30 Years Ago: Steve Perry Plays His Last Full Show With Journey
Journey were partway through a U.S. tour when they performed at the Sullivan Sports Arena in Anchorage on Feb. 1, 1987. So it may even have come to a surprise to them that it was the last show they’d ever play with singer Steve Perry.
When they completed their performance of “Faithfully” that night, they closed the book on their rise to fame. And even though there would be one more album with Perry, and a 10-minute guest appearance at an all-star concert in 1991, it was the last time he led them through a full performance.
Tensions had been simmering between Perry and guitarist Neal Schon. Following the release of three definitive classic-rock albums -- Escape, Frontiers and Raised on Radio -- Journey were undeniably massive. But Perry dismissed bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith before the recording of 1986’s Raised on Radio, and all was still not well.
The singer, who was also producing the album, later said he was “toast” as he dealt with the illness and then death of his mother during sessions. That had led to the breakdown in relations that forced his hand at Anchorage. He refused to continue to the tour, the following shows were canceled and the band went on hiatus.
Perry had another argument in his favor: His 1984 solo album, Street Talk, had won him even more personal acclaim, and it could be argued that he didn’t need Journey anymore. The presence of his solo tracks “Strung Out” and “Oh Sherrie” on the Raised on Radio tour set list suggested he felt he was in a strong bargaining position and that his colleagues accepted that.
When the classic lineup regrouped for 1996’s Trial by Fire, Perry suffered a hip injury that prevented them from touring for 18 months because he didn’t want to undergo the surgery he required. With the clock ticking, the group issued an ultimatum: Have the procedure or be fired. Perry chose the latter option, saying that he felt unduly pressured by his colleagues’ approach, and insisting he’d never work with them again – although he joined them for an award ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
Journey continued with Steve Augeri and later Jeff Scott Soto, before hiring singer Arnel Pineda in 2007. Perry dropped off the radar for a long time, but began to show his face again in the '10s, making a handful of low-key guest spots onstage, discussing a solo album that may or may not feature EDM influences and talking about the personal turmoil that kept him out of the spotlight.
In April 2017, Journey will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, bringing with it the anticipation that Perry might return to the mic for the first time in 26 years. Pineda said he was looking forward to the opportunity of finally meeting Perry. Schon was hopeful too. “I’d love to have him do a song with us – or two, or whatever," he said. "What would be even greater would be for him to do a song with Arnel too. I’m open to everything. I’m very open-minded to whatever happens.”
But Perry remained non-commital, saying only, “I am truly grateful that Journey is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Whether Perry wants a reunion is, of course, his own affair. (He once said “I never really felt like I was part of the band.”) Whether he needs a reunion is doubtful, at least to Schon. In 2016, the guitarist said, “What people don’t understand is that we couldn’t possibly be doing better right now, even if he was with us. It’s taken a lot of hard work to build it back up, but you know what? We’re here again. We’re sitting there. Management is the first to tell me it couldn’t possibly be bigger.”
Whatever happens in April, it seems that the 21-song show that night in Anchorage was the last time the Voice would perform a full-length show with the band he helped lift into the stratosphere. As Perry noted in 2014, “I’m not the person I was 30 years ago. That person is gone."
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