Steve Perry Talks "Greatest Hits"

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The premise, in principle, begs for a snicker. Former singer for onceuponatime super group resurfaces to release a retrospective of his solo career -- namely, two albums and a handful of tracks from a third shelved ten years ago. Hardly the type of move that's gonna get the denizens of the current Top 10, or even 100, shaking in their boots, right?

Ah, but this is a little different, because we're talking about Steve Perry here. Steve Perry, whose unmistakable, Rod Stewart-dipped-in-shellac vocals moved thirty-five million Journey albums between 1978 and 1987 -- and oodles more since with the band's Greatest Hits, a perennial powerhouse on the Billboard Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Steve Perry, whose 1995 solo album, For the Love of Strange Medicine, sold 400,000 copies and paved the way for a top-five, platinum-selling Journey reunion album, Trial By Fire, two years ago. Steve Perry who, in short, has an uncanny knack for sneaking past the velvet rope that traditionally keeps the rock and pop icons of yesteryear -- hell, even last year -- away from the beautiful people at the gilded open bar of relevancy.

But don't think for a second that Perry doesn't sweat it every time, particularly on the eve of releasing Greatest Hits + 5 Unreleased. "I've seen too many people in this business have their moment, and then I've seen them live on the expectation that the moment is still there, and I've seen them crash real hard," says the forty-nine-year-old singer in a call from his Burbank, Calif., home, confessing that his luck on the comeback trail has never ceased to amaze him. "I've always trusted in the music that moved me, but ... never in my wildest dreams ...."

When Perry toured behind Strange Medicine in 1995, the highpoint for fans was the moment in the show when his long penguin tux jacket -- a staple from his Journey days -- was lowered from the ceiling for him to talk to. "I would look at it like, 'What the hell are you doing here?' And I had a conversation with the coat in which I tried to dispel some of the rumors that had been going around. I said, 'I heard you were never going to tour again. I heard you had lost your voice ....' I used that moment during the show to have some fun with some of the rumors. And the coat upstaged me, which was kind of frightening in a way."

That won't be a problem anymore, because Perry won't be touring behind Greatest Hits, which includes Strange Medicine cuts like "You Better Wait," earlier hits like "Foolish Heart" and the No. 3 "Oh Sherrie" from 1984's Street Talk, and selections from a 1988 solo album, Against the Wall, which never saw the light of day due to the Sony takeover of Columbia records at the time. Perry's not taking the hits on the road because he's still recovering from the hip surgery that kept him from touring with Journey in support of Trial By Fire.

"It was debilitating enough that it shut my life down," Perry says of the accident that sidelined him two years ago. "I was ready to tour and the whole thing, but every doctor I went to said it would need major surgery. The good news is I'm on the other side of it."

Meanwhile, Journey is on the road with a new singer, Steve Augeri, who sounds enough like Perry to warrant suspicions that Scottish cloning scientists were somehow involved in the auditioning process. Perry diplomatically refuses to comment on the matter or speak ill of his old bandmates, however, noting only that they made a choice, just as he did when he decided to leave the fold on account of his hip surgery. He looks back on the golden years with fondness, however, proudly claiming that he can remember when, where and how each and every song was written. He laughs about the savaging that the "Separate Ways" video got at the hands of Beavis & Butthead and adamantly swears he had nothing to do with the Atari 2600 Journey Escape video game, but still stands up for the music against any and all criticism or "faceless, corporate band" stereotyping.

"I always loved trying to define what that meant," he laughs. "You know, can you explain that to me one more time? You mean I look like Lou Gramm? In other words, the music is so generic in your opinion it doesn't matter what band it is? Are you telling me you're so close-minded that you can't hear the difference between these groups?

"The thing is, when music comes together and starts to move, it doesn't move with just one group having a lock on a sound," he continues. "That sound and everybody's sound becomes this large, wide, sweeping interacting thing -- look at grunge. It's just a sign of the creative process moving wide as it evolves."

Perry says he's not currently writing, and it's anyone's guess when he'll record or tour again. Right now he's just thrilled to have the high points of his solo years out for public consumption, particularly the heretofore unreleased tracks from Against the Wall, which, he theorizes, "would have made some noise" had it come out ten years ago. Ask him, tongue-in-cheek, if he knows where he'll be tomorrow when the old wheel in the sky turns again, and he quips, "Probably right here in my chair," doctor's orders, you see. "Now I'm trying to learn patience. That's my new thing. Now the more I feel better, the more I want to go snowboarding. But I can't do that yet -- I'm still in the crutches stage."