If Cleveland or Memphis in the late 1950s was ground zero in the birth of rock ’n’ roll, San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s was the Fertile Crescent of its evolution, said classic rock guitarist/singer Steve Miller.
“San Francisco was the most vibrant music scene of the 20th century, so, let’s start right there,” Miller said in a teleconference. “It was really magic compared to the rest of the musical world that I was involved in.
“The rest of it was a bunch of gangsters running nightclubs and stealing stuff from musicians, and you worked in bars or you worked for Dick Clark. It was very goofy. San Francisco was extremely real. It was much, much more than just bands and music. It was a true social phenomenon.”
The San Francisco scene spawned the Steve Miller Band and the rock band Journey, who from 1976-82 each sold more than 20 million albums and together had nearly 20 Top 10 hits, many of which still are popular nearly 40 years later.
The two groups – along with fellow San Francisco group Tower of Power – have taken to the road this summer for a tour that will stop at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
The Steve Miller Band and Journey have never before shared the stage – surprising since Journey bassist Ross Valory came from the Steve Miller Band and Journey guitarist Neal Schon once backed singer Paul Rodgers (of Bad Company) when he opened for the Steve Miller Band.
Schon, in the teleconference, said that in that fertile San Francisco music scene, he was busy first as a member of Santana, “and I’d never really seen Steve Miller until later.”
The Steve Miller Band took off with the No. 1 hit “The Joker” in 1973, but had its commercial peak starting in 1976 with the hits “Take the Money and Run,” “Rock’n Me,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Jet Airliner” and “Jungle Love.” Its last hit was the No. 1 “Abracadabra” in 1982.
Its 1978 “Greatest Hits” album sold more than 13 million, making it among the top 30 best-selling albums ever in the United States.
Journey, meanwhile, hit the top 20 in 1979 with “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” then had a run of hits through 1983 with “Who’s Crying Now,” “Open Arms,” and its only No. 1 hit, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” Its 1988 “Greatest Hits” album sold 15 million copies, making it the No. 15 best-selling U.S. album.
Journey’s career was revived in 2007 when its hit “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” was used in the final scene of the series finale of the HBO hit “The Sopranos,” then in the 2009 pilot episode of the smash Fox-TV show “Glee.”
The popularity of the former prompted Journey, which had been on hiatus, to reform with Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, whom the band discovered on YouTube, replacing vocalist Steve Perry. Journey released “Revelation,” just its second album in nine years, and saw it hit the top five and go platinum.
Journey released another album, “Eclipse,” in 2011. And Schon said that as soon as the tour with Steve Miller Band is finished, the band intends to record music it’s working on now and a 2015 release is likely.
“I just finished mixing,” he said. “It’s ‘The Joker’s’ 40th anniversary. So we went back to ’73 and we took all the songs from ‘The Joker’ and reworked them.” But Miller said he’s so disillusioned with the recording industry that he intends to self-release the disc to sell at his shows.
Both Schon and Miller said the special music from the 1970s is what fans want to hear at concerts anyway.
“Our audiences are so conservative now and so strangely addicted to … the greatest hits,” Miller said. “We’ll go out and we’ll be playing in front of 15,000 people and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do three new songs from something we just recorded’ and 5,000 people get up and go get a hot dog and a beer and they don’t come back until they hear the opening strings of ‘The Joker’ or ‘Fly Like an Eagle.’
“This is unprecedented. I’ve played myself into a box. … It’s a very strange kind of world that I occupy. I love performing, and connecting with an audience never gets old for me, but it does get old for me when my audience is just only interested in something they’ve already heard.”
Schon said Journey will do material from the two albums it’s recorded with Pineda, but also will be playing largely a greatest hits collection - and play the songs as close to the original arrangements as possible.
“We went back to a lot of the original arrangements because they’ve sort of drifted through the years, you know, and got back to record versions so we could play more songs between the sets,” he said. “I think basically we’re going to play more songs in the set and keep the jamming down a little bit more.”