Los Angeles. No one ever said touring was easy. Missed planes, sleepless nights, stolen equipment, cheap motels and mediocre food are all part of life on the road. And it's a life the members of San Francisco-based Journey know well after six years on the concert circuit. For five years, they were a moderately successful touring outfit, playing a post-psychedelic, instrumental-centered variety of hard rock. But it wasn't until they dumped a guitarist, hired vocalist/songwriter Steve Perry and gave up spacy jams in favor of shorter songs that, aided by producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Cars), they assembled the platinum LP Infinity. As they take a break from recording their fifth album, Evolution - at L.A.'s Cherokee Studios with Baker once again at the helm - it's easy for them to joke about the hard times. After all, they're not living them any more.
"Our limo accident was fun," recalls Steve Perry sardonically. "We were in Detroit. The band was in two limousines and the traffic was ridiculous. They all drive like fools in the Motor City! All of a sudden everyone was literally screeching to a halt. Our driver slams into the car in front of us. Then the limo in back of us ran square into our limo. I was thrown into the back seat. Three of us suffered heavy, heavy, massive whip-lash, which we had for the rest of the tour.
We climbed out of the limos and we just started kicking them. It was incredible! Picture this: Traffic backed up for miles. There are only two lanes out of five that are clear. Cars are driving by real slow and here are these five guys kicking and leaping on two bashed-up limousines. People were flipping us off. We were flipping them off!" Perry sighs and pauses, trying to remember the point to his story. "Oh yeah, you get pretty crazy when you're out on the road awhile."
The rise from tin to platinum made the grind a lot more bearable. But with the increased comfort, Infinity's sale have brought with them accusations that Journey has sold out: adding clichéd lyrics, overdubbing like Queen, screaming and posturing like Led Zeppelin. They are quick to rationalize the change in their sound.
"It's no copout to want a whole lot of people to hear you," says keyboard man Gregg Rolie, 29, who helped found Journey will a fellow veteran of Santana, guitarist Neal Schon.
"Look," says bassist Ross Valory defensively, "Anyone who performs in the recording industry and on most stages is already in the realm of commercial music. So there's no differentiation except in terms of the number of people your audience is comprised of. How far and to what extent does your music reach the people?"
One wonders if, prior to the success of Infinity, this group of journeyman rockers ever considered a career in, say, the insurance business. "You mean did we ever think about hanging it up?" asks Valory. "Throwing in the old towel? Not really. We've hung together through thick and thin and that, more than anything else, is why we're successful."
It would seem that Steve Perry has been the key factor in Journey's success. How'd they find him? "Steve just sent us a tape," says Valory. "We had just made the decision to make a change in direction. Steve just came along. It was so timely. Might I say.. cosmic."
"That album sold 1 ½ million copies!" Perry exults. "And it's still selling. That is unheard-of from a group without a hit single. You want to know how we sold all those albums? The road. We toured nonstop for seven months last year, and people who saw us bought that album."
More likely, it is Journey's significant shift to a popular style - a sound that fits comfortably amid the music of Queen, Foreigner and Boston - that has caught the public's ear. Not only has Perry brought Journey a sound that sells - he seems to be working on an image that sells, too. "Ross and Gregg might project that very laid-back image, because that's what they're like," says Perry. "But this band is definitely not" - he pauses, then shouts - "meek! If you're wondering if we've destroyed a Holiday Inn, well, sometimes it happens. One time, Gregg and I went out and bought 25 extension cords. We figured that the extension cords were just long enough to reach from our room to the first floor. And we took a color television, we plugged it in and tossed it into the pool. It was a wonderful sight. You ever done that? I'm telling you man, it goes up in a beautiful color. It explodes. It's great!"
Despite their platinum status, Journey remains a low-profile band. Perry expects that to change soon "We're the biggest sleepers of the industry," he insists. "But we're waking up real fast. And we is jumping out!"