Journey began unlikely shift to pop stardom with the arrival of Steve Perry: ‘I welcomed it’

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The release of Infinity on January 20, 1978, saw Journey undergo its first — and, by far, most important — evolution as the core quartet of Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Ross Valory and Aynsley Dunbar were joined by nascent popstar Steve Perry.

Perry’s appearance would immediately transform an interesting, if often unfocused jam band into a hit-making juggernaut. Infinity became Journey’s biggest seller to date, as they began moving toward a tighter focus on songcraft. These two worlds, one old and one new, collided most notably via the two-song sequence of “Feeling That Way” and “Anytime,” in which Gregg Rolie and Steve Perry shared leads for the very first time.

Interestingly, Rolie (who was quickly being supplanted as frontman) holds no ill will about the shift so vividly playing out on these tracks — which remain perhaps the high point of this transitional period. “When Steve Perry entered the band, I welcomed it,” Rolie tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “I was spread pretty thin, playing three or four keyboards, harmonica and singing lead. I thought this would be good, and we started writing songs in a different way.”

“Feeling That Way” was actually a reworking of a pre-Perry instrumental called “Velvet Curtain,” which after earlier updates had at one time been scheduled for Journey’s third album, Next. Steve Perry added a new chorus upon joining the band, and “Feeling That Way” was finally completed. The song is typically played with the subsequent “Anytime” on rock radio, and in concert performances — as heard on 1981’s Captured, the concert souvenir that became Rolie’s swansong with Journey.

“Anytime” charted at No. 83, becoming one of three (now shockingly minor) hits from Infinity — including “Lights” (No. 68) and “Wheel in the Sky” (No. 57). Yet, before it was over, the album — Journey’s last with Dunbar before new drummer Steve Smith took over — would go platinum an amazing three times. (Next, Journey’s biggest earlier release, had only reached No. 85.)

With the addition of Smith, Journey would tour its way to the cusp of megastardom — all the while recording three more studio albums with Rolie (Evolution, the Dream, After Dream movie soundtrack then Departure) as well as the live double-album Captured. Smith remained the group’s drummer through its arena-rock salad days after Rolie’s departure, finally leaving for good to focus on his jazz career in the mid-1990s.

“That incarnation had a particular sense of groove that was very deep — a deep pocket and a settled feel,” Smith told us, in a separate Something Else! Sitdown. “Gregg Rolie particularly added to that, because he was essentially a Hammond B-3 player coming out of a blues tradition and background and, of course, he was a mainstay in the original Santana. He brought a nice groove sense to the group. Steve Perry had a great sense of time and feel, and he had the control to place his vocals exactly where he wanted them in relation to the groove. That is a rare quality. That particular incarnation of the band had a nice character that I really enjoyed.”

What leaps out, even decades later, on “Feeling That Way/Anytime” is the brilliant harmonic intertwining of Steve Perry and Rolie — a lost treasure for a band that only had both lead singers for three years. (Rolie would be gone by 1980, retiring briefly to spend time with family after launching Santana and then Journey to worldwide success.) Their vocal work together is particularly noticeable on Infinity, thanks to the addition of producer Roy Thomas Baker — already famous for his layered approach on projects with Queen.

Still, participating in Baker’s intricate vocal constructions — each part was taped individually, by both singers, multiple times — proved to be a new, and sometimes frustrating, experience for the band, Gregg Rolie admits. “When we recorded that, we did just the music, and we almost didn’t finish it,” he told us. “Remember, we came to this having been a jam band. When we finished the music, we listened to all of the tracks, and it didn’t have the fire that we were used to. We had never spent too much time doing all of the vocals.”

Of course, by the time Baker finished adding in the singers’ tracks, something magical had happened — something that heralded an entirely different kind of Journey: “As soon as the vocals were put in,” Rolie enthuses, “the song came alive. I’m glad we didn’t can it!”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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