Journey - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Journey is a band that has gone through many phases in its 30+ year career, starting from a jazz-fusion inflected progressive rock style to go on to be one of the biggest pop/hard rock bands of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Since then, the group has gone through various members, with the only original member being guitarist Neal Schon, but has continued on with a pop-rock style and continues to record and tour up to the present day.
The original version of Journey was formed out of the ashes of the Santana group. Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie both left Santana in 1973, and originally planned to form a group called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, intended to back up various solo San Francisco Bay Area musicians. The two recruited bassist Ross Valory and rhythm guitarist George Tickner from the band Frumious Bandersnatch, and soon added Tubes drummer Prairie Prince to the line-up. Originally, the group was without a name, and even participated in an on-air contest on local rock station KSAN to pick a name, but finally settled on Journey after a suggestion made by one of their roadies. The group, brimming with chops and under the direction of Schon and Rolie, quickly developed a progressive rock style heavily influenced by much of the jazz-fusion prevalent on the scene in the early 1970’s. The group played as an opening act at numerous shows in the Bay Area, and after Prince left to rejoin The Tubes, was replaced by British drummer Aynsley Dunbar. After building up a reputation as an explosive, mostly instrumental live act, Journey was signed to a contract with Columbia Records in 1974, and soon after cut their first self titled album, Journey (Columbia), released in 1975. After the album was released, Tickner left the band, and the group carried on as a four-piece for their next album, Look Into The Future (Columbia)(1976). Though the band had a fan base in the Bay Area, neither album sold well outside of that area, and so the band, with their record company’s encouragement, tried to craft their third album to be a bit more “pop-friendly”. Valory, Schon and Dunbar all took vocal lessons so they could harmonize with Rolie, and Schon even took lead vocals on several tracks. With more vocals and shorter song structures, 1977’s Next (Columbia) was a step towards more traditional rock, but the album again failed to sell well, and after the band returned from touring in support of the album, their record company requested that they change their musical style and hire a frontman to make themselves more commercially appealing or risk being dropped from their recording contract.
The group hired lead vocalist Robert Fleischman and went out on tour with him in 1977 playing a style of music closer in sound to such contemporaries as Boston and Blue Oyster Cult, but their small fan-base were not receptive to the new vocalist, and personality conflicts the other members of the band had with Fleischman resulted in him being sacked from the line-up by the end of the year. The group quickly found singer Steve Perry, and Perry’s high, tenor voice was just what the band needed to make themselves more commercially viable. The group released the album Infinity (Columbia) in 1978, and gained themselves their first hit album, with sales eventually reaching platinum status. The album included the hit songs “Wheel In The Sky” and “Lights”, which both went on to be FM and classic rock staples. Drummer Dunbar didn’t like the band’s new direction and didn’t get along with Perry, so after Infinity, he quit the band and was replaced by conservatory-trained drummer Steve Smith. Journey quickly became one of the most popular rock bands in the United States, and followed up the success of Infinity with Evolution (Columbia), released in 1979 and including the band’s first Top 20 pop single “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”. This was quickly followed by 1980’s Departure (Columbia), which itself got into the Top Ten on the American album charts and spawned the hit single “Anyway You Want It”. The group toured extensively between successive albums, and released the live album Captured (Columbia) in 1981 which featured all of their recent hits. Exhausted from the bands relentless touring, founding member Gregg Rolie quit the band after the release of Captured, and initially the band tapped keyboardist Stevie Roseman as his replacement, but at Rolie’s suggestion, settled on former Babys keyboardist Jonathan Cain as a permanent member. Cain was more reliant on piano and synthesizers where Rolie had been more fond of the Hammond B-3 organ, so the sound of the band shifted subtly after Captured.
With Cain on board, the band released the most successful album of their career, 1981’s Escape (Columbia). Escape contained three Top Ten singles; “Open Arms”, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, and “Who’s Crying Now”, and went on to earn platinum sales status a mind-boggling nine times over. Though the band was truly one of, if not the most popular, rock bands in the United States and around the world in the early ‘80’s, they also took many potshots from critics, many complaining that the band were both bland and commercial to the point of over saturation. The group did take advantage of their position commercially, recording commercials for beer brands and allowing their songs and even likenesses to be used for arcade games. They also allowed the then-new MTV network to film and broadcast one of their concerts in front of over 20,000 fans in Texas. The group moved on to their next album, 1983’s Frontiers (Columbia), which, though it didn’t sell near the same numbers as Escape, was still a runaway success, climbing as high as #2 on the album charts, and spawning the hit singles “Faithfully” and “Separate Ways”. The group commissioned a crew from NFL Films to record a documentary of their tour supporting Frontiers and the way they spent their time while on the road, which was released as Frontiers And Beyond. The group had literally gone about as far as it could go commercially and had been on an almost non-stop treadmill of touring and recording since the late 70’s, so after touring was completed in support of Frontiers, the group members decided to put the band on hiatus for a while and concentrate on other aspects of their life and music. Perry and Schon both released solo albums, and it wasn’t until 1986 that the band released another album, Raised On Radio (Columbia). In the interim, bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were fired from the band due to both personal and musical differences, and the remaining trio of Schon, Perry and Cain drafted bassist, (and future American Idol judge), Randy Jackson and drummer Larrie Londin to contribute to the album in Valory and Smith’s place. Raised On Radio spawned four hit singles and went on to sell over two million copies worldwide. The group toured briefly in support of the album with the same line-up, minus Londin and featuring drummer Mike Baird. In 1987, Perry announced he was leaving the band, and Schon and Cain decided not to continue with the Journey name, and instead formed the new band Bad English with Cain’s former Babys bandmates John Waite and Ricky Philips and new drummer Deen Castronovo. Columbia released the Journey compilation album Greatest Hits in 1988, and it has gone on to be one of the best selling hits collections in the history of recorded music, selling a mind-melting 15 million copies so far. To date, it still sells at a rate of over 500,000 copies a year.
Columbia released three more compilations of the bands work in the next eight years, and by 1985, ex-members Schon, Cain, Valory, Smith and Rolie were thinking about reforming Journey with Kevin Chalfant, the vocalist in Valory and Smith’s interim band The Storm. Perry got word that the rest of the band were thinking about a reunion, and agreed to sign on as lead singer as long as the rest of the band got rid of their manager Herbie Herbert, so once Herbert was replaced by superstar manager Irving Azoff, Perry was also on-board for a reunion. The group got back together and recorded the 1996 album Trial By Fire and scored several hits off of the record and even were nominated for a Grammy that year for the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The group was planning to tour in support of the album, but Perry badly injured his hip in a hiking accident. Perry’s doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to perform again without a hip replacement surgery, but Perry refused the procedure, and the rest of the band were forced to look for another lead singer. (Perry did eventually agree to the surgery some time later.) Steve Smith also left the band in 1998. The group decided to replace Smith with Schon and Cain’s old Bad English bandmate Deen Castronovo, and found a new singer in the person of Steve Augeri, formerly of the bands Tall Stories and Tyketto. The new version of Journey recorded and released the album Arrival (Columbia), released in Japan in 2000, and the rest of the world in 2001. Arrival didn’t sell anywhere near the numbers of the band’s releases in the 1980’s, but still made a respectable showing. The group toured over the course of the next few years, and returned again with the 2005 album Generations (Sanctuary), which featured all of the members of the band taking turns at lead vocals. At around the same time, Journey was inducted into the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and to the surprise of many, former lead vocalist Steve Perry ended his years of seclusion by showing up for the festivities. His sudden appearance fueled rumors of a possible reunion of Perry with the rest of Journey, but it was not to be. The group, with Augeri on lead vocals, followed the release of Generations up with a tour in celebration of 30 years together. In 2006, it was announced that Augeri was being let go from the band, as he had been suffering throat problems, and the band replaced him with singer Jeff Scott Soto. Soto only lasted a few months as Journey’s lead singer before he himself was dismissed, and the band went on to draft singer Arnel Pineda from a Filipino Journey cover band after Schon saw YouTube footage of Pineda performing the band’s songs. The group, now with Pineda as the frontman, released the album Revelation in 2008, and thus far it has been a strong seller. Journey embarked on a summer tour with Heart and Cheap Trick in the summer of 2008, and it was one of the top grossing tours of that summer. It seems Journey will continue on for many years to come.