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Journey - Journey, The Babys - Fort Worth (TCCC)

Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" Keeps on Turning

The Fairgrounds Arena in Oklahoma City is rarely used for concerts these days with the Myriad and the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman now available for groups to use their more modern facilities.

But, April 8 was a different story for the Fairgrounds. The arena was the focal point in the state that night because the super rock group, Journey, backed by another incredible band, The Babys, were to invade the walls of this aged structure which at one time was the temporary home for some of the world's foremost rock'n'roll bands whenever they came to town.

It's about 4:30 in the afternoon, and a few hours from now, thousands of people will converge on this sight for what promises to be one of the best shows to kick off the new decade. On the outside, everything appears to be real calm. Inside is a different story.

As photo editor, Vernon L. Gowdy, III and myself walk through the doors to the backstage area, it is bustling with activity. In fact the work is so furious, dust clouds have been kicked up and many of the roadies and the band itself, are wearing white surgical masks. A curious sight indeed.

A further investigation into the matter turns up an incredible find. In front of Journey's stage set-up is a sea of plywood board covering the entire arena floor. Underneath the plywood is dirt. Tons of it. An interesting way to greet one of rock's premiere groups into the city.

"Something else isn't," says this 5'4 figure with long flowing black hair from behind a surgical mask. It is Steve Perry, Journey's powerful lead singer/songwriter and emotional front man for this group that is on the very outskirts of superstardom.

I follow Steve over the plywood and through the dirt as we head for the box seats to sit down for our interview.

"They told us that they were going to have all of this dirt moved out of here before the show tonight. Oh well, I guess it could have been worse."

Somehow, I have my doubts about that last statement. But Perry's attitude about the entire situation is typical of the entire Journey band. They have seen a lot worse and been through a lot worse, but instead of being uptight and raising a stink, they brush it off as 'one of those things,' and go about their business doing a sound check in preparation for tonight's show.

Journey is currently on the first leg of a nationwide tour that is following closely on the heels of their latest vinyl release, Departure, the last? installment in a trilogy of albums that has set, and firmly established this San Francisco based band as one of the forerunners of rock n' roll entering the new decade.

"I don't think that any of the other albums, (Infinity, Evolution) sound anything alike," said Perry - as he took off the mask from around his head. "Each of these albums was a step, a growth in our development, from one stage to another. They don't copy one another, and they never were intended too. Each album has its own meaning, its own sound."

Bassist Ross Valory is one of the founding members of the group. After playing with Carlos Santana for many years, he and guitarist Neal Schon broke off from the group and decided to form their own band. Under the guidance of Santana's manager, Herbie Hancock, a four piece unnamed band was put together. To find a name for the group, a contest was held in the Bay area, and a name was selected thus starting the journey.

Valory, like Perry, also points out that neither of the albums is a carbon copy of the other. Infinity marked the beginning of a new musical direction for the group that contrasted greatly from its harder rock-like approach the band had used from its beginning.

"When we were getting ready to record Infinity," said Valory, "the decision had already been made to change to a more vocally oriented style of music. Infinity was the first step and knowing what it did, we knew we could do that with Evolution. We were fairly assured of success by following a pattern that was similar to Infinity, just a few new ideas in a slightly different approach in sound and mix.

"With Departure, there wasn't that much pressure on us to come up with another hit album. I would call it an awareness and a consciousness of what it would take to do it again, and do it better. This album has a more straight forward, rock n' roll attitude than either Infinity or Evolution."

One of the reasons Journey songs from album to album sound so much alike is because of the angelic voice Steve Perry injects on every song, whether it be an emotional ballad or a straight out rocker.

Perry joined the group back in 1978 through a series of bizarre incidents and an emotional tragedy.

Perry had approached the group a few years earlier in an attempt to join up with them, but he was just brushed off.

"I first approached the band when I found out that Neal and Ross had quit Santana and were forming their own group. I wanted to be a part of that, but they had absolutely no interest in me at all."

Valory recalled the incident.

"It was a couple of occasions in our past when Steve had approached the band," recalled Valory, "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 style of music. If you are familiar to the history of the group previously to the time, you could see.

"Journey was more hard rock than anything in the beginning when we started in late 1973, early '74. We started out as a far more instrumentally oriented group. We were extended soloists and weren't necessarily arranged. We left a lot of room for experimentation and innovation and stuff like that."

Undeterred, Perry went back to Los Angeles and formed his own group, Alien, a name he quickly points out was there way before the movie came out. The band became extremely successful, and eventually drew the attention of some record labels, in particular, CBS. The two parties came to a contract agreement, and right when they were both ready to sign, fate intervened in a rather cruel way.

"It was July 4," said Perry softly. "We were going to sign record contract in three days. I got a message that our bass player, who wrote and sang vocals, had been involved in an automobile accident and was dead. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that this had happened. Here we were, ready to sign a recording contract with a major record label, and then this. We had no other recourse but to break up."

Steve Perry sat silently as he stared straight ahead and recounted the story. His eyes swelled ever so slightly as he took himself back in time to those fateful days. These events would eventually land him with Journey.

"I didn't know what to do after it happened," he continued. "Here I was, a singer without a band. Every musicians dream, a recording contract with a major label, gone as quickly as it was there.”

"One day, I am sitting at home and I got a phone call from this representative from CBS records and he told me that there was this band up in San Francisco looking for a singer. He gave me a number of someone to call if I was interested. I dialed the number, and believe it or not, it was the management office of Journey."

As Valory explained, Journey was going through the transition from hard rock to harmony and vocals.

"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 oriented." Right at the same time, Steve sent us a tape of material he had done with a group that had not succeeded in holding together in L.A. because of a death of a member that split them 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 songwriting 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.

"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."

Destiny, it seems, had predetermined where Perry would eventually end up.

"You know," added Perry, "after the Journey thing took off, a friend and I talked about what happened before I joined the group. He told me not to look back upon the death with any regret, because he had not died in vain, if he had lived, I wouldn't be with Journey, and who knows, that band could have broken up, and I'd be left with nothing. Now I am doing what I have wanted to do all of my life, but sometimes I still think about it. Who knows what would have happened with that group. I will always carry a part of him with me."

Carry on Perry has. He has helped establish Journey as one of the top rock bands in the country. His voice is like no other. The exuberance he displays on stage is not only transmitted to other members of the group, but the audiences as well. Perry's emotions are strong, that they sweep through a crowd like a current of electricity through a wire.

"There has always been one thing that has always puzzled me," confided Perry, "and that is people thinking that we are so rich because we sell out our tours and have made gold and platinum albums. We don't have a lot of money, we aren't doing this because of the money. We do this because we all love music. That's what holds this band together.

"Do you actually think we would be a band if we were doing it strictly for the money? No way. Every dime we make goes right back into the band. You see that stage out there. It was custom made, and guess who paid for it. All those lights up there above the stage we had those specially made. There's no other lighting system like it in the country. Our road crew is the best in the business, and we pay them well for the job they do.”

"I don't care about money, I never have. I love music. My whole life I've wanted to be a musician, and now, I have fulfilled that dream. I couldn't be any happier doing anything else than what I am doing right now. It's all I've ever wanted to do, it's all any of us ever wanted to do."

No one can accuse Journey of being caught up in their own glory. They know what it took for them to get to where they are at, hard work and persistence, and they know what can destroy it-ego.

"I think that if we let it get to us, there would be the means of our demise," said Valory flatly. "I think the big head syndrome in the end is what prevents you from holding together, not externally, but internally. The big head syndrome means members of the group would be banging their big heads against each other, therefore the division.”

"The fact that we have held together is because we look on it more as a family approach. There is always ego, there is always, you know. The bottom line is that everyone gives in to the whole. Everyone sacrifices for the better of the whole, like in terms of songwriting, etc., etc. It's what's best for the group not what each individual thinks it should be."