My coffeehouse friends — if you’re not a fan of Journey be kind and just bypass this post. I get enough flack from dissers and mockers for being an unabashed fan of Journey, past and present. I know there are a whole lot of closet fans of the band out there, because they contact me. ;)
Happy birthday to Stephen Ray Perry.
In my car I have on perpetual repeat a CD of “The Voice,” from his years in Journey (1977-1998 with a break mid-way), and his solo efforts Street Talk (1984) through what is IMHO the superior For the Love of Strange Medicine (1994). That same CD, btw, is also loaded up with the current iteration of Journey with the gifted Arnel Pineda.
I refuse to participate in the quite sick arguments that litter the Internet about “No Perry, No Journey” that inevitably devolve into racial slurs against the Pineda, who hails from the Philippines. Nevermind that Perry’s parents were both Portguese (and his dad changed the surname of Pereira). Americans are a still a sorry-ass lot when it comes to POC. But I digress…
The fact that the band isn’t in the Hall of Fame (or Perry as a solo artist) is that they were never the critics’ darling, lumped in with the whole “corporate rock” nonsense of the 70s.
I know, many of you lump Journey in with Toto or REO Speedwagon or Styx and the like. Now I will give one thing to the critics — when you listen to “classic Journey” that is what the Perry era is now referred to — the studio albums are deceptively tight, even staid when you compare them to the group’s live albums, or better yet concert videos or, of course attending a concert. All of their songs come alive with much harder rock arrangements and axe work by Neal Schon (see Stone in Love clip at right). That’s doubly true today with Pineda, who is more of a power-rock vocalist, and a hard core man on the skins, the talented Deen Castronovo, who ironically brings incredibly Perry-like vocals to the mix. I have no idea why they don’t cut as loose in the studio.
In fact the critics’ bias against the band is incredibly unfair to Schon and Perry, considering the immense talent to jam outside of the Journey box. Take this early clip from The Midnight Special in 1979, where Neal, with his badass ‘fro, and Steve in full soul mode, jam with Herbie Hancock on Road Runner” (this is worth the peek for Hancock’s homemade “portable” keyboard contraption!). Anyone who says these two Journeymen can’t throw down with the best is a liar. Steve, whose call to sing was his love of R&B (and Sam Cooke in particular), kills it on the vocals.
Come on, you have to admit that was slammin’.
It’s pretty remarkable how Perry, who ranked (only!) 76th on Rolling Stone‘s list of the greatest singers of all-time, could sing with such emotion, clarity, power and pitch in concert for years on end. But alas, some of the Perry fanatics are in deep denial; some await Steve’s return to recorded music (more on that later) or to Journey (um, no chance there, save perhaps a R&R Hall of Fame reunion on stage one day – I’m not holding my breath), expecting “The [62-year-old] Voice” to belt out the high notes in Separate Ways or the glass-shattering falsetto at the end of Mother, Father. Come on, people, get off of the bong.
More below the fold.Steve Perry may still possess the emotive vocal skills and phrasing we love, but realistically, he cannot hit those notes anymore, something quite evident if you listen to the solo For the Love of Strange Medicine (FTLOSM) and Trial by Fire (TBF), the last studio album with Journey. An aside — Trial by Fire is actually one of the group’s strongest and most creative in my opinion; but if you ask most fans, it’s the hit-laden classic Escape that should infuse any concert set list.
His trademark rasp envelops much more of his range than it did on prior albums. Not that it is a detriment at all; the vocal quality is perfectly matched to the compositions. In what is quite brave for a vocalist whose meal ticket has been his range, he actually allows his voice to break in several tracks as part of the emotive quality of the songs. What makes Perry an artist of note is he made the most of the still substantial range he had to produce equally memorable music, in fact, it gave us an opportunity to hear him work with his impressive lower range.
The solo Steve Perry, while a comfortable familar voice, recorded content that sounded very little like Journey. The one nod to the Journey sound (perhaps an homage to Neal) was on FTLOSM. He tapped a talented 19-year old, 80s-big-haired Lincoln Brewster (now a major contemporary Christian singer) as lead guitarist on the album and the short successful tour. You can hear his Schon-like licks on many tracks. There are several YouTubes of his performances from that time that give you an idea of his performance vocal range (1994).
Also, there’s a hilarious video of one bit in a show where SP (who had some serious lovely long locks at the time) makes fun of himself and the rumors of his “lost voice” by playing around with one of the famous tux/tails he wore on tour with Journey. The kicker is some dude jumps onstage and starts wrapping the tux jacket around him (starts about 1:45 in) Steve completely falls apart laughing, finally getting it together to say good naturedly:
“It’s nice to know that I can get everyone a little hot now and then.”
Around his birthday, Perry, who’s an enigma to a degree — he’s remained out of the spotlight for years and is an extremely private person — posts a message for fans at Fan Asylum. This year he did a Q&A and he’s refreshingly unguarded — and answered 67 questions. Here are a few that I found interesting.
Have you ever been asked to be a judge on American Idol, and would you? – Maria
Yes I have…Randy Jackson asked me to Guest judge on the show once…I simply told him that I don’t feel good about sitting in judgment of anyone’s honest passion to perform or their talent…and If someone has a passion to perform..they should do it no matter what anyone says.”
In this era of the ‘techno’ sound, auto tune, etc do you think music (especially rock) will ever again revert to turning out music relying on talented song writing and vocals? Can it recover its credibility and break away from the boring sameness that permeates the airways? – Gene
WOW…A Very killer question…Technology is a tool but it has played a big part in lowering the bar of talent required to make music and as a result…. some music – not all – but some…. is all the same due to vocal auto tuners and recording techniques that end up making the music sound very similar. Individuality of music is subject to the individual uniqueness in our diversity…When everyone buys the same Plug-ins and uses the same computer music programs…Music doesn’t have a chance to be unique…I think using technology as a TOOL to capture real human emotion is the best way to use technology…Not as a career building Life Raft…
One thing I have marveled at when watching you perform the same songs over and over is how you are able to do them with the kind of emotion that would seem hard to keep feeling each time. What is it that makes the singing so meaningful to you each time? – Juliana
I guess I think that once the lyric and melody is established that the demand to vocally deliver it with as much feeling as possible is what it’s about. I came up in an era when the only way to do that was to go inside and get it…There were NO computer programs to fix or make things happen that you could not do…You had to go in- find it- and BRING IT !!…Heartfelt music is the result of this reaching process…technology is good as a recording tool but if it’s used too much as a solution…Then the emotion in the music can severely suffer…That is what’s happening now…A vocal performance- charged with honest emotion – Has a chance of becoming… Timeless…
Which tour was your favorite, and why? – James (video is from Live in Houston 1981 DVD)
I would have to say the 1981 Escape tour…I think Journey was at a point when all 8 cylinders were firing perfectly in sync and we were in a peek moment together as a band. The Live 1981 Houston DVD confirms that. At that time, being in it and so close to it I now can see It was certainly more Magical than I knew…
I read in your interview with AOR Magazine in the UK that you have 50 songs worth of material written. Can we expect a new CD any time soon? A new CD would make a lot of hearts sing. – Vicki
I do have many demo sketches and many ready for recording…It’s just getting my butt into the studio that’s the problem. I have a love/hate relationship with the recording process…I like some of the demos as they are and at the same time I know what they could be so…It’s fish or cut bait time for me…I really would love to release some new music cause…Time is marching on…If ya know what I mean…
I’m only 15 and I listen to Journey and your solo work constantly, even before Glee came on air. Do you find it interesting that the “youngsters” are listening to you and Journey without a family or media influence? – Jessi
I honestly find it to be one of the most wonderful things that has happen in my life…To think that a whole new generation is getting into music I’ve been involved in is very gratifying for me…It makes me very happy…
I heard an interview with you where you stated that you had always wanted to be a deejay and I was wondering if you had ever been approached to host your own radio show. – Sherry
I love radio………I think the idea of playing whatever music comes to your mind and talking about it is exciting to me. Perhaps I will be on one of the new satellite stations soon. Don Was just asked me to be on his show so your timing is very good.
As I said, he took on 67 Qs, so there’s plenty to read if you surf over.
So as the fangirl signs off and returns to political blogland: Steve, I love the gift you’ve given us — your voice, your talent and the fact that you’ve worn your heart on your sleeve in song. May you enjoy many years of peace and happiness. It would be great to hear what you’ve been noodling around with on ProTools someday. Promise?
The Voice in 1978, singing the first song he and Neal Schon wrote together, the beautiful Patiently.
UPDATE: This is a wonderful montage of video clips from back in the day set to Steve Perry’s emotional song about his days with Journey — “Anyway” from For the Love of Strange Medicine (1994). It’s melancholy to see them all getting along over the years. They did patch it up enough to make TBF in 1996, but as it goes, the breakup was permanent shortly thereafter.