Exclusive Telephone Interview
with Robert Fleischman
January 8, 2003
When I was first approached by Robert Fleischman’s brother Michael, I jumped at the chance to be the webmaster who finally let Robert Fleischman’s Journey story be heard. In the wake of Castles Burning, the Herbie Herbert interview with Matt Carty of August, 2001, it appeared that so much of the Journey story had yet to be told. Herbert had blown the lid off of many long-accepted aspects of the “official” history of Journey, and in so doing had not only shed light on a number of subjects, but raised others we had barely conceived of, and posed even more questions.
Of the seven former members of Journey who were not interviewed for VH1’s Behind the Music: Journey of February, 2001, Robert Fleischman was perhaps the one who had made the greatest impact on the musical development of the band. When we spoke, the time was certainly ripe to hear his story.
Dave Golland: This is Dave Golland of Jrnydv.Com. We’re speaking with Robert Fleischman, former lead vocalist for Journey, founder of Channel, and lead vocalist for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Robert’s latest solo release, World in Your Eyes, has been doing well in Europe and is due for release in the United States shortly. Is all that correct, sir?
Robert Fleischman: Correct! But you don’t have to call me "sir," alright? (laughs.)
DG: OK, great (laughs). You'd prefer Robert, then?
DG: OK. Let me first tell you that I actually did get a recorder, so this is being recorded.
RF: Oh yeah? So this is going to the FBI? (Both laugh.)
DG: Let me thank you for agreeing to speak with us today. Yours is an important story that I’m sure all Journey fans will be interested in hearing. Let’s start at the beginning. You were born and raised in Los Angeles.
DG: And you were born on March 11. Can you give me the year?
DG: OK! (Both laugh). The order in which I’d like to discuss things is roughly chronological. We’ll begin with your earliest musical influences and experiences, and then move on to the events which led to your joining Journey. Then we’ll talk about your time in Journey, and we’ll talk about how you left Journey. And we’ll cover the way that has been handled by official Journey publications and recent interviews, and then we’ll get your side of the story.
DG: And after that we’ll talk about what you’ve done subsequently, and we’ll rap up with some retrospective questions on how you view your experience with Journey today.
DG: And we’ll give you a chance to talk about World in Your Eyes, and anything else we haven’t covered.
DG: OK, I must also tell you that we’re probably not going to—well, we’re going to start advertising and I’m going to start making people aware of it immediately, but I won’t put it up for a couple of weeks I think, because Friday [January 10] is actually [former Journey drummer] Aynsley [Dunbar]’s birthday—
RF: Yeah! He lives in Santa Barbara. A friend of mine, John Taylor, actually, is a real estate broker in Santa Barbara, and he sails with him quite a few times a week.
DG: No kidding.
RF: Yeah! He’s doing pretty well, from what I understand.
DG: Yeah, he’s been through a rough time the past couple of years.
RF: Yeah, I don’t know, if he’s been in—if he’s been in rough times or—he says that he’s doing okay there, I guess he likes different—
DG: I mean, I meant that he lost a—he lost a son.
RF: He did?
DG: Yeah, oh, you didn’t—you didn’t know that?
DG: Dash. I think it was—
RF: When did this happen? How old was Dash?
DG: Dash was, I’m not sure exactly but he was certainly under five, I believe.
DG: And it’s—it was I think 1999 or 2000 when it happened, and I’m not sure of the circumstances.
RF: God…how did—how did he pass away?
DG: That I don’t remember. I mean, I could look it up for you, but—
RF: Oh, no, I—I just—god, I didn’t know that. I just can’t believe—
DG: I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news.
It was surprising that Robert hadn’t heard of the death of Dash Dunbar prior to this conversation, and for a moment I thought that he would need some time to recover before we moved on. I was concerned that the rest of the conversation might be awkward, with the thought of Aynsley’s grief on Robert’s mind. But he bravely plunged ahead, and so we continued.
|Part One: Before Journey
I wanted to hear about something that Journey fans had never heard before—what had prepared Robert to be the man selected to lead what was even then one of the best bands in the business. To do so we would have to go all the way back to the beginning, to his earliest musical experiences.
DG: What were your first musical influences, and what first made you want to be a rock’n’roll vocalist?
RF: Well, I had a cousin who was eight years older than I, and he was really into the whole British invasion. So he was really on top of the Beatles and the Stones, and he used to buy all of these English magazines, and he’d have them around, and I’d look at the magazines, and I saw these bands, and stuff like that, and then when the Beatles came, you know, we saw the Beatles—he actually took me to see the Beatles play at the Hollywood Bowl. And I was really young, so he stood in line all night, got a bunch of tickets and he brought me along with him. So that was kinda’ cool. So, it was sort of an eight-year-old with a sixteen–year old--rock’n’rolling through him.
DG: Did you get any sort of formal vocal training at that point in your life?
RF: No. I never did. One Christmas I got a little tape recorder—a little reel-to-reel tape recorder about the size of a shoebox and I used to record stuff with it. And then when I could get records—back then you had only records and big, giant stereos—you couldn’t bring the stereo into your bedroom, so I used to go in my parents’ living room and plunk a record down and record it on the little tape recorder, and then take it to my room and then listen to all kinds of stuff. And then I started singing along with records, and then I would trim it, and then accidentally I sort of turned on the tape recorder and I would sing along with records and see if I could like blend in with them. And so at the age of like 11 or 12 years old I heard myself on tape and well it was “Wow, is that my voice? Is that what I sound like?” You know? And I sort of developed my character and I was accustomed to hearing myself on tape, and I sort of developed my tone and everything so I could blend in with all these different bands I used to sing with—along with the Hollys, and the Yardbirds, and the Stones, and the Beatles, I used to sing all those songs. And I just would turn on the tape recorder and see if I could blend right along in with it. And so that’s how I sorta’ got my ear. So it wasn’t that you go into the recording studio first time when you’re 18 years old or something, or 20 years old, you get the opportunity to go in and cut your first demo and you listen to yourself and go “God, that’s my voice?” You know, it’s completely foreign, but it was never really foreign to me, ‘cause I’d heard myself on tape for so many years. And then I went really crazy and just went wild with tape recorders and doing my own kinda’ laboratory—audio laboratory—with two tape recorders so that I could do harmonies and things like that. I’d experiment with the tape recorders and I was sort of really creative that way.
DG: Tell us about your first band.
RF: It was--we had Marshall stacks and Sun bass cabinets, and a drummer who’s name was Art Wood, who later on played with a lot of people, like Gary Wright and Peter Frampton. And I had my friend Martin Lombardi, the guitar player, and he lived in a beautiful home up in Palos Verdes—it was a Lloyd Wright home. So my first band house was spoiled—we had this double-garage and we used to rehearse in this great house looking over the Palos Verdes peninsula.
DG: Some people had garage bands and you had a Lloyd Wright double-garage band.
RF: (Laughs.) Yeah, it was really wild. So we would open up the garage, you know, and there was nobody around us except for all this property and so we would just play as loud as we wanted to. So that was a really great experience, because it wasn’t like a situation where you had to be quiet and all that; it was just like, anything goes, you know? And it was great. So we had great times there and I really loved that. I think I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for Martin and his great house up in Palos Verdes.
DG: I’m sure it certainly distinguished your experience from that of the typical L.A. garage band.
DG: What other bands were you in before you moved to Chicago?
RF: Well, my first opportunity was when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, I was actually courted by them, from England a la Los Angeles, and they would call me, and they had it all set up where I was gonna’ go to England and do Trick of the Tale, and that’s when Peter Gabriel left, and then they were recording that album and they were looking for somebody to replace Peter, and they called me up, and I talked to them for quite a few times, and then I was supposed to go to England and I had my flight and everything all arranged, and then I got a phone call saying that Phil Collins decided to go in and take a crack at the vocals. And so he did, and that was it.
DG: The rest is history.
RF: The rest is history. But I just love the idea that I got, at such an early age—I mean I was so young--to go and play with Genesis, and even at that time, I thought, I’ll go. But I doubted if I could even--Peter Gabriel’s such large shoes to fill, and I don’t know that I had much depth in my soul and was smart enough, and as great a lyricist as he, at that time. So I don’t know. It would’ve been odd.
DG. Well OK, so you went to Chicago in 1976—
RF: That’s actually a funny story. I was just breaking up with this girlfriend, and we were living down in Redondo Beach, and we were arguing about the apartment bills, and I was just leaving, walking down the stairs to give the key to the landlady, and all of a sudden the phone rang, and I ran upstairs and it was this guy named Frank Rand, who I think was the Vice President, or very big, the head of A&R for Epic records at one time. I think now he works for Doc McGee. But anyway, he called me up from Chicago, and he asked me if I’d be interested in playing with some bands that he booked in Chicago. He said “I’ve got three bands, I want you to come out here and check out these three bands and then you pick which band you want to be in.” So I went out with him and checked out these bands and I picked which band I wanted to be with. And I played with them in Chicago for—I guess about almost a year, I think, and we traveled up through Chicago and down to Florida and back, playing larger places, and we started getting a stir. And then I get this phone call from Barry Fey, who happened to be friends of a manager that I used to know in Los Angeles—who had played him some demos that I used to do. And so Barry Fey liked what he heard, and he hunted and tracked me down, and said “Are you interested in—” you know, it was sort of like “Are you ready for the big time, boy?” Sort of like that kind of conversation. So I gave the band two week’s notice and I went to Denver and I didn’t have any songs. He put me in the Hyatt Hotel there in Denver and I started writing. And then about three weeks later, I had put together a band and wrote a bunch of songs and I was doing a show for CBS records.
DG: And that’s when someone from CBS discovered you and sent you out to San Francisco?
RF: Yeah, it was completely snowing and we didn’t know if people were gonna’ make it, and then all the people from the west coast and the east coast made it.
Robert’s stories were certainly wild, but they left no doubt in my mind that by 1977 he was the right man for the job he was about to undertake. In retrospect, even if he was not ultimately to be the one to lead Journey to greatness, he was certainly the right choice for the transition period.
|Part Two: With Journey
Robert’s only appearance on VH1’s Behind the Music: Journey was a single scene in which the singer was shown onstage with the band during the 1977 tour with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, screaming out a line or two, and holding a tambourine. The crowd didn’t really seem into it, and Neal rolled his eyes in front of the camera. But was that the whole story about Robert’s experience with Journey, or, for that matter, Journey’s experience with Robert? And was Neal expressing disgust at Robert, or at something else? The scene seemed chosen to portray the Fleischman period of Journey’s history as little more than a waste of time, something to get through before moving on to the “real” story, that of the advent of Steve Perry. As a historian, I questioned the teleological viewpoint that the validity of the period was determined by subsequent events. As a viewer, I questioned the set-up of the scene, the director having obviously gone out of his way to portray Fleischman in as poor a light as possible. And as a journalist, I certainly wanted to hear Robert’s side of the story.
DG: So what happened after the Denver showcase?
RF: Well, okay, about two weeks later I was sitting in Los Angeles at the CBS offices with Bruce Lunville who was the president, I believe, at the time of CBS records. So I sat with them, and they said that they have this band Journey, and that they were looking to have a lead singer for the band because they wanted to change its demographics, and they were just selling so many records, and at that time I think Foreigner and Boston were coming out and they wanted to get on that whole bandwagon.
DG: Had you heard of the band before that time?
RF: No, not really. I mean, my brother used to go see them, but I wasn’t into it because they were a jazz-rock fusion band. But I knew they were really good players. And that’s about all I knew about them because they were not something that I would probably listen to too much, because I was really into—I was just really into songs. Just a pop songwriter.
DG: So you went up to San Francisco to meet the band. What was going through your head at that point?
RF: I was just trying to keep as positive and up as possible and I was scared—and I didn’t want to appear scared—and so I just was very confident that everything was gonna’ work out. And they were talking, and I said “Oh, don’t worry,” and I think that kinda’ shook them up a little. Because here’s this kid and we just picked him up and he’s telling us not to worry.
DG: So tell me about that first day in San Francisco. You got off the plane, and [Journey Manager] Herbie [Herbert] took you directly to the rehearsal studio?
RF: Yeah, he did.
DG: S.I.R., right? Studio Instrument Rentals?
RF: Yeah. So, then I got there and met everyone and then we started jamming.
DG: And they were like rockets in your back pockets, you said.
RF: Yeah, and it was like them having rockets on the back of your pockets. And they’d been together so long and they were so tight that it was great to play with people that way. You know, it’s like if you play tennis with somebody. You don’t wanna’ play tennis with somebody who’s worse than you, you want to play tennis with somebody who’s better than you, because that’s when you learn.
DG: Right. So you’d say you learned something?
RF: Well I learned that it was great to play with a great band and be able to rally, you know? I’d been longing to rally with a lot of people, and these were people I could rally with. And that’s what made it so good. And that’s where the chemistry came from.
DG: And then you recorded some demos, including “For You,” which appears on the Time (Cubed) Box Set and which you later re-recorded with Neal and Gregg for your Perfect Stranger solo album.
RF: Yeah. After we rehearsed at S.I.R. for a couple of weeks, we went across the street to the Automat and we went in there and we started recording. And I’m quite sure they had plenty of time being in the studio, and I had my time in the studio, so I knew what I wanted to hear, and I had a good idea of how things wanted to be balanced and all that, and I pretty much sort of guided the sessions. I was sort of semi-producer for all those demos.
DG: And “Producer” is a hat that you’ve worn quite a few times in your career.
RF: Yeah, I mean it’s just, sort of--I don’t know, it just falls that way. I mean I have an idea for my puzzle, and I put my little pieces in there, and they’re just signatures, you know? And eventually it just comes out the way it comes out.
DG: Is it true that you actually laid down enough demos at CBS to put together an entire album? I mean how much of that material was later re-recorded for Infinity?
RF: I think the only things that were recorded, I mean, the songs that I wrote with them we split up. And they said, “Well, we really want this one,” and “We’d like to have this one,” and “We’d like to have that one,” and so I said “Here, you take these and I’ll take these and we’ll split.” You know, “You go your way and we’ll go our way.”
DG: You mean at the end.
DG: Okay, let’s talk about what happened next. What was life like on the road with Journey? What were the dynamics of your relationships with your bandmates? With the fans? And how were the reviews?
RF: From what I understand the reviews were pretty good. Everybody was surprised. And we—the band, I mean—we got along famously, and we had great times, and had lots of laughs. We traveled in jets, and we traveled in buses, and we traveled in station wagons, and we had a great time. But I was always reminded that I had the easy life. Constantly. Because by then they were in better hotels and stuff like that, so, they’d go “You’re lucky—you get to go—you don’t have to go to the ratty hotels like we had to go to with all the stuff”--typical stuff like that.
DG: How about the fans. They were flipping you off every night from the front row?
RF: Well the fans were—you know, well, Journey was a cult—they had the cult thing going. They had a really strong fan base. So all their fans would get front row seats and start flipping me off every night, but they’d usually come around by the end of the show.
DG: Did it seem that it started to get easier, even at the beginning of the shows, towards the end of the tour?
RF: Yeah, it seemed like it. But again, we had started playing larger and larger places so the crowd wasn’t as concentrated.
DG: Okay. Let’s talk about some of the allegations made against you regarding your time with the band. An official Journey publication (footnote 1) states that you were fired by Herbie because you were overly demanding and arrogant. Another (footnote 2) states that Herbie fired you when you complained that you didn’t have enough of the limelight. And in his 2001 interview with my colleague Matt Carty, Herbie stated that you were a “pompous little poodle, and really tough to deal with.” How do you respond to that? What’s your side of the story?
RF: I—it doesn’t really matter what Herbie said about me. But I felt it wasn’t the thing to say. I thought he’d have been a little bit more understanding, have more of a heart. But he did [say it]. Hey, Herbie can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, and I really admire him for that. He had this band, and he had the vision. The only way I was hard to get along with was that we were playing this huge gig, and Herbie didn’t want me to sing. Why should I, I thought--I told him, “I thought you guys wanted me here, and then all of a sudden, you don’t want me singing tonight, so why should I even go up on the stage? It’s not like I’m playing drums, so you just want me up there to clap, and—”
DG: To shake the tambourine?
RF: Yeah! And because we were playing in Fresno, and he was afraid of what was gonna’ happen. He was desperate for it all to go well in Fresno.
DG: What was that about?
RF: Well, I mean, he felt that Fresno was the biggest Journey—you know, it was crazy there, and it was just the way he did it, pressuring me. And then they probably thought I was really pompous and everything because they would come to me with these songs and—I couldn’t write anything to that song, or I couldn’t come up with a really great idea with that song, I would just kinda’--I’d drop it. So then they’d come to me and say “Oh, have you finished that song yet?” I’d go, “No I haven’t, I’m still kinda’ working on it,” and everything, and they felt that I was controlling—because of that they felt that I was controlling. You know? But yet it just was that I couldn’t come up with an idea for it. They thought I was trying to ignore it, or I was filtering what they were doing, their music, but it was just—it didn’t inspire me to go from A to Z, you know? Finish it off. I’d get rough ideas, but that was about it. I guess I just procrastinated and I felt like this wasn’t necessary. But the ones that I did finish and everything like that, and that I had feeling for, they came out, and they did well.
DG: “Wheel in the Sky” being the most notable example.
RF: Yeah, I guess so.
DG: Let’s talk about your replacement by Steve Perry, The official story is that Herbie was floored by Steve’s demo tape, and he knew then and there that he wanted to get him in and you out.
RF: It just came down to—Herbie had connections with a guy named Michael Dilbeck who had put a lot of money into Steve Perry’s demos, and so Dilbeck was part of CBS records—he was a big honcho in the A&R department. So he kept bringing up Steve to Herbie and I guess they worked out some deal where, well, “If you get Steve in the deal then I’ll help you out more here with CBS and you’ll have a better connection with us”—it was one of those political moves. And they brought Steve in, and Steve’s a great guy—I mean, I see Steve occasionally and we talk together, and we’re friends.
DG: Oh, that’s good. But one thing the official band publications readily admit is that a level of deception was employed not only by Herbie but by [Journey guitarist] Neal [Schon], [former Journey keyboardist] Gregg [Rolie], [Journey bassist] Ross [Valory], and [former Journey drummer] Aynsley [Dunbar], when it came to the way Perry was brought into the band. Apparently Perry was actually pretending to be John Villanueva’s Portuguese cousin.
RF: Exactly! I was introduced to him that way! I mean that’s how he was introduced to me, that way. We had had a show at Soldiers Field in front of probably 120,000 people, and we were in Chicago, and Steve Perry was there in Chicago too, watching me on the sides of the stage.
DG: The Time (Cubed) booklet states that “at a sound check before a concert in Long Beach, Herbert arranged for [you] to be otherwise occupied while Perry joined the band to sing one of [your] songs.”
DG: And how did it make you feel when you subsequently discovered what had been going on behind your back?
RF: (Pause.) Hey—that’s why I never really liked rock’n’roll too much. That’s why I never really went out and all. I like being a solo artist because I don’t have to deal with Peyton Place. You know what I mean? I don’t have to deal with the soap opera. I just think when it gets—everything gets lost. You know, your whole focus, what you’re doing—it’s gone once that element comes in.
DG: It stops being about music.
RF: Yeah. It becomes this—it’s ego. But from what I understand, Neal was very upset that I left, and he was mad at Herbie for a while, I think—that’s what I heard.
DG: Tell us about the relationship between you and Herbie. Barry Fey was your manager at the time, and you were paying him 25%, and Herbie wanted you to drop Barry for him. When you refused, he suggested that you pay him 25% anyway. What was that about?
RF: Well, that’s pretty much it.
DG: So I gave the answer with the question! (Both laugh).
RF: Yeah! I feel it was probably very much political and the fact that Barry Fey was my manager, who was at that time the biggest promoter in the Midwest—it was just pretty much him and Bill Graham who had the United States, and sliced it up for all of rock’n’roll. They came into every town, every venue. And so there was a lot of that.
It would be easy to dismiss Robert’s feeling that Herbie had replaced him for a better deal with the record company as the defensive arguments of a man who was fired for “acting up.” But Fleischman was a great singer—-indeed just as good a singer as Neal was a guitar player, or as Gregg was a keyboardist. And Neal and Gregg could hardly have been perfect angels either—-they were rock stars. The fact that Robert is so forthcoming about his own faults at that time lends credence to his story. But his story even has some basis in Herbie’s own words. While Herbie had initially leaked the story to Robyn Flans that he had made the decision to hire Steve Perry after once hearing the “If You Need Me, Call Me” demo, and this story was repeated in the Time (Cubed) booklet, in Herbie’s VH1 Behind the Music: Journey interview he admitted to having been aware of Steve’s voice “since the beginning of time;” and in his subsequent interview with Matt Carty, he stated that “Perry had been hovering around in my life for years.” He had been warned by Jack Villanueva, who had withheld Perry’s demo countless times, that Perry would bring nothing but trouble to the band. “Even that good, even if you were talking about Elvis Presley right there, he's just a jive mother-fucker.” So why would Herbie want to replace Robert Fleischman with Steve Perry? Perhaps Perry was simply so much better a singer than Fleischman that it was a no-brainer. But if that was the case, why all the intrigue? Why the differing stories? Another possibility is that Herbie is telling the truth—that Robert was impossible to work with. But the members of the band apparently didn’t think so, or Gregg and Neal wouldn’t have continued working with Robert, and Aynsley and Ross wouldn’t have remained friends with him either. Frankly, I think there is a kernel of truth to Robert’s story. The music business is a tough field.
|Part Three: a Perfect Stranger in New York
In preparation for the interview, when Robert asked me where I live and I told him that I live in New York, he mentioned that he had lived in New York for a while as well. Having read his bio, I knew that he had worked for HBO following his time in Journey, and HBO is based here in new York. But when I asked him about it, he explained that it was actually in 1979, when he was working on his Perfect Stranger solo album. Let me tell you, that was a great time to be a rock star in New York. He got to go to Studio 54 and meet Andy Warhol, and he recorded at John Lennon’s studio while that rock legend was still living.
DG: Now, you mentioned that you used to live in New York. Tell me about that.
RF: I lived in New York when I was doing the Perfect Stranger album. I recorded the whole album in New York, at the Record Plant. So I lived there, and Jimmy Iovine lived there, so it was a really great experience, because I went there, and I was under the wing of Arista, and Clive Davis, and you know I could—anywhere I wanted to go, or any show I wanted to see, or anything—everything was very well taken care of for me. I got to meet Lou Reed, and The Clash, and Jack Douglas, and Peter Wolf from The J. Geils Band—and Ellie Grenrich who wrote all these great songs during the fifties, and Patty—uh, what’s her name, uh—
RF: No, no, no—she wrote that Bruce Springsteen song. “Here comes the Night?”
DG: Smyth? Patty Smyth?
RF: No, no she’s a famous poet. I can’t remember—she’s a whacky girl. Ah—fuck! She wrote that song “Here comes the night/belongs to lovers…” She’s a poet! She had that urban female voice. Ratty clothes. (footnote 3) And Jimmy Iovine was the producer. It was John Lennon’s studio. But the great thing was the basement. In the basement of the Record Plant, John Lennon has all his equipment—a lot of his musical equipment down there—stored. So he has a melatron—you know what a melatron is? It’s basically a keyboard which stores a few bars of music. And the intro to “Bungalo Bill” was on this melatron.
DG: So this was an original recording of John Lennon working in the studio, a piece of music that he had tried to work out at the—
RF: Well that was the real one that’s on the album—The White Album. You’d just hit this one key and you’d hear this (mimick’s the intro in “Bungalo Bill”) you know, that thing, in the beginning of “Bungalo Bill?” (Sings: “Hey, Bungalo Bill”) You know, that part?
DG: And that was—that was the studio where he was on his way back from when he was—the night that he was—
RF: Yeah, shot. Yeah, and then it had the sounds of “Strawberry Fields”—you know those flutes? It had those on there. It had all kinds of samples on there that you’ve heard on all the Beatle records, which was amazing. It was really magical being down there.
DG: Yeah, I can imagine.
RF: He had this huge gigantic guitar that Gibson had made for him—I mean it was like you could sleep in it.
DG: Did you get to meet John Lennon while you were working there?
RF: No, I never did actually meet John Lennon, which is one of my biggest regrets.
What struck me about this part of the conversation was the way in which he quickly glossed over the unpleasant memory of John Lennon’s fate—a crime which had occurred over a year after Robert had completed the album and left New York. Robert had grown up listening—and singing along to—the music of the Beatles, and as he himself said, attending their concert in L.A. was his very first rock’n’roll experience. No doubt in subsequent visits to New York he has been to the Dakota Building, the site of Lennon’s murder, and maybe he’s even meandered the adjacent section of Central Park now known as Strawberry Fields. But what is remarkable about Robert is his resilience. He prefers to talk about the positive, and would rather not dwell on memories which make him sad. That’s probably the same remarkable ability which helped him get over the split with Journey, and even helped him move past the news of the death of Aynsley’s son to continue the interview in good cheer.
|Part Four: England, where Pink Floyd built him a Wall
Robert followed up on the release of Perfect Stranger by forming a new band, a band of his own—Channel. This is a band that few Journey fans have heard, and it seemed like an appropriate place to take the conversation.
DG: Tell us about your time with Channel.
RF: The time with Channel was after my Perfect Stranger album. I’d just got through touring with Van Halen. And Tony Berg, who was at Virgin records, and later on was at Geffen records—he had a lot to do with Beck—he signed Beck. Anyway, he later on became an A&R guy, and in the band he was the guitar player. And we got along really well, I mean he was into art, and I’m really into art, so we used to go to art galleries together, and we had a lot in common, and the music for Channel was very, you know, poppy, and sort of, I don’t know—very European-sounding, in a sense. And we had this—we wanted to do a record, and we went to England to record this album, and we ended up at Pink Floyd’s studios, called Brittania Row. And we recorded there, and then one day the bobbies came knocking on the door and told us that we had to turn it down because there were complaints from people and we couldn’t understand—I mean, Pink Floyd records here, and we were getting complaints from the neighbors. You know, bizarre! And so what happened was that they had this huge room where they had a snooker table—do you know what a snooker table is?
DG: Like giant billiards.
RF: Yeah, it’s like giant billiards. And so it was this huge room. And I go “Has anybody ever recorded drums in here?” And they went “No, we never record drums in here,” and I go “Well I’d like to record drums in here,” and they go “We’ll see,” and so we got the drums all set up there, and we had ‘em all miked and we were tracking, and that’s when the bobbies came. And so what was happening was the drums were leaking out of that room, out into the streets. So we’d traveled all over the world, and now it’s London. So the studio decided to build an extra wall on the backside of the building. So I thought that was a pretty funny story—we go there, and Pink Floyd built us a wall!
DG: Did you actually interact with the members of Floyd at that time?
RF: No they weren’t around, we just used some of their recording engineers there. And upstairs was a great art studio—was it Hypnosis? What was the name of that great company that made all the album covers? They did all the Pink Floyd album covers? Anyway their graphic place was upstairs and we could just go upstairs. And they had Handmade Films there, which was George Harrison’s production company. So I used to just go upstairs and check out all the stuff, all the album covers and all The Wall props there, all the dummies, and they were all laying around up there, and walking around—it was really cool.
DG: And after Channel you did Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion, and—
RF: And then I went back to England again and played with Asia. I went there and played with them, and that was really great, and it was good because I knew Carl Palmer because we were on the road with him, so I went there and I played with Carl Palmer, and got to play with Steve Howe, and Jeffrey Dunnes and John Whetton, and being in the same room with those guys was just “Wow.”
DG: They’ve written some incredible stuff over the years.
RF: Oh they’ve just—all of them just by themselves, I mean just to sit there and work with Steve Howe on fuckin’ guitar. And I’d gone to concerts and seen Yes and everything, and here I am in the same room with him. I loved it. It was great.
|Part Five: Painting and Sculpture
DG: Let me take this time to ask you about your own painting and sculpture.
RF: Well I’ve been painting all my life, mainly murals, and I do six-foot by six-foot paintings and some of ‘em are figurative, and some of ‘em are very abstract, and a lot of ‘em are very, kind of, non-suicidal-looking Rothcos. I don’t know if you know who Rothco is. Mark Rothco. I’m into Mark Rothco and I’m into all the ashcan old-New York fifties painters—abstract painters like Franz Klein and De Kooning, and people like that. I’m into that whole era. I love that whole era of painting.
DG: Do you actually at times ever put a canvas on the floor and just drip stuff on it the way Jackson Pollack did?
RF: I’ve done stuff like that, yeah. I mean, I’ve painted for over twenty years.
DG: Wild. And sculpture too, right?
RF: Yeah, I work in alabaster. About a 350-pound rock and you just get a two-pound hammer and start whacking away with the chisels.
DG: That’s actually the best stone to work with—that’s the only stone I’ve ever worked with personally.
RF: With alabaster?
DG: Yeah, I just did one thing.
RF: Well alabaster is soft marble, and it’s very—you know, it’s very forgiving.
DG: And you can almost sort of see through it—the light can kinda’ come through it a little.
RF: Yeah, it’s very translucent. And I’m really into that, and sculpture-wise I’m into people like Henry Moore, and I’m into Cyclotic art, which is an island in the Aegean Sea, off of Greece. And they had these people—the natives of this island used to make these statues that looked like they were from outer space, and it was before Christ. I mean it’s just amazing. They just looked ultra-modern.
DG: Like around the time when Homer was writing, I guess.
|Part Six: Journey in Retrospective
I wanted to know not only what Robert thought about Journey’s evolution subsequent to his time with them, but also what he thinks about nowadays when he contemplates what happened. Would he have been able to take Journey where it actually went with Steve Perry? Would he have wanted to? And how does he feel about Journey’s current lineup and musical direction?
DG: You’ve stated that you feel that it was your influence that was responsible for the change in the band’s musical direction, rather than Herbie’s or Steve Perry’s. How so?
RF: I mean, Herbie brought me in, he added the ingredient, and it was like “Hey, I’ve got a pot of spaghetti here, and I’m adding some noodles,” you know, so I was like the noodles.
DG: That’s an interesting way to put it.
RF: Well, that’s just what I came up with off the top of my head, but he brought in the ingredient, and I was the ingredient. But he had other individuals, he had people hounding him on the other line while I was trying to take my place. But I’m still friends with everybody! I mean when they did that album, you know, that just came out—
RF: Arrival? They—Neal and Jon—called me up and asked me to come up to Vallejo and write songs with them! So I was up there for a little over a week writing songs with them!
DG: No kidding!
RF: So my relationship with them is still good and intact, and all the fallacies are not true—they’re just false.
DG: Do you feel in retrospect that you would have been a better long-term lead singer for Journey than Steve Perry was?
RF: Huh. (Pause.) Let’s see. I look at this way. I coulda’ done it, no problem. But was it right? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think I would’ve gotten so caught up in it that I wouldn’t have been as adventurous as I am musically now. I think I would kind’ve been stuck in sort of a thing there for a while and then I would’ve probably gotten a little whacko. Unless they wanted to get a lot more adventurous.
DG: The musical direction for Journey, when it changed—I mean obviously when they became really huge was with Steve Perry, and that’s a very distinctive sound with that very high tenor voice going on there. And you have, I guess—would you call yourself a high baritone?
RF: No! I have a four-and-a-half octave range.
DG: Wow. So you could reach—could you actually reach those notes?
RF: Yeah. I could hit a high “B” full-on voice.
DG: That’s pretty high. And I know falsetto, you—
RF: I don’t have falsetto.
DG: In “For You,” I think you sang a little bit of—
RF: Nah, I never sang anything falsetto. Everything’s all full voice.
DG: Oh. That was really all full voice? Amazing.
DG: Those are some really high notes towards the end of that song. But then, since the—your sound though, with Journey, I mean just from having heard “For You,” they constantly are comparing you to Robert Plant, in all the writing I’ve read about that. And given the situation with rock music in ’77, what with, I mean, one of the reasons I think Journey wanted to try to break into something new was because rock—a lot of people thought rock was on the outs what with the popularity of disco happening around that point. And the incredible sound that Journey subsequently came up with can be said to have—to an extent—revitalized that genre of music.
RF: Well, I think what happened was that Journey just got on the—Journey and the record company—CBS—got on the bandwagon. It was “We got this great band, we need a lead singer, we need a personality up front.” And that’s what was going on. There was Foreigner, there was Boston, these bands were coming out and they were making a large impact, and they wanted to get on the bandwagon. And that’s what it was all about. They wanted to get on the bandwagon. They wanted to sell—the record company wanted to sell more records.
DG: Well now, I think about, though, when you were with Journey, and just from listening to that little bit of the sound that I have heard, it could almost be said that it’s kind of “Led Zeppelin with progressive Journey,” as you said, “in the back pockets.”
DG: And when they then transition to Steve Perry, obviously a lot of that comes from your writing. So let’s say then they transition into 1978, to be more fair. It’s very different. I mean it’s not Led Zeppelin, with progressive rock in the back pockets, it’s just a totally new rock’n’roll sound.
DG: And Boston and Foreigner, you know, they just, while they’re very talented and they wrote great music, and I bought all those albums myself, it’s just—I don’t see them as quite as explosive on the scene as when Journey made the full transition.
RF: Yeah, well, I guess it’s because Steve had a great—he had a radio-friendly voice, you know? A pretty voice, and they started off with some good songs.
DG: That you wrote, right?
RF: Yeah, well, you said it, not me (laughs). You know, people say, “You’re the architect of Journey,” and I go well, “Thank you very much.” But people go “Well, they lost Steve Perry, don’t you feel bad that they didn’t call you?” I go, “What for? Why would I wanna’ do that? Why would I wanna’ go out with them and sing?” It would be like a giant karaoke band to me. I don’t wanna’ go sing their past hits or whatever. If I was ever to do anything with them, or whoever—even when they got Steve—the new guy—I really believe that they shoulda’ just said “OK, we’re gonna’ switch our whole sound.” I mean, what’ve they got to lose? And they would’ve had their same fan base, they would’ve probably gotten new people, and then people would’ve probably really respected them much more because—“Here, man, we’re gonna’ go—here’s Infinity, we’re goin’ on to the next stage. Departure—we’re going to, you know, our next musical stance.” So that didn’t happen.
DG: So you would characterize Arrival as something of a step backwards.
RF: Yeah. I mean they—yeah. I feel that they should’ve—that this was their opportunity, carte blanche to do anything they wanted to do. And I think they—they didn’t blow it, but I guess it just didn’t go that way. They invited me—I went to see them play at the Greek Theatre, and I stood on the side of the stage, and watched the whole show and everything. And I think that band right now is the fuckin’ hottest band that they’ve ever been.
DG: Have you heard the new EP, Red 13?
DG: ‘Cause they seem to be doing something of what you’re advocating now.
RF: Great! I just think that’s great.
DG: Did you hear “Livin’ to Do,” when they were working on Arrival—remember that song?
RF: No. I’ll tell you the truth. The only album I’ve ever heard was probably the Infinity album, and I’ve never heard anything—I’ve never listened to them after that. Sounds like a funny thing, but I, you know—
DG: ‘Cause, you said that you were working with Neal and Jon a little bit when they were writing Arrival—
DG: —So I was wondering if they played that song “Livin’ to Do” for you when you were up there. It was reminiscent of some of the stuff they were doing even before you were in the band.
RF: No. I mean, even if they did, I wouldn’t have even have known the—probably wouldn’t’ve remembered the title of the song.
|Part Seven: The World in His Eyes
In 2002, Frontiers Records released Robert’s first solo album since Perfect Stranger, his first in over twenty years, in Europe. After a decade and a half as a staff writer for music companies and holding down other offstage jobs, this man who was once accused of hogging the limelight has finally returned to writing for his own voice.
DG: OK, well, tell me about World in your Eyes. You did Reawaken in 2001—
RF: Well it was going to be Reawaken and then they changed the name of that record because of the song.
DG: Oh, it’s the same—I’m sorry, it’s the same album?
RF: World in Your Eyes? Yeah. World in Your Eyes is Reawaken. The record company changed the name of it.
DG: So this is then your return to singing for yourself.
RF: Yeah, my solo album.
DG: What brought you back in, what prompted you to do another record?
RF: Well, [Journey bassist] Ross Valory had the project, and he sold it to Frontier Records, in Italy. And so I guess the president of the record company had a conversation with Ross, and he asked if he could get hold of me. So we set up a meeting, I spoke to him, and he asked me if I’d be interested in doing a record. And I said OK, because I wasn’t lookin’ to do a record. And that’s the best way to get it, because it’s always when you’re looking for something you’ll never get it, and when you’re not looking for something, it comes.
DG: Were the pipes a little rusty?
RF: No. I mean I sing. I sing practically every day, practically. I write every day, and so I’m always—I have my own recording studio at home, so I’m constantly writing songs, and singing my own songs.
DG: Any chance of taking World in Your Eyes on the road?
RF: It’s a possibility. If I get enough response from the record.
DG: When is it expected out in the United States?
RF: I think it’s supposed to be out January eighth.
DG: That’s today.
RF: Oh wow.
DG: So I guess today is—I’m interviewing Robert Fleischman on World in Your Eyes Day.
RF: I guess so. (Laughs) And I’m not here to poke it, either.
DG: What are your expectations for the new CD?
RF: I just really hope that people here embrace it when it's released and I hope a lot of Journey fans gravitate to it. It would be nice to usher in another era of bands that actually write good songs rather than just looking good and lip syncing most of the time.
DG: How can one hear World in Your Eyes? It’s available on Frontiers Records, right?
RF: Right now, the best way for you to instantly hear it would just be for you to go on the websites—there’s samples of it. You could just type up my name in google, and there’s all kinds of stuff in there, and then also in google, if you look down, there’s a thing called “Gallery,” and there’s pictures of me also. And I like the picture of me with the acoustic guitar. (Laughs)
DG: I think we only have one picture of you at Jrnydv.Com right now, and it’s the Perfect Stranger picture—
RF: Yeah, well—shit. (Laughs). Anyway, go to the gallery part, and you’ll see some new pictures of me.
DG: OK, well, I think at this point I can say Mr. Fleischman—I’m sorry, Robert—thank you once again for agreeing to speak with us.
RF: You’re welcome, Dave.
DG: And it’s been an absolute pleasure. Like I said, it might be a couple of weeks, just because we’re giving Aynsley a birthday tribute on the site, and we don’t want your thing to be—
RF: Yeah! Tell him happy birthday for me. Please.
DG: Will do, will do.
RF: Definitely. Tell him I’ll see him up in Santa Barbara hopefully soon.
DG: In fact, now that I think of it, since your brother told me that your birthday’s March eleventh—
DG: —Maybe we could wait until then and it could kind of be a birthday present for you. Or would you want to do something—are you dead set on doing something sooner?
RF: Whatever you wanna’ do, you know. I’m here for you, if you want.
DG: In the meantime, then, I will type up this transcript, and that will give me more time to do it right, and then I’ll send it to you, and you can look it over.
RF: OK, terrific.
DG: OK. Well thank you once again.
RF: You’re welcome. Thanks for the opportunity to give a little bit more inside of the scary spider box there.
DG: Well, no problem. It was my pleasure. We’ll be in touch.
RF: OK, take care.
Special thanks to Michael Fleischman and Andrea Giovannucci.
1. The insert to the 1992 box set Time (Cubed). “Eventually, Fleischman proved overly demanding and, following a performance in Fresno, Herbert fired the singer.” “But it wasn’t mere arrogance that brought about Fleischman’s departure. It was a tape Herbie had in his hands from another vocalist.” Return.
2. The 1983 book Journey by Robyn Flans. “Herbert fired Fleischman one night when the singer complained that he didn’t have enough of the limelight.” Return.
3. Janice Ian. Return.
This transcript ©2003 Jrnydv.Com. All rights reserved.