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Journey's fresh voice to lead band in beach showby Paul Liberatore / McClatchy Newspapers - HamptonRoads.com
August 12, 2008
The classic-rock band Journey has a history of rags-to-riches lead singers.
Golden-voiced Steve Perry, the operatic tenor who sang the band's anthemic '80s hits, was plucked from a construction job in a Central Valley farm town.
e mid-'90s, was working in a Gap store when he got the call to join the band.
Now, leading the band in a performance today in Virginia Beach, we have the cyberspace Cinderella story of Arnel Pineda, Journey's brand-new frontman.
Even Pineda himself, "the Steve Perry of the Philippines," hasn't wrapped his head completely around what has happened to him.
"Who in their right mind would believe they would call someone like me, in the Philippines?" the boyish 40-year-old said in a phone interview from his Marin County, Calif., hotel room. "This is Journey. They are superstars in the music business."
A new lead singer is especially crucial at this point in the band's 35-year career. No longer just an '80s nostalgia act, the group has gained new currency thanks to some mobsters from New Jersey.
When "The Sopranos'" final episode made pop culture history last June, ending with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," the once-mighty stadium rockers who have sold about 75 million records found themselves back in the national consciousness, positioned for a comeback.
Not a good time to be without a frontman.
Since Perry and Journey parted ways a decade ago, it's been a revolving door for Journey vocalists. The previous lead singer, Jeff Scott Soto, left last summer after a brief stint. He'd taken over from Augeri, who dropped out in 2006 with voice problems after eight years with the band.
Enter Arnel Pineda, the guy from Quezon City, Philippines, whose hiring was announced in early December.
"He's got the legacy sound and then some," said Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. "He's blessed with tons of emotion and soul - stuff you can't teach. He's a find."
Journey guitarist Neal Schon gets credit for finding Pineda in an intense Internet search.
"I was frustrated about not having a singer," Schon said. "So I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I was starting to think I was never going to find anybody."
His tenacity paid off when he stumbled on a video of Pineda singing Journey's hit "Faithfully" with a Filipino cover band called the Zoo.
Schon fired off an e-mail to Pineda, but the singer dismissed it, thinking it was a prank. A friend persuaded him to answer anyway, and 10 minutes later, Schon called.
"I told him, 'I don't think you're Neal,' " Pineda recalled. "He was laughing his (behind) off."
After getting Pineda a work visa, the band flew the singer to California last August for an audition. It didn't take long for him to prove he really is as good as Schon had hoped. "Right off, they told me I had the gig," he said.
Two months later, he returned to record 11 new songs he had never before sung with the band.
"I only learned them when I arrived here," he said. "They didn't give me an advance tape, so it was even harder. There was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I didn't sleep."
Since English is Pineda's second language - his first is Tagalog - he worked on phrasing and diction with an accent reduction coach.
When he was hired over a singer from a Journey cover band, he also had to learn to deal with an undercurrent of racism among some Journey fans.
"When there were rumors about me joining Journey, there was a lot of that," Pineda said. "One of the worst things I read on a fan message board said that Journey is an all-American band and it should stay like that. But I don't care. I just say, 'Hey, grow up.' "
In this era of globalization, having a non-American fronting a classic American band such as Journey is an invigorating development that gives the band a new look and the possibility of expanding its fan base among Filipinos and Asians.
"We've become a world band," Cain said. "We're international now. We're not about one color. I kind of like the whole idea of having a singer like him. It's exotic."
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