The unexpected Journey of Jeff Scott Soto
Soto had served as the lead vocalist for Yngwie Malmsteen's first two albums before taking over lead vocals for Journey in January 2007. Six months later, the band announced Soto was out.
Oddly enough, it's not an entirely unfamiliar story for Soto. The Los Angeles-based rocker (who has band members living in Tampa Bay) was hired to handle the singing duties for the fictional "Bobby Beers" of "Steel Dragon" in the 2001 movie Rock Star, the story of how a tribute-band singer (Mark Wahlberg) took over the lead vocals job from a legendary but aging rocker.
Six years after the movie, Soto firsthand felt the incredible rush (and later the disappointment) when he took over the singing duties for a band once fronted by the legendary Steve Perry.
Still, Soto doesn't seem to hold any lingering resentments about his unexpected dismissal from the band.
These days, Arnel Pineda does the fronting for Journey, and Soto has returned to a solo career, complete with a new album. He recently chatted via e-mail with Stuck in the '80s about the ups and downs of life with Journey.
How did you land the gig fronting Journey?
"It's pretty widely known by now, the predecessor to Steve Perry, Steve Augeri, had some throat problems right as they were beginning a huge tour with Def Leppard in the U.S. I had already worked with Neal Schon in a band called Soul SirkUS and he knew not only was I heavily influenced and weaned on Journey's legacy but that he could count on me in a huff."
How much time did you get to prepare?
"I got a day's notice. I met them in D.C. on a day off, met them at the lobby to say hello. We got on the bus with a setlist to discuss how some songs go into others or are extended from the studio versions. We basically got a 10-minute sound check and an hour later, I was onstage in front of 20,000 people!"
How did the crowd react to you?
"It was a dream mixed with a nightmare actually. Some people didn't even pay attention, know or realize Steve Perry wasn't in the band anymore -- this after 10 years since his departure, 20 years since his last show with them!''
"So out comes this tall Puerto Rican dude belting out the hits! The pressure of knowing you are being judged, compared or rated against one of the greatest singers of all time while doing HIS songs, is not an easy thing. I am pretty bulletproof to criticism or people just not getting it, but it can be hurtful to not be accepted by die-hards who simply don't want to know about it."
Did Steve Perry influence you as a singer when you were getting started?
"It was more than words can describe to do all these songs I had done in previous high school bands or simply singing in the car for so many years. Perry helped shape much of my early years as a singer mainly because we were both influenced by so many of the same singers: Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the whole Motown thing."
Did you get to witness any crazy rock star moments?
"There really aren't any crazy stories to tell. These guys are up there in their years so they play it safe when it comes to activity off the stage. They're all pretty mellow and family oriented so it was a chill environment, almost too chill for me."
So what's your side of the breakup story?
"It's difficult to truly tell my side as we do have confidentiality agreements with each other, so I don't know just how much of my departure/side sounds negative or explanatory.''
"All I can say is I put my whole life and dedication to continuing with them after I was officially deemed a permanent member of the band. I had no idea there were any issues, concerns, discussions or plans otherwise nor was there any given to me prior to my dismissal. I wish I could say it was amicable but I can't."
Have you heard Arnel Pineda's vocal work with the band yet?
"Of course I paid attention to their next move, how could I not? It's like looking to see who your ex is dating next after she dumps you. I love his voice -- it's organic, natural and sounds like he does it with ease most of the time.''
"My opinion about him being a Perry clone is a bit different than others'. He emulates the songs very well, but there's a sense of the 'feeling' that is missing for me, which is a good thing because it helps him retain his own identity. Perry had this very soulful swagger to his singing that is something more felt than emulated."
"Perry is a master, often imitated, never duplicated. I don't want this to sound negative in ANY way, Arnel is an AMAZING singer and I give him much respect for his position now!"
So what's next for you? I hear there's a new album in the works.
"My new album, Beautiful Mess, was just released on iTunes and many other digital outlets two weeks ago and the video for the first single, 21st Century (shot entirely in Tampa!), launches (Sept. 15) on, well you guessed it, YouTube! (Click here to see it.) I'm also touring with the world-renowned Trans-Siberian Orchestra this winter as well so between album releases and touring on my own, I keep quite busy."