Steve Augeri: Tall Stories & Opportunities - One Singer's Rock N Roll Journey
When Steve Augeri left Journey a major chapter in that band's history closed. Steve took some time off....and was missed. Now we have the new archive Tall Stories release to discuss and hopes of a revitalized solo career ahead. There's also the amazing Firefest performance to revisit. But there are other questions to ask and I hope they have been asked here respectfully and I think Steve respectfully answers those questions.
I've said before and I'll say it again here, that Steve is one of the good guys of rock n roll and the dignity and grace to which he has dealt with adversity and to which he speaks of here only serve to strengthen that reputation.
I hope you all enjoy reading this interview as much as I did conducting it...just a week or two back...February 2009.
Steve! It's Andrew!
Hey, Andrew. How ya doing?
Good! How are you, mate?
I'm doing great! What's happening?
Well, same old stuff basically.
Yup, Yup. Yup. Same ole same ole.
You watching any of that Superbowl? Do you follow American Football at all?
Not a lot…apart from this time of the year, but I didn't get to see this game, no. I was working.
Yeah, it was pretty cool. It was an amazing game actually.
And did who you were following win?
No. Actually, I was pretty neutral……
You just wanted to watch?
…until one of my buddies starting betting, throwing some money around. So I literally just bet against him and I took $40, U.S. from him. (laughs)
(laughs) Good on you!
Well, frankly, I usually go for the underdog but I have a great many friends who are Pittsburg fans.
So I kinda went in there, at first, a little partial to Pittsburg but then when my friend started talking trash, I just had to take his money! So there it is.
We actually had an Aussie boy playing for the Cardinals but…
Is that right?
…yeah-the kicker is an Australian guy…
I didn't know that.
A retired Aussie Rules football player here that retired and went to play there and get his shot but unfortunately, they didn't win. But that's ok.
It was a great game. You know what? That last play—it was kind of debatable so, frankly, it could have gone either way. One of those things.
One of those things. And, did you watch the halftime show?
You like Bruce up there?
You know what? I always appreciated Bruce Springsteen. I gotta say... a good many years—maybe twenty years ago. I was given seats… We were once courted by, Tall Stories was, the legendary Mike Appel of Bruce Springsteen fame [former Springsteen manager].
...and he once threw me some tickets-whether or not he was still with him or not, I don't know because of bad blood, etcetera etcetera—somehow, one way or another I did get a couple of seats to go and I was absolutely floored.
Just absolutely blown away. He played an hour and a half, went away for a couple of minutes and came back and did another hour and a half……
….and it was just unbelievable! I walked away just having a great respect for him, aside from the key songs that you can't help but love.
But then to see him do them live and to see the absolute outpouring of dedication from his fan base was ridiculous. It was great! So, I have always…..I had a new born respect for him—this going back, like I said, 20 years ago. 30 years of my life I was kind of just non committal...(laughs)
...so then to see him come out and he absolutely…he didn't have to say a damn word. The place became unglued.
Now I've seen many half time shows—U2 was brilliant, the Stones were very good, but even the Stones didn't make it happen the way Bruce did. He came out and he could have left after the first song and people would have been talking about it for twenty years, it was that good. So, it was great!
Yep, yep, he's good. You make an interesting point about 2 things: Bruce and his band on the last tour played something like 70 odd different songs through their setlist…
Unreal. I saw his album in the store the other day and I just bought it sight unseen. I absolutely figured if this guy still has something to say, and there was quite a buzz with the movie and The Wrestler soundtrack—that he had written the song and there was quite a buzz about it—so picked it up. And I gotta tell you, I was SO entertained by the record. It didn't sound like it was all re-hashed; it sounded like he had some tricks up his sleeve. He sounded current and very contemporary and he sounded like Bruce has always sounded so, you know, it's inspirational to see somebody who's a couple of years my senior, if that could be possible.
…still kickin' it, kickin' out the jams and doing a really amazing job of it. Kudos to him.
Yeah. I bought it sight unseen myself, actually, for the same reason.
Now, speaking of birthdays, we should wish you a happy birthday
Yeah. How' bout it?
—a couple of days back, right? (laughs)
Yeah. (laughs and laughs and laughs)
Can I rub that in a bit then? [Steve's 50th Birthday!]
Yeah!! So what did you do?
Pretty incredible-a pretty momentous occasion. We had ourselves a good weekend. We kind of based it around the Super Bowl; we had a huge party. It wasn't planned that way. We actually had some things going on where we sort of held off. We have a member of the family who is not 100%. They were thinking about going into surgery and this and that, and my home was going to be home base for them, here in New York. As it turned out, things didn't' work out in that way so, at the last minute, we put together a little impromptu celebration. The second part of my celebration is going to be somewhere under a palm tree, on a sandy beach. You know?
Yeah. You're smack in the middle of winter; you must be about ready to leave it.
My wife, Lydia, promised me—she's allowed me that much. I think when you turn 50, you know---before that it was like the birthday week. You had the birthday week it USED to be birthday. Then, we got a little greedy and we made it a week thing. So now I'm going to try to stretch it out to the year.
I like it!
Something to look forward to when you turn 50.
Great stuff. Well, let's talk Tall Stories.
The record's out! Can you believe it?!
The cat's out of the bag.
You can actually buy the second Tall Stories album.
That's right. And you know what? It just barely came out a little later than Guns N Roses' Chinese Democracy.
They got it. They beat us to the punch.
(still laughing) I'm only joking! (still laughing)
But, maybe we'll go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest band to take the sophomore plunge, you know?
It's been a while. I'm just about to—our label, as you know, is about to do the Alias album. That's their second unreleased album as well. It's about the same time frame - 1993.
Oh. Really. No kidding? Well, frankly, the record was literally recorded, actually written and recorded between the years of '92 and up until '96.
The band technically split up, just days after New Year's Day of '96. But, we were writing and recording all the way up until that time.
I thought it was pretty much all at the same time a little ealier.
In fact, the very last year--Tom Defaria technically left the band in '95.
And, we worked with a gentleman named Glen Grossman on drums, who was a GREAT drummer, just a little crazier than myself. (laughs) So, he was just a little left of center. He was eccentric; let's put it that way. (laughs)
But, he was a wonderful drummer and we actually did quite a bit of writing and recording with him as well. So, like I said, technically, the record was written and recorded between the years of '92 and '96.
Ok. I actually had thought it was in the can by '93 but that's not it.
So, did you have a label attached to it all that time? Or, did you leave Epic prior?
No, no, no. Epic saw fit to drop us, I'm gonna guess….aw….jeez, I don't know the exact year, but I do remember…I'm gonna try…… I don't want to misquote myself here, but do you remember when Epic dropped Iron Maiden?
Uh...I don't remember [Spring of 1993 it turned out tobe…]
I'll tell you why because I remember seeing that and I thought to myself, “If they could drop Iron Maiden...(laughs)..anything can happen!”
(laughing) Good business move!
I'm trying to remember if it was around the same time frame. All that craziness was going on. Bands that you thought were…um…well, to say it bluntly, making their record labels…
...good for their bottom line...when you thought that that was the case, they were cutting people left and right.
Disappointed, yes. Surprised, not quite.
Yeah, there was a wave-a tide of change, wasn't there.
A tsunami I said in my review which I posted. I don't know if you read the review…
(laughing) That's a good terminology.
A tsunami of flannel (laughs).
Yeah, that's pretty good. That's pretty good.
The ironic thing is that we were on the road with Mr. Big at the time - this was the year they had their big record, and they had their number one single here in the states—and we were rolling into Seattle. I remember, I can speak for myself and I think the rest of the band-we were pretty intimidated thinking, “You know, they are just going to HATE us!”
I'm going to speak at least for Tall Stories. And, as great a band as Mr. Big was, they were nowhere near anything grunge-like. So, they are just going to go in there and just put their noses up—hold their noses.
Instead, it was the entirely opposite reaction. It was if WE were the breath of fresh air-something they hadn't heard in a great some time. It was a really great and pleasant surprise. It was one of the highlights of the tour.
Yeah. We called it the “Big and Tall” tour.
Like the clothing line.
Mr. Big is back together this week.
Did you say that they are getting back together?
They announced it, sort of, overnight.
I gotta tell you-I'm SO happy for them, because they are an incredible band. Is it the entire original lineup?
Yeah, the original 4 guys. Pat, Paul Gilbert, Eric and Billy.
Eric was something to behold every night.
Yeah. I love the guy.
To listen to him is….I don't if anyone has got more of a richer, more pleasant listening voice than Eric Martin. Something else.
Yeah. I'm a HUGE fan. Yup. And, a tremendously nice guy, too.
Yeah, you bet. I remember the last I spoke to Eric, I was in Japan—I had a few sakes….
…and a fan handed me the phone and it appeared….perhaps…..we may have gotten him out of bed—let's put it that way.
And, um…that's the last I spoke to Eric. So, I'm not sure he's speaking to me or not. (laughing)
(laughing) No. (laughing)
(laughing softly) I HOPE he is.
The album, the Skyscraper as it's been dubbed, the second album…it was a noticeable change in direction from the first anyway, no matter whether it was released now, then, whatever. Why the change? What was going through you guys mind then?
Well, let's see. The first record was written—if we released it in '91-ish, technically—if we had released it then… there was quite a couple of years in preparation for the record. So, let's say, at the very minimum, that we had written the record anywhere from '88 to '90. I'm thinking. I gotta say, minimum, for 2 years prior to that, we were writing and demoing that record. So, I'm gonna say, safely, around '90-ish before the record was finally released because Epic sat on it for about a good year.
And, the longer they sat on it, you know, the tide was changing and, unfortunately, it made matters even worse for us.
But, at any rate, you gotta figure that from '90, and we literally did split up in '96 at the drop of New Year, when champagne corks were popping, unfortunately the cracks and crevices were severing the ties within the band. So, you could say that within that 6 years, there was a lot of room for growth and we did evolve quite a bit. And, for several reasons, but certainly, at the very least, for normal reasons, for natural reasons, we four, just felt it was a natural progression for us to grow and just evolve, whether it took us in this direction, that direction or the other direction.
So, to us, it was a healthy metamorphosis no matter what we turned into. Fortunately for us—well, we thought it was the right thing to do because if it's true to you, as opposed to forcing yourself in one direction or the other, then that's the way you gotta do it. You've got to be honest with yourself, first and foremost. So, the band did go and experiment a great deal. These 10+ songs on Skyscraper, to me, are the best representative and the most honest representation of the band and the best expression of the band from those years.
That is as basic and as honest an answer I can tell you. To be anything more or less or different wouldn't be honest with ourselves or our fans. That's the long and short of it, really.
Yes. Were there specific influences…..
Was that winded enough for you?
YES!! (laughs) NO!! That was GREAT!
Were there specific influences you were drawing on? I mean, there was quite of a Led Zeppelin vibe to several songs I felt…I thought.
Well, there's no denying. One of my most influential bands, myself, growing up as a kid was Led Zeppelin.
They were huge here in the states. I know they were worldwide; they were big. I don't know how big they were in Australia. God knows they were large everywhere but, in New York, they were gods. And classic rock, rock and roll when I was growing up and coming of age—the HUGE bands were, to name 2, Deep Purple—I'm just throwing out a couple—they were up at the top—they were on the throne.
So we couldn't help but be influenced. And, the fact that I was singing as a tenor early on, it was a natural thing that I kind of gravitated toward.
Not to mention that there has also been said that there is some similarities to early Jeff Beck Group, some Faces—Rod Stewart. Rod Stewart was one of the very first records that I ever owned—a 7 in 'Maggie May'.
Obviously, there are some overtones in “You Shall Be Free”, which is the 10th track on the album.
Yeah. I like that.
That's kind of homage to that era and that sound that we were kind of weaned on—born and raised on. And I'm speaking, I know, for Jack and Kevin as well. Jack, especially being a guitar player—we couldn't help being influenced by guys like Beck, Page, Clapton and those guys from the original Yardbirds. I think that kind of comes out as well too, these kinds of roots that the band had. British rock-blues that was interpreted by the British, but originally conceived by African-American blues players-they re-hashed it and did their thing. And, then Tall Stories came along and we did our thing.
So it's kind of like third generation.
Yes. Absolutely. There some amazing playing on there! I mean, there's really some intricate moments.
Yeah. You know, I hadn't listened to the record until last week-I think it might have been the day it was released in Europe. I hadn't listened to it for quite some time, probably since the mastering process. And I was trying to get my head back into the music before I started doing some interviews. I have to tell you; it's not for everybody but for me, after listening to it from front to back, there's nothing I would change. I'm 100% proud of it….
You should be.
And that's how I feel about it. I'm extremely proud of it. The unfortunate thing is that I understand that, of course, our first record was embraced by the melodic rock fans and the like. It hurts me and pains me to think we shut a door on that because we certainly didn't intend to. I think there's still a portion of the record that can be perceived as, and still embraced by, this genre.
I agree. Absolutely.
But, the record does as I said as the band has evolved, it has—the record has a great deal more layers than certainly our first one did.
I agree again.
But, I'll tell you one thing, on the other hand, when you do think back in retrospect, the first record was not your paint by numbers melodic rock record.
No, I don't think that it was. I think that some - if criticizing the direction of the second album – may have forgotten where the first one came from. It's a little bit left of center than just commercial rock.
Which may be, in the first place, why people kind of took notice of it in the first place.
So there it is. It's a progression; it's a natural progression. But again, more importantly than anything is that we felt it was a true expression, a true representation of us. And, certainly, today, looking back at it now, any other record would have been a false representation.
Well, that's good. You've got to be honest. You've got to be true to yourself. The entire process of mastering took a long time itself too, didn't it? You had a lot of problems with the drum tracks?
Well, yeah. The truth of the matter is that when the drums were initially recorded, they were recorded on what was at the time, state of the art drum equipment. We had the absolute luxury of recording in a room where Foreigner, where Mick and Lou and the guys, were also demo-ing—writing and demo-ing songs.
So there was a great vibe in the room where there was this great energy where we were kind of ----I like to think we were drawing on as well.
Damn Yankees were also writing and recording..
Love that band.
In fact, Michael Cartelone, er—I don't quite get that pronunciation quite right….
…and me being Italian, I should be ashamed of myself!
Michael had recorded with us quite a bit as well as did a show or 2, which was really fantastic because he is such a great drummer…
Right. Yes, he is.
Anyway, getting back to then, we were recording in this studio-we had the luxury of using Foreigner's things, and unfortunately, the drums were the most lacking out of all the tracks. We tried. Literally, we tried so many processes and spent so much time and a great deal of money trying to preserve, and trying to use the original performances. So we tried to use samples and triggers because Tom's playing was… it was the thing.
It was it; it was the right performance for the song. So to go and –the LAST thing we wanted to do was go and just replace it, even with Tom, whether it was with Tom or ANY drummer because there's a magic there.
The record was literally recorded, I would say, 95% of each and every track was as live as you can possibly make a record these days. I mean, from beginning to end, there were minimum overdubs, as possible, as much as we could get away with. You know. Jack would literally play the song from beginning to end. Some of the solos that you hear on the record-the majority of them-are the same solo he played, in the room, along with the rhythm track, with the band in the same room, with the bleed of the drums bleeding into it, and with the vocal mikes bleeding into it. So it was really good; there was just something magical that happened back then that we tried to preserve as best as possible.
When it got in the way that we couldn't, when the audio started suffering tremendously, then we….and this was 2 years after or into the process, Jack and I finally decided that “well, now it's time to bite the bullet and replace the drums”.
We first went to Tom, of course, because he was the initiator of the drum parts and he was the vibe master. He was the man behind the kit and when he was unable to fulfill that, at that particular time, it was unfortunate. We took it upon ourselves to look and have some guest drummers on. I think we found a great bevy-a great chorale of amazing New York City studio guys.
Well, it certainly sounds good and it sounds consistent from start to finish.
Yeah. I know, personally, I don't know that I'd ever be able to tell whether it was one drummer or another one.
Yeah-and I didn't. I thought it sounded pretty consistent, start to finish. So I think you did a very good job.
You and Jack still work in the business and Kevin's still touring. Tom's out, isn't he?
Well, Tom is in and out. He does…because you can never 100% leave the business...I know that he still plays once in a blue moon for his own enjoyment. Kevin probably plays 4 nights to 5 nights a week. And, he's made a great living which is unheard of for a musician! Let's face it, guys. Musicians are reading this so you know what I'm talking about so he's got a wonderful gig right now. In fact, this is a dilemma that we're facing; we want to get our asses up and go out and do a bit of a tour to promote the record and we're having a very difficult time to get Kevin - to convince Kevin to come out on the road because it would cut off his life line. It would be sort of rolling the dice in Las Vegas so to speak.
So, this is the kind of thing that you would do when you are 20 years old…..
(laughs) Yeah. (laughs)
And certainly, 20 years ago, when we were a baby band. But, you never say never and the wheels are still in motion. I've got Jack raring to go, you know?
But I need to have Kevin; I desperately need him too because he's my second voice in the band. Vocally, he's got a brilliant voice and he is such a kick ass bass player.
I don't know if you know this but he had a lesson or 2 from Jack Bruce when he was a kid—he wasn't more than 8 years old.
His dad was in the business. He's probably seen every band under the sun, certainly coming up in the 70s and even in the late 60s. He was fortunate enough to - Jack was sweet enough to - sit with him and give a couple of bass lessons.
Wow. You couldn't forget that.
That's Kevin's claim to fame—one of them, anyway.
You wouldn't forget that in a hurry, would ya?
And, he kicks some ass on blues harp, man. You know. He can play the blues harp.
That sort of brings us to the Firefest performance. Did you enjoy getting up there with the old comrades again?
I certainly did. (laughing) I have a funny story because I know we got a lot of mixed feed back about the show. I'll give you MY take on it.
We had—unfortunately we were unable to rehearse as often as we should have and certainly, in retrospect, I KNOW that's the case. So, the next time the band goes out, I guarantee that we will be absolutely to our optimum-a well oiled machine.
That I promise myself. But, you know what, it was rock and roll. We had committed to do the show; we went out there, rehearsed as much as we could, which was only 3 times but we went out there and, considering that, I think that the guys did a great job. The only one regret I have is that - I had such a Spinal Tap moment - was that we didn't have any road crew. We came over - the 4 of us; it was a skeleton crew. So, I came out before the show and plugged in my guitar and got my microphone stand all set. I had myself all situated. Usually, there is a curtain in front of you but there was no curtain so it's all out there for everybody to see. But, that's ok.
So, I had myself 100% set. I go backstage and we're getting ourselves geared up to go and getting ourselves all charged up. I come out and the sound engineer was doing what he thought was his job and he was actually being a sweetheart. He saw I was playing guitar and he actually changed my straight stand to a boom stand. And he also proceeded to wrap the cord around the stand.
So, when I came out, without a guitar, I tried to take the mike out of the stand. I absolutely—I just tangled myself up more. I tried so desperately to keep my cool, you know?
We are such creatures of habit.
Yes. (still laughing softly)
We have our traditions. Not to digress but I once had the opportunity to work with Michael Schenker. Michael would never walk on stage without his leather jacket. It looked like he had had it all his life, since he was a child. He just had these rituals and I've known countless musicians who did. We're a strange bunch.
So there I was. I thought I had myself in gear, ready to go. I got thrown a little bit of a curve. It threw me off a little bit. It took me about 3 songs to get my game back together.
After about 3 songs or so, I felt confident. I think the guys felt confident and we just had a good time.
You know, it's funny that you should say that because I said to you after the show, “Did you relax a few songs in?” And you were like, “Yeah!” (laughing)
That was it. It took that long to get over the initial (laughs) Murphy's Law thing. It was great! It was interesting. You plug into a line of Marshalls and it was great fun. It was great fun! We had never had the opportunity to play England.
We knew we had somewhat of a fan base there and there were a handful of folks out there that were, amongst the other bands, there to see us. So we were so happy about that.
Absolutely there were.
We had a great time. And, it wet our appetites a bit so that we make sure that we go ahead and do it again.
Yeah. Absolutely. And, it must have been nice to really nail the vocals too.
Well, you know what? Like I said, it was a rock and roll show, rough and ready, and I certainly felt my oats now and then. It was good to perform those old songs and we even had a chance to play some of the new stuff as well.
I think I really get off on the newer material as well.
Especially the newer material.
So, you are trying to put some dates together, which is great but the upshot of that is that Tall Stories will remain and ongoing concern, then? Hopefully?
Well, here's the worst case scenario--or actually the best case scenario is that I can get the entire gang, which I don't think is possible. I'm hoping for 3 out of the 4. Tommy gave us his blessings and so, at the very least, we're gonna have a really adequate, more than adequate, replacement. I have a short list of drummers but I can tell you that each and every one of them is a star in their own right. If I can't get Kevin to commit, then Jack and I, at the very least, are going to put together another rhythm section. I know he and I have a motivated---and I think I have certainly more motivation or more to gain or more to prove than any other guy. So, at the absolute VERY worst case scenario, is that, if I can get their blessings, I would put my solo band together. Whether before or after my new record and then I would continue to perform Tall Stories songs in the future.
You know, hopefully WITH the guys and, if need be without them. As I said think I can get their blessings and one day would be able to join me, I think that would be terrific.
But I don't know what I'd do without Jack so… and as I said Kevin...either one of them. But, the show must go on...and, um, I've got to rock and roll.
You've got to rock and roll. I love it! Solo record, then? You've just touched on that. It's still in the works?
Yeah. Well, what's happened is that I've had this psychological block about the Tall Stories record and I had this sequence of events in my mind that I needed to get this out. And now that this is finally--once it was……At the beginning of the new year, I turned over a new leaf and started head strong and full force into my solo effort.
So that's what I'm doing currently.
Great. Is there a direction you can allude to?
You know, I would LOVE to! The only thing I can tell you is that it is probably going to be a lot less stripped and lot less raw and a bit more produced!!
I think it's going to fall somewhere in between a Tall Stories record and a Journey record.
Well, that sounds perfect to me.
Yeah. You know what? Because I've had the honor of working with one of the finest bands, one of the finest melodic bands in the land.
You can help but, you'd be a fool not to learn some of their ways, you know?
In fact, John Kalodner once said, in fact the week that I was asked to join Journey, he had some of the wisest words he'd ever mentioned to me, or that I had ever heard personally. A few of them were, “when you work with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, be smart enough to keep your eyes and your ears open.”
And so, there you have it. It would unfortunate if you didn't pick up a morsel or 2, or some little gems of information from those 2 guys because their kings of their craft—they can write a song like nobody's business. I hope to think that a little bit of it rubbed off.
So, I do want to incorporate some of their standards, for lack of better words, their standards and apply some more of my personal expression.
I think that's where the Tall Stories—I don't want to sound like a…a….I think the truth of the matter is a Tall Stories record is a more of an honest representation of myself personally. It just is. I can't deny that - it just is. When I was asked to work with Journey, I walked into a situation that was quite beautifully established by Steve Perry.
Yes, of course.
And who wouldn't have it any other way. So, you know, you had certain guidelines and certain parameters that you needed to stay within. That's all wonderful, fine and well. With Tall Stories, and certainly with a solo effort, you break down the barriers.
You are free to experiment and try, perhaps shoot yourself in the foot…
...but you have that luxury. You know what I mean?
I do. I do.
So it's great to come from the Journey camp and now have a chance to, well, for latter of better or anything, just prove myself.
I look forward to doing that.
I hope I can get a couple of people to come along.
I am absolutely convinced you will, Steve. In relation to Journey, I'd love to talk Journey for a little while if we could….
Sure! I'd love to.
I really do believe that the guys wouldn't still be in the position of strength they are today if it wasn't for the effort that you put in and what you brought to the band when you did. They were at the crossroads. You were the person responsible for continuing the legacy after Steve Perry and you brought a lot to that band.
Well, I appreciate that. I'll tell you what. I would certainly say that there were probably a good many vocalists that could have done EASILY the job that I did.
But it just so happened that I was the lucky one. I won the Journey lottery back in 1998.
So it happened to be me and the reality is that for 8½ years we took the band that had been on hiatus for quite some time. They didn't forget but they needed to be reminded. Do you know what I mean?
Look, I was absolutely plucked from obscurity and I was absolutely more than willing. I mean, God! They took me from the Gap stores! I was swinging a hammer at a Gap store.
That fact alone is almost legendary now.
Sure!! I'll do it!! I was MORE than happy to jump aboard.
So, again, it was fortunate for me, and there could have been a slew of others guys that they had considered and I was the lucky one. So, lucky me. In 8 1/2 years, I would tend to agree with you. And it was a great ride!!
You delivered though! You delivered. They could have picked someone else and they could have fallen on their ass.
(pause)They COULD have but yon know what? I guess I was, I think, I was lucky.
I was lucky that eventually the fans came around. You know, um……it was difficult at first. The fans didn't want to know about it. But, you know, the band persisted - they had faith in me and we persisted. We went out year after year and we built. The audience started out in 1500 seat theaters in 1998 to the mega concerts that they are doing today. And so, yeah, I'm proud of the time that I spent with the band. I think they, I know that they are well aware that we did it together. And frankly, unfortunately for me, I couldn't continue on. My health—I couldn't make it. The whole journey.
As did Steve [Perry] had to take a step back and re-evaluate his life and perhaps his health, I had to do the same. It was a mutual thing that we came across and I think, in the long run, certainly, it certainly worked out wonderfully for the band.
For me, if you were to compare my health today to 2006, I'm a different…I'm physically regenerated. I mean, I can't say it any better. I was a physical mess and I needed to get away and unplug. And that's exactly—the doctors told me that's what I needed to do. I did it and I'm so glad I did because, frankly, had I not, I may not...we wouldn't be having this conversation and I wouldn't have a voice to even speak to you one the phone.
Yeah. They talk about the band's catalogue being the hardest catalog to sing in music, you now.
Sometimes, I just have to shake my head and say, “how did this man do this?” I pray that Arnel takes really good care of himself and I pray that the band looks after him, because after several vocalists down the line, you gotta get wise and just say, “Hey, listen - that's your guy. Take good care of him because we want him to last a few extra -a few more years, than the last 2 did.
And I'm sure they will.
Did they take care of you? I mean, the schedules were grueling, even up until the last year, weren't they? Did you have a say in that?
(long pause) I'll tell you what - the unfortunate thing is that it comes down to the individual. I can never point a finger; you can't point a finger at anyone but yourself. So, if the schedule was grueling, then I didn't have the backbone to say, “Stop. I'm getting off the train.”
Do you know what I mean?
“You're killing me.” It's just…that's the bottom line. So, the only regret I have is that I didn't have the courage to say stop. I may have...you know what…frankly, to be honest with you, I did…but the train kept going.
That's…we had built from 1998 to 2006, and God knows to the present, there was an absolute and gradual...it was if you had a locomotive just started up, just restarted, let's face it, cause they were there. We started and there was no stopping it. The machine was going.
So, you know, life moves on. We're only human; you can only do… we're not Superman, which is a very coincidental song, which closes our album.
Funny. You'd think the song was written yesterday. (laughs)
(still laughing) Maybe it was. Maybe it was…..
Yeah. Maybe it was…
I was a witness from afar obviously, sitting here at my computer, reading feedback and stuff but that very last show that you played with the band - the 3rd date of that new 2007 US tour. You had to drag…well, not drag, but you had to ask Deen to come out front and sing for you.
I mean, God… What was going through your mind?
Well, I'll put it this way—it wasn't pretty BUT thank God for Deen. And then, I have to say, for the band. Thank God for having Jeff nearby so that he was able to fill in for me and they were able to continue and finish the tour. But, uh, it was not a pretty situation and I would never want to re-live something like that again. But, the old story…if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger.
You live and learn. One thing I will tell you that I will never put myself in the situation—THAT position again where I…when you KNOW you're hurting and you know that you need to rest, you've got to step back and just do it. I just didn't have the, you could say, the smarts. I didn't have the smarts to say, “Stop. Stop the world. I want to get off.
And so, instead, it ran me into the ground and, luckily for me, I was able to pick myself up out it, dust myself off and continue on.
Did you sense the end was coming for a while?
Well, you know what I did sense was ….um…. I DID sense that, when the tours were coming around, I was taking longer to pack my bags.
The first year, I had my bags packed a week before we left, before the plane left.
(laughing) And, by the end of my tenure with the band, my bags may not have even been packed until the day I left. The other thing was after 8 years, you start missing your wife more.
You start missing the little creature comforts of home. I felt like I missed half of my son's growing up. And that, I tell ya, is one of the biggest regrets I had was missing that. Those were the moments you can't go back and retrieve.
So, things like that, you know, start compile and pile up and start to eat away at you and, eventually, it breaks down and you start, you know, re-evaluating. You start re-prioritizing things in your life.
I think, again, I had lost someone very dear to me, in fact the record is dedicated to him, Nick - he was actually my brother-in-law and my best friend. I saw him and I saw his family loose their dad and their husband. There was a moment there, unbeknownst to my fans and the public, where I thought my days were up; I thought I was…you know...I thought I wasn't long for this earth.
I can tell you that everything gets put back into perspective when you have a situation like that - a life threatening situation. And so, finally, when the change did happen, and I was off the tour and I was sitting at home, the one thing that did get me through, because it was a pretty sad thing to deal with—anybody would say that. It's no fun being sacked from Journey or from McDonald's - sacked is sacked, right?
Whether it's mutually or not, like I said. It's still…as mutual as you can get it. The bottom line is that it was the right reason because my body was just...needed to do it.
Again, getting back on track, you put into perspective and you say, “Look. You're a rock and roll singer in a rock and roll band. Life goes on. There are wars on the other side of the planet; there are people hungry in Africa. You're just a singer in a rock and roll band. Pick yourself up - it's not the end of the world. It's gonna be ok.” And you know what? At the end of the day, you're gonna be alright. I've got a smile on my face and I'm a happy man today and that's all I can say. I've got a new record out. I'm writing new music. I'm singing again. The sun's shining once more for Steve Augeri.
It's inspiring to listen to you, Steve. You certainly do put things in perspective and I appreciate that.
Honestly, there was a dark period there for a while but we all go… a lot of us go through it, for one reason or another, and it just kind of took it's toll on me. I'm glad I got through it and I'm certainly not alone. Some people can relate to it and understand. So, that's the deal.
Yeah. I spoke to you in the UK about the hammering you took on my message board….
(laughs) Oh yeah. (laughs)
(laughing) I didn't enjoy one bit of that, as much as I'm sure as hell you didn't.
No. No, but you know what, getting back to….you can't color…you can't candy coat and you can look to the world through rose colored glasses. You gotta face things, eventually, and so that is basically the bottom line. If you are glutton for punishment, you go out and (laughs) you read it everyday. But I wasn't gonna do that so I certainly did not.
But of course it got back to me…
You are driving in a car and you see some road kill on the side of the road - you take a peak every once in a while. I wasn't oblivious though. Just put it this way - I knew who I am and what I'm about. What people were talking about me and what they were saying about me was um….they were being misled and didn't have 100% of the story.
So...as long as YOU know the truth and YOU know the facts then you can stand up and look at yourself in the mirror everyday.
Yeah. Your proudest moment?
Wow, that's a good question.
I have to tell you something that's really pretty special about these guys [Tall Stories]. When we first did that get that opening spot for Mr. Big, I was the only married man in the band at the time and I was the only dad. I had had my son. He wasn't but a couple of…maybe he was a year or two old. Back then, we were doing odd jobs like painting houses, construction, bar tending-anything a New York actor or musician would be doing at the time.
We went on the road and we got a couple of bucks per diem; I think it could have been…I think we got $35 a piece a day-no salary. Just enough to maybe pay your rent and this and that. The guys got together and kicked in - I think they gave up and extra 10 bucks each so that I could money home to my wife and feed my kid. To me, THAT'S a proud moment for me because that's the kind of guys that these guys are...were then and still are today. That's a proud moment. I'd like to say it was walking on the stage of Madison Square Garden, but that wasn't the case.
We never did get that opportunity. One very proud moment was walking out on stage with Journey and having them out in the audience. I know they were feeling pretty good about that; I was a pretty proud fella doing that.
The other Tall Stories guys were in the audience.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So that was pretty groovy I gotta tell ya. As well as, I remember having the opportunity to introduce them to the Journey guys and always feeling like a proud papa to them, my old fellas. Introducing them - that was pretty cool.
Excellent. Recording-wise, are you happy with the legacy that you've left with Journey?
I think I'm almost satisfied. I love to say but you wouldn't be telling the truth. You always want to do your best. Ultimately I would have loved to have had a successful single. I think I said this the day I joined them up until the last days I was with them. That was always a goal of mine but unfortunately didn't happen.
So I've got to find another vehicle for that. That's what I'm working on now. But I am proud of a great deal of it. I'm very proud of the Arrival record and a lot of everything else we recorded-the Red 13 and Generations. But, you know, the minute you are satisfied, that's the time you want to turn out the lights and go to bed.
I'm not ready. I'm staying up a little later. Mom and Dad, I'm stayin up. (laughs)
(laughs) Awesome. One thing I did want to ask you quickly - did the band ask you back after working with Jeff Scott Soto?
After you'd had time to rest and stuff?
Uh…no...no…actually they didn't. But I think some time had passed and I think, you know, whether they intended to or not, I could never say. They were fortunate enough to find Arnel.
And I can't think of a better guy to fill the spot that he's filled. I think his voice is absolutely spot on for the Journey sound. And when I say the Journey sound—the legacy that Steve made with them…
As a band member, not alone but as a unit, and I think Arnel does it so well. As I said, it's remarkable when I listen to him. I'm looking at myself as an out of body experience, thinking about myself when I first joined them in '98 and thinking, you know what, this is This man's big shot and his big chance and that was YOU. How great was it for you and so be happy for him. Quite frankly, that's exactly how I feel.
I'm literally, I'm totally, totally all for the guy cuz I see myself several years ago doing what he's doing and I'm thinking, boy, he's having the ride of his life right now.
And he deserves it.
Well, you know, your words again-inspiring and humbling. Everybody says you're one of the best guys in the business. Even management, after you had left, said to me—they just spoke with such high regard for you, your time and dealing with you and how they regretted that it was no longer the case. There's something to be said about being the good guy isn't there?
Well, let's face it-we're not always the good guy but (laughs) we try!
(laughs) It's not always possible.
There's a little of everybody inside you and I and you have a choice of letting the good out and the bad and I just choose to stay as positive and do the right thing. My dad and mom raised me to do the right thing. It's an Italian American Brooklyn expression that we use.
It's big, good fellas that you might hear—I've never heard it in the sopranos but you should have. That was the expression—do the right thing. You just try to do the right thing and I'm not gonna say it's the golden rule but…um…..it comes back at you.
I'm a strong believer in Karma.
Yup. Me too.
Look, we're not all perfect; we all make mistakes and I've made plenty. You know, you pay the price, you pay your penance, and you get on with it and you go forward. You pick up the pieces.
Yup. My wife and I are of the same thinking. Absolutely.
And we learn. We learn everyday.
Yup. We do! We do!
And, John Kalodner, yes, I'm still keeping my ears and eyes open.
(laughing) That's great advice.
Great advice. I think there is a lot still to come and I think you've picked up a huge fan base with the band and everything that you've done. There's a lot of people that are really, as you know, as you saw at Firefest, there's a lot of people that are passionate, believers in what you do and are looking forward to everything that comes next.
Yeah, well, I'm fortunate to have come by these people and certainly to grab their attention and I'm gonna try to hold it.
Fantastic. Great talking to you Steve.
Andrew, the same here, man.
I really appreciate your time.
I appreciate the review. (laughs) I wasn't tickled pink but I'm gonna tell you what I do think - I think you're an honest man and I would never ask anything less of you.
Thank you, mate, I do appreciate that.
Right. I was thinking to myself...I want you to also know something - when we gave you a thank you or a shout out on the record…
I didn't see that yet.
It wasn't because we weren't bribing you or buttering you, up.
We did it because of your honesty and because of your sincerity about music period, whether it's this music or that music. You are and were and still are a friend of the band. No matter which turn we go, we can respect you and I just wanted to let you know that too.
Now every once in a while, we have a heart to heart. This is my second one with you! HA HA HA! (laughing)
Yes it is!!! (laughing and laughing)
I didn't want you to think we were trying to bribe you and I hope your readers didn't think that, too. So, I need you to know that you're alright in our book - certainly my book that's for sure.
I really enjoyed the time we spent together in the UK…
HA HA HA!
That was the greatest Indian I've had in a long time.
That was pretty good, yeah…
You know, coincidentally, a friend of mine invited me out to have dinner that night. I turned him down cause I had a very important date that night. HA HA HA!
Thank you, mate, I really appreciate everything you've said and your time. It's a great interview and I'm sure – hopefully it'll promote the Tall Stories record and the band and yourself a little bit further.
I hope so. That's great.
Alright, Andrew. Great chatting with you.
You too, mate.
c. 2009 MelodicRock.com / Interview by Andrew McNeice - February 2009
Transcribed by Debbie and MR.com / Photos: Marty Moffatt - Firefest 5, 2008.