Hit Parader Mini-Series: Journey
Steve Perry still gets a special thrill out of just talking on stage. "I can remember all the years I dreamed about being in the position I am today," Journey's golden-voiced singer said with a smile as he sat on a couch in his plush Los Angeles hotel suite. "I was obsessed with music when I was a kid. I used to sit by the radio, listening to anything -- Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys, Cream... I'd always try to copy what they were doing. I came from a musical family -- my father was a big band singer -- so my parents encouraged my interest in music. They bought me a drum kit, and they didn't yell at me when I'd sing in the shower."
Perry's childhood fascination with rock and roll grew into a profession when he finished college and wandered to Los Angeles in search of what he described as "the perfect rock and roll band -- a band that never existed and probably never will." After a number of frustrating experiences, he worked part-time in L.A.'s Crystal Studios as an engineer, yet that did little to dissipate his desire to perform.
"After a few years I finally hooked up with a band called Alien," Steve recalled. "They were pretty good, and I felt that they could have been successful with a few breaks. They were a pure rock and roll band, yet they had a style that allowed me to stretch out as a singer. We almost got a record deal, but some problems popped up."
One of those problems was the fact that Alien's bass player died in a car accident shortly before the band was to sign a recording contract. While Steve prefers not to discuss the incident, he admits that he considered giving up performing and going back to engineering. "I was very frustrated," he explained. "I didn't know exactly which way to turn. When you put a lot of time and energy into a project, and then things turn out disastrously, you naturally question if you're heading in the right direction."
Luckily, one of Alien's demo tapes fell into the hands of Journey's manager Herbie Herbert. As guitarist Neal Schon recalled, "We had been looking for a singer to take some of the pressure off Gregg Rolie. We had considered a number of people, and we'd actually signed Robert Fleishman. That didn't work out. Then we got this tape from a guy at our record company and he said, 'Check out the singer.' We put it on, and suddenly there was this incredible voice. In less than a minute we all agreed that Steve was the guy we wanted."
Steve quickly fit into the Journey music machine, supplying the band with a string of top-flight numbers, as well as his unmatched vocal skills. "I had a couple of songs written before I even joined the band. one of those was Lights, which kind of helped establish my identity within the band. When we recorded Infinity, a lot of Journey's long-time fans questioned what we were up to, whether the band was going to become a pop band. They found out in a hurry that there was plenty of room for a good song within this band's musical format."
Over the next few years, through the release of such albums as Departure, Captured and Escape, the fortunes of Perry and Journey seemed to rise as one. The band became recognized as master musical craftsmen capable of selling millions of records around the world, while their charismatic lead singer emerged as one of rock's most prominent figures. Perry has taken his success in stride.
"It's nice, of course," he said with a smile, "but I don't think it's changed me that much. When you're recognized on the street, and you can't sit in a restaurant without somebody asking for an autograph, your life is changed, but I enjoy the notoriety -- I'm a bit of a ham. I've kept my perspectives in order, and the music is still the most important thing to me. I'm still very motivated by what Journey is trying to accomplish musically, and I still find rock and roll to be the ultimate turn-on.
"I can't imagine ever doing anything else," Steve added. "I was born to do what I'm doing -- it's like I'm fulfilling my destiny every time I get up on stage. It's just an incredible experience. The energy, the lights, the volume, the people -- it's truly magic. I hope I keep on rocking forever," he added with a high-pitched laugh. "That is of course, as long as the people still want me to."