Thirty years has a nice ring to it. The hippies never trusted anyone over 30, and as the high school reunion committee keeps reminding me, it is also the number of years since I graduated. Thirty years have passed since the peak of Journey’s popularity as well. “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Don’t Stop Believin” were more than hits on the radio, they were anthems. Before the advent of “chick flicks” we had “chick songs,” and Journey were the undisputed champs. If a guy didn’t have an eight-track of Escape in his car back then, he was usually home alone on Friday nights. Who’s crying now? It used to be me.
As big as Journey were, there has never been a major biography written about them. Neil Daniels has corrected the situation with his new book Journey: The Untold Story. As they say, discretion is the better part of valor – and the members of Journey certainly adhered to the tenet. Unfortunately for them, Daniels found out where the bodies are buried.
The biggest revelation has to do with LSD — musicians’ shorthand for Lead Singer’s Disease. I first heard of it when Eddie Van Halen was talking about David Lee Roth. According to Daniels, Steve Perry is an LSD hall of famer. In some ways it is understandable that the front man of the group would think that he was also in charge. Unfortunately for the vocalist, this is almost never the case. When it came to Journey, the situation was magnified by the fact that the rest of the band were virtually anonymous to the casual fan. In their mind, Steve Perry was Journey.
Daniels takes us back to the early days, long before Perry came along. As a matter of fact, Journey was formed out of the ashes of Santana’s first lineup. Keyboardist Gregg Rolie was onstage with Santana at Woodstock, and even sang their big hit “Evil Ways.” A 16-year old guitar prodigy by the name of Neal Schon made his first recorded appearance on Santana III in 1971. When Carlos decided to take his music in a heavy jazz-fusion direction, Rolie and Schon opted out and founded Journey.
The first three Journey albums were not very successful. There was a tendency toward instrumental self-indulgence, which was common in the early seventies. It worked for some bands, but not this one. By their fourth attempt, it was do or die time. Enter Steve Perry, and the Infinity LP. This is where the Journey story really begins for many. “Wheel In The Sky,” “Lights,” and “Feelin’ That Way” were all on Infinity and became FM radio staples.
There was more to the winning formula than the simple addition of Steve Perry though. Besides KISS, Journey were one of the first “branded” groups. Ever notice the distinctive, yet similar album covers and titles during their golden years? We had Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Captured, and Escape, all with artwork by Stanley Mouse.
One of the first big rifts in the band happened when Perry decided that for 1983’s Frontiers, he wanted to change cover artists. It was little more than a power play, but he got his way. With that fateful step, the slow dissolution of the group began.
Daniels spends as much time on the decline of Journey as he did on their rise, which is the only real drawback of the book for me. There were solo albums, Perry left and came back, then left again… the tribulations go on and on. While their later years are an important part of the story, the momentum has clearly been lost.
At my upcoming reunion I fully expect to hear plenty of Journey tunes, especially “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It is a classic, and who can deny the final song Tony Soprano ever heard? Just like The Sopranos though, all good things must come to an end, including the golden-era of Journey.
But Journey itself did not end. They are now firmly in Neal Schon’s control, after Steve Perry’s final departure in 1998. Gregg Rolie had left the group he co-founded way back in 1980. Journey now tour the summer nostalgia circuit with their new singer Arnel Pineda.
In Journey: The Untold Story, Neil Daniels chronicles the rise and fall of the AOR perennials with an eye to detail and a healthy amount of respect. It is a refreshing look at a group who were once almost universally reviled as “corporate rock” by magazines such as Rolling Stone. The book is a well-written account of the band‘s long history and is recommended. All we need now are the Foreigner and Styx exposes to complete the trifecta.