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Journey’s Bassist Ross Valory Opens Up About the Band’s Saga — And His Adventurous Solo Album

Ross Valory has dreamed of making a solo album ever since he started gigging around San Francisco in the late Sixties, but other projects kept getting in the way. He was in the process of amassing original songs in 1971 when the Steve Miller Band brought him into the fold to play bass on Rock Love. Later, he teamed up with ex-members of Santana to form the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Within a few months, they changed their name to Journey.

Valory was a near-constant presence over the past 50 years of Journey, only missing the 1986 Raised on Radio album and tour when the band temporarily replaced him with future American Idol judge Randy Jackson. So fans were stunned to learn that Valory and drummer Steve Smith had been fired from Journey in 2020 over accusations they tried to seize control of the band’s trademark. They eventually reached an “amicable settlement” following a lengthy legal battle, but Valory’s long road with Journey was over. (The group now tours with Todd Jensen on bass.)

The upside to all this is that Valory has finally been able to finish his solo LP All of the Above, which arrives April 12. “I took the energy and the focus of what I was doing on tour with Journey and began recording my own material,” he tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from his home in East Bay, California. “All of these songs have been waiting. Some of them go back decades. I wanted to finish what I started.”

Growing up in Lafayette, California, Valory heard his parents playing Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Andy Williams around the house at a young age. He sang with a men’s chorus while in high school, competed in a cappella tournaments around the state, and learned to play clarinet, ukulele, and guitar. He didn’t pick up the bass until he was 16 and a new kid at school invited him into his soul band under the condition he learn the instrument.

Valory didn’t live far from the clubs of the Haight-Ashbury scene and, after seeing shows by groups like the Grateful Dead, Santana Blues Band, the Rascals, and more, he became part of the psychedelic scene himself by joining the trippy Frumious Bandersnatch. The group imploded before they could leave much of a mark, but they were managed by Herbie Herbert, who thought of Valory a few years later when he put together the group that became Journey.

Valory has done very few interviews over the years, preferring to let his bandmates tell the story of Journey. We took this opportunity to hear the saga from his perspective, and learn all about the creation of All of the Above.

You were briefly in the Steve Miller Band prior to Journey. What was your experience like making Rock Love?
Rock Love was very experimental. Steve Miller was going through his last throes with Mercury Records. So to him, Rock Love was an obligation. It didn’t matter whether they promoted it or sold it or not. But he met his contract, so he was very experimental.

And [drummer] Jack King and I, having come from the experimental music scene of San Francisco, were very agreeable to that. So Rock Love is probably the one-off album of Steve’s career. It’s unlike anything else he did before or afterwards.

How did you wind up in Journey?
I’d known [guitarist] George Tickner since high school, and we played in Frumious Bandersnatch at different times. When I left the Steve Miller Band, George was floating in the area. Herbie Herbert had just left the Santana organization, as had [guitarist] Neal Schon and [singer/keyboardist] Gregg Rolie.

Herbie got the bright idea: Let’s put Neal and Gregg, Ross and George, and Prairie Prince of the Tubes together and create what had been loosely called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. Many artists, many singers, many writers had been coming to the Bay Area to write and create and record. Herbie’s idea was to create a Wrecking Crew, so to speak, that could back anybody up. But it quickly evolved into what was a very experimental band on its own.

You were a supergroup of sorts.
This was a time when a lot of supergroups were forming. Known members of bands would get together and do an album project and even do a tour. But there was also a stigma attached to the supergroup thing. It was becoming very unpredictable. A lot of supergroups were getting together, they’d make an album, and then they’d split. They wouldn’t even play, or they’d do half a tour and then split up. So the supergroup idea only worked so far for us.

You guys made three records. You toured a ton. Did you start to get frustrated that the records weren’t selling better despite all the hard work?
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. All three of those albums went gold, and gold in those days means 500,000 copies. The standard changed in later years to $500,000 worth of product. But for each of those three albums to sell 500,000 copies is no sharp stick in the eye. However, we were signed with a major record label who goes, “Okay, that’s fine, but let’s look at the long term here. Let’s see how we can sell more records.”

And so the band appreciably and agreeably was able to adapt, and it changed to a more popular music, song oriented, vocally oriented format, and the eventual arrival by 1978 of Steve Perry.

Were you opposed to the decision to go more mainstream?
Not at all. In fact, as a bassist, and as a bass clarinetist, and as a choral singer, I was suited, and still am, to accompanying. Bass voice or bass guitar is generally a supportive instrument unless one is in the position of being the featured player in the band. So I didn’t have a problem with that at all, and I was certainly flexible enough to do so.

What’s your first memory of Steve Perry?
I was in the position to actually hear the demo album that he had done with the band he had been working with prior to Journey, the Alien Project, in which the bassist had died in a car accident and the project fell apart. I had the opportunity to listen to that cassette, and I was simply amazed by it. What a voice.

Did you feel a spark the first time you played with him?
Absolutely. Some of the first songs we developed were “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky.” It was absolute magic.

“Wheel in the Sky” was partially credited to your wife at the time, Diane Valory.
My now ex-wife was a part composer along with Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, and Robert Fleischman, who briefly was in the band before Steve Perry. He began to work that song up until Perry’s involvement.

Why did Gregg Rolie leave the band?
I think he just got tired of slogging it out. It was his second career after a lengthy one in Santana, and so it was time for him to bow out.

How did the addition of Jonathan Cain change the sound of the group?
He completely added the magical combination that we already had with me, Neal, and Steve Perry. He had a different style of playing for sure. It solidified everything. That was obvious on Escape and Frontiers, which was some of the best work we ever did.

Were you stunned when the group suddenly scaled up into arenas and landed these giant hits on the radio?
There was something that we all felt, especially with Steve Perry’s arrival. We knew that this was going to work. It was just intuitive, a gut feeling. But I must tell you, to be driving in a car and have the radio on and to hear “Wheel in the Sky” play was momentous. And then beyond that, to be performing in the larger venues and having audiences that were attuned to what we were doing and loving it was also momentous.

Do you call the first time you heard “Don’t Stop Believin’”?
Well, that would’ve been the first of two tours for Escape, but I don’t remember in particular. The whole experience at that time was a whirlwind of activity, a whirlwind of sold-out shows and excitement. What can I say? It was just a whirlwind of excitement.

The tour schedule back then was pretty grueling. You went out for months and months without any breaks. Did it ever start to burn you out?
I can’t say grueling, but it was certainly a lot of work. So many people have this impression of rock stars where it’s all la-dee-da and martinis by the pool. Not really. It’s a whole lot of work. And Journey was so busy from 1972 through at least 1984 or so. It was a lot of work. It can be tiring, especially for a singer.

When the group took that break after 1983 and Steve had those solo hits, did you think the band was over?
No, I didn’t. But certainly people had their own solo projects that they wanted to pursue. I didn’t think it was over at the time.

How did you find out that you and Steve Smith were out of the band in 1986?
Well, that was something that Herbie imparted, but it was pretty evident that the majority of the players wanted to take a different direction, a different approach in style, and that was their prerogative.

Steve Perry said later that it was a mistake and he regrets it.
Well, good for him. But you can look back at all that…it’s so long ago. There’s no judgment at this point. It was probably a wrong move, but it was a short move. It was one album and one tour. There were some good songs on that album, and it did keep the band’s brand alive.

You formed the Storm with Gregg Rolie and Steve Smith a few years after that, and had a hit with “I’ve Got a Lot to Learn About Love.” How was that experience?
That was a lot of fun, short-lived as it was. Gregg was the leader of the pack there. Gregg is a fine leader musically, personally, politically. He did well in being in the driver’s seat. It was a lot of fun recording the material, and very talented people were involved. Kevin Chalfant is a very fine singer, and in my estimation, underrated in the world of pop singers. Josh Ramos is a guitarist that nobody knew of, but he fit perfectly into the mold there.

Why didn’t the band last longer?
We were the first band signed to Interscope Records. They loved the album. They did pretty well promoting it. We landed a very good spot opening up for Bryan Adams for an entire tour. But then again, it was a Bryan Adams crowd, and I can’t say that the audiences were entirely tuned into the Storm and its music, but as the tour progressed, it started to really work.

Then we went back and recorded the second album and presented it to Interscope, and they said, “This is great. This is brilliant. It’s even better than the first one. But while you were away, we no longer have a promotional department for that kind of music.”

The industry decided way back then, “We don’t want to sell this. We’d rather get new bands that we can get a lot less expensively and that we can get a piece of their publishing on. And if it doesn’t work, we have not lost an investment. And if it does, we are in the money.” That’s a very cynical but accurate outlook of what the industry was at the time.

A few years later, you reunited with Steve Perry and Journey for Trial by Fire.
What a pleasant surprise. What a great idea. And it was by the efforts of John Kalodner, a major exec at CBS/Sony. It’s a project that I’m very proud of with some great music. What a great occasion to bring those people back together and accomplish what we did.

It was the thing everyone wanted to see, which was the five of you back in a room together.
Yeah. There was some good material with “When You Love a Woman,” Message of Love,” and “If He Should Break Your Heart.” Unfortunately, Steve was suffering from systemic arthritis that attacked his hips. He just could not continue well enough to do the subsequent tour. So the project for the five of us ended with the recording of the album and the one video for “When You Love a Woman.”

How did you feel about bringing Steve Augeri on as the new singer?
Steve Augeri was brought to the band by Neal and Jonathan. And we accommodated; we actually waited about 19 months to see if Steve Perry could recover, whether it was surgery or therapy, whatever. But he declined, so the rest of us decided to continue going on.

Steve Smith decided that without the original members, it would not be worth his while. But there’s another aspect there. Steve is a major jazz artist. So that’s when we brought in Deen Castronovo from Bad English. And Steve Augeri, to answer your question, I think was a great, great candidate.

You guys toured like maniacs and really built the band up again.
Right. It was just reinventing ourselves. We continued to work with Steve Augeri until 2006 when his voice failed. Now I should comment about this to give perspective on why and how something like that happens. At that point, we were not flogging it as much as we were in the old days. We were paying more attention to spacing out the number of shows, especially the number of consecutive shows in a week, to give the singer a break.

There are about 18 hits that any given audience would generally like to hear. To perform all of those songs in one night, four to five nights a week, is something that not even Steve Perry could have done.

This is not to disrespect his talent and his strength in those days, but to perform all of those hits in one night, I wouldn’t want the job. It is no surprise that Steve Augeri’s voice failed. That’s a big workload.

Many fans felt Steve Augeri was lip-syncing in his final shows. Is that true?
Oh, that’s not true. But that’s the old Milli Vanilli thing. Not at all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtzKpUZHU2

You brought in Jeff Scott Soto after that. He’s a great singer, but maybe not quite right for that material.
Jeff is a fine singer and a great entertainer, but it just was a little different. And in the process of writing new material for another album, Jeff and the other writers didn’t really fall into sync. There was not enough in common. So Jeff certainly stepped in and did what he did on short notice. What a guy.

It must have been stunning to hear Arnel Pineda, Journey’s current singer, for the first time.
Absolutely stunning. It was a collection of videos shot by Arnel’s friend in a club in Manila in which Arnel did in one evening, not only Journey songs, but Led Zeppelin and other artists. It was pretty amazing.

And then suddenly the band is on Oprah and seemingly everywhere. It was just this crazy resurgence.
Yes, it was. All that time and energy in building the band’s presence and validity from 1998 to around 2008, that played a big part in it. I think all the time and energy spent by all of us, including Steve Augeri, really helped. The arrival of Arnel is striking and notable, but it is really based on all the footwork we had done to work our way back into the industry.

Did you talk to Steve Perry during the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction?
I sure did. I went and paid a little visit. He had a little room in the back. And what a pleasant experience that was. On a side note, there was a very brief soundcheck, and I was having problems hearing my own instrument. There was distortion and glitches in the system, and the soundcheck ended before I could sort that out. It was like, “I’m sorry, we’re out of time.” So the performance likewise was equally difficult for me.

That’s just the way it goes. It was like, “Gee, here it is. This is the moment, and I don’t have time to fix a problem.” That’s a distraction from the greater magic of that night.

A few years later, all these feuds erupt in the press between members of the band. You were largely on the sidelines, but it must have been painful to watch.
Yeah. It was painful for everybody involved.

Do you regret visiting the Trump White House with Arnel and Jonathan?
Not at all. My intention there was to privately have a VIP tour of the White House, regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office. That’s what I wanted. It was an opportunity. I wanted to see the White House and get the special tour, which I did. It was amazing. I didn’t see any of it as a political statement or an alignment, whatever.

What can you say about why you left the band?
For me, it’s now a matter of history. There was controversy and personal and business conflicts. But we worked out our differences in a relatively short time. We had a mediated settlement that everyone was happy with. And since that time, we’ve all gone our own way. The band continues to perform and do well.

Do you miss the concerts and being part of the band?
Of course. What an amazing experience. I am so blessed to have spent the better part of 50 years in a band that’s remarkable. All the fine players and singers that have come through the room that I had the privilege of performing with, including the current players. These are all brilliant, talented people, whether they are present in the band or not. What an experience, from this experimental fusion band into one of the top-rated popular bands. This is a band that reinvented itself twice. But to answer your question, certainly I miss it. I miss performing, and eventually I will be doing so on my own.

Tell me about the history of your solo album All Of The Above.
It goes back a long time, and it does stem from all the influences I’ve taken on since childhood. I was very busy for decades with Journey and other bands. The material that I’d been writing over the years since 1970 began piling up on the back shelf and were just sitting there. Many of these songs were complete or at least a solid concepts for songs. And I decided about 10 years ago, “Why wait till I retire? Why not get started now?” So I took the energy and the focus of what I was doing on tour with Journey, and began recording my own material here in the East Bay 10 or 12 years ago.

Who plays on it with you?
It begins with [keyboardist] Eric Levy. He’s an amazing talent that played in the [jazz fusion band] Garaj Mahal. He’s been performing with Night Ranger for many years. The first song we recorded together for the album was “Wild Kingdom.” And he’s the only player besides myself who appears on all the songs.

I also got involved with Karl Perazzo. He’s a master percussionist that’s been with Santana for many years. Journey went on a brief tour of Mexico with Santana a number of years ago. I’m sitting having coffee in the courtyard of this hotel, and Karl walks by. I go, “Hey, I got this song idea. I call it ‘Wild Kingdom,’ and it’s done on the calliope, and it goes like this.” That’s all I did. He went, “Ah, I got it. These are the rhythms.” I said, “Well, what are you doing next week?”

He came in, and Eric and I had put together a demo of the arrangement. Karl brought in Walfredo de los Reyes Jr., a fine Cuban-American drummer who had played with Santana before. And both of them laid down the basic tracks for that song. Eric and I worked our parts up, and then we brought in Marc Russo of the Yellowjackets and the Doobie Brothers to do the saxophone work.

What’s the oldest song on the album?
“Tomland” goes back to about 1970.

Pretty amazing you’ve been working on this stuff for well over 50 years.
There’s the date of inspiration or inception, and then there’s the date of recording that could be decades apart. And the order of the songs in the album is not chronological either.

It’s largely a collection of original instrumentals, but you also include a cover of War’s “Low Rider.”
That was just almost willy-nilly. It just so happened that I had the availability of Les Stroud, the harmonica player who’s better known as Survivorman on television. He happened to be rolling through town. I got his harmonica parts laid down. I also had the benefit of having [drummer] Greg Errico from Sly Stone. That’s the perfect guy for that kind of song. It just all happened very, very quickly.

After all these years or being in a band, how did it feel to finally be the one calling the shots?
There’s so many aspects of the project, in terms of not just writing and arranging the songs, but also publicizing it. I’m familiar with all of that, but it’s surreal because I’m doing it on my own. I’m talking to a guy from Rolling Stone right now. It’s not like this is my first rodeo, but it’s my first rodeo by myself.

Are you going to tour it?
Not at this time. Right now I’m in the process of promoting the album. I’m also at the same time, in my off hours, working on the new material, so there’s this balance there. I’d love to play shows, but I am not yet equipped to do that. I would want it to be right. I would want it to be sophisticated. I would want to have the right players for the right songs in the same room at the same time.

Do you think you’d play any Journey songs or would it be just this material?
It would just be this material.

Do you see any scenario where you’d play in Journey again one day?
I suppose it’s possible. As we get older and we understand more about the universe and how unpredictable it is, but I don’t see that at this time.

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Are you contact with any of them?
No. We’ve all moved on. That’s not to say that I couldn’t or wouldn’t. It just happens to be that way at this time. They continue to play and they will do well. I wish everyone the best.

Is it a strange thought that they’re onstage most every night with someone else playing your parts?
It’s not strange anymore. It’s become something that was a long time ago. I’m immersed into something now that’s equally fulfilling to me.

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