Back in 1978, newbies Van Halen opened for Journey for eight weeks on the Infinity tour. The outing was Journey singer Steve Perry’s first as the frontman of the band who would go on to release a string of multi-platinum albums that would rule the airwaves in the 1980s. But more importantly for Perry — who fronted the band from 1977-1987 and again from 1995-1998 before being replaced — it was a time when he bonded with VH guitarist Eddie Van Halen.
The eight-week tour of 3,000-capacity venues featured nightly opening sets from Montrose, whose Sammy Hagar would go on to front VH during their most fruitful late 1980s-early 1990s period, followed by VH and then Journey. And, as Perry tells Rolling Stone in a new interview, “Every f–kin’ night I’d stand on the side of the stage and watch their set. I would bring [Journey guitarist] Neal [Schon] and say, “Check this out.” Neal was blown away by Eddie. I’m a drummer and I was blown away by Eddie and [drummer] Alex [Van Halen]. I knew the lock they had going,” he says of the young band’s furious groove.
“Then you had David Lee Roth who was a real showman and a real fun guy to be entertained by,” he added. ” And you had Michael Anthony on bass who had this real high, literally operatic tenor voice. Eddie sang beautifully too. They were loaded with what they needed to come out there and do what they did.” Truth be told, Perry said he didn’t spend much time on the tour with Eddie because the band had a kind of “punk ‘f–k you’ thing” going on and the guitarist didn’t really want to spend time with Steve.
No matter, because when Roth split with VH in 1985, Perry said he was living in the Bay Area unsure what he was going to do. “I don’t remember how it went down, but either I called Eddie or Eddie called me,” he said. “Back in those days, we were both having what you could call ‘late-night behaviors’ on the phone. All I know is we both ended up on the phone that night having some fun talking trash.”
Van Halen then invited Perry down to his place to jam. “Man, at some level within me I felt so honored because I was in awe of Eddie’s natural talent,” Perry said. “He was just born with it. I wanted so badly to do that. We talked about how cool that could be musically. This was before Sammy [Hagar]. The next day and in the weeks to come I thought, ‘I don’t know that I should do that. If it goes creatively to what I know it can go to …’ Whatever I could bring to that, I know it would be something I’d really love doing. My only problem I had with it was the thought, ‘I don’t know that I could be the guy to go out and represent the David Lee Roth years with my voice. I don’t know if I want to be that guy.’ And shortly therefor, they got Sammy and he was the perfect version of that guy.”
To this day, Perry wasn’t sure what EVH had in mind with the offer, whether it was just an invitation to jam, or just a “let’s see what this sounds like” lark. “As I said, I think representing their legacy up to that point would have been something vocally that I don’t think I was really suited to doing,” Perry admitted. ” It’s a different kind of singing. David had something vocally that I would say was in kinship with Louis Prima. Later on, he did ‘Just a Gigolo’ and sounded more like Louis Prima. He was a real character.”
Perry also dives into the friendly rivalry between the bands on the tour — including how opener VH subverted the usual order of things by cranking up the volume on their sets — and he addressed the legendary guacamole incident. The singer describes coming into VH’s dressing room just as a container of guac came flying across the room and hit his most prized possession: a satin Journey tour jacket.
“Wearing that, I felt like I was finally somebody. The guacamole went on my left shoulder and my left arm,” Perry said. “I looked down on it and I looked up at them and they sheepishly laughed like, ‘Oh s–t.’ I just looked at them and I closed the door and left because I was pissed. I went into the bathroom and I was just pissed. That was my prized jacket. I still loved them, but I couldn’t give them props anymore after that. I wiped my guacamole off my satin jacket.”
And, to clear up those rumors, no, he didn’t run to the bathroom crying after the guac attack. “I wouldn’t cry over guacamole,” he said. “It becomes folklore at some point. It becomes silly.”
Click here to read the full interview.