Retrospective: Journey

Neal Schon (third from left)

"A singer in a smoky room, a smell of wine and cheap perfume..."

The Journey story begins in 1973 when the young guitar prodigy Neal Schon had reached the end of his tenures in both Azteca and more prominently Santana.

"Basically, Herbie Herbert, my guitar tech at the time approached me to put a band together. Shortly after George Tickener, another guitarist, and I got together, Ross Valory (bass) was brought into the picture by Herbie. Greg Rolie (keyboards) arrived a bit after that and then Prairie Prince (drums)."

Originally called the Golden Gate Rhthym Section, they had intended to play more of a seesion role, however the decision was soon taken that they should take the limelight. Prairie Prince though, committed to another project soon left. On February 1, 1974 noted sticksman Aynsley Dunbar became a full partner.

A record contract was duly signed with Columbia, with the first fruits of this liason 1975's Journey, 1976's Look Into the Future, and 1977's Next, following more of a rock/ fusion instrumental path.

But Columbia were running out of patience. They wanted a return on their investment. 

"At that time it was a do or die situation with Columbia. We were either going to have a hit record or they were going to drop us."

Meanwhile, Steve Perry had long been trying to make his fortune as a singer. Success was looming for his band Alien Project when, tragically, the bass player was killed in a car accident. Perry returned home but Herbert, having heard his tape wasted little time persuading him down to San Francisco to meet with Journey. Perry played them a composition of his entitled Lights and his position was secured.

Infinity was released in January 1978, subsequently attaining a position of Number 21. It's accessibity opened up a vast new audience for Journey, plus it guaranteed the continuation of their contract. Following the huge Infinity tour, Aynsley Dunbar, unhappy with the direction taken vacated his stool. Steve Smith who had been playing for Montrose on the same tour replaced Dunbar.

Within three months of its release, Evolution, having already sold in excess of 800,000 copies, spawned their first hit single in Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'. Journey duly conformed. A compilation of the first three albums was released in 1980 under the title In The Beginnings, to be followed in March of that year by Departure, which quickly racked up over a million sales.

Journey released their only live record in February 1981. Captured was exactly what the title professed, a great live band caught in their act.

"I feel that the (studio) records never justified the band at all. We were much harder-edged, more realistic live because we never had overdubs. I think Captured was one of the best records we ever made."

After a lifetime spent touring, Greg Rolie retired his services. Rolie's replacement Jonathan Cain was hired from The Babys. Cain immediately made his mark by co-writing the seminal Escape album.

Produced by Mike Stone and Kevin Elson, the sheer class of Escape easily wormed its way into the American psyche. Perry, obviously no stranger to heartbreak, shared his torment via the hit singles Who's Cryin' Now and Open Arms. The album's focal point was Don't Stop Believin', though Schon won't be drawn on its impact.

"I didn't pay any attention to the charts. All I knew was that we were doing well and there were cheques in the mail so it was alright with me!"

Simulataneously released with Frontiers in February 1983, the single Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) hit number 8 and boosted the album to a position of number 2. By this time there was friction developing between Schon and Perry over the musical direction.

"By the sound of the record you can tell that I was wanting to get more experimental and progressive with the music while Perry wanted to get softer."

Steve Perry released Street Talk, his one and only solo offering to date, in 1984. He returned to Journey for the sessions which would lead to Raised on Radio with a desire to become more prominent in the recording process. By 1985 cracks were beginning to appear in Journey's framework and they were soon reduced to a trio. Only Perry, Schon, and Cain remained.

"Basically Steven [Perry]was producing the record and he didn't feel that the rhythm tracks were living up to the music he'd written so he wanted to let Ross and Steve [Smith] go. I was pretty disgusted with the whole project at that point. I just didn't want to be around this bad vibe situation. I'd go in and do my work as fast as I could then leave."

Schon had become disillusioned with the shape 'his' band had taken. Radio had taken an eternity to record by Journey standards and he was even outvoted when it came to finding replacements for Valory and Smith when the Radio tour rehersals began. Schon describes the final blow...

"We were actually in Hawaii when Steven told us he just wanted to bail and hang music up. At the time Jon and I wanted to find another vocalist and carry on but we came round to thinking that it was better for us to move on to something else."

A Greatest Hits album was released in 1988 and their back catalogue has been supremely plundered for the Time 3 box. Included are a couple of instrumentals in the shape of With A Tear and Into Your Arms, and therein lies a tale.

"They are great vocal songs so I called up Steven and tried to get him into the studio to finish them. He didn't want to participate at all."

Schon doesn't totally dismiss a reunion though.

"We would like to, if we so choose, to be able to do a reunion some year, with or without Steven."

Time 3 is a superb collection of Journey's hits, obscurities, and unreleased material. The music they made is in places ingenious, in some exquisite, but always majestic.

Joe Mackett
Riff raff
June 1993
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