By Harley Benner | Photography by Jessie Shepard
If you didn’t know what was happening at the Pensacola Civic Center on the evening of September 21st, you wouldn’t have gotten many clues watching the crowd as they filed in. They ranged from college-aged kids, who looked as if they had just come from a Greenpeace rally, to couples old enough to be their parents. People sported high and tight military crew cuts to unshorn locks dyed in hues not found anywhere in nature. T-shirts espoused political views ranging from ultraliberal to ultraconservative.
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that this amalgam of ages, lifestyles, and political beliefs would have you scratching your head and wondering, “What are they all doing here?” The simple answer is, they came for the music, but not just any music.
They came to see Journey.
Oooooooh, JOURNEY! Why didn’t you say so? That explains a lot!
Sure, the more senior in the crowd, those who owned the first Journey offerings (on large black vinyl discs called “albums”) would know the band was formed by former members of Santana. They’d be able to tell you that the group was named in a radio contest, and they’d be able to tell you that three of the five musicians in this night’s performance are original Journey members. They’d be able to tell you all of this because they used to read the liner notes from those albums like nine-year-olds read the back of a Cocoa Puffs box.
What about the younger ones in the crowd? Well, all I can say is that Journey is one of those bands whose music transcends age and time. There is no real “era” to it. Whether it’s the raw electric romance of “Open Arms” or the rollicking good-time tune “Anyway You Want It” (remember Rodney Dangerfield’s impromptu fairway dance party in Caddyshack?), Journey’s music just moves you.
And so they came. They packed the Pensacola Civic Center, and despite their age differences, hairstyles or political predilections, many had the same question in mind:
“Who is this new singer, and how does he stack up to Steve Perry?”
While there is no denying that the virtuoso guitar work of founder Neal Schon (recruited by Santana at age fifteen!), the amazing bass of cofounder Ross Valory and the intricate keys and songwriting of Jonathan Cain laid the foundation for the Journey sound, it was the unique and soaring vocal talents of Steve Perry that set the band apart from their contemporaries.
Could you imagine the Rolling Stones minus Mick? Can there ever be another Queen without Freddie Mercury? Was Van Halen ever the same following the exit of David Lee Roth? The answer to all is a resounding, “No!”
But not so fast!
AC/DC scarcely missed a beat between Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. Genesis achieved their greatest success following the departure of Peter Gabriel and the subsequent takeover of Phil Collins at the lead microphone. So it can be done.
Add Schon, Valory, and Cain to the lineup, and this is far more than just some tribute band. Schon and Valory were there from the very beginning, and Cain came along very shortly thereafter.
Journey was originally formed in 1973. Santana, The Tubes, and a San Francisco Bay area psychedelic group called Frumious Bandersnatch all contributed musicians. Their original style was more along the lines of jazz fusion than mainline rock and roll. Think of a rock version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and you’re close. After their first two albums failed to generate any serious sales, the group decided to go with a more mainstream style.
It was in 1977 that the band welcomed Steve Perry to the fold. Perry did for Journey what Peter Cetera did for Chicago—he gave the band real Top 40 chops. They created a clean sound that took their next album platinum and made hits out of “Lights” and “Wheel In The Sky.” Journey was officially on its way.
Over the course of the next five years, the band sold millions of albums, recorded twelve Top 40 hits and played to tens of thousands at sold-out stadium concerts. They were the epitome of commercial success, recording commercials for Budweiser and selling their likenesses for use in video games.
But like many bands, success got the better of Journey. Exhaustion from touring and creative differences resulted in the group following the advice of one of their more popular tunes and going their “Separate Ways.” Perry took the solo road with decent success. Schon and Cain teamed with current Journey drummer Deen Castronovo to form Bad English. Cain got together with former Journey rhythm guitarist Gregg Rolie to create The Storm.
After numerous reunion attempts and false starts, Journey regrouped in ’98 with its current lineup of musicians and Steve Augeri taking over as lead vocalist. But Augeri began suffering from what were described as “chronic throat infections” and was even accused by some in the rock press of lip-synching to prerecorded vocals. He was released by the group in 2006. Jeff Scott Soto of Talisman filled in for a few months before the group announced that they were once again in search of a new singer.
That search culminated in the hiring of Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer the band discovered singing Journey covers on YouTube.
Fast-forward to Monday, September 21, 2009… a packed Pensacola Civic Center… thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life gathered to see a group that had been a part of their lives for thirty-five years. Many were thinking the same thought: “How will they sound without Steve Perry?"
After an opening set by fellow eighties rockers Night Ranger, it was time to find out.
Journey started the crowd off with a flame-throwing guitar solo by Schon from the band’s new Revelation album (CD, MP3… whichever media you prefer).
Then, some familiar chords that take you back to the band’s heyday. Now you’re going to know… does the new guy measure up or not?
Before you can even see him, you hear him. He starts singing offstage, and for a moment you have chills. The hair on your arms stands up and the thought crosses your mind that you’re going to witness rock and roll history… because it sounds like Steve Perry is back!
Then Arnel steps into the light. He sounds amazing! It’s as if he has spent the last thirty-five years with Neal, Ross, Jonathan, and Deen. Either way, you get to spend the next two hours on an amazing musical ride that introduces you to new tunes and takes you back to another time and place. They are everything you’d hoped for, and more.
In the end, the audience tries to coax them back onstage for an encore. Old-schoolers with Bic lighters, the youngsters with their cell phones…
… all working together to continue the Journey.
— V —
Harley Benner is a radio personality and freelance writer. He can be heard weekdays from 8:00 until noon playing an eclectic mix of jazz, AAA, and R&B onThe Morning Vibe. He’s also host of My Generation, a weekly show that examines the history and social impact of rock from the late sixties thru the early seventies. It airs at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Both shows can be heard on WKGC FM 90.7 in Panama City and streaming on www.wkgc.org.