The primordial Journey, initially known as The Golden Gate Rhythm Section, featured Gregg Rolie on lead vocals & keyboards and Neal Schon on lead guitar, both former members of Carlos Santana’s band. This original Journey lineup also included bassist Ross Valory and rhythm guitarist George Tickner, late of Frumious Bandersnatch. Prairie Prince of The Tubes initially served as drummer, until veteran British stalwart Aynsley Dunbar hired on.
Early Journey played to big crowds and charted a bit – their third album, Next, peaked at #85 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. Schon established himself as an A-list speed demon, but the band’s recordings did not sell well. Columbia nearly dropped them from the label.
While future Journeys with Steve Perry would reward Columbia’s patience, the band’s early records are still a fascinating tour through ’70s AOR styles. The all-star lineup jams their asses off on these free-form rock/fusion explorations, but some critics felt that Journey lacked a proper lead vocalist. In retrospect, the tunes do sound heavier, seem darker with Rolie’s baritone vocals.
Personally, I dig Gregg Rolie’s voice. In fact, I bailed hard on Journey after Rolie’s departure from the band following the Departure album and tour. These early tunes give later Journey some much-needed rock credibility. But can it be almost 50 years ago that Neal Schon was winding it out with the big fro? Let’s journey back in time…
“Of a Lifetime”
from the 1975 album Journey
Aw yeah, Neal! This vintage clip from Winterland in ’74 finds the boys back at the famed San Francisco venue where they debuted on New Year’s Eve 1973. Everybody was copping a Zeppelin vibe in those days, and these guys were too. Neal’s solo also recalls “Blinded by the Light”-era Manfred Mann. Journey… of a lifetime. Get it?
“She Makes Me (Feel Alright)”
from the 1976 album Look into the Future
Tickner was out and Neal Schon was looking to prove he could hang with the heavy-rock gods like Page and Blackmore. This tune features a heavy riff, with Rolie channeling some more Plant.
from the 1977 album Next
The hard-rocking title track evokes Rush’s early records – trippy jamming over heavy chording and busy percussion. The keyboard transitions presage Duke-era Genesis, while Rolie’s musky vocal stylings give the track some man-rock swagger.
For more on the history of Journey, check out this interesting timeline.