Steve Perry’s name is written large on the history of pop music.
In the late ‘70s, Perry led the jazz-rock group Journey from cult status to superstardom.
Formed in 1973, Journey was at first an ultra-hip San Francisco band whose members earned their stripes playing with Santana, the Steve Miller Band, Frank Zappa, John Mayall and Jeff Beck.
Its progressive sound won some hearts - and received a fair amount of airplay on the country’s album-rock radio stations. But by 1977, Journey had stagnated and began a search for a vocalist which ended when Perry signed on.
Perry brought two things to Journey - a great voice and an instinctive feel for pop.
His presence didn’t change Journey overnight, but in time, he became the focus of the group and his emotive singing and songwriting style led to the development of a new pop song formula, the power ballad.
“Nobody ever thought of doing power ballads before we came up with it,” Perry told a reporter this summer. “But for us it was just something that felt good. The concept was, ‘Why not make this monster-sounding song, but soaring?’ With Neal Schon on guitar, we had the ability to do that.”
Perfectly suited to high tenor voices and wailing guitars, the power ballad became a standby of commercial hard-rock and pop-metal bands. During the mid-‘80s, the power ballad kept half the glam-metal bands in Los Angeles off the unemployment line.
For Journey, the formula spelled success. In 1980 alone, the one-time cult band charted four LPs and five singles and as 1983 came to a close, the Gallup Poll found it the country’s most popular rock band.
In the decade that Perry fronted the band, Journey produced six multi-platinum albums and seven top 10 singles. All told, it sold more than 35 million records - a phenomenal number at the time - and is still Columbia’s biggest-selling hard rock band.
But if you live by the voice, you will die by the voice, as well. When Perry decided to call it quits at the end of a 1986-87 tour, it was curtains for Journey, too.
His departure angered his bandmates, but, he said, “At the end of that tour, I honestly had to stop. I was suffering from serious fatigue, job burnout and all sorts of other things happening in my personal life as the result of the 10-year burn.”
Besides, Perry had already proven he didn’t really need Journey. In 1984, the band took some time off to do solo projects and Perry’s solo record, “Street Talk,” went to No. 12 on the charts and produced four hit singles, one of which “Oh Sherrie,” peaked at No. 3.
Perry took seven years off, giving rise to rumors that he had AIDS or throat cancer.
“I just had to stop,” he said. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with music … I didn’t want to write or record. I didn’t have anything to give.
“I had to let the music start finding me again.”
He even took medical classes at Standford University, thinking that he might become a neurologist.
“When it came to cadaver studies, though, I just couldn’t do it.”
Things began to click again for him in 1992, when he started writing with keyboardist Paul Taylor. Soon, he started assembling the group of musicians who would help him produce his second solo LP, “For the Love of Strange Medicine,” which was released in July.
There isn’t a Journey fan on the planet who won’t recognize “For the Love of Strange Medicine” - with Perry’s trademark voice and the album’s big, lush sound, it’s almost as if nothing has changed.
Things couldn’t be going better for Perry. The first single from the new record, “You Better Wait,” went to the top five on album radio and the top 10 on the top 40 stations. A second single, “Missing You,” seems likely to repeat.
Last year, Perry began the first leg of his first solo tour ever and sold out 27 of 30 venues. The Opera House was sold out Monday night for the first night of the second leg of shows. However, early in the week, the promoter released a couple of hundred more tickets.
Clearly, the 3,000- and 4,000-seat halls Perry is playing are a far cry from the huge buildings Journey used to play. But Perry is taking the first, important steps toward establishing himself as a viable solo act.
And you know what that means: He’s only a power ballad or two away from having a whole new set of fans who never heard of Journey.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: Steve Perry, Monday, 8 p.m. Opera House Tickets: $22.50 and $19.50