Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

11Apr/1128

Interview: Author Neil Daniels Talks About His New Journey Book

Journey once ruled the earth. If you’re reading Addicted to Vinyl, you know this already. Even if you did, the Journey story probably runs deeper than you realize. And it’s all laid out in a new book by Neil Daniels, the UK rock author extraordinaire who’s written books about Bon Jovi, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin. Don't Stop Believin': The Untold Story Of Journey is due May 3 from Omnibus, one of the world’s leading rock & roll presses. It’s the first book about the band, whose history spans over 38 years, six singers and more than 75 million albums sold.

(Full disclosure: This author has contributed to two of Daniels’ books: Linkin Park—An Operator’s Manual and All Pens Blazing Volume 1, a collection of interviews with rock journalists.)

Journey are best known for their glory days in the 1980s, which produced hits and classic-rock radio staples like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Wheel in the Sky” and “Open Arms”—all sung by Steve Perry, one of the greater singers in rock history. But the group had a career before Perry, and they’ve been alright without him: The band launched as a jazz/prog/fusion outfit. Guitarist Neil Schon and keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie had played in Santana in the early ’70s. Then Santana roadie-turned-band-manager Herbie Herbert culled Schon and Rolie and began forming a band around them. Herbert is a rare source for unvarnished stories about the endless behind-the-scenes intrigue that kept Journey from reaching even higher heights.

If all you know about the group is Vh1’s Behind the Music special, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, and you’re seeing it from a misleading perspective. Perry had strict editorial control over the show, and he has remained a key voice in the band’s affairs even after their 1991 dissolution, 1995 reunion, and his 1997 departure. Even show-biz powers of the highest caliber can’t reunite the parties: Since 1995, Journey has been managed by music-biz legend Irving Azoff, the Ticketmaster CEO who has managed the Eagles and Guns N’ Roses.

The journey continued after Perry left. The band recorded and toured with Steve Augeri (ex-Tyketto, Tall Stories), whose voice simply couldn’t hold up under the rigors of touring. After a short run with Jeff Scott Soto (the former Yngwie Malmsteen/Kryst the Conqueror vocalist) in 2006-7, Journey saw recording artist Arnel Pineda covering Journey songs on YouTube and recruited the Filipino singer. Pineda sang on 2008’s Revelation LP, and the band continue touring with him.

We haven’t read any of the book, so we can’t vouch for it. But Daniels answered some questions about his latest project. — D.X. Ferris

How many people did you interview?

Well, I will say I interviewed the most important person in Journey’s history: ex-manager and founder Herbie Herbert. He very rarely gives interviews, but when he does he is very forthcoming and brutally honest. Anybody who has read Andrew McNeice’s interview with him at Melodicrock.com [Click HERE to read it, but wait until you have some time; clocking in around 20,000 words, it’s the length of a short book. And if you want more, this Herbert interview is great as well.] will know what I mean. He was great, though: very articulate and intelligent, with an amazing memory recall. What he said about Steve Perry might not please Perry fans and many Journey enthusiasts, but it’s certainly worth reading. I also did a great interview with Robert Fleischman, who toured with them as their first frontman for about six months before he was let go and replaced by Perry. He had a lot of good things to say too, lots of interesting anecdotes that will entertain fans. I did a lot of interviews with others too, including Jeff Scott Soto.

Steve Perry wouldn’t talk?

I emailed the two women that run his fansite and I got an email addy from a writer who had actually interviewed Perry a few years back; I’m guessing it was Perry’s PR person. I didn’t get any replies. To be honest, I knew it was a dead end anyway. There’s no way he would have cooperated with me on a book about the full history of Journey. I knew that anyway, just because he rarely gives interviews these days. It would not have been an objective book with too much involvement from either Perry or the band. It is often best not to involve the artist, which is an entirely different question…

It’s a full history of the band, right? Does each era get its own section?

Yes, of course. Each phase of the band’s career is written about in detail. Obviously people wanna know about the Perry years more than anything else, and I tried to give as much space to Raised On Radio as I could, as it was a vital phase in the band's career when the whole thing pretty much collapsed after [drummer] Steve Smith and [bassist] Ross Valory were let go [in 1985]. I think there’s a pretty good back story too, from when the band formed in 1973 and a fair bit on the time when Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon played in Santana, which was really when the Journey story started. The book comes right up to the present day.

In a nutshell, what are the band’s roots with Santana? I don’t think even the younger fans from the ’80s know about that—I never did, at least.

Yes, not a lot of people know that Journey’s first three albums are sort of jazz fusion instrumental type albums. It goes to show how vastly different the band’s roots were from the eighties heyday. The whole AOR thing started with Infinity, when Perry first sang for them, and obviously lasts to this day. It’s a convoluted story, but basically Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie both played in Santana, and it was former Santana roadie Herbie Herbert than got Rolie and Schon to play a gig together with some other musicians under the moniker Golden Gate Rhythm Section, which morphed into Journey.

In terms of fractions, how much of the book is early days, the Perry years and post-Perry?

Urm, well I don’t know the exact word count of each chapter, and bear in mind I was given a strict word count by the publishers, which I could not go over. I think there is a fairly hefty chunk on the Perry years and certainly the post-Perry years with singers Steve Augeri, Jeff Scott Soto and now Arnel Pineda. There’s enough on the Perry years, certainly during the few months Fleischman fronted the band. But before that, it was rather complicated and hard to track folks down, which is why Herbie Herbert was so helpful with his interview. He really put the years ’73-’76 in perspective.

What’s the band’s best pre-Perry work?

I think those first three albums each have their own merits, and [it] goes to show just how damn talented Schon, Rolie and Valory were back then and obviously still—though as you know Rolie left Journey in 1980 and was replaced by Jonathan Cain. Listen to, say, Next, and then listen to Frontiers, and you’ll hear two totally different bands.

How did the original fans react to Perry?

Sales of those first three albums were poor, which is why they were almost dropped by Columbia. They really built up a fanbase through touring, and they didn’t immediately warm to Fleischman or perhaps Perry, but given just how damn good a singer Perry is, it wasn’t long before he was held in open arms by a new wave of Journey fans. The [initial] idea was to have Journey play on the same bill as a band like Foreigner but then on the other side, play on the same bill as, say, Weather Report. They somehow wanted to appeal to the jazz instrumental fanbase that had been with them since the start and also the melodic rock fans that loved REO Speedwagon and Foreigner, etc.

Do you deal with Irving Azoff much in the book?

No, not really. Of course he is mentioned, but there isn’t a great deal of info out there on him, and I daren’t go in to too much detail. He is a very powerful figure, you know! He’s not someone I’d want to piss off, if you know what I mean. Besides, it’s about Journey and not their management, but I get what you’re saying.

How integral has Azoff been to their success?

Oh, very important. He has really helped the band reclaim some lost ground, although it has taken them awhile. I’m not keen on the way Augeri and JSS were treated in the end, especially JSS. I think he was treated rottenly, but JSS said the management were, in fact, very good to him while he fronted the band, so who knows, eh? Maybe it’s not the management but two key players? We can only read between the lines. Certainly the famous and now retired A&R man John Kalodner was important too, and I’ve read that he tried and tried to get Perry back with Journey after the whole Trial By Fire era, but of course—as we know—it did not work out.

In Behind the Music, Steve Perry says he never felt like a full-fledged member of the band—it’s one of the more famous complaints in rock history. Like most people, I’m inclined to say he was being overly dramatic when he said it. But then again, he did say it, so he probably really felt it. What’s your take on his relationship with the rest of the band?

This is such a famously complicated story and goes to show that behind closed doors, everything was not rosy in the Journey camp—there were two divisions with Steve Perry on one side and Cain/Schon on the other. Perhaps this is the reason why before there has never been a bio of Journey? It’s obvious that what Perry said was not strictly true; we can guess that. I mean, I’ve been told he basically took control of the band in the mid-eighties, and as we know Raised On Radio was meant to be titled Freedom, sticking with the one-word album titles. And is it a coincidence that ROR sounds a lot like Perry’s first solo album, Street Talk? Also, who fired Smith and Valory? Hell, I love Perry. He’s the greatest melodic rock/AOR singer of all time and one of the greatest singers in any style of popular music, but I think he had a lot more control than he has ever let on.

Do you cover his solo career?

Yes, thankfully there was enough space in the book for a chapter on Perry’s solo music, and it’s discussed in a fair bit of detail. I did write a chapter on Schon too, but it was too long and had to be cut out. Shame. But then again, he is very prolific outside of Journey with his solo work as well as HSAS, Bad English, Hardline and Soul SirkUS, etc. The book is about Journey though, so let’s not forget that. The Perry chapter is a bonus.

Why did Perry retire? He’s not coming back, is he—with Journey, with anybody?

Urm, well, if you read the book, there is a bit at the end about the possibility of a solo album, and rumor has it he is recording some solo tracks. But as for Journey and any type of tour or even a live performance…. I would not bet on it. I really can’t see it happening, and when I read rumors of a reunion, I just know they’re fabricated.

The band dumped Jeff Scott Soto right as “Don’t Stop Believin’” was getting huge again, after The Sopranos’ finale. Why do you think they axed him?

In the band’s eyes he wasn’t the right singer for Journey. They were contracted to finish the tour with Def Leppard and needed a frontman, so they hired JSS. I saw them in Manchester and thought they were great—but the collaboration left many Journey fans feeling cold. Let’s make this clear: JSS is a damn fine singer and one of the very best frontmen in melodic rock, but he wasn’t right for Journey in most fans’ eyes. However, the way in which his departure, after just a few months, was dealt with was not very nice at all. It was shitty, to be honest. Brian May wrote a very articulate piece about it on his excellent blog, Soapbox. JSS was very cool to interview—so articulate and well spoken and also honest. He’s not bitter at all. He loves Journey and even wrote a brief foreword to my book. He is one cool guy!!

Have you seen the band with Arnel Pineda? I saw a TV performance early on, and he was still doing the big hand gestures with those karaoke-style vocals, where everything got a little extra unnecessary flourish. And that soured me on him.

I thought Revelation was an amazing album and the best the band had made since Frontiers. But when I saw them in Manchester, Pineda really grated on me. I wanted Deen Castronova to sing the whole gig from his drum riser! [Pineda’s] running around and everything really annoyed me and I got bored. However, he’s really slowed down on all that and worked on his stage presence, and I thought the Live In Manila DVD was excellent. He has improved and will continue to improve, but he will also burn out?

The tours are still popular. All in all, how would you evaluate the move to add Pineda?

Vocally, he is the best singer they have had since Perry in terms of the way in which Journey songs are sung. It was either hire Pineda or shut the band down. I’d rather have Journey with Pineda than without. And let’s face it, as I said, Revelation was a bloody great album.

What do you think makes “Don’t Stop Believin’” one of the transcendent, perennially popular rock songs?

I’m fed up of hearing it! Ha. I think lyrically and vocally it is the perfect rock ballad. It has a very catchy and memorable chorus and some great keys and guitars. Let’s face it: Rock bands know how to make ballads!

What’s the band’s best deep album cut?

Hmmm… I think Escape and Frontiers are fine representations of Journey’s talent and of the AOR/melodic rock genre as a whole. They’re both damn fine albums with great singers, great production… the whole lot.

What song should have been a bigger hit?

They should have been a bigger band outside of America and Japan, and thankfully now they make return visits to Europe, which they did not do for a long time. It’s hard to say which ones should have been bigger songs but I can say that two of my fave Journey ballads are “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and “Girl Can’t Help It,” both from Raised on Radio.

By the time you were done with the book, who was your favourite character in the story—either someone you liked the most or someone who was the biggest character?

I’ll use this question as an opportunity to say just how criminally underrated I think Neal Schon is. I mean, he is one of the greatest and most versatile guitarists in rock music, yet do you ever see any mainstream attention? Or any other guitarists talk about Schon’s skills? I don’t know why. He really does deserve far more reverence.

When is the book coming out?

The book is out via Omnibus Press on May 3. If it’s not at your local book shop you can order online at Amazon US and UK or any other online book store. Feel free to email me through my website, www.neildaniels.com. Keep on rockin’!

  • Derby

    the band needs to reunite for a monster tour. i was happy to have had a chance to see them once on the raised on radio tour, but a mega-reunion tour would be great. i applaud pineda, but steve perry is steve perry is a rock n’ roll legend.

    and journey is a legendary band. it’s a shame if they cannot get together at least one more time. if the eagles can do it (and the police for that matter), then anything is possible.

    looks like a good book. someone also needs to get ‘frontiers and beyond’ on dvd. like now.

  • stereo dictator

    Put me down as one of those who thought that the band went south after Rolie left. Success doesn’t always equate to quality. I thought they became more annoying with each release as did REO and Styx, each band choosing to deeply cultivate their “girlie” appeal after abandoning their earlier rock roots.

    I’m going back to forgetting about them…until I hear them in the grocery store this weekend.

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    Great interview – many thanks for sharing. Now I need to grab this book.

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