One of the most unusual and ambitious King Biscuit Flower Hour recordings occurred during the Fall of 1978, just as the San Francisco-based group Journey was breaking big with their fourth album, Infinity. Released the previous year, this album would be the first to feature lead vocalist, Steve Perry. This album would begin an impressive stream of hits for the band and go multi-platinum, transforming the group from a cult-status progressive rock fusion band to one of the most successful rock bands on the planet during the decade to come.
Unlike the familiar KBFH format, which relied on concert recordings that captured performers live on stage, these recordings are entirely different. Here, Journey and eight of their friends are captured in an audience-free studio, collaborating on sessions recorded at the Automatt Studio, a facility that opened on San Francisco's Folsom Street the previous year. The Automatt was essentially a studio within a bigger CBS facility, headed by producer David Rubinson, which boasted the city's first working automated console. Beginning in late 1977, this room would become San Francisco's most popular recording facility. Over the course of the next six years (it closed in 1984) the Automatt hosted acclaimed sessions by the likes of Santana, Jefferson Starship, Huey Lewis, and of course, Journey, all of which recorded hit albums within its walls.
For these KBFH sessions, which were booked as "SuperJam 2," several key friends would join Journey in the studio. On board were both female lead vocalists from the San Francisco band Stoneground, Annie Sampson and Jo Baker. Also joining in was original Doobie Brothers songwriter, singer, and guitarist, Tom Johnston, and to give several of the recordings added punch, the entire Tower Of Power horn section was also recruited for the sessions.
Despite excellent results, legal entanglements prevented these remarkable SuperJam 2 sessions from being scheduled for broadcast, and with the exception of a cover of "Let the Good Times Roll," none have seen official release. Bootleg copies of the sessions did eventually surface, and they became treasured items among Journey collectors, often accompanied with rumors that the masters had been either lost or destroyed. Now, for the first time ever, the complete "Superjam 2" KBFH sessions are presented here in superb quality.
Bookended by two pairs of classic Journey songs when they were just breaking big and featuring various configurations, performing choice cover songs in between, these recordings represent a peak moment in San Francisco's musical history. These recordings also prove that Journey had not only become masters of commercially successful rock music, but was a group equally adept at many styles of music, including R&B and blues, with compelling examples of both included here.
The sessions begin with a pair of classic rock songs from Journey's breakthrough Infinity album, "Feeling That Way" and "Anytime." The former is a prime example of what Steve Perry brought to the table, featuring a penetrating lead vocal that raises the superb instrumental work of this band to another level. The latter, which features Rolie singing lead, is a solid rocker that also presents Journey in a most positive light. Both of these numbers feature soaring lead guitar work from Schon, but it is keyboardist Rolie's piano work that saves all of the recordings presented here from sounding dated. Nothing more clearly dates late 1970s/early 1980s rock music more than the sound of synthesized keyboards and Rolie wisely avoids using them on these sessions. A talented and tasteful pianist, Rolie's instrumental contributions strongly contribute to the organic feel that make these sessions compelling even decades later.
The next eight songs feature the Journey members working with other vocalists and musicians, and these numbers make this Superjam a fun listen. First up is a cover of "Road Runner," written by the Motown songwriting team of Holland/Dozier/Holland, which became a 1966 hit for Junior Walker & the All-Stars. Here Stoneground singer Annie Sampson takes over on lead vocals, with Schon contributing sizzling guitar work and the Tower Of Power horn section adding extra punch. Next, things get more soulful on Boudleeaux Bryant's "Love Hurts," which had been recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1969, and would become a monster hit for the band Nazareth. Here, Jo Baker assumes lead vocal responsibilities, and her soulful reading makes this one of the standout tracks from these sessions.
Following this, former Doobie Brother Tom Johnston joins in for a high-energy romp through the Isaac Hayes/David Porter Stax classic, "Hold On (I'm Coming)." Immortalized by Sam & Dave and becoming a signature song by the Blues Brothers the same year as these recordings, this number features both Sampson and Baker trading vocal lines and Schon and Johnston creating dueling lead guitar lines. This cooks right from the get-go and also features the Tower Of Power horns adding their distinctive touch to the proceedings.
All three vocalists participate in the recording of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," and again it is Greg Rolie's outstanding piano work that adds so much to the appeal. Essentially piano and vocals, this features Perry taking the first verse, Sampson taking the second, and Baker on the third. Perry brings it back home at the end and with all voices periodically blending together (including Rolie and various other Journey members); they establish a true gospel feel that is quite impressive. Tom Johnston next fronts the entourage for a red hot rendition of Joe Tex' 1966 hit "Show Me," with the horns back in full force.
Next up, these musicians try their hand at some classic blues. With Johnston and Schon both cranking on guitars, they tackle one of the ultimate guitar workouts, a cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads." Paying homage to Eric Clapton's tour-de-force rendition during his tenure in Cream, this is a must hear for all Schon and Johnston fans. Rolie's piano work is equally impressive, as is the rhythm section of Valory and Smith, whose momentum propels the action. However, it is the fiery guitar work of Schon and Johnston that is most inspired here. Following this, the horns join back in and Rolie assumes lead vocals duties as these musicians tackle Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign."
The covers conclude with the one song from these sessions that made it out to the public, "Let the Good Times Roll," featuring Perry on lead vocals with Annie Sampson providing harmony. Considering the quick, fun loving nature of these sessions, this is a remarkably tight and polished arrangement.
The sessions conclude much like they began, with two Journey ballads that took the Infinity album sailing up the charts. The first of these, the melodic "Lights," epitomizes the successful formula that began when Perry came on board. While not quite as majestic as the Infinity recording, it is immediately obvious why this became a hit and a permanent staple of classic rock radio. The same can be said for the final track, the much harder rocking "Wheels In The Sky," which builds to anthemic proportions and remains one of Journey's career defining songs.