AOTM: From the Golden Gate Rhythm Section to Super Stardom, Journey Proves Successful, Part 1

The music of the seventies was quite diverse. By the end of the decade, disco and hard rock emerged, the Beatles were officially done for nine years, and Journey was hitting it big. Started in 1973 as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section with former members of Santana and Frumious Bandersnatch, Journey initially focused on the instrumental side of their musicianship. However, manager Herbie Herbert had other plans after they were signed to Columbia Records and it proved successful.

Early Years

Journey released their first two albums, Journey (1975) and Look into the Future (1976), with a focus on their instrumental side, however, they were not commercially successful. With Neal Schon (a child prodigy) on guitar, Ross Valory (from Frumious Bandersnatch) on bass, Greg Rolie on keyboards/vocals, and Aynsley Dunbar (from Frank Zappa and John Lennon) on drums, the band focused on singing lessons to improve their chances (journey.com). Their third album Next was released in 1977 and featured a couple of songs with Schon as lead singer, but it still did not achieve the success Columbia was looking for. Columbia and manager Herbie Herbert suggested they add a front man to the group and change to a more popular style of music. The first choice for lead singer was Robert Fleischman. A singer and songwriter, Fleischman was not a perfect fit for the band and left due to management disagreements (robertfleischman.com). While he did write the hit song “Wheel in the Sky”, it was recorded by their newest lead singer Steve Perry.

Steve Perry Years

At the time Herbert contacted him, Perry was in the band Alien Project and wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue in the music business. To further add to his doubt, Alien Project then lost their bassist in a tragic accident. Perry was devastated by the loss. Herbie Herbert convinced him to come down to San Francisco and see if the choice would be a good fit. The band members of Journey weren’t too sure about having a front man, however, they gave it a chance. That chance proved successful with their next album titled Infinity.

Infinity brought the band a taste of success with their hit “Wheel in the Sky”, but there were more changes in store for Journey. Herbie Herbert fired drummer Aynsley Dunbar and replaced him with Berkley-trained Steve Smith. This lineup (Schon, Perry, Smith, Valory, and Rolie) recorded their fifth album Evolution, which produced the Top 20 hit “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” and followed it up with Departure in 1980. Both albums were successful and Departure hit number eight on the US charts. While they were reaching for super stardom, Greg Rolie decided to leave the band. He suggested Jonathan Cain from the Babys as his replacement. This lineup was consistent through 1986.

With their lineup in place, Journey shot to the top of charts in the early eighties. Not only did they experience two albums that went to number one and number two respectively (Escape and Frontiers), they also had numerous singles achieve the same success. Journey didn’t stop at recording music and tours, though. The band also worked with Bally/Midway on a video game project that proved successful, got involved with commercials, had MTV recorded two of their sold-out shows in Houston, and contracted with NFL Films to document life on the road. The success they sought had arrived and they were on top of the musical world, however, after years of tours the band needed a break. They took a hiatus during which Schon and Perry recorded solo material.

When the band returned to record in 1986, musical and professional differences would cause another break in the Journey lineup. Drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory were fired from the band. While there have been some reports this decision was based on Steve Perry’s desire to have more creative control and the band’s experimentation with new music techniques, an account of why it happened has been confusing. With Smith and Valory out, Journey hired studio musicians Randy Jackson (who later appeared on American Idol) and Larrie Londin to record the album Raised on Radio (journey.com). This eighth studio album reached number four on the charts and produced four Top 40 singles. Even without their main lineup, the band continued their success.

During this time, though, Steve Perry was quietly going through hell. It was later found out that his mother had a neurological disorder and would eventually pass away during the Raised on Radio push (gq.com). He was burnt out. In the middle of the tour, he sat down with Jonathon Cain and Neal Schon to reveal he was taking a break from the band. No further tour dates were planned and Journey went on an indefinite hiatus.

Journey was in limbo until Steve Perry was ready to pursue music again. That moment came in 1995 when the Escape lineup (Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory, and Smith) reunited to record their Trial by Fire album, which was released in 1996. It reached number three on the charts and the band received its first Grammy Award nomination for the hit single “When You Love a Woman”. The band was excited to head out on the road again. While prepping for the tour and press junkets to promote the album, Steve Perry went to Hawaii. He was on a hike when he experienced a hip injury. The pain was so intense, Perry let the band know he might not tour. He spoke to a variety of doctors and found out he needed hip surgery, but he wasn’t sure when he wanted to do it (gq.com). The band members were eager to get back out on the road and eventually moved on from Perry. Like the previous rift that happened with Smith and Valory, there are a couple of accounts of what transpired. Regardless, it is clear that the band moved on without Perry whether he agreed with the decision or not.

Journey would not have achieved super stardom without the drive and push of the members, and their manager Herbie Herbert. There was a magic within the group and that magic translated into their songwriting, which then translated to their performances and business deals. They were on fire for much of the eighties and it proved successful, however, band shifts, member rifts, and ultimately,  their drive to continue as a band was a major force in walking away from the front man who played a key role in the success they achieved.

-Jenna Jakes, WOGB

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