Ever since lead singer Steve Perry injured his hip in 1996, legendary '80s rock band Journey hasn't been the same. Singers Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto tried filling Perry's big shoes (and tight jeans), but the band's success never reached its previous heights and Journey was relegated to a feel-good nostalgia act.
Thirty-three years after its birth, Journey is getting a second wind from an unexpected place. In December, the band signed on new lead vocalist Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer who they found leading a Manila cover band on YouTube. Six months later, the band has kicked off a tour of Europe and the U.S. and released Revelation, a new album featuring original songs and re-recorded classics that has already shot up to the fifth highest-selling album in the U.S. since its debut two weeks ago.
How Journey found Pineda is a Cinderella tale of the Internet era. After the band dismissed Soto last June for unspecified reasons, guitarist Neal Schon turned to the Web in search of talent. After two days of surfing on YouTube, he came upon clips of Pineda singing with his band, The Zoo, and nailing all the right notes in the toughest Survivor, Queen and Journey power ballads. "I heard his voice and my eyes got big," says Schon, who has been with Journey since its inception in 1975. "I thought, he can't be that good." Schon left his house, took a spin on his motorcycle to clear his head, and then contacted Pineda. At first, the singer thought the email was a hoax. "I didn't think the real Neal Schon would call a guy like me," says Pineda. "I'm just a guy from the Philippines." Four months later, Pineda signed on as Journey's new lead singer. "I've been waiting for this moment to come for 25 years," he says. "It's like shooting to the moon."
Born in Manila, Pineda, 40, started singing as a child, quickly learning his parents' favorite songs by The Jackson Five, Barbra Streisand and The Carpenters. His parents struggled to raise their four sons by running a corner shop and tailoring clothes. Pineda performed in local singing competitions until the age of 13, when his mother died from an extended illness. Medical bills had drained their savings, leaving the family homeless and living with relatives. Not wanting to burden his father, Pineda struck out on his own, collecting newspapers and bottles, and living on the street for nearly two years. When he was 15, a friend encouraged him to start singing again, beginning Pineda's 25-year career as a cover band singer in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
The first half of Pineda's story isn't unique Filipino cover bands are ubiquitous in many Asian cities. It's a phenomenon Manila-based PhilMusic.com founder Jim Ayson attributes to an imbalance in supply and demand. "There are more musicians in the Philippines than there are opportunities," says Ayson, a drummer who knew Pineda in the 1980s. But Pineda's rags-to-riches story is giving new hope to Filipino singers. "A lot of singers here tried to make it in the States and they couldn't," he says. "[Pineda] made it."
Not surprisingly, Filipino media in the homeland and the U.S. have lit up with Pineda coverage. "Everyone's talking about it," says Marilyn Deleon, 44, a Filipino-American Journey fan in New York City who helped create animated videos of Pineda and other Journey members and posted them online. At Pineda's first U.S. performance with Journey in Las Vegas in March, Schon estimates Filipino Americans made up half of the audience. Some countrymen are already painting Pineda as a kind of national hero. "There's [boxer] Manny Pacquiao, [pool player] Efren Reyes and then there's Arnel," says Kookie Luib, a bass player who performed with Pineda during his years in Hong Kong. "Our country is always recognized for corruption and government malfunction. These guys are bringing up Filipino pride."
But not all of Journey's die-hard fans and there are plenty have embraced Pineda with open arms. When Nell, who did not want to reveal her real name, started an Arnel Pineda fan site in December, the Florida-based web developer says angry Journey fans left death threats on her answering machine. The band's traditional fanbase is mostly white and American, and some are upset that Pineda is neither. "Journey is supposed to be an all-American band," one fan wrote in an online forum.
But as more people hear Pineda's truly stunning voice, the number of critics is likely to be drowned out by a roar of support. And the number of online rock stars is sure to skyrocket. "If you want to get discovered, you don't need a demo anymore," says Ayson. "Everyone's putting their stuff on YouTube now." It's a reminder to all of us: don't stop believing.