Up the Creek Without a Paddle? Not Journey, a Band Whose Teenage Fans Have Made It Rich and Famous
Even so, their records—which appeal mainly to hard-core teens—have drawn critical faint praise, and as performers they are unthreatening enough to have opened for the Rolling Stones last month in Philadelphia and Buffalo. Their financial statement, on the other hand, has their tax accountants singing Gimme Shelter.
At present, Journey is composed of bassist Ross Valory, 32, singer Steve Perry, 32, guitarist Neal Schon, 27, drummer Steve Smith, 27, and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, 26. The moving force, though nonmusical, is a large, savvy businessman named Walter James Herbert II, 33. "Herbie," as he is Known, is president of Nightmare Inc., a company with its own publicity and graphics departments, a merchandising division and another that leases stage equipment. Journey is Nightmare's biggest client, but occasionally there are others as well. Its San Francisco HQ is a lavishly restored Victorian manor with a postcard view of the Golden Gate Bridge. There Herbie operates like a hipster cross between Bunker Hunt and Vince Lombardi, a combination of shrewdness and inspiration. Last year the trade magazine Billboard pronounced him "Manager of the Year."
"In the beginning our style was definitely Bay Area," says Herbie, who previously managed Santana and later worked with Steve Miller. "Total hippie. Total Haight-Ashbury. The whole concept started as a family, the kind of thing where the group, the manager and all the roadies slept on the floor and got crabs." Today the situation is more hygienic and upscale, but some communal ideals have survived.
Journey was envisioned by Herbie in 1973 as the West Coast equivalent of the crack but unnamed studio band at Muscle Shoals, Ala. By the time Journey got around to performing, the lineup included Schon and Gregg Rolie from Santana, Valory from the Steve Miller Band, session guitarist George Tickner and drummer Aynsley Dunbar from the Mothers of Invention. By 1977 Tickner had split and the band had issued three albums that sold a modest average of 250,000 copies. Herbie was not content. "I wanted to orchestrate another major group in the San Francisco tradition of Jefferson Airplane, Santana or Sly and the Family Stone," he says.
In 1977 Herbert and the band decided—in caucus, as usual—to hire Steve Perry, who could both sing and write. Lights, which Perry originally wrote about L.A. (where he was living), was deftly adapted to San Francisco, and became a West Coast hit. It helped propel their fourth album, Infinity, to platinum—and to Perry it meant "a quantum leap from struggle, starvation, pyorrhea and malnutrition."
Since the beginning, the band has taken vocal and harmony lessons and even sensitivity training. "It's like always getting ready for the Olympics," recalls Valory. At the same time, Herbert studied the strategic use of fan clubs. The Journey Force (as the club network is dubbed) has thrived and cost the group $30,000 last year. Its 5,000 members get a monthly newsletter, first crack at special LPs, concert tickets and merchandise. In return, they're vigilant in calling radio stations to request the band's tunes. "It's like a grass roots political base," says Pat Morrow, the Antioch University-educated road manager.
The band's rise in popularity has not been without unpleasantness, however. In 1978 drummer Dunbar was fired. "He was bored and frustrated with the music," explains Valory. Dunbar, now with Jefferson Starship, has filed a $3.25 million lawsuit against Journey over what he considered an insufficient settlement. Herbert insists: "I won't have to pay him a dime."
Dunbar is replaced by Smith, who, says Herbie, "is a team player instead of Me, Me, Me." Charter member Rolie also departed last year, on friendlier terms. "I'd been on the road for 15 years and it was time to smell the roses," he explains. "I even picked out the guy to take my place." Cain, his choice, was brought from the Babys, who toured the U.S. with Journey in 1980.
On the road the band is a kind of peripatetic fraternity party, and Valory records it all on videotape. "Keep them high on fun and hijinks," says Morrow, "and you keep them from getting high with a needle." Within the band cocaine, heroin and amphetamines are prohibited, though not softer stuff. They have acknowledged their pro-pot feelings with substantial contributions to NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. (They also donate money for leukemia research in memory of the late son of an executive at Columbia, their current label.)
By making his partners rich, Herbie has converted them to his paternalistic approach. "With him focusing on the business, we can focus on the music," says Schon. "In the beginning," Herbie says, "the motivation was hunger. But once you've got a couple million dollars, it's got to be devotion to the family."
The Journey players show few signs of deprivation. Schon, who is getting divorced after a three-year marriage and has just finished an independent collaboration with jazzman Jann Hammer, lives grandly in Marin County. Perry has a three-bedroom house near S.F. which he shares with roommate Sherrie Swafford. Valory just split from his wife of 11 years and their home in Lafayette. The Boston-born, music-school-trained Smith and his bride of three months, Susan, have a Marin County pad and a retreat on Cape Cod. Chicagoan Cain lives with wife Tané McClure, an aspiring actress-singer, in Mill Valley, where they keep Appaloosa ponies. Herbie himself, who lives quietly with his wife, Jonnie, a travel agent, thinks things can only get better. "We do good business," he explains simply, "and we do good rock'n'roll."
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