Journey’s 1996 LP Trial by Fire was supposed to be beginning of a whole new chapter for the San Francisco soft rock band. They hadn’t worked together during the past ten years, a difficult time when frontman Steve Perry largely disappeared from the public eye and guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain found minor success with their new supergroup Bad English. But in 1994, Perry returned with the new solo album For the Love of Strange Medicine, which he supported with a brief tour. When it wrapped, he phoned up Journey and said he was ready to finally make new music again.
The first anyone heard of the album was the kickoff single “When You Love a Woman,” which hit radio in July of 1996. It was a radically different pop landscape than the one they left 10 years earlier, with “Macarena” topping the charts alongside hits by Jewel, Alanis Morissette and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The song still managed to connect with audiences hungry for Journey and it reached Number 12 on the Hot 100, setting the album up very nicely for a Number Three debut on the album chart a few months later. This was the era of the mega-reunion tour with Kiss, Page & Plant and the Eagles all making a fortune on the road flogging their oldies, but Journey managed to one-up them by having a new hit. It even won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.
The obvious next move was to hit the road and start raking in millions. They signed Irving Azoff as their manager, the best-equipped person on the planet to make that happen. Everything was coming together when Steve Perry injured his hip on a hike in Hawaii. The group grew incredibly frustrated as he kept delaying a decision about whether or not to get hip replacement surgery. Meanwhile, the album was falling down the charts and they were losing a lot of hard-earned momentum. Perry felt pressured to make a very difficult medical decision, and the situation quickly got ugly. In 1998, the group couldn’t wait a minute longer and made the choice to hit the road with replacement singer Steve Augeri.
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Journey wouldn’t stand on stage with Steve Perry again until the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last week. Even that occasion wasn’t enough to get him to actually sing with them, meaning that Trial by Fire remains the last time they made music together. Check out the “When You Love a Woman” video to see the final gasp of Perry-era Journey.