For years, my mother thought Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain were fools for carrying on Journey without Steve Perry. She was as much a fan of the band as I and my siblings were. In fact, the four of us had tickets to see Journey and Glass-Muhfukkin’-Tiger at Greensboro Coliseum on the Raised on Radio tour, but then my father’s company had the stones to transfer him from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, and we had to go house-hunting the week of the show. Not sure which of us was more disappointed—me, my brother, my sister, or Mom.

Perry split the band not long after that tour, causing even more wailing and gnashing of teeth in my house. Gradually, though, calm was restored: Mom put away her homemade “Perry for President” buttons and banners, his voice came off the family answering machine message, the life-sized Perry cutouts in our hall were packed away, and by the time I left for college in 1988, our Escape-themed bathroom mural had even been painted over. I feared it would all come back when Trial by Fire came out in ’98, but the release was greeted with subdued approval—resignation, even. Too much time had passed. It just wasn’t the same.

Then Perry left the band again, and the rest of Journey decided—no, dared—to go on with a new guy, Steve Augeri, who was treated by my mother with derision, bordering on bully-like taunting. “Let Mr. Bad Perm show his face in my house,” Mom mocked uncharacteristically. “He opens his mouth to sing ‘Open Arms’ in my kitchen and so help me, I’ll cut him. I’ll slice him up like a Red Delicious. Then I’m going after Cain.” Mind you, there was zero chance Journey was going to show up in my mother’s kitchen, like some strange hybrid of Wayne’s World and Behind the Music. But she was serious. I squeezed an Augeri-sung “All the Way” (from their decent record Arrival) onto a mix disc I made for her and got a withering look and two months of cold shoulder in return. Had to have my kid taste my food for me whenever we visited.

So when word came down in 2006 that Augeri had been replaced by the great Jeff Scott Soto, I never mentioned it to Mom; I really like Soto, and didn’t want any harm befalling him. When the band then dumped Soto in ’07, I washed my hands of the whole thing. Didn’t care anymore. I felt in Soto, Journey had its best chance to become a living, breathing, writing, charting rock band again, not simply the nostalgia act they’d wound up as. Ridding themselves of Soto and, in 2008, picking up a Perry soundalike from a Filipino cover band was the last straw. Let them be a “heritage” act, as Cain was fond of saying. I’d been on the boat since I was 10 years old; I was getting off.

Then I saw this:

It was a true WTF moment. The band sounded powerful again, energetic, like you could plug them into the Chilean power grid and they’d light the whole damn country. This little long-haired sparkplug leading the band was obviously picked because he had the Steve Perry sound down—same reason Steve Augeri had gotten the gig (Soto took over in the middle of a tour when Augeri’s voice gave up the ghost of Perry, and of human sound in general). The difference, though, was striking.

Augeri’s tenor had an almost reedy quality to, it a little nasal on the high notes. Smooth stuff, to be sure, but arena-worthy? Not quite. This new guy—Arnel Pineda—sounded like he could blow out the far wall of the arena just by singing the chorus to “Open Arms.” His was a muscular voice, a true stadium-rattling force. It lit a fire under the band, something you could feel even through a crappy YouTube clip. Pineda was more than just very Perry; he was three or four Perrys, compacted, smushed down, and set loose on the stage, a stage he commanded with an “Aw shucks” boyishness and charm.

I watched the clip several times, and with each time through, I thought to myself, How am I gonna tell Mom? Will she give it a chance? What will she do to Dad? Should I warn him first?

The next day, no lie, I get a phone call from my mother. Apparently, Journey had appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and my mother was blown away by the band’s new singer. “He sounds just like Steve Perry!” she marveled.

No, Ma, I thought. He sounds better.

Thank God I didn’t say that out loud, though.

About the Author

Rob Smith

Rob Smith is a writer, teacher, wage earner, and all-around evil genius who spends most of his time holed up in his cluttered compound in central PA. His favorite color is ultramarine blue. His imaginary band The Dukes of Rexmont tours every summer.

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