Gary James' Interview With Doug Ballard Of
the Journey tribute band
Based out of Atlanta, Georgia is the Journey tribute band Departure. Since their formation, they've been making quite a name for themselves. We spoke with Departure member Doug Ballard.
Q - Doug, who do you portray in the band?
A - I'm the bass player, so I represent Ross Valory predominantly. Of course there were others that toured as bass (player), Randy Jackson being one notable one.
Q - It would be hard to portray him.
A - Not very accurately from a talent and presentation standpoint.
Q - Back in 1978, Rolling Stone magazine did an article where they called REO, Styx and Journey "faceless groups."
A - Really.
Q - Do you remember that?
A - I don't actually. That's a little before my time. I'm kind of curious, now that you mentioned that, why that is. Is it because they had multiple lead singers? Like, Greg Rolie and Steve Perry shared lead singing around that time. Styx, you had the keyboard player, I forget his name and then you had Tommy Shaw that also shared that responsibility. I'm just curious, maybe because there wasn't a true frontman presentation or something along those lines.
Q - I'm guessing your accurate with that statement. I don't actually know what the writer of that article had in mind. Maybe the writer was judging the group against '60s groups like The Stones where you had a frontman or in the early '70s with Aerosmith where you had a frontman.
A - Maybe that's the case.
Q - The point I'm getting at is, Journey these days. It's like they've been forgotten. That being said, is there a lot of work for a Journey tribute band?
A - Well, we will hit almost a hundred shows a year. We have to turn a lot of gigs down. I guess the beauty of Journey is that it's almost timeless. They have a new frontman, Arnel Pineda and he's a good singer, but I guess he really doesn't represent the face of Journey at all. I would just say they're still touring. They came through our area (Atlanta) last year. They're coming again this year. We actually as a group went last year to check them out. We happened to be off the day they played and had a great time, but it's not Steve Perry up front, or Steve Augeri or any of the guys that have really fronted well, and so it is different. But their music continues to be very popular and so that's how it bodes well for us. Whether you're kids and you're listening to what's on your dad's radio or you grew up with it as many of us did, it's still front and center. Like I said, we're playing almost a hundred shows a year and we're not the only Journey tribute band out there.
Q - Did you ever get a chance to see the original Journey?
A - I did not. First time I saw Journey 'live' was with Steve Augeri. I thought it was a fantastic show. He had a wonderful voice, but I missed the Perry years, even though that's when I became a fan of the band.
Q - Where does this band play? You're not playing in clubs are you?
A - We do some club work, but we play all over. It just depends on who hires us. We play House Of Blues in a couple of places, Myrtle Beach and Orlando. We're kind of getting into that circuit. We've got gigs on the books for Ohio, Virginia, Florida, a lot of the Eastern seaboard. But we would travel anywhere and we have. We've played as far North as Winslow, Maine. So it just depends on who's interested and wants to bring a very good Journey tribute band to their location.
Q - Do you travel with all your equipment or do you fly to gigs and have the promoter provide the backline? How does that work?
A - It depends. A little of both. Most of the time we load up into a van with all our gear. So we provide our own equipment. We go where they provide production. If we have to provide production, then we've got some folks we work with and hire out, especially for bigger acts. But we have flown to a few of them and they have provided backline. So, it just depends on the nature of what they're doing, how much money they have to spend, when they need us there and how that works into our schedule.
Q - Departure has been together five years now?
A - Almost five years. We're headin' on five.
Q - What were you doing before this group was put together?
A - Well, musically I've been kind of toyin' around with a few bands actually. Nothing this large or of this nature. Just more of a club act as well as a full-time job. I still have my full-time job. This is something we do on the side. I kind of have to balance two worlds with that.
Q - Is your full-time job related to music?
A - It actually isn't. I'm in human resources if you can believe it.
Q - That's what used to be called Personnel. You hire and fire people.
A - Yeah. That would be me. That's some of the things I do.
Q - Are you the guy who put the group together?
A - I'm not the original. I'm the original bass player. Mark Schwartz is a DJ and owns a DJ company and he was doing Karaoke at a club. Brian Williams, who is the Steve Perry lead singer, came into the club and sang "Separate Ways". I think he was 22 or 23 at the time. Just came in and belted it out and it was awesome according to Mark. So Mark started a dialogue with him and the next thing you know he's like "Why don't we put a band together?" 'cause Brian has fronted other bands in the past in his high school years. So he was like, "Whatever. We'll try it." So Mark called me for bass. He and I had been in an original band together. So he called me. Brian knew a friend of his, Joel Hayes, who is the keyboard player and represents Greg Rolie in the band and Jonathan Cain. So he sings some Greg Rolie. He can sing as well. So we cover Greg Rolie tunes as well. Then Mark and I both knew Michael, the drummer, from other work we've done in the past and just a friend of the band. So we put it together in August of 2007 and were gigging by that New Years. Its just grown leaps and bounds since then.
Q - Do you get any personal satisfaction from playing Journey's music? You said you were in an original group.
A - Right.
Q - If you're playing someone else's music, what does that do for you?
A - I guess I'll take it in two directions: One is the interaction with the fans, not just of the music, but what we're doing with the music. We're representing the music. We're playing it. We're putting on a show. And we have direct interaction with that fan base. They're staring at us from the concert floor and we're putting on a show. It's just an amazing interaction. I don't care who you are, when you have that kind of exchange between a fan and what you're doing, whether you're playing someone else's music or your own, there's just a lot of power in that. So, that's one of the things I get out of it. The other thing I get out of it is, I'm a big fan of the music myself. I really enjoy playing the songs we play and the way that we play them. We try to represent the music the way it was written. We're probably 98% to 99% accurate on the way we play it. But we also add our own energy and passion to the music. So we've kind of taken a little different direction in that we put a very high energy show on. I don't even know if Journey itself, if these guys do what we do. They certainly didn't do it onstage when we saw them. Of course, they're advancing in years some of them, but we really try to put, not just the music, but really put a performance behind it that the crowd is going to enjoy and really engage. It's just been a lot of fun, so I get a ton out of it. I actually look forward to these gigs because being in H.R. (Human Resources), it's what I do and I'm passionate about certain aspects of that work, but to have that crowd interaction and really get that feedback for what we're doing and see those faces light up and sing along with what you're playing, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing.
Q - Having seen the original Journey in concert in 1980, I can tell you they were a group that concentrated more on the music than say putting on a show.
A - That's probably more their style in nature. I will say if you ever watch Live In Houston and watch Steve Perry run around stage, Brian really tries to imitate that, especially at bigger stages, bigger events. There's a lot of things that Steve Perry did. He was very animated onstage, more so than Neal Schon or Ross Valory. Steve Smith on drums, he put on a show too. Jonathon Cain did as well too. They were very animated in what they were doing. We just take that and probably amp it up a little bit more, a little harder Rock version on some of the songs just to really get some energy and Rock 'n' Roll out in the audience there.
Q - So, do the guys in Journey know about Departure?
A - (laughs) Well, I don't know if they specifically know about us. I am sure they are aware that acts are out there tributing them. I will say that their attorneys found one of our videos on Youtube where someone had filmed it and we had gotten about 10,000 hits, and they didn't like that too much, so they requested it be pulled down and we obliged. It's one of those things where they're probably aware. I'm sure they're aware and I'm sure they're aware of other Journey tribute acts as well 'cause they've made comments about them in years past. But I don't know how specifically aware they are of us.
Q - I went to YouTube and I saw that you still have videos there. Why would Journey's attorney's ask that you remove a video? I don't understand.
A - It was one specific video. We actually didn't know the reason behind why they requested that particular video be pulled. It was from 2009. It just had gotten a lot of hits. It was just a good rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'" Who knows? I'm not sure how those politics and procedures work, but we were just trying to be respectful of their requests and we pulled it down. If you look at YouTube, there are tons of Journey tributes, people who have video taped songs and such. I'm not sure why they focused on it. We assumed it was because it was just getting popular.
Q - Too close to the real deal.
A - Maybe so.
Q - When you're in a tribute band like Departure, how far up the ladder can you take this act? Do you have an end game? Do you have a certain goal you're trying to reach?
A - Well, you can look at it from a business stand point, how you measure your success, the more shows, the more qualitative shows, larger audiences, different venues, exotic locations. There's just so many things you could factor in. We're in it because we love what we're doing. There's not a ton of money in music in general, but we're doing fairly well from a financial standpoint, so we feel like we've hit some level of success looking at it from that point of view. But just taking it further, what venues would we like to get into? What markets have we not tapped that would love what we're doing? You've got big places like Vegas and Atlantic City that we would potentially like to get our act out to. The sky's the limit from that standpoint. We'd take it overseas if someone was inclined to bring us. It's just something we're really passionate about. We all love it. We've been together for almost five years, and I don't see any signs of this thing slowing down at all.