In Nick DeRiso’s excellent and comprehensive book Journey: Worlds Apart, he details the rise of the band from the early albums that struggled to find an audience, to their commercially successful years, and the post-Steve Perry years. In many ways, Journey’s story is a cautionary tale about ambition, conflict, and the double-edged sword of success.
For those who don’t know, Journey’s journey began when vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon exited from Santana(also known as the Santana Blues Band for a time). Their departure was over creative differences that reached a breaking point in 1972. Although Rolie and Schon dutifully contributed their parts to an album that Carlos Santana described as career suicide(Caravanserai), it was clear that Santana’s musical direction was far different from his bandmates. Additionally, Santana’s crew member, Herbie Herbert, was also fed up with Santana’s new direction. He quit the organization to start what he hoped would be a Muscle Shoals-like shop populated with talented musicians who would be session players on albums recorded in the San Franciso Bay Area. Herbert invited Schon and Rolie to join his venture – which quickly evolved from the Golden Gate Rhythm Section to Journey. The first incarnation of Journey had, of course, Rolie and Schon, but they also added Ross Valory on bass guitar, Prairie Prince on drums, and George Tickner on rhythm guitar. That lineup didn’t last long as Prince left Journey to drum for The Tubes (he was replaced with Aynsle Dunbar), and Tickner left the band after growing tired of touring.
Those first three Journey albums – while not stellar – do contain some very adventurous music that combines a bit of psychedelia, some jazz, and a dash of jam band excess that, if Journey continued on that trajectory, would likely have seen them evolve into a group like Kansas or Rush. Indeed, one can hear Journey’s music intersect with those bands between 1975 and 1977. For example, “I’m Gonna Leave You” from Journey’s second album Look Into The Future has similarities to Kansas’s big hit from 1976, “Carry On Wayward Son.” A similar comparison can be made with “Nickel & Dime” from Journey’s 1977 release, Next, and Rush’s 1977 song “Xanadu.” That is to say, “Xanadu” does have a similar chord progression (and guitar tone) to “Nickel & Dime.” Journey’s manager Herbie Herbert would, according to DeRiso, often point out how Kansas ripped off Journey. However, no lawsuits were ever filed, so it’s difficult to know if Herbert was right, or if it’s a case of uncanny coincidence.
If 1975-1977 was Journey: Phase One (The Money Pit Years), 1978-1986 were Journey: Phase Two (The Golden Goose Era). This was when vocalist and songwriter Steve Perry joined the band – and helped change the group’s sound and their fortunes. Of course, it wasn’t entirely Steve Perry who was the Golden Goose. Rather, his addition to the group was an effort to retool the band’s sound to grow their audience after Journey’s label (Columbia)said something to the effect, “If you don’t get a new frontman and write some hits, we’re gonna drop you guys.” Prior to Perry being that frontman, the band tried out a guy named Robert Fleischman – which didn’t go well. He was replaced by Perry, but if you look at the writing credits on Journey’s 1978 album Infinity, you’ll see Fleischman co-wrote three songs – one being “Wheel in the Sky” which you can hear him sing the demo here.
DeRiso treats The Golden Goose Era no different than any other time in the band’s history, except to note that as Journey grew in popularity, their success had to do in large part with the interplay and chemistry between the members. In short, these guys worked well together and were able to craft catchy, radio-friendly singles at a time when Album Oriented Rock radio in the U.S. was shaping the tastes of teens and young adults. AOR in the late ‘70s had morphed from free-form into a structured format featuring songs and bands that were more accessible. To thrive in the AOR years, Journey had to stop with the jazz odysseys, the trippy songs, and the experimentation. Instead, Journey embraced a songwriting formula that showcased hit songs tailored for FM rock radio and Contemporary Hit Radio. The cross-format appeal was perfect for the feel-good, let’s party crowd that was too young to be swept up in the politics of the time. Being an apolitical and non-religious band meant they stayed away from polarizing song topics. Sure, they later became known for power ballads like “Open Arms” and “Faithfully,” but Journey’s music and image would almost always be associated with having a good time.
But, projecting good times with feel-good music masked the fractures that were happening inside the band. Much like Dennis DeYoung of Styx started calling the shots after the success of “Babe,” Steve Perry started doing the same by the time the band began recording Raised on Radio in the mid-’80s. Perry was undoubtedly the voice and face of Journey, and all that success started to affect his personality and his relationship with his bandmates (he fired drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory). By the time Perry was paid to leave Journey (the deal his attorney was able to make ensured Perry got paid for live shows and albums he had nothing to do with), he had become such an insufferable jerk that it must have been a relief not to have him around.
The post-Perry years, or Journey: Phase Three (A Brand, Not So Much a Band) chronicles Journey’s decision to tour with Steve Perry soundalike singers, Steve Augeri and (later) Arnel Pineda. Without Perry fronting Journey meant that album sales suffered. In 2001, Columbia dropped the band after their album Arrival stiffed. Also around that time, a VH1 Behind The Music documentary was released that painted Perry as an isolated and misunderstood member of the band who was never fully accepted by others in Journey (DeRiso notes how Perry wielded influence over the final cut of the documentary so he looked more sympathetic).
The one-two punch of getting dropped by their label and a one-sided documentary that made Perry look nothing like the mini-tyrant he was even made San Francisco Chronicle music journalist Joel Selvin say, “Perry’s one of the least interesting characters I’ve run across in my years here. He’s been a pain in the ass and a total phony.”
It’s in these Phase Three years that Journey struggles with making new music that has hits and connects with their fans. Indeed, Arnel Pineda’s career as the lead singer for Journey is approaching 20 years – far longer than Steve Perry’s time with the band – and yet, Pineda is well aware that his job is keeping the memory of Steve Perry alive. Without that Sam Cooke-like vocal style, Journey wouldn’t have been able to tour and make money. In a way, Journey is back where they were when they started their career. Their album releases since Pineda became Journey’s lead singer only amount to three (Revelation, Eclipse, and Freedom). Sales and streams of that music are pretty low – and much of the reason why is that the music isn’t all that interesting or compelling. Instead, Journey is now a greatest-hits touring band that specializes in nostalgia. As keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain notes at one point in the book, the band has such a large catalog of hits that there’s no point in putting out new music. Yet, they do. Sure, these albums are very much Money Pit Years Part II. Still, the amount of cash the band brings in from playing the hits live and licensing songs for use in TV shows allows them the indulgence of making new music that rarely gets featured in their live shows or played on the radio.
Journey: Worlds Apart is more than just a band biography; it’s an eye-opening look at the music industry’s pitfalls and the human dynamics that can both fuel and fracture artistic success. Whether you’re a lifelong Journey fan or simply fascinated by the inner workings of the music business, DeRiso’s book offers a captivating and cautionary tale, proving that sometimes, underneath great melodies lies harsh discord.