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Journey and Steve Miller team up for Bay Area classic rock bill


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When Journey hits the road for a summer package tour, it's usually in the company of a Styx, Foreigner or REO Speedwagon.

"We've been doing this for years," Journey guitarist Neal Schon said in a teleconference, "and we've sort of like worn out all the options of different people to play with."

Enter The Joker.

Journey/Steve Miller Band
With: Tower of Power.
Where: First Niagara Pavilion.
When: 6:45 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $36-$181; ticketmaster.com

Steve Miller had been on a wish list, he said, but they had never managed to hook up with him, despite sharing the home base of San Francisco and having a onetime common band member in bassist Ross Valory.

Journey, which formed in 1973, had its roots in Santana with Mr. Schon and original member Gregg Rolie on keyboards and vocals.

"The scene was happening," Mr. Schon said of that era. "It was popping. I was hanging out in the city through the week and the weekends, and there were numerous places I could pop in and jam. And I thought it was just that's the way it is everywhere."

Mr. Miller, who was born in Milwaukee and raised in Dallas, cut his musical teeth in the impressive Chicago blues scene of the early '60s before heading west.

"I left Chicago where I was playing with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and James Cotton and Junior Wells and Buddy Guy and immediately went to San Francisco because it was a chance to play in a ballroom to 1,200 people instead of a bunch of drunks in a nightclub."

Arriving in his VW bus, he found "the most vibrant music scene of the 20th century.

"It was a complete change of how things worked in the world, and when you're in something like that, you think it's great, you think it's going to last forever. You wake up one morning and it's gone. It was really magic.

"Compared to the rest of the musical world that I was involved in, the rest of it was a bunch of gangsters running nightclubs and stealing stuff from musicians, and you worked in bars or you worked for Dick Clark. It was very goofy. San Francisco was extremely real. As soon as I understood what was going on in San Francisco, which was in 1965 and '66, I immediately left Chicago where I was working in a night club that was being shaken down by the Mafia and the police for payments. I mean it was a real thug world."

San Francisco, of course, was becoming sunshine and flowers and psychedelia.

"It was a true social phenomena," Mr. Miller said. "I didn't really understand that for a while because the bands when I first got to San Francisco really weren't very good. They were guys who were folk musicians who decided they wanted to be rock stars, and they bought Beatle boots and let their hair grown long and got an electric guitar and started a band. When we started working in San Francisco, we were a really tight band. We knocked everybody out."

The Steve Miller Band debuted on Capitol in 1968 with the psych-blues record "Children of the Future" and remained an underground band until breaking big with "The Joker" in 1973.

"When I was recording 'The Joker,' I thought my career was over, and it was my seventh album for Capitol Records and they had pretty much moved on from my world. And so, I really was just doing what I wanted to do... It wasn't expected to be a single. It just was one of those things that sort of went viral before the term 'viral' was being used. I remember leaving to go on a 60-city tour, and somebody at the record company said, 'Well, I think 'The Joker' might be a single,' and I said, 'You know what? Don't worry about singles. It just would be nice if you actually have records in the cities where I'm actually going to be working.' We left to go do that tour not really expecting much to happen, and when we came back it was the No. 1 single in the country."

It was only the beginning. He came back three years later with the four-times platinum "Fly Like an Eagle," unleashing three more Top 10 singles (the title track, "Take the Money and Run" and "Rock'n Me") and continued that success with 1977's "Book of Dreams" and 1982's "Abracadabra."

Journey started as fusion/progressive rock band for its first three albums before enlisting singer Steve Perry for its FM radio commercial run starting in 1978 with "Infinity" and the singles "Lights" and "Wheel in the Sky."

"That time period that Steve and I had our success, people were hungry for the combination," said Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. "It's sort of like American music is the blues, it's pop, it's soul and it's the combination that makes it unique. I think that all of us have that in common. We both grew up loving soul and rhythm 'n' blues and great melodies. I think, in the end, melodies were contagious. They were in the air. People wanted to be able to sing along with stuff. People wanted to party."

The Journey party was forever changed when Mr. Perry left the group in 1998, needing hip replacement surgery, and was replaced by Steve Augeri (through 2006), then Jeff Scott Soto (through 2007) and now Arnel Pineda. Mr. Schon bristled at the notion that it's not still Journey without Steve Perry (who re-emerged last month for the first time in two decades to sing with The Eels).

"Of course it's not the same band. Anytime you change one person it's not the same. It doesn't mean it's not good, though. People that are into the past will forever stay in the past, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's not a healthy thing for me or for anyone else that is here right now. And so what I suggest to them is that they just move on. I mean, if you don't like us for who we are right now, then just don't bother, you know. Find your new love and take it as you will -- We're completely fine where we're at."

Journey, with a 46-year-old singer from the Philippines fronting the band, is still enjoying popularity well beyond Styx, Foreigner and other contemporaries thanks to "The Sopranos" reviving "Don't Stop Believin'," with the 2007 finale.

"To have it re-surge and become like this national anthem, world anthem, it's really wild," Mr. Schon said. "And no matter where I am, no matter if somebody plays it, no matter where, everybody sings it. And so, very cool and with like 'Glee' hammering the tune and redoing it, you know we have a lot of kids in our audience. I look out and I see about four different generations."

Mr. Miller sees different generations as well, but doesn't always like what he sees from American audiences these days.

"It's real interesting because I play all over the world and the audiences are different all over the world. In the United States [they're] self-absorbed, totally fascinated by shooting video and taking pictures and recording things. And so, when they've come to an event, they're there to get high, to get drunk, to party, to take pictures of themselves in front of the band and put it on Facebook and to show themselves at an event. When you go to play in Europe, it's totally different. You're an artist. They're there to hear the music."

He realizes, though, that audiences here are there to have fun, and for him, the goal is to make a connection.

"So, my challenge is to kick that guy who's standing there with his girlfriend with his back to me, leaning against the front of the stage taking a picture of himself in front of me, right smack in the middle of his ass."

He's done that?

"I have. It's just kind of, that's what it is. Now, these shows that we're getting ready to do are big, big outdoor shows, and that's a different kind of thing. It's like a big kind of festival, very happy, big large group of people. Those shows are fun, too, because 20,000 people will be singing all the songs and it'll be a very joyous occasion. There will be people out of control and there will be thousands of cameras and flashbulbs going off and all that kind of stuff. It's just become part of the experience for the younger audience, what they like to do."


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