Stephen Ray “Steve” Perry (born January 22, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and musician, best known as the lead vocalist of rock band Journey during their most commercially successful periods from 1977 to 1987 and 1995 to 1998. Perry had a successful solo career between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s.
Perry’s singing has garnered acclaim from prominent musical peers and publications; he has been described as “The Voice”, a moniker originally coined by friend and former chart peer Jon Bon Jovi. He resides in Del Mar, California.
Born in Hanford, California to Portuguese parents, Perry grew up interested in music, as his father, Raymond Perry, was a vocalist and co-owner of radio station KNGS. On his twelfth birthday (January 22, 1961), his mother, Mary Quaresma, presented her son with a gold eighth note necklace, which he still wears for good luck. When Perry was 12 years old, he heard Sam Cooke‘s song “Cupid” on his mother’s car radio. This inspired Perry to become a singer.
The family moved to Lemoore, California during Perry’s teen years. He attended high school there, drumming in the marching band as well as in extracurricular bands. He attended College of the Sequoias, in Visalia, California, for a short time after graduation, where he sang first tenor in the choir there. Perry’s mother encouraged his musical growth during this time.
In his early 20s, Perry moved to Sacramento to start a band with a 16-year-old future multi-platinum music producer, Scott Mathews, who co-wrote, played drums, guitar, and sang. That band, Ice, wrote strong original material and were poised to ‘make it’ as they recorded during the day at the Record Plant studios in Los Angeles in 1972 while Stevie Wonder recorded his classic Talking Book LP by night. Upon returning to Sacramento, Ice disbanded as the band had no management, Mathews was stuck in high school and the recordings went virtually unheard. In 1975, Perry moved to Thousand Oaks, California, where he formed a Progressive rock band called Pieces with Tim Bogert (who had previously worked with Jeff Beck), Denver Cross, and Eddie Tuduri. After a year and a half, the group was unable to secure a record deal and disbanded.
Perry then ended up in Banta, California outside of Tracy, California, where he fronted the band Alien Project in his mid-twenties. He nearly gave up music when the bassist of that band, Richard Michaels, was killed in an automobile accident. Perry returned to Lemoore and decided not to continue his singing career, but at the urging of his mother, Perry answered a call from Walter “Herbie” Herbert, manager of the struggling San Francisco-based band, Journey.
Herbert had been given a demo of an Alien Project song, “If You Need Me, Call Me”, and was told by Scott Mathews that the young singer would be a great replacement for the current frontman, Robert Fleischman. Fleischman had never moved under Herbert’s management, preferring to maintain his previous manager and had never in fact integrated well with the band’s then progressive rock style. Perry was brought on tour and to avoid alarming Fleischman was introduced clandestinely as roadie John Villanueva’s Portuguese cousin and surreptitiously performed a song with Journey during a soundcheck in Long Beach while Fleischman was away from the stage and Herbert informed the band of the line-up change.
Perry brought a completely new pop sound to the band’s music, despite grumblings from his new bandmates and fans of Journey’s former progressive rock sound. He made his public debut on October 28, 1977, in San Francisco, and received a mixed reception. Perry determinedly proved the critics wrong, and won over new audiences on his first album with the group, Infinity, which included a song of his own composition called “Lights”. The band’s style had changed dramatically, but as Journey began to garner radio airplay and media buzz over Infinity, Perry’s arrival was accepted.
He provided lead vocals on nine of Journey’s albums: Infinity (1978), Evolution (1979), Departure (1980), Dream, After Dream (1980, a Japanese movie soundtrack), Captured (1980, a live album), Escape (1981, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts), Frontiers (1983), Raised on Radio (1986), and Trial By Fire (1996). The single “Open Arms” from Escape, was their biggest hit single, residing for six weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Perry had become the unmistakable voice of Journey throughout his time with the band.
During his tenure with Journey, Perry sang backing vocals on several Sammy Hagar songs, including the 1980 tracks “The Iceman” (a nickname Hagar had for Scott Mathews) and “Run For Your Life”, and duet with Kenny Loggins on the 1982 No. 17 hit single “Don’t Fight It”. Perry also worked with other musicians such as Sheena Easton, Clannad, and Jon Bon Jovi during the height of his career. A 1983 Gallup poll of people between the ages of 13 and 25 voted Journey their favorite rock band.
In 1984, following the release of Frontiers and the tour supporting this effort, Perry released his first solo album, Street Talk (the album’s title was derived from the original name of Perry’s earlier band Alien Project). The record sold more than 2 million units, scoring the hit singles No. 3 “Oh Sherrie“, written for his then-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, and No. 18 “Foolish Heart”. The music video for “Oh Sherrie” saw heavy rotation on MTV. “She’s Mine” and “Strung Out” were also released as singles from this project, which featured former Alien Project drummer Craig Krampf on a few tracks, guitarist Michael Landau, and future American Idol judge Randy Jackson on bass, amongst others.
In 1985, Perry was one of 21 singers in the USA for Africa all-star benefit song “We Are the World“. He also recorded a song, “If Only For the Moment, Girl” for the We Are the World album. This song was added to the reissue of his album Street Talk. It was during this period also that Perry worked with the Irish folk-rock group Clannad on their 1987 album Sirius.
While Perry was reuniting with Journey, his mother became ill. The recording of Raised on Radio, which Perry was producing, was stop-and-go as he frequently returned to the San Joaquin Valley to visit his mother, who died during the production of Raised on Radio. It took a major toll on Journey to have intermittent recording sessions and a vocalist who was not with the band much of the time. Eventually, as Perry later said, he was “toast”. Journey disbanded in 1987 after the Raised on Radio tour.
In 1988, Perry began to work on another solo album, Against the Wall, which he ultimately left unfinished (several of the songs that were recorded for Against the Wall, however, would later appear on Perry’s 1998 solo compilation, Greatest Hits + Five Unreleased). A year later, on April 30, 1989, Perry joined Bon Jovi to perform Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me” and the Four Tops’ “Reach Out“. He would also reunite with Journey at the Bill Graham tribute concert, “Laughter, Love and Music”, on November 3, 1991, performing “Faithfully” and “Lights”. Other than those three events, however, Perry mostly disappeared from the public eye for seven years, taking a break from the music industry.
In 1994 Perry released For the Love of Strange Medicine, his second solo effort. The album enjoyed some success, partly due to the Strange Medicine world tour.
Journey’s classic 1981–85 lineup reunited in 1996 to record Trial by Fire. The album was a huge success, entering the Billboard charts at No. 3 and going platinum before year’s end, but its triumph was short-lived. Before the Trial By Fire tour could begin, Perry suffered a hip injury while hiking in Hawaii and was unable to perform. Perry was diagnosed with a degenerative bone condition and a hip replacement was required, and as he was reluctant to rush into the surgery, Perry wanted to postpone the tour. Due to the long wait between the album’s release and the tour’s postponed kick-off date, as well as the absence of their iconic frontman, Journey fans were losing hope for the band’s future.
Meanwhile, long-time Journey drummer Steve Smith resigned. (Smith had rejoined, along with original Journey bassist Ross Valory).
The remaining members waited until 1998, nearly 17 months after Perry’s injury, before deciding on Journey’s future. Growing impatient and realizing the window of opportunity was closing to follow up the success of the platinum-selling Trial By Fire LP with a world tour, Journey members Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon met with Perry and presented an ultimatum that he either undergo hip replacement surgery so the tour could proceed upon his recovery, or a replacement singer would be hired. Perry, still hesitant to undergo surgery and now apparently upset at his bandmates’ intractability and their perceived meddling in personal health decisions, decided to leave Journey. Perry’s vocal duties were later taken over by Steve Augeri of Tall Stories, and nearly two years after the album’s initial release, Journey began its long-postponed tour.
Perry underwent successful hip replacement surgery in 1998 to correct the problem he had been diagnosed with two years earlier. He released the Greatest Hits + Five Unreleased compilation album later in 1998; the unreleased tracks included an original Alien Project demo as well as selections from the abandoned Against the Wall CD. Also in 1998, Perry recorded two songs for the Warner Bros. film, Quest for Camelot, which can be found on the motion picture’s soundtrack. Journey was the subject of an episode of VH1‘s Behind the Music in 2001, where Perry made the statement that he “never really felt like he was part of the band”, to which former manager Herbie Herbert reacted saying “that’s like the Pope saying he never really felt Catholic.”
Perry appeared with other Journey members at a ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on January 21, 2005, after previously stating it was unlikely that he would ever stand with the band again. He indicated that, though it was a good experience, his rejoining Journey is not likely. However, he has also stated “[n]ever say never, unless you mean never, never the less” when the issue of returning to Journey has been mentioned.
In 2005, Perry produced “The Secret of Moving On”, a track on a solo album for former Ambrosia lead vocalist David Pack. Perry also provided background vocals for “A Brand New Start”, among the many songs he and Pack co-wrote shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The album, released in September 2005, includes covers of two of Pack’s biggest hits with Ambrosia, “Biggest Part of Me” and “You’re the Only Woman“. During the 2005 baseball season, the Chicago White Sox adopted Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” as their unofficial team anthem. As a result, Perry (an avid San Francisco Giants fan) was asked to attend the World Series and even traveled with the White Sox to Houston where Perry joined the players on the field and in the locker room as they celebrated their championship.
In late 2006, Perry’s two solo projects, Street Talk and For the Love of Strange Medicine (both featuring previously unreleased material), and his Greatest Hits CD were remastered and re-released. Sony Legacy released Playlist: The Very Best of Steve Perry on January 13, 2009, a compilation of some of his best songs.
As a fan of the San Francisco Giants, Perry was spotlighted during their 2010 World Championship run. He was spotted in game 5 of the NLCS leading the crowd in a singalong of Don’t Stop Believin’. In the eighth inning of the second game of the 2010 World Series in San Francisco, fans at AT&T Park began singing along to the song “Lights” by Journey. Perry was shown on the scoreboard singing, jumping and pumping up the crowd. The Giants went on to win 9–0 over the Texas Rangers. In 2014, Perry was observed by Ed Hahm leading AT&T Park in a most fitting chorus of Don’t Stop Believin’.
In an interview with Classic Rock Presents AOR, released in December 2010, it was revealed that Perry has written over 50 songs and is contemplating his first solo project since 1994. “A little over a year and a half ago, I felt I could maybe come back to it, I have been writing. I have about 50 songs in a little over a year. I never thought I would do it again, but I decided to open up that room and see what I could find. It’s been interesting. Some of it sounds familiar, some of it sounds contemporary, some of it you can’t put a label on—and I’ve never been big on labels anyway.” Perry is reluctant however to put a timescale on his return. “I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how to do that, but I can definitely smell a solo project on the horizon. I will be recording some music.”
During the 2012 Giants versus Tigers World Series in San Francisco at AT&T Park, Perry was shown on the scoreboard singing along to “Lights” once again.
In May 2013 Perry had a mole removed that turned out to be melanoma. He had two surgeries to remove the cancer cells and was told the surgeries were successful, requiring no further treatment. In a lengthy blog post in June, Perry wrote that he fell in love with psychologist and breast cancer survivor Kellie Nash, who succumbed to cancer in December 2012, and that he himself suffered a recent cancer scare. Perry was by Nash’s side as she battled cancer.
On May 25, 2014, Perry joined the indie rock band Eels onstage at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the final three songs of their encore, singing Eels’ “It’s a Motherfucker” followed by Journey’s “Open Arms” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” This marked the first time he had performed on stage since the end of his Strange Medicine world tour in 1995. Perry performed with The Eels again May 31 at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C., singing the same three songs previously sung in St. Paul, MN plus a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen.” Perry joined the Eels a third time June 11 at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater. In addition to the same three songs previously performed, he added the Journey hit ‘Lights’ explaining to the audience that he wrote the song originally for L.A., but after receiving a call to join Journey, the song was changed to say ‘city by the Bay’.
Perry’s singing has garnered acclaim from prominent musical peers and publications. Queen guitarist Brian May said: “Perry is a truly luminous singer, in my opinion—a voice in a million.” Sony record executive, American Idol judge and musician Randy Jackson described Perry’s as “the golden voice,” and opined that, “Other than Robert Plant, there’s no singer in rock that even came close to Steve Perry.” “The power, the range, the tone—he created his own style. He mixed a little Motown, a little Everly Brothers, a little Zeppelin.” He has been described as “The Voice,” a moniker originally coined by friend and former chart peer Jon Bon Jovi.
Greg Prato of AllMusic wrote: “If only one singer could be selected as the most identifiable with ’80s arena rock, it would have to be Journey’s, Steve Perry.” Colleague John Franck praised Perry’s as a “soaring, whale of a voice.” He was voted among the ten greatest rock singers of all time in a 2009 Classic Rock reader poll. Rolling Stone ranked Perry No. 76 in “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” reflecting the magazine’s editorial opinion. They lauded his “technical skills,” as well as his “pure tone and passionate sincerity.”
Sam Cooke, to whom Perry has been compared, was Perry’s primary influence.
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