By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
They came from the corners of the country for this, from Florida, from New England, from Tennessee, and yes, from San Francisco. They came out by the hundreds, maybe more, lining up in numbers large enough to choke off traffic, at least temporarily, at least in one direction.
They look different now. Their hair is thinner than it was, their teeth yellower, their mullets -- so many mullets, even now -- flecked with gray. They wear vintage concert shirts stretched across 45-year-old bellies, black with white sleeves, tour dates on the back.
One of them, a 40-ish blonde named Jill, left two dying cats at home and drove from the southern tip of Orange County to be here, all the way from San Clemente, a good two hours in traffic, easy. "I'm not missing this," she says. "I didn't stay home to comfort the babies, I came here, because this is for me." She will later shriek and gasp and wipe streaks of mascara from her cheeks. She will proclaim herself ready to die.
Thirty feet to Jill's left, a woman with a round nose and a fried perm clutches an old LP that she hauled all the way from Boston, all the way from 1981. Fifteen feet beyond her, a man from Myrtle Beach, S.C., holds a boombox above his head. From its speakers comes a familiar voice singing a familiar ballad, perhaps the most familiar ballad in rock history. All around him, Alabamans and Oregonians and Californians scrunch up their eyes and contort their faces and sing along, thumbs hooked through the belt loops of their faded 501s.
They're here, all of them, standing 10 deep on Hollywood Boulevard, to see something they've been waiting two decades to see.
They're here -- and here's the kicker -- they're here to see Journey.
Yes, that Journey.
Well. Sort of.
OK, not that Journey.
ThatJourney, the Journey you're thinking of, almost certainly no longer exists. Because chances are the Journey you're thinking of has Steve Perry singing, Neal Schon playing guitar, Ross Valory playing bass, Jonathan Cain playing keys, and Steve Smith playing drums. Or perhaps it's Perry, Schon, and Valory, with Gregg Rolie on keys and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
Or maybe it's just Perry and four guys whose names you never knew.
One way or another, though, the odds are good that the Journey you're thinking of involves Steve Perry. That's because the Journey that involved Steve Perry was one of the most loved -- and loathed -- bands San Francisco ever produced, a group responsible for a pile of albums and songs you probably heard far more than you ever wanted to and know far better than you'd ever admit. Think Infinity. Think Departure. Think Escape. Think "Wheel in the Sky," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Lights," "Open Arms." Especially "Open Arms."
Of course, Journey existed before Steve Perry. It began here in 1973 as the brainchild of manager Herbie Herbert, a fusion band centered around Santana alums Schon and Rolie. They called themselves the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, then settled on Journey after an abortive name-the-band contest on KSAN produced such memorable listener suggestions as Rumpled Foreskin and Hippie-potamus.
But that Journey put out three albums in four years and produced zero hits, which is why Herbert hired Perry, virtually forcing him on the rest of the members in 1977. They didn't want him at first, Schon least of all. It made no sense to them. Journey was prog-rock, and Steve Perry was a crooner.
Whatever. It worked. From 1978 to 1986, Journey -- the Steve Perry Journey -- released six top-10 singles and seven platinum albums replete with futuristic cover art that managed, in less than a decade, to turn the ordinary scarab beetle into a mystical symbol of raised lighters and back-seat make-out sessions. And yet, even coming as the band did in the malodorous wake of disco, it never managed to amass so much as an ounce of cachet. Journey was huge, but it was never cool -- not by anyone's standards.
"They weren't held in high regard," says Berkeley-born Herbert with a trace of long-held frustration. "They sure the fuck weren't the Police."
"They were really unhip with the guys," Herbert elaborates, "because they weren't Ted Nugent, they weren't Aerosmith. They weren't hard enough. But if [guys] wanted to get laid, they'd better go to that show anyway, because all the girls were there. So what made us look a lot hipper than we were is that we had such a deep penetration -- no pun intended -- into the female target demographic."
"Because of the songs," he says. Then, falsetto, "'I come to you with open arms ....' You know, all that kind of sloshy stuff that the girls loved."
Hip or not, it's that Journey that has inspired the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to immortalize the band with a star on the Walk of Fame. And it's that Journey that brought them here today to see it happen, maybe 500 of them, maybe 1,000, enough to make the fire marshal reroute traffic on this stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.
Today's Journey, however, is not thatJourney. It is a very different Journey. It looks like the Steve Perry Journey, and it sounds like the Steve Perry Journey, but it's not the Steve Perry Journey. The Steve Perry Journey is long gone. Steve Perry himself is long gone. And anyone familiar with the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his absence from the band knows that Perry showing up on this scene is about as likely as today's Journey playing Ozzfest. And yet they have made this pilgrimage anyway.
Typical: They haven't stopped believing.
The story, in brief: In 1984, during a break from Journey, Steve Perry released Street Talk. Buoyed by the No. 3 single "Oh Sherrie," Street Talkwent platinum, certifying Perry as a solo star. When Journey regrouped to record 1986's Raised on Radio, Perry, clearly feeling his power, forced drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory out of the band, replacing them with drum machines and studio musicians.
Raised on Radio would be Journey's last new recording for a decade. In the interim, Schon and Cain and singer John Waite grew their hair big and formed Bad English, and Perry put out another solo album, 1994's For the Love of Strange Medicine. In 1996, Sony gave Journey -- Smith and Valory included -- a trunkful of cash to come back together for Trial by Fire, but the reunion was doomed when Perry came up lame after recording the album, developing an unspecified hip ailment while hiking in Hawaii.
"We made a decent record," explains Schon, who now lives in San Rafael. "But then nothing happened from there. And I sort of felt that that's what it was gonna be."
Meaning you never really expected a tour?
Then, after a pause: "And I can't really get into why. I've got like ... you know, everybody signed papers years ago with [Perry]. Like, gag orders."
Gag orders meaning -- meaning that you can't talk about ...?
"About each other ... yeah," Schon says, laughing. "Silly shit, I know."
Multiple attempts to reach Perry for comment failed. Luckily there's the effusive Herbie Herbert, who signed no such gag order.
"I think he never planned on actually performing with these guys," says Herbert, who himself ended his association with the band before Trial by Fire, ostensibly the result of a rift with Perry. "I think he dislikes them every bit as much as they dislike him. But they're just not that smart. I love Neal Schon like a son, but he's just never been the sharpest knife in the drawer.
"I said, 'Neal, [Perry] would come, and if you were drowning in the ocean' -- which in terms of Journey, that's a good metaphor -- 'he would show up in his luxury liner and offer you a life raft in such a manner as you would decline. Of course, if you had any self-respect at all. If you accept, well then you have no self-respect.' And that's basically what Jon Cain and Neal Schon did, they accepted."
The life raft, apparently, came with a short leash. Reportedly in crippling pain, Perry spent much of the year after Trial by Fire's release considering hip surgery. His bandmates, meanwhile, lost patience. In early 1998, Cain called Perry and asked for a decision. Perry balked, and the band decided to move on. As Perry's replacement, they tapped another Steve, a Brooklyn kid with the last name Augeri who had sung lead for an early-'90s band called Tall Stories.
When they called, Augeri was retired, two years removed from the music business and working for the Gap, of all things. Tall Stories had never risen above obscurity, cursed as they were by the fact that their singer sounded just a little too much like Steve Perry.
This is no longer a problem for Steve Augeri.
It's really not all that high, the bar separating you from your very own place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You'd have to apply, of course, and you'd have to promise to show up for the ceremony. And you'd have to come up with $15,000, ostensibly to cover the costs of digging up the sidewalk. In Journey's case, members of the band's fan club submitted a presentation to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and two weeks later the Chamber accepted. Somewhere along the line, $15,000 changed hands, and now star No. 2,275 belongs to the guys who gave us "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'." As Neal Schon himself puts it, "Don't they have Disney characters on the Walk of Fame?"
But a low bar is not the same as no bar, no matter what you might think of Mr. Tesh. And when it comes to raw sales, Journey can clear pretty much any hurdle you'd care to put in front of it. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the band has sold more than 40 million albums in the United States alone, about as many as Jimi Hendrix and the Who combined. Journey is the 30th best-selling act of all time in America, the third best-selling Bay Area act behind Metallica and Santana. The band's own figures set the total at 50 million records worldwide.
Of course, 50 million Journey fans could be wrong -- just ask a critic. And Journey always had plenty of critics. The Washington Post called the group's music "five-chord fluff" in one review, and said Perry's singing had "all the nuance of a siren" in another. The New York Times labeled Journey "heavy-handed purveyors of a style so hackneyed that only a massive infusion of passion and energy could revitalize it." And in his California Magazine column, rock writer Greil Marcus invented a Journey Award for the worst album by a California band.
Journey won it every year.
"They made Eddie Money sound like Muddy Waters," Marcus explains today in an e-mail. "It was the self-evident phoniness in Steve Perry's voice -- the oleaginous self-regard, the gooey smear of words, the horrible enunciation: It was the 'ci-tay' in 'Lights' that really made me want to kill."
Perhaps as much as the five-chord fluff and the gooey smear of words, hipsters and critics hated the band's naked embrace of capitalism. At a time when selling swag still meant selling out, Journey extended an open palm to Madison Avenue, licensing an Atari video game and shilling for Budweiser, among other offenses. ("After a hot gig, we go backstage and we open ourselves an ice-cold Budweiser," Perry cooed in one radio spot.) And manager Herbert ran the band like a business, taking direct control of everything from in-store marketing to the lighting and video production at the live shows. (Herbert and Schon still co-own Nocturne, the company Journey created to sublet its massive light rigs and video screens to other acts. Today, clients range from Madonna to Paul McCartney.)
Rolling Stone tagged the Journey-men early on as "corporate rock," but if the label bothered them, it didn't slow them down any. "I love money," Schon explained in Hit Parader in 1983. "I want to make as much as I can."
Schon still feels that way. "I wasn't the manager," he says, "I was never the guy that was coming up with this stuff, but I never thought it was a bad deal. You know, a lot of people that write, they think that if you're not slamming heroin into your arm or something, you're not really living rock 'n' roll."
Dave Golland puts it another way. Golland, a Brooklyn-based historian, runs fan site journey-zone.com with all the detached dispassion you'd expect from an academic. The site features reviews and interviews dating back to the '70s, a comprehensive history of the band, even an annotated and corrected version of the band's official bio.
Says Golland, "I guess screaming fans just trumped screaming reviewers."
There are still plenty of screaming fans, especially here on the sidewalk, in Hollywood, at 11:15 on a Friday morning. They hold up hand-lettered signs that say "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Journey4ever," and they surge into the barricades set up to keep them from overwhelming the band.
One woman up front points to the teenage girl at her side. "I named my daughter after Steve Perry," she says, establishing her fan credentials right off. The girl, Stephanie, waves shyly.
Four feet to her left are Eric and Jeannie. They drove from Memphis for this, but they won't be at tonight's celebratory House of Blues show -- which sold out in minutes -- because it ain't Journey without the Voice. They have no kids to name for Steve Perry, says Eric, but, "We got a bulldog called Steve Augeri." He cackles at his joke. Actually, the dog's name is Journey.
Regardless of what they named after Steve Perry, though, none of these fans seems to think he'll show. None of them.
Perry and the band members haven't spoken for seven years, not since early '98 when they told him to tour or cut bait. And though every current and former member was invited -- including Randy Jackson, the American Idoljudge who played bass on 1986's Raised on Radio -- organizers say Perry hasn't responded. Even the die-hards concede it's a long shot that he'll be here.
"No way," says a 40-ish woman from just outside Tampa who answers the question "What's your name?" with "Real name or screen name?" (Real name: Dale. Screen name: JrnyBrat.)
"Zero percent chance," says another woman, who's holding a sign that says "I * Journey w/Steve Perry."
"Oh, I hope so," says another, clutching at her chest. She's clearly the wild-eyed optimist of the bunch.
It's not just the fans, either. "I don't think he comes," Cain says. "I sort of think he doesn't, no. He's not good at confronting situations like this, you know? Never was. I mean, it's just part of his personality."
Cain has reason to doubt Perry. Back when the band's star was announced in June 2003, the singer went on "Uncle Joe" Benson's SoCal radio show and mused, "The big question is whether I would show up or not and, I've got to tell you, the honest, honest feeling is that I just don't know if I want to do that. It's not that I don't think I'll show up at the star someday and take a picture standing on it, and look at it and have a moment of reflection to myself, for how hard it was to possibly see that happen in my lifetime. But whether or not we stand together anywhere again is gonna be difficult for me to say."
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."
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.
But the local fans, the ones who just might have seen some of those pre-Perry shows, won't have to wait until summer to see the post-Perry Journey. Even before Journeyfest 2005, the guys are set to play a benefit for the National Center for Youth Law at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Feb. 27. They go on at 7, and if Schon uncorks some of his old guitar solos, they should finish late, right around the time the lights. Go down. In the ci-tay.
Few things start on time in Hollywood, but this one will. At 11:30 exactly, as a city bus slows to squeeze past this carnival of feathered hair, Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood, will stand above the band's still-covered star and command the attention of hundreds of people. He will read a biography of the band, the multitudes roaring with every album and song title mentioned. And when, at last, he shouts, "Ladies and gentlemen, Journey!" the first person to emerge from the shadows will be the last person anyone expected.
The crowd will shriek and surge forward into the metal ramparts, and Jill, who left two dying cats in San Clemente for this, will seize up, her entire body suddenly rigid, her hands clasped in front of her chin as makeup streaks toward the corners of her mouth. Steve Perry will wave and point and blow kisses, and the other nine current and former band members in attendance will do the same, one eye on the assembled masses and one eye, always, on the black-clad ghost with the auburn-streaked mullet.
When invited, Perry will stand at the podium and speak well of the roadies, of the band, of the fans, even of Herbie Herbert ("We had our ins and outs," he'll say, "but who doesn't, right?"). He'll hug his former bandmates, then skirt along the barricades, signing albums and arms and posters and T-shirts, including the Budweiser bottle on the shirt Eric from Memphis is wearing. ("He signed the best thang ever!" Eric will later gush.)
Then he will snake his way back through the assembled press and VIPs, a bodyguard in sunglasses acting as a blocking back, until he reaches the gate through which he'd come in the first place. Before he disappears, he will be asked when, exactly, he decided to come. He will smile and answer simply, "Long story." Asked for a short version of the long story, he'll smile again, and not answer at all.