EVERYONE knows Journey. The long-running band behind such hits as "Don’t Stop Believing" and "Separate Ways" continues on to this day, albeit with a much different lineup (that now includes, for the second time in history, Randy Jackson on bass).
Through all of its lineup changes over the years, Journey transitioned from a more freeform, progressive outfit to a straight up, refined radio rock machine.
They seem to have come back in the other direction in recent years, perhaps due to the absence of their most famous vocalist Steve Perry. But no matter what era of Journey you prefer, it’s likely that there’s something for everyone in their catalog.
Which is why it’s not surprising that Departure, a long-running Journey tribute band, has thrived for years on paying tribute to the band and all its iterations. They lost several months of gigs when the coronavirus pandemic began in March, but they’ve just started to pick up some shows once again.
One of those newly booked gigs includes one at Coach’s Corner on Sat., June 20. Ahead of the gig, we talked to bassist and vocalist Doug Ballard about all things Departure.
I imagine you guys had some shows on the books that were cancelled because of the pandemic?
Yes [laughs]. To put it lightly! We played our last show before COVID on March 14th. We had shows every weekend, so we lost the rest of March, early April, and practically all of May. And we had several shows cancel in June or July, but we’ve been fortunate enough to backfill those dates—in most cases, but not all.
A good example is Coach’s Corner. We’re going to play a fall show, but [John Henderson] reached out and said they were trying to do a soft approach to getting things going again and asked if we had anything available in June. We had one of those cancellations come through, so we connected on the 20th. Venues like his are letting us get started again, which is great.
We did a live stream, which a lot of people are doing right now to try and make a little income. We had a great turnout—1,300 people watched at the time of the stream, and that blossomed into 35,000 views over time. People are just hungry for entertainment.
Journey is one of those bands that has a really storied history when it comes to lineups and even musical evolution. They literally just announced another lineup change! As someone who plays this music, do you have a particular era of the band that you’re fond of?
I’m the Randy Jackson of the band, actually. He plays completely differently than Ross Valory—for perspective, Ross was in the band from the beginning, so a lot of his style is reflected in the music. Randy came in for Raised On Radio, which I think is a phenomenal album but it's very different from what they'd done before.
I think you’re right—the lineup changes really morph the band. Steve Perry was brought into to push them into the commercial era of music instead of the progressive jam band that they’d been prior. But I don’t want to dismiss Gregg Rollie either!
Interestingly, there are certain populations of fans that connect with certain eras of the band. Some fans really light up when we play the Gregg Rollie material.
That’s really cool, to see that distinction!
Yeah, and when you get into the more radio-friendly material, that generation is of course their biggest fanbase. We all love that, and in the band there are songs that we just consistently love to play as a group.
Are there certain songs that you get excited about playing for the purpose of introducing people to songs they may not know?
Absolutely. Back in the day, we’d buy the albums. So we’re real familiar with some of the songs that others would see more as an introduction, but in every situation we pull songs that people haven’t heard for a long time. We’ve played deeper cuts, and we try to gauge a little bit of how the audience responds to it. You can observe how the music is being connected to, even if sometimes you play certain songs for yourself.
“Line of Fire” and “Message of Love” weren’t huge hits, but they’re so much fun to play. You see people respond to them. When we first started playing “Message of Love,” for example, people would come up to us and ask about it. It has a similar style to “Separate Ways” in terms of its chord structure and approach.
Another one that’s always fun to play is “Edge of the Blade,” which is one of their heavier songs. Not everybody knows it, but we love to put that in from time to time when it’s appropriate.