Essential Rock Stories: Journey's Search for a Name
The quest for one band to find an iconic name
As the iconic rock band Journey approaches its 50 year anniversary, it's inevitable that many fans and critics will turn their eyes (and ears) to the group's origins five decades ago. The group has seen many changes since its formation in 1973, most notably the departure of lead singer and powerhouse vocalist Steve Perry in 1998. Perry provided vocals during the group's peak of fame in the early to mid 80's, when hits such as the anthem "Don't Stop Believin,'" romantic ballad "Open Arms," and infectious "Any Way You Want It" were dominating the airways and popular culture.
Although it's hard to imagine Journey as anything other than the group they would grow to become in the 80s, the original members came together as an offshoot of the San Francisco band Santana. Former manager Herbie Herbert, former guitar player Neal Schon, and co-founder Gregg Rolie joined forces with former members from the Steve Miller Band and The Tubes to create the band that would become Journey. However, they started out their time together as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, searching for their unique sound and a new name. The new name came first, and as they would soon find out, the fans don't always know what's best!
Since the group was created under the idea that this would be a showcase of Bay Area established talent, the decision was made to consult the fans from that area when searching for a new name. The group contacted a local radio station and it was agreed that the station would hold a contest to decide the group's new moniker. KSAN-FM would play some of the band's demo tapes live on air, then share some personal information about the origins and backstories of the members. Then they would solicit listeners to call in with their name suggestions for this new group. The winner of this contest would win tickets to the band's shows for life, which would have been any 80's Journey fan's Holy Grail. Exciting, right? For the group, this was ultimately a disappointing venture. Each name they received was unique, but never felt like a perfect fit. Legend varies, but rumor has it that someone in the band's orbit (likely roadie John Villanueva) came up with the name Journey and the suggestion made it's way to manager Herbie Herbert. The band loved it!
Unfortunately, this now meant that the group had two options: disappoint the fans by calling off the contest and revealing the true origin of the name, or fake it until they could make it. Eventually they chose the latter, and came up with a fake contest submission from a "Toby Pratt" as a way to keep the fans happy. Obviously their secret wasn't safe forever, as the origin of the group's name has been known to the most die-hard fans for years. Once the new name was decided, the group tried a few different lead singers to discover their new sound. The band released a few albums between 1973 and 1977 but had disappointing sales until 1977, when a secret singer swap ushered the band towards their most successful choice yet.
Although singer Robert Fleischman was hired in 1977 to bring Journey into a new sound akin to Foreigner and Boston, his stay would be short-lived. The singer refused to sign with manager Herbie Herbert, instead sticking with his current manager and angering Journey's longtime mentor. On top of all that, he also wasn't fitting well with the band's new sound. To show Fleischman who was REALLY the boss, Herbert invited a new singer on tour with the group and disguised 28 year old Steve Perry as a roadie's cousin. During soundcheck on a stop in Long Beach, California, Herbert asked Perry to perform a song with the group while Fleischman was away from the stage and soon after told each member that Perry would be replacing Fleischmann. Here today, gone this afternoon at soundcheck!
While every band has a tumultuous beginning as they discover their sound and cohesive lineup, Journey can claim that they are one of the only bands in the world that tried (and failed) to get their audience involved in this step of the creative process. Like so many other bands before and after them, Journey has had extensive lineup changes over the years. However, no era will be as fondly remembered as Steve Perry's meteoric rise with the group in the late 70's and much of the 80's. They are still rocking out today, playing those iconic jams that have invaded our psyche. A "Journey" of a thousand hits begins with a single fib!
About the author
A music enthusiast that's never met a cat or record store she didn't like, Sierra lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her cat Groucho. She reads presidential biographies by day and listens to Billy Joel and The Eagles by night.