Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Recording engineer and producer shaped sound of some of greatest music recorded during second half of 20th century

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This post was inspired by Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, one of the most fascinating music documentaries I recently watched. Before getting to it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me.

Created by Mark Moormann, the documentary, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was a 2005 Grammy Award nominee, tells the fascinating story of Tom Dowd, a recording engineer and producer for Atlantic Records. Over a 50-plus-year career that started in the 1940s, this man worked with an amazing array of artists, including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.sEric Clapton, Cream, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the list goes on and on. During that period, Dowd also advanced studio techniques that would revolutionize recording.

Tom Dowd and Ray Charles
Tom Dowd with Ray Charles

Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City. From the beginning of his life, he was exposed to music. His mother was an opera singer, while his dad worked as a concertmaster. While growing up, Dowd learned various instruments, including the piano, tuba, violin and string bass. After high school, he continued his musical education at City College of New York. During that time, Dowd also played in a band at Columbia University and became a conductor. Undoubtedly, all of this contributed to his great ear for music, which would come in handy for his later professional work in music.

Interestingly, Dowd’s path could have been very different. At 18, he was drafted into the military and through his work at the physics laboratory at Columbia University became involved in the Manhattan Project – yep that project, which developed the atomic bomb! Dowd planned to become a nuclear physicist after finishing his assignment. There was only one problem: His secret research for the military had been much more advanced than the university’s curriculum. So he decided against pursuing studies in nuclear physics and instead got a job at a classical recording studio in New York, before starting his longtime career with Atlantic Records.

Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler
Tom Dowd (left) with Jerry Wexler

In addition to helping shape the sound of some of the most amazing music recorded during the second half of the 20th century, Dowd was instrumental to drive innovation in the studio. He convinced Jerry Wexler, a partner in Atlantic Records, to install an Ampex eight-track recorder, putting the company on the cutting edge in recording technology. Dowd also popularized stereophonic sound and pioneered the use of linear channel faders on audio mixers as opposed to rotary controls. He then became a master in operating the linear channel faders, almost as if he was playing a keyboard!

Initially, various of the musicians were skeptical or even hostile when they saw Dowd. During the documentary, Eric Clapton said, “To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t interested in people like that.” Pretty much along the same lines, Gregg Allman noted, “Suddenly, you get to the studio, and there is a new guy there critiquing all this stuff, and you think, ‘where did he come from?'”

But when they realized what kind of artists Dowd had recorded in the past, how much he knew about music (likely, more than they did all combined!), and what he could do at the mixer, they listened. Heck, Dowd even managed to suggest to Ginger Baker, who undoubtedly is one of the best rock drummers but not exactly a warm fellow, the drum groove for Sunshine Of Your Love! The fact that all these musicians put their big egos aside and listened to this gentle recording engineer is truly remarkable.

Tom Dowd and Duane Allman
Tom Dowd (second from left) and Duane Allman working on final master mix-down of Layla

Dowd passed away from emphysema at the age of 77 on October 27, 2007 in Florida, shortly after the above documentary had been finished. In 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – better late than never, I suppose! One can only speculate what would have happened to Layla by Derek and The Dominos, Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream and so many other great recordings Dowd impacted!

Following are two video clips. First up is the trailer to the documentary, which in addition to Dowd includes commentary from Ray Charles, Clapton, Allman and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Listening to the beginning of the clip when Charles is taking about the importance of sound is priceless in and of itself. I also recommend watching the remainder and hear all the other people talk about Dowd. It becomes obvious how much they revered him!

Here is how Dowd summarizes his amazing experience with artists from the ’50’s to the ’80s and the evolution of recording technology. I just find it fascinating and could listen to the man for hours!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dowd was his modesty. In the documentary, there is a scene where he notes that while he had worked with all these artists, he wasn’t a millionaire – far from it! Obviously, many albums these artists released became big-time sellers. But apparently, money didn’t matter to Dowd. Instead, it was all about the music. I think his following statement sums it up perfectly: “Music has been very kind to me over the years.” Boy, the music industry could need visionsaries like Tom Dowd these days!

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music (Documentary, Mark Moorman, 2003), YouTube

“Steely Don” Turns 70 And Is Feeling Great

Donald Fagen has no intention to retire anytime soon

I’m a huge Steely Dan fan. If anything, last year brought them closer to me than ever before and not just because of the untimely death of Walter Becker. I also attended a couple of shows of an excellent Steely Dan tribute band called Royal Scam. On Wednesday, Donald Fagen turned 70, so doing a post on the man felt right. Since I previously covered Steely Dan including their history here, I’d like to primarily focus on Fagen’s solo music.

But first a bit of history. Donald Jay Fagen was born in Passaic, N.J. on January 10, 1948. He grew up in South Brunswick, N.J. According to Wikipedia, he didn’t like the suburban setting, feeling it was trapping him like a prison. These sentiments and Fagen’s love of late-night radio were inspirations for his first solo album The Nightfly.

It’s fair to say Fagen’s life changed forever when he met Becker in 1967 when they were both students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.

Donald Fagan & Walter Becker

The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops. Becker was playing the bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later.

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

Between 1972 and 1980, Steely Dan released seven studio albums: Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972), Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980). While I dig all of these records, to me the gem is Aja, which I previously covered here.

Following Steely Dan’s breakup in June 1981, Fagen started to work on his solo debut The Nightfly. Released in October 1982, this record remains the highlight of his solo catalog to date, in my opinion. It included various production staff and musicians who had been involved in Steely Dan records, for example producer Katz, bassist Anthony Jackson and lead guitarist Larry Carlton, something Fagen would continue on his future solo efforts. The opener I.G.Y., which according to Wikipedia stands for International Geophysical Year, “an international scientific project promoting collaboration among the world’s scientists.”

While it took Fagen 12 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad in May 1993, he kept busy on other fronts, contributing to soundtracks and writing a column for Premiere magazine. He also worked together with Becker and Katz on Zazu, the 1986 debut album by American model and singer-songwriter Rosie Vela. In the early ’90s, he toured with The New York Rock and Soul Revue, a musical project directed by Fagen’s future wife Libby Titus. In addition to Becker, it included other prominent musicians, such as Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and blues singer Charles Brown.

Kamakiriad was produced by Becker. Revolving around the concept of a journey in a high-tech car, the album illustrates Fagen’s attraction to futuristic themes, similar to I.G.Y. Though oftentimes, one cannot be sure whether he means things seriously or is being ironic. Following the release, he reunited with Becker for a tour to support the album. While the record received a Grammy nomination and peaked at no. 10 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and at no. 3 on the UK Albums Chart, its commercial performance was poor. That’s a pity, since it’s actually a pretty good album. Here’s the opener Trans-Island Skyway – just love the groove of this tune!

Following his reunification with Becker, Fagen co-produced Becker’s 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks Of Whack. He also played keyboards on the album. In 2000, Fagen and Becker released Two Against Nature, their first studio album as Steely Dan in two decades. The follow-up Everything Must Go appeared in June 2003. It was Steely Dan’s last studio album.

In March 2006, Fagen released his third solo record Morph The Cat, in which Becker had no involvement. The record was generally well received and won a Grammy Award For Best Surround Sound Album. Here’s a clip of H Gang. The guitar work and the tenor sax solo by Steely Dan’s Jon Herrington and Walt Weiskopf, respectively absolutely shine.

Following the appearance of Morph The Cat, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. In June 2008, Becker’s second studio album Circus Money came out. Sunken Condos, Fagen’s fourth and most recent studio record, was released in October 2012. Another well-received album, Sunken Condos peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard 200. Here’s what’s probably my favorite tune from that album, Weather In My Head. Love the blues groove of that tune!

During an in-depth interview with Rolling Stone’s podcast Music Now last month, Fagen confirmed he wants to continue touring as long as possible. He added, “It keeps you young, for sure, touring. I noticed when I’m off, I don’t feel as good as when I’m on. I got to be either recording or touring. I especially enjoy live performing more than I used to. We have a fantastic band. I got a couple of fantastic bands. It’s just so much fun to be with these guys and to play.”

One of these bands is called The Nightflyers, four young musicians Fagen has worked with over the past few years. They are Connor Kennedy (guitar, vocals), Lee Falco (drums, vocals), Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals) and Will Bryant (keyboards, vocals). Here’s a clip of them performing the title track of The Nightfly album, captured during a concert in Cincinnati last year.

Last Saturday, Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers announced a co-headlining 37-gig North American 2018 summer tour. It’s scheduled to kick off in Charlotte, N.C. on May 10 and conclude on July 14 in Bethel, N.Y. One of the shows (July 6) is right in my backyard at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Steely Dan and imaging them without Becker is still hard. The Doobies, which I also really dig, have had many changes in their lineup since their heyday in the ’70s. Still, I’m very tempted!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Steely Dan website, YouTube

Happy And Groovy New Year!

And to all fellow music bloggers, rock on!

Unlike Christmas pop and rock songs, it seems to be harder to find tunes with a new year’s theme – at least when it comes to tracks I would post. One I came across is Funky New Year by the Eagles.

Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the song has a cool groove that not surprisingly is well, funky. You could almost picture James Brown perform it!

The track was the B-side to Please Come Home For Christmas, a cover of a Charles Brown tune, which the Eagles released as a single in November 1978.

I’d like to wish everybody a healthy and happy New Year!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Doctors Who Rock, Literally!

Using the power of music to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring hope to patients

Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and see a fully set up drum kit? I had not until earlier today when accompanying my wife to an appointment. As a former bassist, I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I asked Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth about the drums. He confirmed he is a drummer, casually mentioning recorded music and that “we are on iTunes.” Before I knew it, he handed me two CDs. It turned out I just had met a doctor who rocks, literally.

After I had returned to the waiting room, I took a closer look at the CDs and noticed they said N.E.D. – cool name, I thought, which somewhat reminded me of R.E.M. Then I saw N.E.D. stands for “no evidence of disease.” Now I was really intrigued and started googling the name and looking for N.E.D. in Apple Music. What I found truly impressed me.

According to Wikipedia and their website, N.E.D. is a six-piece rock band of American gynecologic cancer surgeons from different parts of the country. They got together in 2008 at the annual meeting of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, a U.S. patient advocacy organization, to entertain the conference’s attendees as a cover band. After an enthusiastic reception from the audience, the doctors decided to continue playing together. Eventually, they started writing their own songs and released their eponymous debut album in September 2009.

N.E.D. In Concert

But to me the most remarkable thing about N.E.D. is that they are using their music to raise awareness of gynecological cancers, which include cervical, ovarian, uterine and other reproductive cancers. “GYN cancers are not things people talk about in our culture, and they’re woefully underfunded and misunderstood,” N.E.D. singer, guitarist and keyboarder Dr. John Boggess told the The Washington Post in 2011. “We really believe that we’re starting a conversation. Because there are worse things than getting cancer, and that’s feeling isolated and without help and understanding.” Dr. Boggess’s day job? Medical Director at UNC Gynecologic Oncology at REX Hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

In addition to Dr. Boggess and Dr. Nagarsheth, who practices at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., the members of N.E.D. include Dr. Joanie Hope (vocals, guitar), Alaska Women’s Cancer Care, Anchorage; Dr. Robert Burger (bass, harmonica, vocals), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Dr. John Soper (guitar, mandolin), UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill; and Dr. William Winter (lead guitar), Compass Oncology, Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore.

So how do these doctors who are all in different locations handle rehearsals? According to the above Washington Post story, much of it relies on emailing and using audio tracks. “As surgeons, we’re just really used to doing what it takes to get things accomplished, and we have high expectations for ourselves,” Dr. Boggess explained. “We don’t walk into things thinking we can’t do it.”

Let’s take a look at some of N.E.D.’s music, which sounds really professional. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess that recording music isn’t their main job. Following are two clips from the band’s debut album. First up: False Pretenses.

Here is Rhythm Heals.

In June 2011, N.E.D. released their sophomore album, Six Degrees. Here is a track called Nevermind.

From this album I also like to highlight We Never Mattered – I wish they also would have used that wah wah guitar in the intro in other parts of the tune.

As N.E.D. continued to perform concerts to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring together cancer survivors, they came to the attention of socially conscious documentary production company Spark Media and producer Andrea Kalin. Kalin and her crew ended up following the band and their patients over a three-year period and put together an 84-minute feature film called No Evidence of Disease. Tagline: Six GYN Cancer Surgeons On A Rock & Roll Mission To Save Women’s Lives.

“They boiled all of that [film footage] down into a story that is really human and really breaks down the wall between physicians and patients and really talks about an experience but about a topic that’s not typically talked about, which is cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs,” said Dr. Boggess during an interview with North Carolina public television network UNC-TV in March 2015. Here is the official trailer of the documentary, which was shown at 44 U.S. movie theaters on February 4, 2015 for World Cancer Day and has aired on PBS.

Last September, N.E.D. released their third album Love & Pain, an EP. Here is the opener Bring You Back.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the record’s title track.

I’d like to finish this post with quotes from each members of N.E.D, which are published on the band’s website. I think they nicely illustrate where these remarkable doctors are coming from.

“It’s not so much that we’re trying to cure cancer with this effort… I think even if you can’t cure the problem, if people feel connected and understood they sure feel a lot stronger and a lot better supported.” (Dr. Boggess)

“I’m hoping it makes them feel good and relaxed and hopeful and brings a smile to their face and makes them feel like there’s something bigger going on here.” (Dr. Hope)

“You can learn a lot from patients with cancer. And they see the world in a way that’s much different from the way that someone else sees the world.” (Dr. Nagarsheth)

“Music, laughter and compassion go hand in hand with medicine and surgery in the care of our patients.” (Dr. Burger)

“We want to make a noise. There’s been a wall of silence around it and hopefully we can, we can bring some noise to that so that we’re heard and so that our patients are heard.” (Dr. Soper)

“Medicine is not all science. Medicine is an art, surgery is an art. Taking care of a cancer patient is an art. There is a lot of art in medicine, as well as music, so I think it really parallels in terms of what I do in the operating room.” (Dr. Winter)

Sources: Wikipedia, N.E.D. website, The Washington Post, UNC-TV, YouTube

 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Are Worthy Additions

Class of 2018 represents diverse music genres, including blues, jazz, new wave and rock

On Monday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made it official: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone are the 2018 inductees in the Performers category, while Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be inducted in the Early Influences category. Like every year there will be debate about the inductees and who didn’t make it in. One could also question whether an artist like Simone should be in something called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless, I think the 2018 class represents fine artists. I was particularly pleased to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe among the inductees, an amazing and widely under-recognized early rock & roll pioneer.

Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording – for the 2018 class this means no later than by 1992. Each year, the Nominating Committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selects the candidates for voting. Ballots are subsequently sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists, including every living Rock Hall inductee. The top five performers getting the most votes become that year’s induction class. Since 2012, there is also a public vote for fans. Their top-five picks become a ballot that is weighted the same as the remainder of the submitted ballots. Following is a look at the 2018 inductees.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Collage.jpg

I know many rock purists cringe when it comes to Bon Jovi. Apart from admittedly having a weak spot for ’80s music, I think these guys are legit. Yes, their music has always had a commercial bent, but that doesn’t disqualify it. Tunes like Runaway, Livin’ On A Prayer and Born To Be My Baby illustrate that rock and catchy melodies aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, Bon Jovi with their big hair in the ’80s looked pretty ridiculous, but frankly so did many other rock bands at the time. Ultimately, to me it’s about the music, so I can see beyond that.

What I will say rubbed me a bit the wrong way was what Jon Bon Jovi told The New York Times when asked about the induction. “Well. I mean … we’re very happy about it. And um, you know. It’s great [pause] “I really want to say it’s about time,” reportedly using a “colorful adjective” the article omitted. To me this smacks like a sense of entitlement.  Given there are so many great artists but only a limited number of inductee spots, none should feel they are entitled to induction.

Bon Jovi is a great live band. I saw them a few years ago, and it was a terrific show. Here’s a live clip of Wanted Dead Or Alive, captured at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2012.

While I would have preferred the J. Geils Band, who just like last year were nominated but didn’t make it in, The Cars certainly look like a worthy addition. I’m caveating it a bit, since I really don’t know their music in great detail. They certainly have had a number of decent songs since their 1978 eponymous debut album. After taking a few breaks from the mid to late ’80s, The Cars dissolved in 1988 and reunited in 2010. In May 2011, they released a new album, Move Like This, which they supported with a tour. Since the tour’s conclusion later that year, they have been inactive.

Here is a clip of Sad Song from their last album, taken at a gig during the band’s 2011 tour.

Dire Straits is one my longtime favorite bands, so I was happy to see they made it in. Between their formation in London in 1977 and the final show in October 1992, the band went through various lineup changes. In addition to front man, lead guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Knopfler, the only other permanent member was bassist John Illsley. The other inductees include the band’s first drummer Pick Withers, Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Alan Clark (keyboards) and Guy Fletcher (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals).

Asked during a recent Rolling Stone interview, Illsley confirmed he will attend the induction ceremony but didn’t know whether the band will perform. “I think we’ll just have to see how that’s going to work. We’re talking about a long time. David left the band in 1980. That’s 37 years ago. Pick left in 1983. We’re talking 34 years ago…A lot of time has passed. That’s something Mark and I need to talk about and I’m not about to make any categorical [claims] right here.”

While I like Dire Straits pretty much throughout their recording career, I generally prefer their first three albums over their later records. One of my favorites remains Sultans Of Swing from the band’s eponymous 1978 debut. Here’s a clip from a February 1979 performance on German TV music show Rockpalast.

The Moody Blues is another band I’ve yet to explore. With a discography that includes 16 studio albums between their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies and their most recent album December from 2003, it looks like this going to be a bigger undertaking – maybe something for the Christmas break. It appears Graeme Edge (drums, percussion, vocals) remains the band’s only original member, though Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and John Lodge (bass, vocals) joined in 1966, a whooping 51 years ago!

Asked during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Hayward said he’d be open to perform at the induction ceremony with former band members Ray Thomas (flute, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards), who will be inducted together with him, Edge and Lodge. But he wasn’t sure whether they are going to come. “When you leave a group it’s because you don’t want to be in it. I miss them both, particularly Mike Pinder because he was the guy that brought me into the group.”

Here is a clip of Tuesday Afternoon, one of my favorite among the few tunes I know from this band.

Nina Simone is often considered a jazz singer, though her musical styles also included classical, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. Between her 1958 debut Little Girl Blue and her final studio album A Single Woman in 1993, Simone recorded close to 50 records. She also was a social activist during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

A biography on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website notes Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone that “Nina could sing anything, period,” when the magazine included her in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. The same biography also quotes Bob Dylan: “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer…Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform…the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”

Here is a clip of My Baby Just Cares For Me, a tune I’ve always liked since I heard it for the first time in 1987 when it became a hit after it had been used in a perfume commercial. Originally, Simone had recorded this jazz standard in 1958.

And then there is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “the first guitar heroine of rock & roll. An accompanying biography notes, “If she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers. No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

Tharpe’s recording career started in 1938 when the gospel songs Rock Me, That’s All, My Man and The Lonesome Road became instant hits. Rock Me influenced many rock & roll singers like Chuck BerryElvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was Tharpe who in 1947 first put 14-year-old Richard Wayne Penniman on a stage, who later would become known as Little Richard.

Here is a clip of Strange Things Happening Every Day, which Tharpe recorded in 1944. According to Wikipedia, the tune became the first gospel record to cross over into R&B, peaking at no. 2 on what was then called the Billboard “race” chart. The song’s groove and sound clearly represent an early version of classic rock & roll.

The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland. The TV premiere of the event will again be on HBO. There also be a radio broadcast on SiriusXM. Broadcast details will be announced early next year.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

My First New Music On Vinyl In 30 Years

Today, I got my first new music on vinyl in 30 years. I couldn’t think of a better choice than Southern Blood, the final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, which was released on September 8. I previously reviewed it here. This post is all about capturing the cover art.

Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Cover Back
Gatefold cover backside
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Cover Inside Left
Gatefold inside cover left side
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Gatefold Inside Cover Right
Gatefold inside cover right side
Gregg Allman Southern Blood Record Sleeve Front
Record sleeve front side

The actual vinyl record is colored in brown and looks it’s coming right out of a muddy swamp – pretty unique!

Gregg Allman Southern Blood Vinyl Record

Excerpt from the liner notes:

Gregg Allman cared deeply about his final album. He had very specific ideas about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. He spent his final night listening to the latest mixes and closed his eyes for the last time knowing that his vision had been realized. Everyone involved in the making of this record hopes that it moves you and brings you great comfort in the years to come.

Viva Gregg!

Don Was (producer)

Journey’s Trip Leads to Rock & Hall of Fame

Journey, one of my favorite rock bands, joins a long list of music artists to receive one of music’s biggest honors.

Friday night (April 7) was the moment Neal Schon thought would never come. Journey was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And what initially had looked like against all odds, Steve Perry joined his former band mates on stage to accept the honor, marking his first appearance with Journey in 26 years. Though some rumors persisted until the last minute, he did not perform.

While Journey had become eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than 15 years ago, they were only nominated last year and made it in right away. That’s unlike many other inductees, who had been eligible for even longer periods and/or been nominated multiple times prior to their induction.

Sadly, the induction ceremonies are notorious for drama surrounding former and present members of bands. More recent examples include Chicago and Peter Cetera, and Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore. Journey was no exception, though in their case, the outcome was mostly a happy end!

A certain degree of creative tension in a band can help their music evolve, so it’s not an inherently bad dynamic. But unfortunately, all too often such differences turn personal and bring out big egos. Ironically, for many bands this seems to happen after they become successful. When more is at stake, all the brotherhood and time and effort to get to that stage seem to be forgotten!

Steve Perry clearly was bitter when Journey continued to travel without him in 1998. Following the band’s recording of their 1996 reunion album Trial by Fire, Perry suffered a hip injury in Hawaii. He was told it required hip replacement surgery. This put the band’s planned tour in support of the album on hold. After Perry had refused to undergo the procedure for 17 months, Schon and keyboarder Jonathan Cain lost their cool. They told him to either get under the knife so Journey could resume touring upon his recovery, or they would look for a new singer. Perhaps not surprisingly, Perry was taken aback by this ultimatum and decided to leave the band.

Steve Augeri & Journey 2

Journey went on to hire Steve Augeri as their new lead singer and also replaced Steve Smith on drums with Deen Castronovo, who Schon and Cain had known from their common time with Bad English. I saw that lineup of Journey in the late 90s and was really impressed. I had doubts it was possible to replace Perry, who in his prime time had a voice like no other rock singer. But Augeri sounded surprisingly similar to Perry, and he also did an incredible job hitting and holding these impossibly high notes. From my distant vantage point, he even looked a bit like Perry – frankly, it was almost a bit creepy!

Unfortunately, belting out Journey songs and hitting these crazy high notes night after night took a toll on Augeri’s voice. First challenges started to emerge in 2003, and in 2006, he was dropped from the band. The officially stated explanation was a “chronic throat infection.” For some time, Jeff Scott Soto from Swedish hard rock band Talisman filled in on lead vocals. Finally, in the summer of 2007, Cain and Schon found Arnel Pineda on the Internet. The Filipino singer had been a big Journey fan and performed some of their songs with his cover band The Zoo, which were posted on YouTube – what an incredible story!

I also saw the current Journey lineup with Pineda last April in a superb double bill with the classic Santana band – one of only a handful of gigs the two bands did together. The show predated my blog, so I never got to write a review. In a nutshell, it was absolutely amazing seeing guitar legend Carlos Santana reunite with Schon, Gregg Rollie and other members of the classic Santana band, and playing iconic tunes from their first three albums, as well as their then-new release, Santana IV. Journey’s set was also fantastic, and Pineda did an amazing job on lead vocals.

Arnel Pineda Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Back to the induction ceremony. Journey played three of their best known songs, all from the Perry era, their most commercially successful period: Lights (Infinity, 1978), Don’t Stop Believin’ (Escape, 1981) and Separate Ways (Frontiers, 1983). After reports had emerged that Perry would be there, naturally, fans didn’t stop believin’ he’d also perform. In a couple of interviews leading up to the big night, Schon seemed to be very open about the idea; recognizing Perry’s vocal abilities have changed, he also offered to lower the key of one of their songs.

Steve Perry Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2

While it’s sad Perry ended up not performing, especially for Journey fans, I think he deserves a lot of credit for joining his former band mates on stage and giving a very gracious speech. I thought one the high points was when he called out Pineda: “I must give a complete shout out to someone who sings his heart out every night, and it’s Arnel Pineda…To Arnel, I love you.” While Perry certainly couldn’t blame Pineda for his painful departure from Journal, putting aside all his past bitterness and showing up for the fans really was a class act!

Following are excerpts from the remarks from some of the other Journey inductees, as reported by Rolling Stone:

Neal Schon Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Schon: “Steve Perry [Applause] If it wasn’t for him, there would be no Journey. [Former Journey manager] Herbie Herbert, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for finding me after Gregg was picking me up in high school when I was 15. Soon after that, I was in the Santana group.”

Gregg Rolie Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rolie: “This is my second trip here. And what a trip this has been. First Santana, Journey, Ringo Starr [since 2012, Rolie has been a member of Ringo’s All-Star Band] and back here with Journey…And Neal Schon…saving me from the restaurant business. Don’t ever do it. Just start Journey.”

Steve Smith Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Steve Smith: “I’ve started out in 1963 at nine years old as a jazz drummer…it wasn’t until 1969 that I discovered rock & roll…As disc jockey Alan Freed, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee once said, “Rock & Roll is really swing with a modern aim. It began in the levies and in the plantations, and featured blues and rhythm.” He said this in the 1950s.”

In addition to Perry, Schon, Rollie and Smith, Journey inductees included current keyboarder and bassist Cain and Ross Valory, respectively, as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar was the drummer on Journey’s first four albums Journey (1975); Look Into the Future (1976); Next (1977); and breakthrough Infinity, the only overlap with Perry. Since Pineda only joined Journey in 2007 and as such was not eligible yet, he wasn’t inducted.

Here’s a clip of Journey’s performance of Don’t Stop Believin’ during the induction. It doesn’t do great justice to the band’s sound and Pineda’s outstanding voice the way I remember it from last year, but it’s the best footage I could find.

Excerpts from the induction will be shown on HBO on April 29 at 8:00 PM ET/PT. It should be awesome!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube