[NOTE: Bucket list - lunch with Steve Perry. One can dream...]
I'm so pleased to see that Steve Perry, who has battled skin cancer and the loss of a partner in the last year or so, 1) looking healthy, and happy, and 2) back on stage. It's huge deal as he's not been anywhere close to a public appearance like this in years. Glad to see him enjoying himself.
The gig was a Guitar Center Drum Off event on Sat, 1/18. We should all look this good at 65 (he turns 65 on 1/22). Here's a Vine from the event taken by Thomas Lang.
A Facebook friend asked a familiar question for those who aren't diehard Journey fans -- "Why isn't he the lead singer for Journey any more?"
It's a pretty well-known story -- here's the Cliff Notes version. After recording their reunion album, Trial By Fire (1996), SP was hiking in prep for the tour. He hurt his hip, and it required surgery. Then the story becomes somewhat disputed. SP told the band he needed time to think about having the surgery, after several months they wanted to tour and told him to make a decision. He wanted more time, they gave him an ultimatum, then began auditioning singers. He then either quit or was fired.
Journey went on with Steve Augeri for 8 years; he had vocal issues in 2006-7 and was replaced briefly by Jeff Scott Soto on tour. Arnel Pineda was discovered on YouTube. Neal Schon had him flown in to audition and he's had the gig since 2008.
Steve Perry went on to continue writing and work behind the scenes on projects for others, but has led an otherwise quiet life out of the spotlight, doing an occasional charity event but he didn't tour. He did interviews rarely, but surfaced for several in conjunction with the release of Journey's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, a project he personally oversaw the remastering of (and the tracks sound crisp and awesome, btw). Before and during those interviews he discussed that he had built a home studio, written 50-plus songs and did some demos and planned to record them.
Perfectionist that he is, I think he's terribly afraid that his voice -- The Voice -- isn't what it was during any of the periods he was active with Journey and thus would disappoint fans. Most people are familiar with his acetylene torch mid-tenor vocal period (1981-83), less so with his bell-clear high tenor altino during the first three albums with Journey (1977-1980). By the time Trial By Fire was recorded, he had lost some of the high end, had a bit more dirt (roughness) in his vocal delivery, but obviously hadn't lost a lick of his emotive expression and lyrical interpretation. But what does he sound like now? I think most fans are so hungry for new music and to hear Steve Perry's voice again, and are more forgiving than he thinks.
Of course there will always be critics who will have (unrealistic) expectations that after a huge gap of time that a performer that doesn't sing regularly with the level of discipline required for public performance can somehow generate with the same vocal cords the dulcet tones of 40 years ago. Can't be helped. It pains me that those few may keep SP from recording and releasing new material. But it's his choice in the end. He's left us a legacy of recordings that are timeless and preserved at the peak of his natural talents. What's most important is that he's out and will hopefully see he's still beloved by so many Journey fans and give him the confidence to share what's musically on his mind someday soon.
...and here he is on stage, doing some percussion (more cowbell!) at the Drum Off. If you get to 2:07, he actually does jump on the mic for a bit (even with a little wail on "Pick Up The Pieces"!), just enough to tease us.
At the mic!
UPDATE: More of SP singing! At the 6:30 mark. Great, strong and oh-so-Steve Perry. Aw, man, give us some new music, it's killing me!
A reminder about just how hard the road was on Steve Perry's voice -- his instrument -- when he was at the height of touring with Journey. From Fire and Air:
"No articles that I’ve found focusing on vocal training or quality exist for Perry, and most interviews concentrate on the somewhat acrimonious breakup between him and his former bandmates. Other interviews mention only in passing the difficulties of performing as a quasi-operatic vocalist for 180+ sets a year for years on end, well beyond that which is euphemistically called “punishing” or “grueling” in the operatic world and firmly in the realm of larynx-shredding insanity.
...Perry was left quite on his own in dealing with these issues and both he and his voice suffered for it. Often the only points of comparison for singers in rock are their instrumentalist bandmates, who while they are also subject to great stress while touring, can nevertheless do something singers can never do — buy new strings or new instruments when they play out their old ones.
...Due to the fact that neither the rock music industry, his management, his bandmates, nor Perry himself apparently had any profound awareness of how to caretake voices of that caliber, what should have been a luminous 35-year career was effectively burned through in what amounted to roughly one decade of active recorded performance.
...Thus as an operatic vocalist functioning in rock, Perry stood in a tiny area of overlap that did not exist until he created it, located between two of the most mutually suspicious forms of music. As high as the barriers to critical respect are between classical and popular music, they are a thousand times higher between opera and rock. This left only the fans themselves, who flooded toward his music by the millions, to recognize the monumental achievement that his musically tribeless voice represents. Those fans have now begun to achieve some position of authority as they (we) enter middle age, and their respect for Perry’s voice is beginning to be taken more seriously as a result."