Still They Ride

A newly minted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame offers an occasion to look back on the career of Journey. That's right, Journey.

The band's been trying. Just two days ago, on L.A.'s Mark and Brian radio show, Schon publicly implored Perry to come, and the hosts spent the entire segment trying to reach the singer on air, to no avail. Later that night, on the syndicated Rockline show, Schon tried again. When host Bob Coburn asked who'd be at the ceremony, Schon listed a few of the confirmed guests -- Steve Smith, Aynsley Dunbar -- then added, "and I don't know, Steve Perry may pop his head in, surprise us all." Then, leaning into the mike, "I wish he would. Steve, we miss you. We wish you would come and sing with us."

Schon's sincerity is iffy at best. At the break, he laughed. "You know, all day on the radio I've been inviting him. He always does this 'woe is me' bullshit about 'Oh, they don't like me ....' Well, you're invited. I mean, come on."

No one, it seems, can reach Perry. Calls are placed to his lawyer and to his fan club administrator, both of whom are in touch with him. E-mails are sent. Will Steve be there? How does he feel about the honor? Eventually, the lawyer calls back -- actually, the lawyer's assistant, Annette. She's sweet, but firm. Steve's got nothing to say. "He thanks you for your interest, but he just respectfully would rather not talk."

Steve Augeri sings with Journey. When the band 
called Augeri in 1998, he was working at the Gap.
Jeffrey Mayer
Steve Augeri sings with Journey. When the band called Augeri in 1998, he was working at the Gap.
Today's Journey: Ross Valory, Steve Augeri, Neal 
Schon, Deen Castronovo, and  Jonathan Cain.
Mark Weiss
Today's Journey: Ross Valory, Steve Augeri, Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo, and Jonathan Cain.

Perry is totally not coming.

Not that that bothers Donna Denys any.

Donna is one of a small but loyal core of Journey fans who have in fact stopped believing in Steve Perry, enthusiastically embracing his replacement instead. Her California license plate, which she holds above her head, reads "*AUJRNY." When Steve Augeri signed her left breast after a show, she headed straight to a tattoo parlor. This is not a woman who dwells in the past.

"He's just class," she explains about Augeri. "For this band, he's Number 1. He can sing, he's good with the crowd, he's great with his fans."

Well, not all of his fans. "That's not Journey! No Steve Perry, no Journey!" says a woman named Laureen who protests from behind the barricades. "This guy's a fraud. He's a really nice man, but he's a fraud. He's just trying to sound like Steve [Perry]."

The funny thing is, nobody really denies this. When David Lee Roth left Van Halen, the band replaced him with a completely different voice in Sammy Hagar. But when Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain and Ross Valory decided, seven years ago, to move on without Perry, there appears to have been very little doubt that Journey wasn't going to be Journey without Perry's sledgehammer tenor -- even if he wasn't the guy wielding it.

"So what if it's not exactly the same?" Schon says of Augeri's pipes. "It's damn close enough for people to have a good time."

Screaming fans still trump screaming reviewers.

True to his reputation, Augeri himself handles the question with grace and candor. "Frankly, I know where my bread is buttered," he says, "and the reason why I'm here in the first place is because I sounded like Steve. And I accept that with open arms."

(Yes, people, "open arms.")

Cain, who wrote or co-wrote nearly every one of Journey's early-'80s hits, figures there's only one way for Augeri -- and Journey -- to move out from under Perry's shadow once and for all. "There's a certain perception," he says, "and it's gonna take a hit record to change it. And that's what it's gonna take."

Herbie Herbert agrees. "It'd be good if they had a record and had some success," he says. But the former manager is a bit skeptical about the odds of that happening. "You know," he says, "you've got a much better shot at the lottery or your dick growing a foot, to be honest with you."

Of course, people buy lottery tickets every day, and assessments like Herbert's haven't stopped Journey from trying. In April 2001, the band released Arrival, its first new LP without Perry since 1977, which made it as high as No. 56 on the Billboard 200. But Perry's shadow looms large -- six months later Columbia released The Essential Journey, a two-disc package featuring only music from the Steve Perry era. That album reached No. 47.

They'll keep trying. According to Schon, the band heads back into Jonathan Cain's Healdsburg studio this month to rehearse a new record. The plan is to get it done in time to hand out copies at a series of "Evening With Journey" summer shows -- 3 1/2 hours a night in intimate theaters, featuring vintage Journey music dating all the way back to the band's self-titled 1975 debut.

"It's going to be sort of like a Journey festival," Schon says. "Of course we'll play the hits. We always play the hits. But we're going to go back in time and play a lot of the jamming stuff, too."

Back in time, that is, to when Gregg Rolie's Afro rivaled Julius Erving's and Neal Schon's Afro dwarfed Gregg Rolie's. Back to when they were still playing the Winterland and the Cow Palace and the Great American Music Hall, sharing stages with the likes of Robin Trower and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Back, in other words, to when Journey was still prog-rock -- and Steve Perry was just another guy with a demo tape.

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