Gregg Rolie opens up about leaving Journey: ‘I don’t think Steve Perry liked me singing’

Gregg Rolie, went from fronting Journey to playing a secondary vocal role in the space between two albums — 1977’s Next and 1978’s Infinity. Credit, and he says some blame, goes to the arrival of Steve Perry.

Certainly, Perry’s arrival turned Journey’s pop fortunes. Previously known as a volcanic jam band, Journey had fashioned a more prog-focused update of the Santana sound that Gregg Rolie and (during later incarnations) Neal Schon had helped create before splitting off to found Journey. But the highest any of their initial three Journey recordings had gotten on the Billboard album charts was a paltry No. 85, with Next.

The next year’s Infinity — powered by newcomer Perry’s vocals on tracks like “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” — would, of course, shoot into the Top 25, eventually going triple platinum. Their commercial fortunes had changed for good. Yet key tracks like “Feeling That Way,” “Anytime” (both from Infinity) and “Just the Same Way” (from 1979’s Evolution) illustrated that Rolie still had plenty to contribute, even in this next iteration.

By 1980, however, he was out — having shared little of the spotlight, save for the melancholy track “Someday Soon,” on that year’s Departure album. Rolie has consistently blamed burn out for his exit, just as Journey went into the commercial stratosphere with albums like 1981’s Escape and 1983’s Frontiers. He says he wanted to start a family, to settle down after launching two separate world-traveling acts.

But that doesn’t mean Rolie couldn’t sense that things were changing in the band, anyway. He can’t help but feel Perry was slowly pushing him away.

“I always wanted to sing a song or two, a couple would have been nice but then it got less and less,” Rolie tells Rock Cellar. “I don’t think Perry liked me singing. It was never discussed but I really think that’s what was happening.”

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  • Terri Geer

    If it was never discussed, why would he think this?

    • gary

      Just so I got this right. YOU have never had thoughts about things that were never discussed? You’re an amazing person!

    • magnumpi

      Ever hear of being able to read between the lines?

      • That is also called making assumptions without facts to back it up.

        • Lee Sowthe

          All good points. Maybe it was a difficult thing to discuss. Leaves us all wondering what could have been….

  • kotosquito

    The very best Journey songs, in my opinion, were the ones featuring the voice of both Perry AND Rolie. The balanced each other off, nicely, and gave the songs a greater range and thus more originality.

    • Lee Sowthe

      Totally agree.

    • Ailsa Nordstrom

      Yep, was about to say the same thing.

  • Gregg was an adult professional. If he wanted a larger part of singing then he should have asserted himself.

  • tizbad

    I have all of their album and having to hear them singing in the past to present day. I still belive that Greg Rolie and Steve Perry sang together so well even though their voices was different which I agree with Kotosquito it balanced itself out nicely. My guess Rolie just thought he was losing his spotlight since Steve came in the picture. If he had really questioned that thought all he had to do was ask nicely, I’m sure he would have been in this band still if he hadn’t thought he was being pushed out. But again every band has their own fallouts and starting out new with someone else…. Just like David Lee Roth for example…

  • Alexandra_8

    And Steve then went on to take over the band. Wrote some great songs and some great albums.

  • mtones

    I think we all make mistakes in our lives, especially when we are younger adults and not yet able to see the long term effects of some decision based on ego – which I think is what this was, no matter what he wants to rationalize it as now.

    As a fan, I had a really hard time accepting his departure from the band since I had always loved his voice and just like @kotosquito I thought Journey songs were truly at their best when Rolie and Perry were both contributing to the sound once Perry joined them. Perry’s magnificent tenor was made even more sweet by Rolie’s beautifully rich, deep tones. I missed him a lot, and while I now know that Cain contributed a lot of the writing that catapulted the band through the early 80s, I did not like him or his synthesizers (which Rolie never used) in Rolie’s place for a long time. Sad in a way, since we will never really know what they could have achieved sound-wise had he stayed on.

  • Robert Cotterell

    I had the good fortune of becoming an email buddy with Gregg back in the late 90’s. And I was a stout Journey fan from the very beginning days (3 albums worth) with no Steve Perry.
    I even saw Journey open for ELP in 1977 with Robert Fleishman (Wheel in the Sky author) in front.
    That was a very short lived “journey” for him, as he was soon replaced by Perry during that tour.

    Gregg was one of my mentors through my youth (I’m a hammond player) and he was very gracious and kind to me when I reached out to him with email. Remembering that this was all before the VH1 Behind the Band episode in 2001, I asked him what really happened when he left Journey, and why…

    1. Steve was quite conceited with an ego that was growing daily, and was difficult to work with.
    I kinda already knew this to be true, because I had been backstage during some Infinity tour gigs and had witnessed Perry’s behavior first hand for myself.
    So Gregg just solidified what I already suspected.

    2. Gregg was indeed burned out, and I had already heard that as well, back when he left in 1980.
    It even had that sad “feel” to it, as the one studio track – “The Party’s Over” – eloquently placed as the last song on a phenomenal live album, was like a final “swansong” for Gregg’s departure / retirement.
    Fronting one, successful world – touring band was taxing – let alone fronting TWO of them back to back, spanning over the better part of two decades.

    But regardless of everything else, the bickering, disagreements or whatever – one still cannot take away from the shear talent that those particular guys shared with us over those years, and the absolute timeless music that we have as a result, and the ability to play that music whenever the mood strikes.

    And of course, Gregg has gone on to be part of yet ANOTHER great show: Ringo Starr’s All Star Band.
    It’s also the longest running line up of that endeavor – 6 yrs now (I think) – since its inception back in 1989.
    And in that band, Gregg is playing with yet ANOTHER guitar virtuoso, Steve “Luke” Lukather.
    I know Luke, have been backstage with him and Toto on several occasions, and I regard Luke as one of THE finest, all around guitar players in the world.

    So as the story goes, Gregg Rolie has successfully played in bands and toured the world with the likes of Carlos Santana, Neil Schon, and Steve Lukather.

    What an incredible story…

    • mtones

      Thanks so much for posting. Very interesting stuff indeed.

      I have no doubt that the egos were huge all around, Perry’s for sure was right up at the top – something I think he has certainly come clean about in the last few years since he has realized the toll all of that took on everyone, including himself.

      There are some pretty telling video interviews of the band members between ’83 and ’86 in which the practically condescending tone that comes across from Perry in particular was nearly palpable. The press conference for Frontiers in ’83 stands out pretty large… those are fairly hard to watch as a Schon or Perry fan – which I definitely was.

      But losing Rolie was probably the biggest blow for me, no matter how big Journey got afterwards. I loved him in Santana, and then in Journey which I found best between 75-80. I had the good fortune to see them before he left.

      Once Cain came on board I stuck it out until ’83 and then pretty much gave up on their sound, the attitudes being so different, and seeing Steve Smith replaced along with Ross just totally did it for me. I did not buy any other Journey album past Frontiers.

      One of my favorite things of theirs which I still have is a video of their jam session in ’78 in Chicago for the PBS Soundstage, where they played with Albert King, Luther Allison and a few other blues greats. Amazing level of performance from everyone, yet so little seen or talked about.

      Glad Rolie has continued on though. I have followed him over the years and always felt happy he did not compromise his artistry for the sake of the tour buck, It was the right thing for him to do, as it was for Perry – even though it took him longer to leave, was glad for him that he did.

  • Dan Landers

    I didn’t like Steve Perry’s singing. I preferred Greg’s amazing singing and piercing organ!

    • You are about the only one… Good for you.

      • Dan Landers

        So What!

        • Well for one…without Steve this article probably wouldn’t exist.

      • davedsone

        No, he’s not, actually.

    • Abe Lincoln

      I always thought they sounded great together. Like Feeling that way and Just the same way