,' and I just didn't wanna know. It's not that I dislike bad press, but it was the libellous stuff that I couldn't take. People were so cruel, so personal! They said that I sounded like a duck, that I sounded somewhere between melted cheese and chewing gum, that I sang like a battered seal. Rolling Stone killed me constantly, but all I wanted to see was thousands of people getting off at our concerts! It was only because I believed in my product so strongly that I decided to talk again."
To fox the critics even more, the release of Journey's "Frontiers", in 1983, showcased a new Perry, lower vocal, a deeper range. Did he give in to the hacks, in spite of those of us who've always maintained that his original vocals were as close to perfection as any we'd heard?
"Not really. I got to the stage where I considered it good press if they spelt my name right! I was just getting bored with the way I was singing and I wanted to try a few new things vocally. There were too many people who were trying to imitate me!"
Like the guy in Survivor?
"You said it, not me! What pissed me off was that he won a Grammy that year and I didn't! I'm letting everyone else chase something different this time. I could sing the old way in a second, you can hear hints of it in "It's Only Love" and "Strung Out". I don't think I'll become a rasper just yet!"
Yet what really interests Steve Perry right now is the thought of taking "Street Talk" out on the road:
"Oh man, I'd love to do that. The guys who played on this album are on hold and I'd like to do Japan and Europe in 3000 seaters where my profile won't be as big as in the States. I just heard today that the album's taking off in Australia. It's really exciting!"
So it is, too! After all, "Street Talk" is the best talk.
© Kerrang, issue #74, August 9-22 1984, Morgan Grampian, plc