Journey faced a very hard road back to the top after parting ways with Steve Perry in 1998. They came close to their first tour since 1986 just a couple years earlier, but Perry injured his hip during a hike in Hawaii and needed major surgery. Frustrated with the wait, they hired a soundalike named Steve Augeri (nicknamed “Steve Perry with a perm” by the fans) and toured steadily for eight years, but vocal problems and allegations of lip-syncing surfaced in 2006 and Augeri’s tenure ended. Jeff Soto stepped in for a couple of years, but he didn’t sound much like Perry and the fans never really accepted him. By the end of 2007 he was gone and Journey seemed to be headed into oblivion.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. The season finale of The Sopranos later that year kickstarted a wave of “Don’t Stop Belivin'” mania that continued in the following years when the song appeared in Rock of Ages, Glee and every karaoke bar on the planet. The public was hungry for more Journey, but they were a band with a major lead singer problem. Out of desperation they turned to YouTube and discovered Jeremey Hunsicker, the frontman of the Journey tribute band Frontiers. They flew him to California for an audition and came close to having him on the dotted line, but it ultimately collapsed. (Check out this interview for Hunsicker’s take on the situation.)
Right around this time, Journey guitarist Neal Schon went back onto YouTube and discovered a series of live videos by Filipino band the Zoo fronted by 39-year-old Arnel Pineda. They specialized in cover songs by 1970s and 1980s icons like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Survivor, Air Supply and Kenny Loggins. But the band truly shined when they played Journey. English may not be Pineda’s primary language, but when he sings Journey he seems almost possessed by the spirit of Steve Perry. A stunned Neal Schon flew Pineda out to California, and soon enough was telling the world that Journey found their new singer in Manila.
Journey’s first gig with Pineda took place February 21st, 2008 at the Viña del Mar Festival in Chile. It was a bold move to debut a new singer in front of such a large audience, but Pineda was quite up to the task. Check out video right here of “Don’t Stop Believin'” from that big night. Dates were soon booked all over the world, and the story of an unknown Filipino fronting a major rock band was an irresistible story for the media. The band even got booked on Oprah and became a subject of a documentary, helping Journey sell more tickets than they had since Perry left. “If it wasn’t for me finding Arnel, who knows where we’d be right now,” Schon recently told Rolling Stone. “He does bring it. Now that people know him and have seen him so many times, they understand him and they believe it. They know there’s conviction in it.”
Hovering over all of this is the mystery of Steve Perry. He’s kept a very low profile since wrapping up a short solo tour in 1995, but in 2014 he did reappear to sing a few songs with the Eels. It was enough to dispel rumors that his voice is shot, and now that Journey is getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame there’s a tremendous opportunity for him to finally get back onstage with Journey, even if it’s just for a couple of songs. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” Schon said. “I suppose we’ll hear something about it a day before or the day of. Who knows? I would be surprised if it didn’t happen, but I’ll deal with it whichever way. I think it’s gonna be an interesting evening.”
Perry is refusing all interviews and only offered the briefest of brief statements: “I’m truly grateful that Journey is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” It’s unclear if he even plans to show up, let alone sing a song or two with Journey. Schon said he doesn’t even have his phone number, so the mystery might linger right up until Hall of Fame night. But whatever happens, the very existence of the miracle that is Arnel Pineda means that Journey can keep touring for many, many years no matter what Steve Perry decides to do.