Since 1973, the band has sold tens of millions of albums worldwide. For awhile in the 1980s they were considered the biggest band in the world with hits like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” “Faithfully,” “Who’s Crying Now,” Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) and “Anyway You Want It.”
Journey has been been out on the road for summer tours in the past with some of the staples of arena rock, such as Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Def Leppard.
This year’s summer trek finds quintet on another monster double bill, but maybe not in a way some fans would have expected. Legendary guitarist Steve Miller, who turned 70 last fall (but shows no signs of slowing down), will share the stage with the band as well as Tower of Power. The Gangster of Love is known not only for his blues guitar playing, but also a string of radio hits in the ’70s like “Take the Money and Run,” “Jet Airliner,” “The Joker,” “Jungle Love,” “Rock’n Me” and “Swingtown.”
“We’ve been doing this for years and we’ve sort of like worn out all the options of different people to play with. There’s a few that I wish to do with but it hasn’t happened and Steve Miller definitely was one of them and Tower of Power and myself go way back to ’69-’70 and I used to jam with those guys all the time before I joined Santana and after I joined Santana in 1970,” Journey founder and lead guitarist Neal Schon said. “And so it’s like a full circle in a sense and Ross, you know Valory, our bass player, played with Steve Miller Band before Journey. And I did a tour with Paul Rodgers years ago, opening up for Steve Miller when he was doing his “Muddy Waters Blues” tour. And so it’ll be good to reunite with everyone and probably turn out to be very fun in the end and probably end up jammin’ a bit with everyone.”
Before the start of the tour, Schon (the only member of Journey who has been on every album), keyboardist Jonathan Cain and Miller sat down for a conference call with members of the media. Both addressed the state of the music industry today, plans for future recording, and the guys from Journey addressed the latest Steve Perry rumors.
Journey has always been closely associated with their hometown of San Francisco. But some may forget that Miller, who currently lives in Ketchum, Idaho, was a big part of the San Francisco music scene in the 1960s.
Miller: Compared to the rest of the musical world that I was involved in, the rest of it was a bunch of gangsters running night clubs and stealing stuff from musicians and you worked in bars or you worked for Dick Clark. It was very goofy. San Francisco was extremely real. As soon as I understood what was going on in San Francisco, which was in 1965 and ’66, I immediately left Chicago where I was working in a night club that was being shaken down by the mafia and the police for payments. I mean it was a real thug world. I immediately got in my Volkswagen Bus and drove to San Francisco. When I got there what I realized was it was much, much more than just bands and music. It was a true social phenomena. I didn’t really understand that for a while because the bands when I first got to San Francisco really weren’t very good. They were guys who were folk musicians who decided they wanted to be rock stars and they bought Beetle boots and let their hair grown long and got an electric guitar and started a band. I was kind of going, “What’s going on here? They’re doing a bad version of “In the Midnight Hour.” What is this?” Then, I’d come from Chicago where Junior Wells would steal your gig if you didn’t hold your own. So, I came from a different musical discipline of jazz and blues and night clubs. When we started working in San Francisco, we were a really tight band. We knocked everybody out. We just became part of the Fillmore scene.
Neither Journey nor Miller have released a new album in awhile. But both say that’s not because they’ve stopped writing. The problem, both say, is the state of the music industry.
Schon: The biggest issue for us is with all the digital downloads, I have an attorney that just chases people around all day long that are posting your music for free. I just, I wish that they could get a grip on that. But it really sort of takes it out of all the artists when we spend our own money to make the records right and if you’re not making a chinsy record and you want to make a good sounding record, it’s expensive. And so you want to try to make something back from it and not have people just get it for free, and so that’s why we’ve sort of been holding off on putting out another record. We have material, but now we’ve been talking since we’ve been in rehearsal and we are going to commence; we’re going to get back together. I believe after this tour is over, I’m going to get in the studio with two different projects with Journey and with Santana and we’re going to finish up some new records.
Cain: Well, we’ve kind of hesitated with the new stuff because the CD business is kind of dead and gone and it costs money to go in the studio. So, we’ve kind of held back. We have an album that we did, I don’t know, back in 2000 called Rival and we were going to go back and look at some at that music and add to it because we just felt like it never got recorded right. We had another singer at the time (Steve Augeri). I don’t think they got it right. So when we listen to now, it’s just frustrating to hear good songs that are not quite making it acoustically. So, we were thinking of going in and possibly revisiting that album, adding some tunes to that, to the best of that.
Miller: Well, for me, I’m like Jonathan. I’m recording all the time. I just finished mixing—we just recorded all The Joker tunes. It’s The Joker’s 40th anniversary. So, we went back to ’73 and we took all the songs from The Joker, reworked them. We’ve been touring that just recently. And so, I just finished mixing that two days ago. At the same time, I’ve been listening to Prince and Ray Charles and we’ve been going into the studio with the guys and just goofing around and cutting rhythm tracks. I just recorded “One Mint Julep” for fun. It’s mainly for fun now. There is no record business. You can’t give it away. You can’t afford to spend $200,000 in the studio and then give it away. It doesn’t work. So, I have my own studio. I’m in in it all the time. I’m constantly recording and I’ve been in an argument with my record companies and law suits against them for years and giving a record company an album is like giving a gangster your baby or something. So, all of that tends to make the creative moment not as much as fun as it used to be, but I’m constantly recording.
Schon: Yes, well, it’s just the whole music industry has sort of faded except for live performances. There’s no more music stores and really it’s just like downloads if you want a new CD and I sort of miss being able to walk into a music store and look at albums and CDs and see who’s on it and what’s going on and everything is so digital and it’s just the way of the world right now. But I think the one thing that remains the same is live performances. So that’s why we’re still here doing this, I mean, it’s like one thing that can’t be hacked and one thing that you absolutely have to show up live to be able to do. And so I still love it. I love performing.
On this tour, Schon said fans can expect fewer jam sessions and hear the songs as they were recorded on the albums.
Schon: We went back to a lot of the original arrangements because they’ve sort of drifted through the years, you know, and got back to record versions so we could play more songs between the sets. So I think basically we’re going to play more songs in the set and keep the jamming down a little bit more.
Miller also commented on today’s audiences while playing live, and how audiences in America are different from those in Europe. Where audiences in Europe will generally sit quietly and pay close attention to the artist on stage, sometimes at American shows the artist is like background music, something that has always bugged Miller.
Miller: Our audiences are so conservative now and so strangely addicted to—they’ve paid their money. They want to hear the greatest hits. We’ll go out and we’ll be playing in front of 15,000 people and say, “Hey, we’re going to do three new songs from something we just recorded” and 5,000 people get up and go get a hot dog and a beer and they don’t come back until they hear the opening strings of “The Joker” or “Fly Like an Eagle.” That to me has really bothered me about audiences is that when you have the kind of 40 years’ success.
I generally do a two hour show. I do about 23-24 songs. There’s 14 greatest hits. So, that gives me 9-10 songs to play with. I feel like I have to sneak them into my set. I feel like when the critics come to see my show, they go, “Well, then they went into this jazz/blues thing for a while and the energy went out of the audience until they came back and played this other song. So, it’s a very strange kind of world that I occupy.
For me, what makes a good crowd is when you can hear a pin drop in the building. That’s when—I think the magic part of a set for us is when there’s this kind of silence and we’re all listening and performing and we’re sort of all in this kind of magical moment together as opposed to like when everybody’s screaming at the end of the show and they’re going crazy and nuts.
My goal when I play is to bring joy to my audience. I’m trying to create a joyous event. Music is a way of communicating that’s very ethereal. It goes forwards. It goes backwards in time. You’re taking people to the future and to the past and you’re creating this event that’s very emotional and I think it’s best when—I’ve watched Journey shows when Jonathan was playing a piano piece by himself, or there’s this moment where everybody is—it’s a very emotional moment, and I think those are the high parts of a concert.
But Miller also noted how bands like Journey and himself that came out of San Francisco forever changed the concert landscape for the rest of the nation.
Miller: These bands are an integral part of the music and art and production of a whole new approach to music. Once you start changing the way people attend concerts, what happens at concerts and you’re in an unusual creative environment as San Francisco was for three decades really – the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – there was just an amazing amount of creativity that came out of there. I think that’s what shaped bands like Journey and us.
We made a lot of records. If you look at Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” all the albums that they put out. I mean in ’78, it was Infinity and then Evolution, Departure, Escape, Frontiers. That was like in five years. I think we put out 5 albums in 18 months, in the first 18 months that we started recording. Five albums in 18 months is pretty amazing. And so, the creativity was fast and the response from the audiences was instant and at the same time we were doing this, we were like building brand new stages, brand new sound systems, brand new light shows, and all of that really added, I think, to what made the music mean more than just like a string of hits.
Miller was also asked about his big song “The Joker” on its 40th anniversary.
Miller: It wasn’t expected to be a single. It just was one of those things that sort of went viral before the term “viral” was being used. I remember leaving to go on a 60 city tour and somebody at the record company said, “Well, I think “The Joker” might be a single” and I said, “You know what? Don’t worry about singles. It just would be nice if you actually have records in the cities where I’m actually going to be working. That would be a good idea, and here’s a list of the cities I’m going to be in in the next 75 days.” We left to go do that tour not really expecting much to happen and when we came back it was the number single in the country. So, I guess being just not—just finally just relaxing and doing what I really wanted to do was the right thing to do all along.
As expected, the inevitable Steve Perry questions came up during the conference call for Schon. As good and as popular as current lead singer Arnel Pineda has been sliding into the band’s lead singer position, nothing sets the Internet ablaze like a good Steve Perry rumor or sighting. No band seems to get asked more about their former lead singer as Journey.
This time, however, there was reason. In February, Perry seemed to hint that he and Schon were speaking to each other and had been in discussion about a possible reunion tour. The conference call was held before Perry sent the rumor mill into overdrive when he made three surprise guest appearances with the group The Eels in June, marking his first performances on stage in nearly 20 years. Fans noted that for a man who hadn’t sung publicly in nearly two decades, his voice wasn’t that far removed from his glory years. The excitement generated by his return to the stage even allegedly prompted Pineda to tweet that Perry could have his old job back if he wanted. Perry, however, quickly dispelled all the rumors by saying there was no Journey reunion in the works.
Schon: I think when Steve had mentioned that when somebody put him on the spot and asked him, I mean we had been correlating with emails just saying, “Hello, I hope you’re well” and all that, but there was never anything about playing live and then he sort of, he opened the door and he shut the door. You know, so it wasn’t anybody but him that sort of created all that media for a second. And so we did want to reassure fans that no, Arnel is not going anywhere. He’s still right here with us.
And as for those who say Journey isn’t the same without Perry?
Schon: Of course it’s not the same band, you know? I mean anytime you change one person it’s not the same. It doesn’t mean it’s not good, though, you know. And so, I mean, people that are into the past will forever stay in the past, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not a healthy thing for me or for anyone else that is here right now. And so we’re moving forward into the future and I think we’re doing quite well and there are always people that are just in love with the past and cannot move on from that. And so what I suggest to them is that they just move on. I mean, if you don’t like us for whom we are right now, then just don’t bother, you know.
Even though Perry is now 15 years removed from the band, Journey continues to pack audiences in arenas and amphitheaters.
Schon: I think on the Journey level and why we’re still prominent and out there, 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.