Ever since Journey reformed in 1998 without singer Steve Perry the band has had to deal with the popularity Perry helped create. His supple, note-stretching voice was one of the signature elements in hits like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Anyway You Want It.”
Perry’s shadow perhaps looms larger now than ever thanks to the renewed popularity the group has enjoyed over the past few years, thanks in a large part to having several of its hit songs used on television shows, commercials and movies.
The leader of the pack has been “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which introduced Journey to a younger audience when it was used in the final episode of “The Sopranos” and later performed on “Glee.”
According to drummer Deen Castronovo, some concertgoers don’t even know that Perry left Journey and the band is on its fourth singer in Arnel Pineda. And there are a significant number of fans who want Perry back and haven’t fully accepted Journey in its current form.
“You still have haters out there, sure you do,” Castronovo said, noting that he understands their feelings. “I mean, to me, I’ve said it in a million interviews. Steve Perry is a god to me. I mean, he was one of the first singers I ever tried to sing to when I was 11 or 12 years old. I mean, to me, he’s one of the greatest singers of my generation, and the fans feel the same way, some of them. Yeah, they can be kind of nasty. They can be rough, and you see the reviews. We have a lot of racial things sometimes (aimed at Pineda, who is from the Philippines), and that’s kind of tough. We have a lot of ‘Journey without Steve Perry is a karaoke band.’ OK, if that’s what you feel. But, you know what, we still go out there and we deliver. And we make damn sure that we deliver every night what the fans want.”
For those that feel Journey is not Journey without Perry, Castronovo had some other things to say about Pineda, 45, that should clear up any questions about the current singer’s place in the band.
“Let’s put it this way, if Arnel decides to leave this band, the band is done,” Castronovo said. “We’re not going to go find another singer. It’s just silly to do that.
“He goes out there and he gives it his all, he really does,” the drummer said. “And we respect him and love him like a brother, and I think he knows that. He feels that with us. He’s our little brother. He’s what, three years younger than me. He’s our little bro, and I’d take a bullet for that boy. He’s awesome, not just as a singer, as a person, the man as a person. He fits with us. The chemistry is right. And with other singers, the chemistry wasn’t as good. When he came in and auditioned, dude, we knew. Not only is he singing great, but what a sweetheart. And that’s the way this band is.
“There are not a lot of egos in this band. We had to build this thing from the ground up. We know what it’s like. We still do the 19-hour drives on the bus. There’s no private jet for us. We’re working, and we’ll continue to do so until Arnel says ‘You know what, I’m done.’ Then I will go home and spend time with my kids.”
Castronovo isn’t exaggerating when he talks about Journey rebuilding its career from the ground up.
The group, with founding members Neal Schon (guitar), Greg Rolie (keyboards/vocals) and Ross Valory (bass), joined by Perry and Steve Smith (drums), gained major popularity with the 1979 album, “Evolution,” which included the group’s first top 20 hit, “Lovin’, Touchin,’ Squeezin’.” Rolie left the band after the 1980 studio album, “Departure,” and the tour that produced the 1981 live release,“Captured,” and was replaced by Jonathan Cain.
This transition set the stage for the mammoth success of “Escape” in 1981 (a CD that stayed on the charts for nearly three years and today has reached 10 million in sales), followed by another hit CD, “Frontiers,” in 1983. The group released one more studio album, “Raised on Radio,” in 1986 before splitting up for a decade. A mid-1990s reunion produced the 1996 “Trial By Fire” CD before Perry opted out of Journey once and for all.
It was after that short-lived reunion that Schon, Cain and Valory decided to put together a new edition with Journey. Castronovo, who had played with Schon and Cain in the short-lived, but quite successful, super group Bad English from 1988-1991, came on board as drummer.
The new singer was Steve Augeri, formerly of Tyketto and Tall Stories, but vocal problems forced him to leave the group in 2006. Jeff Scott Soto came on board, but proved to be only a stopgap solution, until he was replaced by Pineda, who Schon discovered while surfing YouTube hoping to find the third singer in the post-Perry era.
Journey without Perry, though, didn’t return to arena-filling popularity quickly.
“I remember Jonathan saying, ‘You know what, we have to re-educate the people,’” Castronovo said. “This is not going to be easy. We were playing to 1,500 people a night, and they were all arms-crossed, going there’s no way that this band is going to sound good without Steve Perry. And it took us a good five years of constant touring and constant work and constant re-education for people to realize, you know what, no matter who’s in that band, it’s the songs that are timeless. It’s the songs that people connect with. It doesn’t matter who’s playing them or singing them.”
Of course, having the cast of “Glee” sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” or hearing “Any Way You Want It” being blasted out in a current insurance commercial has certainly helped Journey regain its momentum, although Castronovo said the band itself didn’t purposely pursue those opportunities. In fact, the drummer said he didn’t even know that “Don’t Stop Believin’” was being used on “The Sopranos” and “Glee” until after the fact — not that’s he complaining about the results.
“It’s amazing how the younger generation has embraced those songs,” Castronovo said. “It’s just incredible.”
What also hasn’t hurt has been the release of two recent studio albums, 2008’s “Revelation” and 2011’s “Eclipse,” as well as a second best-of collection, “Journey: Greatest Hits: Volume 2,” which arrived in November 2011. “Revelation,” in particular, was a major success, becoming the group’s first platinum album since “Trial by Fire.”
Journey’s latest tour is built to please fans of both the Perry and post-Perry eras of the band, Castronovo said.
“We’re doing all the hits, what we call the dirty dozen,” he said. “We do all of those and then we get to throw in a few surprises here and there, like from ‘Revelation’ or ‘Eclipse’ or something like that. It’s really fun.”