"Maybe Escape isn't the most clever album title of all time," Journey's effervescent vocalist Steve Perry said with a laugh as he sat in the living room of his California home. "But I think it's a pretty logical title when you consider that our last record was called
Captured. In a way this album represents a sort of 'escape' for us in that it's the beginning of a new era for Journey. We have a new band member, Jonathan Cain, and Captured concluded a segment of our career that featured what we called our album 'trilogy' Infinity, Evolution and Departure. Now with Escape, I feel we're ready to tackle new musical ideas and fly higher than ever."
It's easy to understand Perry's enthusiasm towards Journey's musical approach, for over the last six years this hard-rocking San Francisco-based band has emerged as one of America's most commercially successful acts. With each record of their album "trilogy" reaching the platinum sales plateau, and their concert tours continually selling out from coast to coast, Journey has now reached what Perry jokingly referred to as a "level of pseudo-stardom."
While much of their recent work has drawn the wrath of the rock press for its alleged lack of creative insight, Perry and cohorts Neal Schon (guitar), Ross Valory (bass), Steve Smith (drums), and newest member, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, (who has replaced founding member Gregg Rolie) have ignored the critics and continued to use smooth, polished melodies and saccharine-sweet lyrics as the foundation for their compositions. The formula works. Escape followed Journey's million-selling predecessors to the top of the sales charts.
"Success is a commodity that's rather difficult to understand, but very easy to accept," Perry said with a characteristic chuckle.
"Sometimes you just want to sit back and absorb everything that's happening to you and say, 'hey, isn't this something?' But then you have to get back to the realities of doing your job the rehearsing, the travelling, the hours locked up in hotels, and, wham, that magic moment passes.
"We've been very lucky over the last few years, but nobody's given us anything. We've worked harder than any band I can think of. But we love playing live, which I think is kind 'a obvious when you see us perform on stage. There's nothing that any of us would rather do right now than play rock & roll, and that's what we plan on doing for as long as we can."
The Journey story actually dates back to 1973. It was then that Schon and Rolie at that time members of the legendary band Santana realised that they shared a common desire to form a hard rock group that could feature enough instrumental artistry to avoid the simplistic attitudes of heavy metal. Joining together with Valory, guitarist George Tickner (who lasted only two albums) and drummer Prairie Prince (who soon left to join the Tubes and was replaced by current Jefferson Starship member Aynsley Dunbar) they formed Journey and began a hectic 11-month-a-year touring schedule, serving as opening act for virtually any band that would hire them.
They followed this break-neck pace for the next two years, during which time they developed a solid repertoire of original material, most featuring Schon's burning guitar leads and Rolie's "cosmic" lyrics.
They soon realised the difficulties of virtually living on the road, however, and felt ready to venture into the studio to record their first album. That effort, simply entitled Journey, featured such immediate FM-radio favourites as Of A Lifetime and garnered immediate critical support for the band.
Commercial success, though, was still years, and a change of styles away.
"We were very much a progressive band back then," Neal Schon explained. "We couldn't have cared less about hit singles or album sales. I guess we were all a little naïve, but we believed that if you played your music with conviction, everything would turn out all right in the end. We were trying a lot of new things, so we weren't really that surprised when we didn't shoot to the top of the charts. We had a natural following in the (San Francisco) Bay Area because of our Santana connection, but on a national scale, we really didn't have too much impact.
"We believed in what we were doing though, so the lack of sales didn't bother us. As long as we sold enough records to keep our recording contract, we knew things would eventually fall our way."
The pattern of positive critical response and limited commercial success continued for the next few years, during which time the band released two albums, Look Into The Future and Next. Rolie, whose voice had begun to deteriorate after years of combating over-amplified instrumental accompaniment with both Journey and Santana (he was the vocalist on such Santana hits as Black Magic Woman), suggested that the band seek a new vocalist someone who could reenergize Journey's musical approach. After a series of auditions, and the temporary selection of a singer named Robert Fleischman, the band recruited Perry, a then-unknown local performer whose piercing vocal style quickly rocketed Journey into the rock stratosphere.
"My first tour with the band was really wild," Perry recalled. "We had all the old Journey fans on one side of the hall, who only wanted to hear things from the first three albums, and all the new fans on the other side, who only wanted to hear the stuff on Infinity. It was really wild, but I think that everybody came to appreciate the new as well as the old things before the night was over. It was a challenge for us to show the people who had picked up on us with Infinity that the older songs were great too."
Journey followed the success of Infinity with two albums that mined much the same vein of hard-charging pop Evolution and Departure. Anyway You Want It and Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' brought the FM-oriented band to a new Am audience while the group brought their live show around the world. In 1980 alone, Journey appeared before more than two million people, and as documented on their live album Captured, proved they could rock with the best.
"To me there's still nothing in this world that can match playing live," Perry stated. "There's a freedom and spontaneity there that any performer naturally reacts to. Our music always translates best on the concert stage, and I think that the 'live' album captured that very well.
"We really like to let loose when we play, especially Neal, and sometimes a studio album just can't capture the energy of a live show. But," he added quickly, "I do think Escape comes closer to capturing our live sound than any of our previous studio albums. I think, unquestionably, it's the best studio album we've ever done.
"Escape has a lot more vitality than some of our recent studio work," Perry explained. "We were all really 'up' for working on this album, and I think that shows when you listen to it.
"Another reason the album's so good is Jonathan Cain. He's brought some very fresh ideas into the band, and his ability to play keyboards, guitar and sing has given us a flexibility which we really haven't enjoyed in the past. I think it's really good for a band to get some new blood in its veins every once in a while, and Jonathan came along and reenergized our whole musical outlook.
"There's a natural temptation when you're working with the same people all the time to kind 'a rest on your laurels and stay within the confines that you feel comfortable with. When you get a new member, it gives you a kick in your collective ass, and, really, there's nothing wrong with that everyone now and then."
"Working with this band has been an incredible experience for me," Cain added. "I have a big pair of shoes to fill in Journey because Gregg Rolie has always been a consummate professional. But everyone in the band has made me feel really welcome and needed, which, I guess, is all any new member can ask.
"I think the fact that this band has had a history of adding new members has made my entrance a lot easier. I know that I was encouraged to contribute as much as possible to the Escape album, which was great. I know that some Journey fans may resent me a little for replacing Gregg (who recently got married, and after ten years of touring with both Santana and Journey, felt that he had enough of life on the road. He's currently working on a solo album due out in the fall), but hopefully they'll appreciate what I can add to the band rather than what they're missing in Gregg's absence."
Although Journey's commercial popularity has continued to escalate over the years proven by Escape's rapid ascension up the sales charts their critical support has waned. While Schon's explosive guitar and Perry's high-pitched wails continue to epitomise the "Journey sound", many rock pundits now view the band as merely another pop-rock exponent of REO Speedwagon, Styx school of rock & roll fluff. Perry, however, feels that while Journey is undeniably a commercially-oriented band, their music retains a fundamental energy and progressive spirit that disarms virtually all the criticism.
"Of course, we're concerned with our popularity with people more than by what the critics think," Perry said. "A band like ours knows that it needs to please people in order to remain successful. We're not the Clash or a band like that which can survive by appealing to a relatively small band of dedicated followers. We want everybody to like what we do. We know that's impossible, but it's an ambition I hope we always keep.
"When Journey first started out they had some problems because they were trying to be too arty. The critics loved that but we learned that while you should never sell-out your musical beliefs, you have to be smart of flexible if you want to be successful in this business. Believe it or not, success really isn't a dirty word like some people in this industry would have you believe. If those people, be they critics or fans, think that they're insulting us by calling us a commercial success, they're crazy," he added with a laugh. "Anytime anyone wants to insult us by calling us a success, well, that's one thing I think we can learn to live with."
© Hit Parader, November 1981, Charlton Publications, Inc.
JOURNEY ONCE CAPTURED, NOW ESCAPED
Another New Member And Another Hit Record
By: Andy Secher