Since 1981, Journey has been telling its fans “Don’t Stop Believin’.” But during the past two years it’s a pep talk the veteran San Francisco Bay Area rock group had to follow, too.
The travails and setbacks for Journey — which reactivated in 1995 after an eight-year split — started in July of 2006. Singer Steve Augeri, who replaced the popular Steve Perry in 1998, fell victim to a career-ending throat infection. His replacement, Jeff Scott Soto, lasted just 11 months.
There was no quitting, however — and there’s a hopeful resolution, too. In December of 2007, Journey hired Filipino singer Arnel Pineda after seeing videos of him sing their songs on YouTube. And the group’s first album with Pineda, “Revelation,” debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 in June, selling 196,000 first-week copies — its best showing since the 1996 reunion album “Trial By Fire” — despite being sold only via Wal-Mart.
So now the “Revelation” track “Change For the Better” seems like a more apt theme song for the band. “We didn’t want to go backwards,” says keyboardist Jonathan Cain, a Journey member since 1980 and one of the group’s two principal songwriters. “It was time to make a change, I think, make some adjustments and renew a few things and, I guess, look at the next 10 years. “We’re really lucky things have worked out this well. We appreciate how fortunate we are.” Journey has certainly gotten used to dealing with changes over its 35-year career. More than 18 members, including “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, have passed through its ranks, although the most impactful was Perry, whose addition in 1977 vaulted Journey to multiplatinum status and most of its 100-million-plus career album sales.
Perry’s decision to leave the band, due to health issues and personal conflicts, after 1996’s “Trial By Fire,” was damaging, but Cain, Schon and Valory decided to soldier on with Augeri and drummer Deen Castronovo, who played with Cain and Schon in the band Bad English. The group achieved some momentum, but that came to an end after two albums, and EP and a contribution to the “Armageddon” soundtrack.
“Losing (Augeri) was a hard one,” acknowledges Cain, 58, a Chicago native whose real surname is Friga. “He was a tremendous team player and one of the best guys I’ve ever been on the road with. Watching him go down left a bad taste in our mouths, like, ‘Geez, now what ...?!’”
Though Soto was allowed to finish Journey’s 2006 tour, Cain says that “his sound wasn’t for us, and then later on I think his personality wasn’t for us.” And while fans certainly craved a reunion with Perry, Cain says the singer’s decision is irreversible.
“He said, ‘No, don’t expect anything from me. We’re done,’ and I know he keeps his word,” Cain explains. “He’s done it. His legacy is there. Why would he want to go back it?
“And, like I said, I don’t think we wanted to slide backwards, either, and looking back over your shoulders is not a good idea. We feel that Journey’s about the music and the experience and we try to bring that wherever we play.”
According to Cain it was Schon who found Pineda on YouTube, ultimately contacting the singer and bringing him over to the U.S. for an audition. “I was blown away,” Cain says, recalling his first look at Pineda’s videos. “There he was, with that voice. It was just... phenomenal. They were crappy recordings, but you could tell it was live and (his singing) was the real deal.”
Cain calls Pineda’s “a Charles Dickens story.” The 40-year-old singer was raised in poverty in Manila; after the death of his mother when he was 12 he had to quit school and either live with relatives or on the street, earning money by collecting newspapers, bottles and scrap metal. He started singing when he was 15 but also suffered health problems in the mid-’90s that nearly ended his career.
Pineda didn’t stop believing, either. He sang in several popular Filipino bands such as Amo, New Age and The Zoo, and recorded a solo album in 1999. Kevin Shirley, who produced “Revelation,” wrote i his online diary that “I think Arnel is ‘the business!’ — the guy can really sing! He handles the ballads with SO much heart, and belts the rockers as hard, and melodically, s anyone I have heard.”
Cain, meanwhile, notes that Pineda “has got an amazing tale to tell, and it’s almost hard to believe that he survived. He’s as tough as they come, and yet he manages to maintain a joy and a certain quietness. He’s very easy to be around, just a lovely guy.
“He comes from another world, and it’s sort of eye-opening to us. He tells me these stories about hunger and poverty... It sort of broadens your horizons as a human being to be around somebody like Arnel.”
Journey hit the ground running with Pineda. The new lineup played its first two shows during February in Chile, then played a Las Vegas gig in March that was taped for a DVD that’s included in the “Revelation” package. And in addition to the “Revelation” album — a mix of early Journey-sounding expansive rock songs and Perry-era ballads — the set also includes a disc of 11 of Journey’s biggest hits re-recorded with Pineda.
Cain says the latter, as well as the decision to sell “Revelation” only via Wal-Mart, was the brainchild of manager Irving Azoff — who also handles the Eagles — and was met with skepticism by the musicians. “We were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!,’” Cain says. But, he adds, the group wound up enjoying the exercise.
“It was like going back in time, dude, reliving our classic moments and revisiting what made some of the old songs work,” Cain explains. “I told Arnel all the stories about this song, that song ... I think it gave him a deeper appreciation for these songs he’s been singing all these years.”
With “Revelation” out, Journey is now focused on bringing yet another new incarnation of the band to its fans. Despite some mixed — and even some racist — reaction to the addition of Pineda in online chat groups, Cain feels that the singer is “being received quite well. They went nuts for him in Chile and ...Vegas.”
And he’s confident that, much like when Augeri replaced Perry a decade ago, the new Journey will ultimately win over its fans on the road.
“If you’re gonna make a change, you want to go really deep — and I think we did,” Cain explains. “I think we brought somebody really rare and genuine to our fan base, and I think having this guy from another side of the world leading the show is pretty darn cool.
“And no matter how tough times get, I think people still need to go let some steam off and sing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ “ all together. That’s a moment that’s worth something — that’s still worth a lot, I think.”
Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 9) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $39.50-$89.50 pavilion and $27.50 lawn with a $75 lawn fourpack. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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