Journey’s transition from long-form fusion rockers to a pop juggernaut is typically credited to the arrival of Steve Perry. Robert Fleishman, the lead singer and composer hired just before Perry in an effort to shift Journey in a more commercial direction, would beg to differ.
Arriving in the run up to 1978’s Infinity, he’d ultimately receive co-writing credit for three of that album’s very best songs, including the radio hits “Wheel in the Sky” and “Anytime,” along with “Winds of March.” But before the project could be completed, Fleishman had been shown the door in favor of Perry — and a different version of the Journey’s history was written.
“I was kind of surprised when it came down,” Fleishman admits today, “but it is what it is. I still had a lot to do with the band being where they are today, in the sense that I was sort of like the architect of that whole thing. When I came into the situation, this was a band that played song for 15 minutes.”
The reasons, he says, had little to do with Perry’s memorable singing — much less his chemistry with Journey co-founders Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie. Instead, Fleishman chalks the decision up to label pressure.
“It was a sort of very political, on CBS’ side of the fence,” says Fleishman, who is now in a band called Sky. “They had this guy, an A&R guy, who was spending a lot of money on Steve Perry’s [pre-Journey] project. He was putting him in the studio, and everything. And this A&R guy kept hounding [original Journey manager] Herbie [Herbert], saying ‘you should get this guy. This guy sounds like Marty Balin, real San Francisco,’ and all of his stuff. Finally, they came down to the point where, you know, ‘if you take this guy on, we’ll give you more production money.’ It was The Godfather move, you know?”
Fleishman was left out in the cold, despite playing a foundational role in an album that would become Journey’s first-ever million seller, the first of six straight multi-platinum releases — and the generally accepted platform for all of the band’s mindboggling successes in the decade to follow.
“Here I come, and I’m a pop songwriter,” Fleishman adds, “and I kind of rearrange their furniture — and it was really hard for them to do in the beginning.” They eventually got the hang of it, clearly. But by the time the broader public learned who Journey was, this key figure in their transition had been all but forgotten.