Gimme Five: Partial Journey reunions with Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Steve Smith, Jonathan Cain

Fans of Journey’s best-known lineups — Gregg Rolie’s free-form 1970s version, and Steve Perry’s arena-ballad 1980s edition — have little hope of seeing any meaningful reunion of these wildly divergent camps.

After all, Rolie split back in 1980, and the similarly departed Perry hasn’t even put out a solo album since 1994. Drummer Steve Smith has long since turned to jazz. Meanwhile, Journey — featuring original members Neal Schon and Ross Valory, along with platinum-era stalwart Jonathan Cain — have continued forward with a new frontman in Arnel Pineda.

Nevertheless, there have been some tantalizing tastes of what might have been along the way.

Join us now as we explore some of the times, away from the band’s official releases, when Journey members mixed and matched over the years …

JONATHAN CAIN AND STEVE SMITH – “WHEN THE SPIRIT COMES” (BACK TO THE INNOCENCE, 1995): The keyboardist Cain, who sparked ear-worm radio smashes like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully,” was a member of Journey with drummer Smith from 1980-85 and then again from 1996-98.

This similarly soaring anthem, from a Cain solo album, probably would have become something more with Perry’s unmistakable vocal assistance. Still, “When the Spirit Comes” works as a sweetly conveyed tribute to an evening in 1991 when the Escape/Frontiers edition of Journey briefly reunited for a huge concert honoring the late rock impresario Bill Graham at Golden Gate Park. Crosby Stills Nash and Young also returned to the stage together; they were joined by Santana, John Fogerty and the Grateful Dead, among others.

Elsewhere, Schon appears on the opening track “Wish That I Was There With You,” co-written by John Waite — Cain’s pre-Journey bandmate in the Babys.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steve Smith talks about reuniting with Neal Schon for a new 2012 project -- and just how underrated the initial fusion-inspired edition of Journey still is.]

GREGG ROLIE, ROSS VALORY AND STEVE SMITH – “STILL LOVING YOU” (THE STORM, 1991): One of the high points in this quickly forgotten reformulation of the core of the late-1970s lineup, “Still Loving You” updates a breakthrough moment for Journey which included both 1979′s Evolution (“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin,’” “Just the Same Way”) and 1980′s Departure (“Any Way You Want It,” “Walks Like a Lady”).

The Storm also featured a No. 26 Billboard hit in “I’ve Got a Lot to Learn About Love,” but was nevertheless swept aside in the wake of their label’s early-1990s refocus on grunge and rap. Rolie shared vocal duties with future Alan Parsons Project singer Kevin Chalfant. Josh Ramos — a Schon clone — appeared on guitar.

“Playing with Stevie and Ross again, it was like riding a bicycle,” Rolie tells us in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “Steve Smith is a great drummer, and Ross is Ross. Had Interscope (which subsequently struck a deal to distribute Death Row Records, home of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg) not changed their style away from that kind of music, it would have been a different story. Two years earlier, and we’d be talking about something else. But that style of music went out the window, and so did we.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Despite their lengthy estrangement since a broken 1990s-era Journey reunion, Neal Schon says he still hopes to rebuild his relationship with Steve Perry.]

STEVE PERRY, NEAL SCHON, ROSS VALORY AND STEVE SMITH – “SELF DEFENSE” (HERE TO STAY, 1982): That rarest of things, a collaboration between Perry and Schon that doesn’t appear under the Journey banner. The guitarist handles lead vocals on this stand-out track from an early-1980s Schon and Hammer effort but, in the end, Perry’s contributions provide the fuel that gives the song its memorable propulsion.

From Schon’s solo — which finds Perry elevating spectacularly — through to their tough vocal interplay thereafter, “Self Defense” showcases the early-1980s line up (minus Cain) at the peak of their increasingly rare heavy-rocking form.

Schon would eventually return to this track, renaming it “In Self Defense,” for Journey’s 2005 release Generations, an album which featured rare vocal turns by everyone in the band — including Cain, Valory, current drummer Deen Castronovo and soon-to-depart lead singer Steve Augeri.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Steve Perry, in a frank discussion, admits his own trepidation about re-starting a solo career -- calling it 'an opportunity to suck.']

NEAL SCHON AND JONATHAN CAIN – “BIG MOON” (BEYOND THE THUNDER, 1995): In a moment when the band had been on hiatus for nearly 10 years, the Schon solo track “Big Moon” brilliantly recalled the melodic magic that had once made the Billboard charts such an easy conquest for Journey.

Schon even used the same guitar that helped “I’ll Be Alright Without You” become a No. 14 hit in the summer of 1986, offering a principal riff that has a similar smooth-jazz feel.

“Big Moon” wasn’t the only overt tip of the hat to Schon’s time in Journey to be found on Beyond the Thunder. Steve Smith played on five other tracks. (So, in fact, did Schon’s former pre-Journey bandmates in Santana, Chepito Areas and Michael Carabello.) The liner notes also reached out to Perry, in a precursor to the group’s short-lived Perry-Schon-Cain-Valory-Smith reunion Trial by Fire in 1996.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Can't get enough of Santana or Journey? Check out our in-depth interview with Gregg Rolie, where he discusses his Hall of Fame career as a founding member of both bands.]

GREGG ROLIE AND NEAL SCHON – “A MILLION MILES AWAY” (ABRAXAS POOL, 1997): Rolie and Schon co-founded Journey, of course, after a stint together in Santana and this album — also featuring Areas, Carabello, Alphonso Johnson and Mike Shrieve — was meant to recall those earlier turn-of-the-1970s triumphs.

Still, for Journey fans, new collaborations like “A Million Miles Away” also represented an increasingly rare intersection between the two principal creative forces in Journey’s initial trio of prog-influenced recordings from 1975-77. More than 15 years later, it remains one of Rolie’s favorite moments, too.

“A great song,” Rolie tells us, “and one of the few of mine that I listen to regularly. I never do that. Neal, Michael and myself wrote that. The creation of that music happened at a little cabin in California, and believe me, it was a cabin. The sound went all over Marin County, though we never got a complaint. We wrote all of that stuff in 10 or 12 days. It was just pouring out of everybody.”

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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