Steve Perry Admits Van Halen ‘Cleaned Our Clocks’ on Journey Tour: Exclusive Interview
Journey was on the cusp of notching their initial platinum-selling album when they joined forces on the road with Van Halen in 1978. The upstart newcomers showed Steve Perry that his band still had a lot to learn.
“Now, you’ve got to remember that Eddie and the group were on their first tour with Journey and we brought them out to open at the 3,000 seaters we were doing at that time," Perry tells UCR in an exclusive interview. "They cleaned our clock plenty of times and woke us the fuck up pretty quick. They were so focused and so on fire that they were just relentless. That was the most musical relentlessness that I’d ever seen."
The two bands were also sharing stages with Montrose, whose lineup included longtime future Journey member Steve Smith. Perry says Van Halen played a role in their looming split with co-founding drummer Aynsley Dunbar, too.
“In fact, because of the way Eddie and Alex [Van Halen] locked, eventually I convinced [co-founding guitarist] Neal [Schon] that he needed to lock with his guitar [in that same way]," Perry confirms. "In came Steve Smith, who was actually playing drums with Ronnie Montrose on that same tour.”
Infinity, the last Journey album to feature Dunbar, eventually sold some three million copies in the U.S., spawning a pair of radio favorites in "Lights" and "Wheel in the Sky." Smith's initial tenure with Journey lasted through early sessions for 1986's Raised on Radio, a comeback record for Journey after Perry found mid-'80s solo success.
“I remember talking one night with Eddie Van Halen,” Perry says. “I honestly don’t even know how that happened, but we were talking for hours on the phone and laughing about things. David had already left the group and [Eddie] said to me, ‘Man, you ought to come down and jam sometime. That could be amazing, you know, you and me.'"
Perry almost took Van Halen up on it. "I’ve gotta tell ya, my brain started thinking, 'Oh, boy.' Because this guy, he’s not just a lead guitarist," Perry enthuses. "He gets a lot of credit for his guitar chops. I understand that. But what people don’t give him a huge credit for is his rhythm pocket."
He describes that rhythm pocket as “absolutely deadly,” and something that left a lasting impression when you heard it in action. “It was so defined that when he starts “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” you know that the whole song is now in that riff, before the band comes in," Perry says. "You can hear everything that’s missing in his riff. That’s how definitive of a rhythm player he was.”
Still considering Van Halen's offer, Perry says his mind “started going crazy” as he began “thinking this would be possible. But you know, look, I’d already worked hard to let go of my dream band, and the dream-come-true situation in my life. I knew I had to be on a sabbatical. I knew I could not jump back into anything.
"So, though I was invited to come and jam with Eddie, I never did it," Perry laments. "I don’t know, we never really talked again. And the next thing I know, Sammy [Hagar] was in the band and that’s a whole other part of history.”
5150 followed in 1986, with a batch of new Van Halen songs like “Summer Nights,” “Dreams,” “Love Walks In” and even the harder-edged material like “Good Enough” that could easily have accommodated Perry's familiar vocal approach.
“You never know. It would be a musical collaboration that would have to define itself,” Perry replies. “It never got a chance. From a bucket-list standpoint, that might have been a moment. It could have been.”
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