Journey takes their music to a 'Higher Place'
By Naughty Mickie notymickie@earthlink.net 

The trend continues, another band that many of us grew up with has returned to rock a whole new generation. Journey joined the ranks of these beloved groups recently with the release of their latest effort, "Arrival," on Columbia Records, and a tour that is filling up concert venues like the good ol' days. Their current lineup consists of original players, bassist Ross Valory and guitarist Neal Shon, as well as former member, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, and newcomers, vocalist Steve Augeri and drummer Deen Castronovo.

Audiences are once again embracing the band that blends their set with Journey standards like "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" and "Any Way You Want It" and new hits such as "Higher Place" and "Kiss Me Softly." This was starkly apparent during their recent concert at the Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore, California, where they were joined by John Waite and Peter Frampton. The crowd was pulled to their feet by Waite and Frampton's memorable material and remained standing until the final strains of Journey echoed in the night air. (Editor's note: For a complete concert review, read B Notes in this issue of DaBelly.com).

In order to better understand this phenomenon, I tracked down Valory who was enjoying his time back out on the road. I asked him first to provide me with some background on Journey.

"It centers around our founding partner/manager, Herbie Herbert," recalls Valory. "I worked with Herbie for many years in other bands prior to Journey. Sooner or later those things went to the side, Herbie went to work for Santana, I went to work with Steve Miller. And about 1971, I was done with Miller, Herbie was done with Santana and Neal Shon and (keyboardist) Greg Rolie had also left Santana. So Herbie had this idea when he heard all these musicians who weren't particularly busy at the moment, let's put them together in a room with Prairie Prince, the drummer from the Tubes, and George Tickner, who was another guitarist and songwriter who figured prominently in the first album, a gentleman who I'd been working with for years beforehand. He put us together with this idea that we would be 'The Golden Gate Rhythm Section,' this ultimate studio band for all the many artists that were flocking to San Francisco in those days to do albums and be creative, but it quickly developed into its own ambitions. We were actually performing shows in major cities in the United States even before we released our first album in 1975.''

Journey's first show was on New Year's Eve in 1973. Drummer Aynsley Dunbar stepped in to replace Prince prior to their first recording. The group released three jazz-rock albums that were largely instrumental works, but by 1977, they decided that they needed a strong vocalist who could serve as their frontman. The addition of Steve Perry changed the band, the group began "to focus on vocal tunes rather than be so musically extravagant.'' The records which followed, "Escape'' and "Frontiers,'' included the lineup that is probably the most well known-- Perry, Shon, Valory, Cain and drummer Steve Smith.

The group paused during 1983, going their own ways and regrouped for the 1986 release of "Raised on the Radio" without Valory and Smith. After the supporting tour, Journey disbanded. In 1996, Perry, Shon, Cain, Valory and Smith reunited to put forth the effort, "Trial By Fire," and toured again. At this point, Perry and Smith decided to take other paths and the group went on with Augeri (Tall Stories) and Castonovo (Bad English).

"In 1998, we went out on tour without a new album and without the blessing of the industry and made a lot of noise," says Valory. "Of course we went out in 1999 with an album and did very well. We released it in Japan and then, in October of last year, we added two more rock and roll songs, changed the artwork and released 'Arrival' again worldwide and in the United States last spring.''

Valory's love affair with music began at an early age.

"I was singing and learning ukulele and piano from my mother at the age of four or five," he says. "I played clarinet through the school system. So I was in symphonic music. I was singing in all the choirs.''

But aside from the Ink Spots, the Coasters and Fats Domino, Valory had little interest in rock as a teen.

"My father took the family to Europe in 1963," Valory remembers. "I was about 13, and we were driving around Ireland and the only thing we had was AM radio. And this band (the Beatles) came on singing 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' This is before it made it to the United States. And I said, 'You know, this is interesting, but they just don't sing in tune, mom.' Very quickly they improved themselves and by the time 'Yesterday' came out I was completely blown away.''

In high school, a friend talked Valory into renting a bass and he ended up getting some equipment and playing in an assortment of bands. Ever the well-rounded musician, Valory also learned to play the drums.

Valory spent a semester and a half in college before landing a gig with the Steve Miller Band. He worked for a while doing bookkeeping for his father's construction company, but his talent has kept him pretty clear of the nine-to-five routine since 1970.

Why did Valory decide to return to Journey?

"Why? Because it was time," Valory says with confidence. "Not that I was sitting on my thumbs for twelve years, but I knew that sooner or later the band would get back together. 'Trial By Fire' was a great project. I think to date that was some of my best contributions to the band. Unfortunately, it was Steve Perry's health problems and whatever that prevented the band from going on the road and touring and doing what it should have done. Journey has been my career, but I didn't just sit around for twelve years, I worked with a band called The Vu with this fine singer named Kevin Chalfant. Eventually The Vu mutated into what was called The Storm.

"The music was excellent and the band was an incredibly good performing band, but it wasn't Journey." Valory continues, "During those late '80s, early '90s, the stigma of the industry in general, even though there was a public market, baby boomer market, for that kind of music, nobody wanted to sell it. People were willing to buy it, but nobody's willing to sell it. They were more interested in spending less money on new acts on which they could toss a little money out there and if it happened, they would in the big time, if it didn't they wouldn't have a large loss of investment.''

After two albums with The Storm, Valory went on to other projects, including "Second Wind,'' a live recording with Todd Rungren. All the other Journey members worked on different projects,
as well, but none achieved the success of Journey.

Valory is very individualistic in his taste in music.

"I don't really know much about (the music scene) because, when I'm not doing this, I'm listening to classical or jazz or certain talk radio stations. When I'm in the car, I rarely listen to rock and roll stations, I'll be listening to blues or jazz. When I go to a record store, I go into retro, collecting anything from Mozart to Miles Davis. I bought some Prince albums the other day. When I think of it, before I go blank walking into a record store, I'll write out a list so I don't forget what I went there for,'' Valory laughs, then adds that he also enjoys some of Pearl Jam's tunes.

He also recognizes the good, and evil, of the Internet.

"I think it's a great tool," Valory says of the Web. "It's easy to get lost and to get absorbed of course, but Journey's got it's own site. I think it's a great site for music fans because it doesn't have necessarily Journey-related, they have so many different forms. One is on music and technology, another is like the water cooler, any subject. It's for fans or curious people to interact with the band as members are available to take part. I was taking part in it more when I was home than I am now, I have a big schedule.''

What about sites like Napster?

As if talking to a small child, Valory replies, "Napster bad, Napster bad. I think it's a bad scene.''

Valory leaves most of the writing to the rest of the band.

"I haven't been that involved with writing, I could be, but I haven't,'' he states.

Valory's been working with Shon and Cain so long, that he feels confident that they can write the basic structure of his part and he can go in and then make it his own.

"When they're writing for the signature of the band, part of it is my bass style, so they have that in mind,'' he says.

When Valory isn't busy with Journey he spends time with his wife and his 17-year-old shitzu named Crusher.

"He's hanging in there,'' Valory says about his dog with a smile.

He explains that there are a lot of families in the band. The other members have children who like to come to some of the shows and hang out with the band.

Valory enjoys watching the television shows "Rosanne" and "Home Improvement" and lots of PBS in addition to his other hobbies.

"I like camping," he says. "I like to read a lot, history and science. And I'm a documentary nut, I've got thousands of hours of takes of documentaries on any given subject, mostly history; science.''

Valory is confident with Journey's new lineup. He reminds me that "two of three prominent writers of the past are in the band, so you get the same approach." And don't be lulled into believing that Augeri is a carbon copy of Perry. Yes, his voice is remarkably similar to Perry's, but Augeri adds his own twist to the music, most notably in the new tunes, "World Gone Wild'' and "Kiss Me Softly'' which have a different flavor than previous songs.

"The idea was we were going forward, it's a different band, there's a different drummer; different singer,'' Valory says. "You get something familiar, but something new hopefully.''

The future for Valory is simple.

"To continue this,'' he states without hesitation.

Journey is not planning to release another album for a couple more years, but they are booking stops for February and March that were missed on the current tour.

Finally I get to the heart of the matter and ask to what Valory credits Journey's staying power.

"As a performing band," Valory replies. "We've always been a performing band, even before we were selling records. We've always been known as a performing band and a lot of the material, almost all of the material that we have on record, was presented in a way that we could perform it live as well, if not better, than the way it appeared on record, so Journey's a live band. More than anything, it's our performance ability, excellence on the on stage recreating whatever songs made us popular.''

And Ross, after seeing you and Journey rocking the Blockbuster this past month, I have to agree.

To find out more about Journey visit www.journeymusic.com and www.columbiarecords.com.

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