September , 1979
By David Huff
The Journey Has Only Begun
A t-shirt being sold at a recent concert here in Oklahoma City had written on it "Where Infinity ends, Evolution begins."
That one sentence may carry a more significant meaning about the rise to the top of one of rock n' roll's new super groups, Journey, than just a phrase to coin on a shirt.
For Journey, the infinite number of concert dates this band has played in countless music halls around the world has shaped and evolved this group from San Francisco into one of rock's new musical forces.
The evolution of Journey revolves around Steve Perry, lead vocals; Gregg Rolie, keyboards and vocals; Ross Valory, bass and vocals; Neal Schon, lead guitar and vocals; and Steve Smith, drums and percussion. There's no telling when the axis will ever stop.
"Six years ago, I envisioned today's success as a possibility, not an absolute thing. I believed in that it could happen. Belief and faith in what you are doing is part of what keeps you going," recalled Ross Valory about the early days of Journey while relaxing backstage after the group's recent performance in the Myriad.
Journey was formed six years ago mainly through the efforts of their manager Herbie Herbert. The early Journey consisted of Rolie, Schon, Valory and drummer extraordinaire Aynsley Dunbar.
"We started out as a far more instrumentally orientated group," said Valory. "We were extended soloist, not necessarily arranged. In other words, there was structure. We left a lot more room for experimentation and innovation and stuff like that, whereas now, we are playing songs where each part has a definite meaning and with either vocal support, melody or accompaniment."
But just as the currents in the ocean change, so did Journey's music. A decision was made before the recording of the Infinity album to change the group's musical style to one of a more vocally supportive sound. The decision didn't please Dunbar, who was eventually asked to leave the group.
"We asked Aynsley to leave mostly for musical reasons," explained Valory. "Without subtracting or taking away from Aynsley's talent or ability in any fashion, I would say that he, being a challenging, experimental, player's player he is, our change to a vocally orientated music was a little too boring for him. In other words, he was either unable or unwilling to play for the part, play for the song."
"He did a very noble job I think, and a good job, of recording Infinity in a very simple style. But, what happened after the release of the album, we went on the Infinity tour and all of the songs started getting real busy. Basically, he was bored with the new approach and he was unwilling to hold to the parts."
"As far as my approach to the group, it has always been fairly simplistic. It has been that way all the way through. In the old days, there was a lot of spontaneous, innovative type music. There was little else, no one else, but me, to hold it together to make the thread that went through it. So, that goes straight across to the music we are doing now. I am not playing much differently than I was for the other music. If at all, the bass guitar is starting to arrive more as an essential voice, so that is kind of an explanation of where Aynsley is out and where it didn't work and why."
Dunbar's replacement was Steve Smith. The members of Journey became aware of Smith's tremendous ability during their Infinity tour. Smith was the drummer for the Ronnie Montrose Band which was the opening act for Journey on the first leg of their tour. Montrose band split up because it wasn't having enough success as an instrumental act thus leaving Smith with no work. Towards the end of August last year, he received a phone call and was asked to join the band.
"There was a big change in the playing with Journey from Montrose," admits Smith. "First of all, Montrose band was all instrumental. It was almost fusion rock, so it really demanded a lot of playing and there was no vocals to get behind. There is a lot more tune or song orientated material with Journey and a lot more dynamics. Of course now, I am playing a role of vocal support. Before I didn't do that. It was just everybody playing."
"After playing the first show with Journey, it was a definite relief because it was a lot of rehearsal and preparation for the first gig and I was a nervous wreck. I was relieved though. It was just learning the new music and playing with this band that already had a fairly large established audience with a different drummer. So, it was a whole new step coming into a group that's established. I was wondering how the people were going to like the new sound and the new music."
Journey's new sound and music turned the entire group's fortunes around. They set a precedent on the Midnight Special when they hosted the highly regarded rock program without the benefit of a hit single or an album listed in the top ten or twenty. Journey performed several cuts off of the Evolution album for the benefit of the national television audience and today, that show Journey hosted is one of the highest rated shows the Midnight Special ever had.
Subsequently, Evolution has gone gold, spawned three hit singles, "Just The Same Way," "Lovin', Touchin' Squeezin'," and "City of the Angels". It also made people well aware of the Infinity album.
Valory says the group feels no pressure in coming out with another top LP to continue the success the Evolution started.
"I wouldn't call it pressure, I would call it awareness and a consciousness of what it will take to do it again and do it better," he said.
“It will require a larger step than Evolution took from Infinity. They are like a pair, a logical progression. We didn't want to go too far beyond where we were at with Infinity in recording Evolution and lose and audience. So that's how they tie together. As for the next album, we will need to do more, take a bigger step."
"As for the success of Evolution as an album, we were fairly assured of success by following a pattern that was similar to Infinity. Knowing what Infinity did, we knew we could do that with Evolution. Because it was fairly similar, just a few new ideas in a slightly different approach in sound and mix. Of course we have yet to see where we will succeed as far as hit single goes on Evolution."
The long travels of Journey started to change with Infinity. This was also the first album Steve Perry was introduced on and he quickly established himself as a dominant factor on almost all of Journey's songs.
Incredibly, Perry and Journey almost was never to be had not fate intervened. Unfortunately it was a death that ultimately threw the two together.
"On a certain occasion a couple of years ago," continued Valory, "we were getting ready to rehearse and figure our songs in our repertoire for Infinity, and in doing so, we were wanting to sing more, wanting to do songs that were more vocally supported, more vocally orientated."
"Right at the same time, Steve sent us a tape of material that he had done with a group that had not succeeded in holding together in L.A. because of a death of a member and split apart. He was left with the recourse of sending us a tape and see what we thought."
"Herbie was the first one to hear the tape and I was the second one to hear it. Eventually, everyone in the group heard the tape. The immediate reaction was that he had a great amount of talent in his voice, plus the song writing, that was illustrated by the tunes that were on the tape. And, at that point, we just asked him to come up and hang around while we finished our tour that year. Just to cruise on the road with us on a casual basis just to see what it was like, you know, work on our ideas."
The ironic thing about the whole story is that Perry had approached the band a couple of times before in an unsuccessful effort to join the group. The third time was the charm.
"It was a couple of occasions in our past when Steve had approached the band, or people who worked for the band in an interest to join the group."
But, we weren't interested in him. We were in a different frame of mind, a different style of music. If you are familiar to the history of the group previously to the time, you'd see," said Valory.
"I was quite captured by his voice when I heard his tape. I don't think he sent tapes to any other groups because he dug this band and on several occasions he had hoped to join. The last one he did. I had never met him before, never heard of him trying to join before, though I heard later he had tried to approach the group."
There are many things that go into making a group a success regardless of how many gold or platinum albums the group has sold, or however many hit singles they have had on the charts.
The ability to work with one another and the willingness to give into the whole is the mark of a superstar band. "Everybody inspires everybody else in this band," said Smith candidly. "Steve is a really strong, a really great singer. I think he is the best rock n' roll singer in the world because he IS a singer. He doesn't scream and his voice is really unique."
"The thing is, the strength of the band sound is good because of the combination of musicians that are here. It's not just Steve, it's not just Gregg, it's not just Neal, it's not just Ross, and it’s not just me. It's the five of us together in one group. It gives it a real magical feel, a really good sound and energy."
"Everybody is important. Everybody has a role as far as song writing, singing, playing and keeping the good feelings among the band members. There are all kinds of things that play in. It's not just the way everybody plays, it’s like the way they relate to everybody else because we have to live together for years. So, you see, it's more than just playing, it's like personalities also instill magic into the music."
Journey's success can be attributed to many things. Constant and hard touring every year, the ability to recognize a necessity for change and to follow through with it, and simple patience.
For as much as you have to do in the up and down lifestyle of a rock musician, waiting is all part of the game. And wait is exactly what Journey had to do.
"Journey was more hard rock than anything in the beginning," said Valory, "when we started in 1973-74. The music market and the radio market was not into it at the time. It was getting softer and more dynamic and so it is like because of what the market has been like, we have had to go around the block to cross the street."
"Hard rock is coming back in now which is allowing us to do more of what we wanted to do as well as what we are doing now. So the next album will have even more kick ass, straight forward rock n' roll attitude than either Infinity or Evolution."
"Because of timing and the change in the mood of the market is the only reason I think the group didn't happen sooner. It is because we had to wait for the weathervane to swing around. That may infer that what we've done is so far not necessarily of value, but that's not so. We are getting a lot of ability now being able to write sensitive and dynamic stuff which will always be a part of our music. The rock n' roll ballad thing, a little more parts that are sensitive, get down to dropping pins, stuff like that. The market is accepting a harder, more straight, harder stuff like Van Halen, or whatever. It just allows us to open up more in that area."
Journey has never lost sights of where they came from and what it took for them to achieve the position they now hold in the music business. They can stand back and look in awe at what they have done as a group and even crack a smile if they want to. They have earned it.
"Externally, in terms of what's around us, we're in awe of the situation we are in right now," reflected Valory. "Internally, we aware of how we have gotten where we are at because we have been doing all of the work. It is not something that we have lost sight of."
"What's awesome is to get in front of a very, very large audience, you know, 15,000 thousand people. Just to experience that in itself as well as to be part of the group that is doing as well as it is now. But, certainly not to take advantage of, or take for granted."
"Once you take things for granted,…"