It's no exaggeration to call Herbie Herbert one of the Bay Area's most important people. As the manager of Journey from 1973 to 1993, Herbert delivered unto the region one of its most commercially successful bands; Journey's greatest hits collection is the 29th best-selling album of all time, two spots higher than Metallica's Metallica.
Beginning this Sunday, April 23, and continuing through the 30th, Herbert is auctioning off some of his most choice Journey memorabilia (original album art, platinum record certifications, etc.; visit www.backstageauctions.com for more info), including the infamous Defender arcade game the band toured with during its triumphant early-'80s run. Because there's no such thing as a bad reason to talk to Herbie Herbert, we rang him up.
Sucka Free City: Did you catch the Journey article [Dan Reines' “Still They Ride,” Feb. 9, 2005] that SF Weekly did about a year ago?
Herbie Herbert: Oh, I think I was the star of that one. I don't really interview very often and when I do, I speak my mind. [My comments] bothered a few of the guys. Neal [Schon, Journey's founding guitarist] was pretty upset when I said he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. And I said, 'Neal, are you claiming otherwise?' And he said, 'This thing about your dick growing a foot …' And I go, 'Well, it's a fact, Neal. I hate to tell ya: It is more likely that my dick would grow a foot than you would have a hit record at this point. It has nothing to do with your ability to write and perform a hit song.'
SFC: So the biggest piece that you're auctioning is the Defender game. Tell us about that.
HH: That game preoccupied the crew and band for years and years and years on the road. I never missed a Journey show ever … but I found myself ending up backstage playing Defender.
SFC: What was the game like?
HH: Defender was a very popular arcade game at one time. It had good action, you save your people, you're shooting things down, you can reverse and go really fast, turbo charge; you get a modification that turns regular guns into machine guns. The highest you can score is a million, but if you go over it goes back to zero. So I think my score on there is 975 [thousand]. [Drummer] Steve Smith has the highest score on the game, unless the memory's been erased or something.
SFC: Did [frontman] Steve Perry play at all?
HH: Perry? I can't really recall. He wasn't very socially active.
SF: What about Neal Schon?
HH: He may have played. Smith and [bassist] Ross Valory were probably the best.
SFC: Do you recall any other bands that traveled around with these giant arcade games?
HH: I don't recall, but I saw it all. I saw Emerson, Lake & Palmer touring with a dressing room setup so Greg Lake could go into his room and it was completely set up like a beach, with an umbrella, sand, a chaise lounge, sun lamps, stuff like that.
SFC: Is that one of the crazier things you saw?
HH: No, I saw far crazier.
SFC: What do you think the most extreme thing on a Journey tour was?
HH: Well, we're credited with getting so many things either started or taken to a higher level. We came out of an era when catering — you were lucky if a promoter gave you a roll of quarters and a map to the candy machine. And where did Journey take it? Three meals a day and after the show a catered meal by the best restaurant in town.
SFC: Any other band-on-the-road type stories?
HH: I dunno, what do you have in mind? Hookers and horsies in Cleveland?
SFC: Perhaps some things are better left to the imagination.