For bassist Ross Valory, the Journey never ends. It goes on and on and on and on.
He and guitarist Neal Schon date to Journey’s 1973 inception in San Francisco. Other than a decade-long departure spanning the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s — at one point, future “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson took his place on bass — Valory has remained a steadfast, unflappable presence.
In keeping with that demeanor, he’s staying out of the current kerfuffle involving Schon and Jonathan Cain, Journey’s keyboardist since 1980. Schon recently took to social media to remind Cain who’s in charge. Cain’s sideline as a Christian musician married to televangelist Paula White apparently doesn’t sit well with Schon, who believes overt expressions of religion and politics are bad for the Journey brand.
Intra-band drama aside, Journey will return to the Smoothie King Center on Friday for the fourth time in eight years, the latest chapter in a long-running relationship with New Orleans and local promoter Don Fox’s Beaver Productions. Among other highlights, that relationship has involved headlining City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium during the 1983 “Frontiers” tour and shooting a video for that album’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” on a wharf along the New Orleans riverfront.
In addition to “Separate Ways,” Friday’s show will likely feature “Who’s Crying Now” and “Stone in Love,” radio favorites from Journey’s massively popular 1981 album “Escape.” The bass lines of each are essential to the songs’ architecture, but Valory didn’t write them. Cain developed the “Who’s Crying Now” bass part. Schon, who plays bass in addition to guitar, wrote the “Stone In Love” part.
That said, “there’s a difference between who wrote the part, and who owns it,” Valory said during a phone interview this week. “I own it.”
In that regard, he sees a parallel between himself and Arnel Pineda, the Philippines-born singer who has fronted Journey since 2007. Pineda’s airy tenor is eerily similar to that of Steve Perry, the now-retired vocalist who co-wrote and originally sang most of Journey’s hits.
“Arnel owns it,” Valory said of the frontman role. “It’s not only by his talent, but by where his heart is. As an entertainer, he invites everyone in the hall to enjoy the evening with us.”
Pineda wasn’t inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April alongside the more senior members of Journey. They included drummer Steve Smith, who first joined Journey in 1978 and powered the band through its commercial heyday.
Smith returned to the fold last year after drummer Deen Castronovo was dismissed following a 2015 domestic abuse arrest attributed to a “drug-induced psychosis level of intoxication.” (Castronovo subsequently apologized, went to rehab and accepted a plea deal that gave him probation.)
Drummer Omar Hakim, a highly respected hired gun for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, Sting and Dire Straits, stepped in as Castronovo’s last-minute replacement for a 2015 tour. Hakim turned out to be the perfect transition between Castronovo’s straight-ahead, hard rock approach and Smith’s more jazz-influenced style, Valory said.
“Omar plays with more intensity, not unlike Deen, but he’s got the musicality, the ears, and the technique in common with Steve Smith. I really enjoyed playing with Omar. It was like shifting gears.”
Being reunited with Smith “has been fabulous,” Valory continued. “He recorded 80 percent of the songs we’re doing, so it’s organic. It’s back to the fundamentals of how the song was created, how we put our parts to it, how it was recorded. It is refreshingly new.”
Smith has restored “a swing to compositions that were created that way. He’s also very dynamic. When he plays softly, he plays softly. When he plays loud, it’s only to the limit of what sounds good. He’s not a banger. He plays with the intensity on the drum head up to the point where it loses its good sound. There is a dynamic range which we have not experienced in quite some time.”
As the rhythm section, “Steve and I drive the bus. It’s very comfortable. For the singer, the soloists, the other instrumentation, we’re the wind under the wings. Without being too glib about it, it’s a very ideal situation.”
So, too, is being in Journey in general; business is very, very good. They opened 2017 with an Asian tour that visited Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea. After a run of “secondary,” i.e. smaller, markets in the United States, they notched their second nine-show residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas; it included performances of the entire “Escape” and “Frontiers” albums.
The current summer tour concludes July 30 at Citi Field in New York for the Classic West concert alongside Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and Earth Wind & Fire. The same all-star line-up plays Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles two weeks prior.
They’ll take a break from August until next May. Plans are afoot for a 2018 world tour with Def Leppard, another arena stalwart with a slew of hits of which fans never seem to tire.
For Journey, the “dirty dozen” of setlist staples includes “Don’t Stop Believin’” — which Valory, in Weird Al Yankovic mode, jokingly refers to as “Don’t Stop Breathin’” — “Wheel in the Sky,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Faithfully,” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin” and “Lights.”
“We’ve played most of our hits many, many times — we’re in our 20th year of consistently touring, so we kind of know the songs pretty good,” Valory said. “People want to hear those songs that way, and they do.
“And they keep coming back. They just love the music, and they are so happy when we come through town. That’s pretty hard to beat. I am appreciative and thankful for what opportunity I have had, and what the band has. I don’t know what to do, except just keep playing.”