Former Journey singer Steve Perry opens his first song in nearly 25 years with “I know it’s been a long time comin’… ” He explained in a statement that he’d lost his love for music and “knew that simply stopping was what I had to do.” He even prepared for the possibility that he might never make music again.

But guitarist and producer Tommy Denander – who has more than 3,000 album credits to his name, including a significant contribution to Alice Cooper’s latest studio LP –revealed that Perry knew he was on the way back as long ago as 2010, when the pair met in a Hollywood recording studio. Denander had prepared a guest list of “A-list players,” including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and engineer Niko Bolas, for the sessions involving an aspiring young artist Denander prefers not to name.

“As they were setting up the gear, the phone rang and Niko answered, ‘Oh, hey, Steve,’" Denander tells UCR. "I could hear Niko talking about Vinnie and George being there, then saying, ‘Sure, come by.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Is it okay if Steve Perry drops by to say hello?’ Duh! Less than 15 minutes, later there’s a knock at the door to the control room and Steve comes in.”

Denander’s first impression was of a “super sweet guy” whom he expected to see for only a few minutes. Perry, however, was so pleased to see old friends Coliauta and bassist George Hawkins Jr. that he decided to hang around.

The team started work on a song Denander had written and pre-recorded guitars for. “As soon as he heard the first song we were doing, Steve was truly blown away,” Denander recalls. “Several times he jumped off the sofa and screamed, ‘This is really great!’ After the song, he had so many questions – who wrote this, who played guitars and so on – and he was so impressed that he ended up staying the whole day, like eight or nine hours.”

Denander remembers “laughing until we had tears” during the downtime, but that Perry became very focused when work started again. “During one of his favorite songs, he asked to see the lyrics, and I hand him a printout," he says. "He liked the lyrics, but not the title, so he renamed the song to what it actually ended up being called.”

At lunch, Perry openly discussed his “loving memories” of his time with Journey and explained how he had to stop singing as a result of a “serious injury in his neck and back.” “The pain was so bad that he really couldn’t sing for a very long time, but he was finally feeling better slowly and had been writing and recording a lot of music for a possible new solo album,” Denander notes.

The singer enjoyed himself so much that the next day he abandoned plans to buy a new refrigerator with his wife and returned to the studio instead. “He told us he couldn’t stop thinking about how great this album was and how much fun he’d had – and actually politely asked if it was okay for him to stay another day!” Denander recalls.

This time he became even more involved, telling Denander that he had come up with an idea for backing vocals on one song. “I was numb!" he says. "While they recorded the song a few times, I had Steve singing all his ideas loudly into my ear. I just stood there without moving a finger and just kept thinking,‘Steve fucking Perry’is singing live into my ear right now – and I’m the only one in the world that can hear this!”"

Bolas decided to take things one step further, telling Perry, “I need you to go out to the microphone and sing for the album.” He started to but then changed his mind. “My heart was pounding. Were we about to get Steve Perry on the album?” Denander remembers. “But just when he was about to walk out and do it, he called us over and said, ‘I really want to do this. I love you guys and it’s a killer album. But I’m fully aware of the value I have with people waiting for me to sing again, and I just can’t ruin that.’ There was no denying the truth in those words, but it was brutal to be that close to magic.”

He sweetened the moment, though, by telling the producer, “If I have released my album by the time you do the next one, I will co-write and sing on it for sure!”

Perry wound up in a 90-minute conversation with Denander. “He just said that he had recorded a lot of songs in various styles for the clear purpose of doing a new solo album once the time was right," he says. "He asked if I wanted to play on it, which would have been amazing, but we never really stayed in touch after this, so of course I was hardly in his thoughts as it finally was time to do it. Which is fine.”

He received the strong impression that Perry still didn’t want to return to the public eye. He refused most photo requests (taking part in a short video shot by Denander), though he signed some autographs but was upset after a studio assistant tweeted that he was in the area. “There were 100-150 people outside the gate screaming for him, which says a lot about his fame," Denander says. "But he got very angry, and called Niko in the studio to ask who the fuck had mentioned he was there. … The assistant got his ass kicked hard for that mistake.”

Along with the backing vocal track, the entire album failed to materialize. “Sadly, this artist, who I gave the gift from the gods on a silver plate to, screwed everything up in the end and nothing came out of the four years we worked on the project,” Denander laments.

“Maybe it’s still in Steve’s head," he said of the track Perry worked on. "Who knows if karma has a plan and he would actually do it once we find a new artist someday for this album? I’m just happy I got to spend two such amazing and funny days with him.”

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