© Dave Ling - August 1994 - previously published in RAW magazine
Maybe it says something about my teenaged years, but I always maintained that Steve Perry was just that little bit cooler than his Aerosmith namesake Joe. The legendary Journey frontman, with his hypnotising, drop-dead voice and open-necked shirts, was the absolute personification of the melodic rock spirit. With inspirational platters like ‘Infinity’ (1978), ‘Evolution’ (1979), ‘Departure’ (1980), ‘Escape’ (1981), ‘Frontiers’ (1983) and the farewell ‘Raised On Radio’ (1986), Journey almost single-handedly changed the face of American hard rock music, selling some 35 million albums in the process. It speaks volumes that, back in 1977, Journey’s original four-piece line-up of guitarist Neal Schon, keyboard player/singer Gregg Rolie, bassist Ross Valory and drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been issued with an ultimatum by their record company: get a lead singer or get dropped. Steve Perry was that missing link, and Journey would never look back. He was pivotal to their sound, and even today’s there’s no mistaking that luxurious larynx.Only Perry is capable of transforming a simple line like ‘If I could you know I would’ into a flamboyant, passionate flourish of: ‘If AAHH could you know AAAA-HHH-EEEYAH WOOOHHHHDDDD!’ (‘Missing You’, from the new ‘For The Love Of Strange Medicine’ album).
Yeah, Perry’s a singer’s singer, but he makes Def Leppard seem like workaholics. It’s been a decade since his last solo record, ‘Street Talk’, and eight years since the curtain came down on the last ever Journey concert in Anchorage, Alaska. Some had given Steve Perry up for dead. Career-wise, they may not have been to far from the truth in that assumption.
"I had actually entertained the idea of not singing again," admits Steve. "Maybe I’d achieved everything I’d set out to do. So many things happened; I lost my mother during the making of the last Journey record, and then my grandfather when I got off tour. Being an only child, I felt it was necessary to stop and evaluate. So I waited till music came along and grabbed me again. For a while I would be like a painter; creating ideas and just putting them away.
"People would stop me in the street and say, ‘Are you Steve Perry? Why are you not singing anymore?’ They sometimes seemed so abandoned and perturbed that it really helped me to make up my mind to do this again."
Fortunately for Perry, inspiration was at hand in the shape of ex-Winger keyboardist Paul Taylor, with whom Steve started to write songs. And when the singer had the good fortune to discover 21-year-old guitar hotshot Lincoln Brewster and drummer Moyes Lukas, he knew it was time. ‘…Strange Medicine’ took just eight months to create.
"It’s definitely not ear candy, not like the rest of the world is doing," Steve affirms down the line from his Californian home. "You have to take the wrapper off first, and it’s important that you sit down and listen to it."
The bulk of the record consists of mid-paced material and borderline ballads, delivered with an emotive ferocity that would make Michael Bolton’s wig fall off. The lyrics run the gamut of human experience, from loneliness and despair (try ‘I Am’, ‘Anyway’, ‘Donna Please’ and ‘Tuesday Heartache’ for size) to the boundless optimism of the phenomenally powerful and gospel-tinged ‘Somewhere There’s Hope’.
But the track that is destined to suck everybody in is LP lead off and first single ‘You Better Wait’, an supremely classy anthem that’s cut from the same cloth as Journey classic ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’. The opening line of ‘She was 17, beauty queen/I met her in a magazine,’ tells you everything you need to know. I mean, just listen to its exquisite, multi-tracked wail of ‘HAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!’.
"There’s maybe as many as 20 Steves in there," he chortles. "When it gets to the point where it all phases together, you don’t need to add any more. I just sounds so creamy, doesn’t it?"
"They’re honest players, playing music to the best of their ability"
Steve Perry on grunge musicians
It sure does. And after a slow start the single seems to be climbing the chart, having broken into the Top 50 at the time of writing.
"I hope that people will think this is a diverse and entertaining album," observes Perry. "I hate those albums where track one is exactly the same as track 10. A record should be like a meal; it should start off with a little salad, go onto the main course and close with a nice dessert."
Steve says that this set of lyrics have come from deeper within him than ever before, detailing what he calls "fears and adversity blocks" that he has encountered since we heard from him last. It’s an old AOR cliché to say that someone has loved and lost, but in Perry’s case it’s perfectly true.
"I’m definitely a hopeless romantic, and I think the world’s gonna go back to that in the 1990s," he says. "Relationships are so important, because for the past few years everybody seems to have been running from that with so much free and fanciful behaviour."
Perry chuckles when I express my relief that he still has his flowing locks – so many rock legends seem to be cutting them off these days – and guffaws when I point out he’s not jumped on the bandwagon and grown one of those silly fashion accessories: the goatee beard.
"Ha! There’s no goatee, and the hair’s longer than ever," he roars, before ruining my day and expressing an appreciation for the grunge movement. "Pearl Jam have really put some honesty back into rock music again," he says. "It’s great to have real bands again, and not those ‘hairdo’-type bands who assault the music business with their robotic, techno thing."
No! No! No! But Steve, surely this tidal wave of newcomers, who patently cannot sing or write decent songs, don’t really appeal to the Kingpin of AOR. Say it’s not true… please!
"They’re honest players, playing music to the best of their ability," he responds. "I was appalled when Kurt Cobain died – it was such a stupid mistake."
"I’m definitely a hopeless romantic, I think the world’s gonna go back to that"
Perry has no strong opinions as to whether the will be a renaissance for melodic rock. Does he object to the perception of him as a pink and fluffy AOR icon, when his all-time favourite singers are old soul codgers like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye? Apparently not.
"When people say those things about me, I think it’s the greatest thing of all," Steve accepts. "I’m just trying to sneak my soul, R&B and gospel influences into what I do, so that nobody knows what’s going on – but hopefully they’ll like it all the same."
There’s been much recent talk of a Journey reunion, but don’t go expecting Steve Perry to be a part of it. Music of the talk has come from Neal Schon, who was telling people during a recent visit to London to play with Paul Rodgers that he is considering roping in The Storm’s Kevin Chalfant as the group’s new lead singer.
"That’s their decision," Perry responds indifferently. Tactfully he adds: "All I can possibly tell you is that I will be doing some of those same [Journey] songs when I go out on my tour."
He won’t be drawn any further on the subject, not even when asked whether a ‘new’ Journey would tarnish the legend.
"Those guys are doing what they have to do," he finally says. "But they’re not thinking of the legacy."
Last issue’s five-star review of ‘For The Love Of Strange Medicine’ suggested that album closer ‘Anyway’ was a dewey-eyed look over Perry’s shoulder at the glory days of Journey. It seems that Mark Greenway was right in this assumption.
"I wanted to pay homage to the band, without sounding camp or calculated," sums up Steve. "I needs to make some kind of apology to the guys for my contribution to the insanity [of Journey’s demise]. I know that I was no day at the beach to be around at the time. Nobody was exactly what you’d call a picnic in the park either, but I wanted to clean up my side of things. That’s why the lyrics say, ‘We believed in music/Brothers to the end/Nothing stood between us/A fire burned within/Oh, how I remember/Wounded by the lie/Lost in my insanity/Escaping to survive’."
The waiting is over, the ghosts have all been exorcised, the master is back.
The Steve Perry Online fansite
An opportunity to speak to Steve Perry is always worth accepting, especially when he’s promoting an album as exquisite as ‘For The Love Of Strange Medicine’. We spoke at length in 1994 concerning the new album – Steve was astonished that I’d picked out a subtle Phil Lynott ad-lib during the fadeout of ‘Young Hearts Forever’ – and he addressed the apparent demise of Journey but the format of RAW magazine, not to mention the musical climate of the era, prevented much more than a cursory flavour of our conversation. Maybe one day I’ll go back and dig out the interview cassette. As we all now know, after his own solo tour (alas, no dates in the UK), Perry returned to Journey. It didn’t last, and the group brought in ex-Tall Stories/Tyketto man Steve Augeri. To the best of my knowledge, Perry has never played a gig since. This is a crying shame. (25th August, 2004)
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