I got a chance to speak with Journey guitarist Neal Schon for a piece that ran in this week's edition of the Cleveland Scene prior to their upcoming show here in the area on Tuesday evening with Steve Miller Band and Tower of Power.
As is often the case, writing that story sent me to the music stacks to pull out some Journey. I was going to Buffalo to see Blue Rodeo and wanted to load in some tunes for the car. It's funny, for a long time, there wasn't really a lot of live Journey available officially beyond the well known (and for many people, the essential) Captured double live album which was released in 1981.
What I really wanted was a proper live album that covered more of the later material from Journey that came after Captured, you know, albums like Escape, Frontiers...they sold a few copies of those albums and had several hits, right?
Journey filled that request in 1998 with the appropriately titled Greatest Hits Live, which even though it was compiled from a couple of different shows, had a track listing that had the expected hits, but also went a little bit deeper with tunes like "After The Fall," "Still They Ride" the title track to "Escape" and "Line of Fire." It was a good starter package that still works great if you're looking for a single CD that has a lot of their best tunes from across the years.
Released in 2005, Live in Houston 1981: The Escape Tour brought a famous Journey gig home to consumers, available on both DVD and CD (marking the first time that a Journey performance from that era had been officially released on DVD, unless you count the semi-official release of Frontiers and Beyond, which was available very briefly for a minute from the official Journey website in the early '00s). For reasons that aren't quite clear, the CD has a live version of "The Party's Over (Hopelessly in Love) while the DVD does not, which could be quite simple to explain -- maybe it just wasn't filmed. First shown on MTV in the early '80s, the Houston show had only circulated on bootleg prior to the official release.
I couldn't find my CDs for either of those releases when I went hunting for them, so instead, I grabbed a couple of bootlegs. One of them was a show recorded in Norman, Oklahoma for Westwood One in 1983. The other one was a 1979 show from the Evolution tour, captured in Chicago for the syndicated Studio Jam series.
Listening to both shows back to back as I drove to Buffalo, it was interesting to hear the differences between the Gregg Rolie era of Journey and the Jonathan Cain era of the group. Cain gets a lot of criticism for his alleged role in turning Journey into a ballad band, but that wasn't really what stuck out to me, listening to the shows. Instead, it was interesting to note how Perry's role changed in the group between the two shows. During the 1979 performance, Rolie still had a commanding presence vocally in the Journey lineup, but it was hard to miss the charisma that Perry brought each and every time he took the microphone, especially for the songs he sang the lead vocals on.
Journey as heard during the Norman, Oklahoma performance is a different story -- Perry has very clearly taken the reins of the group and even if it wasn't necessarily Perry's band behind the scenes, it was without question, a hell of a partnership. The songwriting that he, Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain were engaged in produced quite a powerful batch of material that gave Perry and the members of Journey a lot of firepower to work with onstage.
Even now, more than 30 years later, Schon realizes why the power of Journey still endures. It comes down to the usual things that are most important for a band that wants to build a legacy (even if you might not realize that's what you're doing at the time). It's all about hard work and good songs, as he shared during the interview.
“I think on the Journey level [that’s] why we’re still prominent and out there,” he says. “I think it’s because we basically work our butts off and we tour every year. And we continually play the music and have new audiences come in all the time, we’re claiming younger fans. And also I think mainly, I think we just got it right, you know we wrote a lot of really great songs, the three of us; myself, Steve Perry, and Jonathan Cain. And it was like we just got some things right and I think that’s why it’s etched in stone.”
Journey soldiers on with Arnel Pineda at the helm in place of Perry these days and together, they present a concert experience that is arguably as close to seeing the band with Perry in his prime as you're ever going to get. While Perry himself has recently returned to the stage for the first time in nearly 20 years, performing a handful of guest appearances singing Journey songs while backed by the band eels, it doesn't seem likely that he and Journey will reunite again.
And that's okay with me -- in my mind, there's room for both. Let Journey continue to do what they do and let Perry make whatever sort of music he might want to make on his own terms. I enjoy both. I like to watch Neal Schon play guitar and I enjoy hearing Perry sing -- so even if that doesn't happen on the same stage, it's all good. And although Perry's vocal abilities appear to have diminished from what he was capable of "back in the day," it would be fun to see him play some shows.
But as always, who knows what's up ahead?