“Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men.” At some point in our lives, the John Steinbeck quote relates to each of us. For veteran vocalist Kevin Chalfant, it seems his best laid plans were just a stepping stone to his true destiny. And to hear him say it “The best of my life is the rest of my life.”
From the early 80’s when his band 707 reached Billboard’s top twenty with “Mega Force” to The Storm, the 1990 group he formed with guitarist Josh Ramos and former Journey members Ross Valory, Gregg Rolie and Steve Smith, Kevin Chalfant has achieved success at a high level. The Storm’s first single “I’ve Got A Lot To Learn About Love,” reached #6 on Billboard’s National charts. Opening for acts such as Peter Frampton and Bryan Adams, The Storm were well on there way to a commercially successful career. However, winds of change in the music business found their record company, Interscope, more interested in the growing rap and hip hop genres; leaving the band’s second release in a state of limbo for several years. By the time the album was finally released, the momentum of their early success was lost.
Chalfant’s friendship with Rolie, Valory and Smith continued to work both inside and outside of the recording studio. Chalfant and Valory paired up in a band called The Vu, and in 1993 a charity roast for Herbie Herbert, former manager of both The Storm and Journey, would pave the way for Journey to reform after a seven year hiatus, with Kevin Chalfant standing in for Steve Perry as lead vocalist. After touring with Journey, Chalfant was left standing on the outside looking in when Perry briefly came out of retirement, and he and Journey recorded the Raised on Radio album.
The short term stint with Journey however, has produced a long term project for Chalfant, called Kevin Chalfant’s Journey Experience. In this show Chalfant sings many of Journey’s songs, as well as ones written or performed by Chalfant with Rolie, Smith and Valory.
Along with his vocal duties, Chalfant owns Clique Records and heads the Voices of Rock Radio tour which brings together such well-known 80’s lead singers as: Wally Palmer (The Romantics), John Cafferty (Beaver Brown), Don Barnes (.38 Special), Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent) and Jimi Jamison (Survivor).
Catching up with Kevin Chalfant not long after returning from a working vacation as one of the headliners on the Legends of Rock Cruise, we talked about the highs and lows of his career, drawing from the well of musical influences, and why the best of his life is the rest of his life.
Kath Galasso: Besides fronting your own bands, you’ve also jumped into a couple of them, most notably Journey and the Alan Parsons Project. What’s the trepidation factor of walking into a band where someone else had a great deal of success?
Kevin Chalfant: You’re never going to fill the shoes of the person you’re trying to cover for… you’re never going to fill those shoes. So I went in basically as a friend to just help them through a situation. I’m a team player. With Journey, basically I was already working with Ross (Valory) in a band called The Vu, and I was working with Ross, Greg (Rolie) and Steve Smith in a band called The Storm. And when it came down about Journey, Herbie Herbert had given his blessing to have a not-for-profit organization in San Francisco do a roast. They were going to roast Herbie Herbert and a lot of celebrities were going to be there. The money they raised was going to help inner city kids have mentors in whatever field they think they want to go into. It keeps the kids out of trouble and puts them on the right path. So everybody agreed and The Storm was already going to do it, and Journey wanted to do it but Steve (Perry) is in the studio making a record and he won’t do it, so they said “How about you? You want to do it?” And I’m like “Can I get back to you in about three seconds. Sure” It was a comfortable fit; I was already working with half of them and it was a no-brainer. It’s still a no-brainer. It’s such a no-brainer that I always think that at some point I might get a call because they just can’t turn a few gigs down or something, and Arnel has got a cold, or Steve Augieri’s got a cold. I’m always thinking the phone’s going to ring and sometimes it does ring. “Hey, we’re gonna be in Chicago” and I still go and I hang out cause they have awesome deli trays. There’s usually a glass of tequila at the end of the night and they’ve got their own cappuccino machine for before the show and nighttime caps at the end. Hanging out with the rock stars.
Kevin: Living large, exactly. I still love those guys. I have to be honest, at the end after I had done the show with them, we started writing songs and that was enough for Steve to come out of retirement, and that was the end of that. But the beautiful part about it is I feel I was a part of them being able to go on. I don’t think they had the courage to go on, thinking that maybe nobody could ever take Steve’s place or what would the fans think. And of course Steve Perry fans are totally loyal. I love his talent, he’s great, I love it so much that I mimic him to do my Journey Experience Show. I go out and sing all his songs because he’s a very much loved artist. Whatever his reasons are for not doing it, they’re his reasons. But the point is, I feel like the band deserved to be able to go on. And they’re getting older, who knows how long they will really be able to keep up. So they’re doing it while they can, to the level that they did when they were in their twenties and thirties. So they’re doing great and God bless them.
On not continuing with Journey…
Honestly, I was a little bitter at the end of our relationship when I didn’t get to go on with them. I carried that for a number of years. I would go and listen to them and it was torture. But that was me. And it’s not about me. I have an older brother and he said it to me best one night when we were together at a Journey show, “Kevin, you’re the best at you. They’re the best at them. And maybe your best would not be with them. You need to just be your best at what you do.” He really just hit hard down the middle of my chest. He said “You need to get over it and get back on your own track.” I thought maybe it was something I did bad. Then it dawned on me, you know what, it may not have anything to do with me. Maybe Steve came back so you couldn’t go on, and he’s doing you a huge favor. I don’t know, I don’t know how to really summarize that. But what it did do was make me stop, and I started making my own records again.
About the Kevin Chalfant Journey Experience…
Kevin: A lot of my fans or I should say music supporters, they support me so I can keep this habit going, a lot of them said “we would have loved to hear you sing those songs,” so I made a Journey tribute record (Fly 2 Freedom). And it’s great to play some of these songs live, so I added a song here and a song there in between mine. And pretty soon I’m like, why don’t I just do a show about Journey music and tie myself into it. There are some songs I wrote with The Storm. When I worked with 707, Jonathan Cain was in the studio playing keyboard. I mean it totally ties in to everything that I’ve pretty much done. I have nothing but good vibrations for them and that’s why it just came to me this past winter… great history. That’s like fertilizer for my future. I’m going to put that in the pot and plant some new seeds here and…
In January, my wife and I were married thirty-nine years; we’ve been together since we were sophomores in high school. In a way it helped us focus on what we wanted to do. We made a plan that the business wasn’t going to run us, but that we were going to run our business. And that’s just how we’ve kept it going. And just his past January we made a new pledge, and that is “the rest of my life is the best of my life.” We’re Christians and God has been good to us. We’ve done a lot of wonderful things that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do. Because of that, I can’t sit around and be bitter about anything. I’ve got no reason to be bitter. I’ve got every reason to be happy and thankful, grateful. I don’t want to be looking back and thinking those were my glory years. I’ve still got the best ahead of me.
In your heart when you are being honest and you say “I’m really grateful that God has blessed me with a good woman, I’ve got some really good kids, everybody’s healthy right now, I’ve got nothing to be grumpy about or disgruntled about. Oh yeah, I’ve got a few bills I’ve got to pay, but you know what, I’m so blessed. It’s like when you know you are blessed, you’re blessed even more. And sometimes I find myself getting grumpy and complaining, and I catch myself. Am I really acting like someone who is grateful? Someone who is thankful, someone who is positive? No. And that’s an example I set. I set it for myself, I set it for people around me.
A sample of Kevin Chalfant’s “Running with the Wind”
I had a question about having the carrot, the really big carrot dangling in front of you several times, and it was taken away before you got a big bite out of it. But in talking to you, I get the feeling that it doesn’t matter.
Kevin: Well I think that’s what it’s boiled down to. I used to sit around and go “oh man.” I’ve heard so many people, guys in the band would say “If we would have been out three years earlier we would have been huge.” You know what… that’s BS. Because here’s the problem; as soon as we got our break with Interscope, all of these other companies had decided they were going to get rid of all the older folks running the labels and put all these young studs in there because “we’re gonna change the game.” So the first thing the young studs say is “that’s our parents music, we’re not gonna listen to our parent’s music, we’re gonna listen to the music that’ll define our generation.” Yeah. Like no bottom end and all top end and no soul and no feeling. Yeah, that was a great move.
But it all comes full circle, cause now I’m starting to work with young artists. I got this kid coming in here and he’s really, really good. He’s actually working with Rick Springfield, and Rick has had him under his wing for quite a number of years. I’ve heard about this kid for ten years, and he could play guitar since he was a little bitty kid and had been impressing people and he caught Rick Springfield’s ear. Rick put him in touch with some people, he’s got a good manager, he’s got Rick’s old producer and they got a hold of me and asked if I would write a ballad with him. Sure, why not, so they sent me some tidbits of some of the stuff they’re doing. He’s like a Justin Beiber with serious balls. He’s got balls and plays guitar and shreds. It’s not pop-py or bubble gum-my. It’s like young, rock guy. So I get to still be able to plant musical seeds in young people, you get to regenerate yourself through a younger generation. So not only am I’m writing these songs, but as I get these younger people in my studio, I’m giving them some of my techniques that I’ve learned through the years studying other singers. Because now all they’re trying to do is turn on the radio and copy the guy on the radio right now. That’s how deep the well is. It’s so shallow; it doesn’t even cover the tops of their toenails. So I’m trying to tell them, the water is in the bottom of the well. Not in this little mud puddle, you’ve got to go deeper.
On working with friends on Voices of Rock Radio…
I’m working with all of my older buddies like Jimi Jamison, Derek St. Holmes, Wally Palmer, John Cafferty and Tunes (Michael Atunes) and Fergie Frederiksen, we’re all standing together with each other. Where we used to be stupid young kids and be in competition with each other, we’re not. We’re actually on the same team now cause we’ve got to keep this going. If we quit doing it, who’s going to do it? Really, who’s going to do it. Some of the guys that have been ahead of me, ahead of us, they’ve quit doing it. They don’t want to do it anymore. So we’ve just got to do it and try to bring other people into it also. I wish we could do it all the time together because everybody respects that we can still all do it on a good level.
And it was never like that with the last generation of singers and rockers. It seems like our group, our age group has a nice brotherhood going on.
Kevin: It is a brotherhood. And I also want to include Greg Rolie in there. Greg is one of the finest guys, maybe he doesn’t like me talking about him in this kind of light, but he is a really good guy. In my mind’s eye, there are three people who stand above and beyond the crowd in the music business, and Greg is in the top three. When we decided we were going to do something, and I was supporting my family, I had to go from doing one thing to doing another. And in order to really focus when we got our deal with The Storm, Greg said “look, I want to help cover you until we have all this working.” And he did; he supported me, in a lot of ways.
Number two, Alan Parsons. Soft-spoken man, carries a big stick… because he can. Gentleman, British gentleman, very nice man. Treated me very fairly. I just said, if you ever need a fill-in guy, I know I’m not exactly a dead-ringer for your sound or anything like that. But if you’re in a pinch and you need a guy; which is what I did. I filled in and probably did six or seven or eight shows with them. I didn’t do a whole lot, but I said I’ll learn the stuff. That guy was so respectful to everybody he talked to, and he just made my wife and I feel so valued. That was number two.
Number three: Brad Delp. Brad Delp was the nicest man I ever met in rock and roll. Maybe the nicest man I’ve ever met, but I was so impressed with his talent and he was so humble, so kind and he complimented me on my talent before I could even compliment him on his. While I’m shaking his hand, he’s telling me “oh Kevin, man I love your work.” I literally, and I’m not kidding you, while I’m shaking his hand I had to turn around to make sure there wasn’t another Kevin there. And he said “No, I’m talking about you.” And that was just so wonderful. Just so tragic, tragic. I just wish he could have been one of our Voices of Rock Radio.
Kevin: It goes both ways. Sometimes I’ll get a riff in my head, sometimes I’ll get a line, and then I’ll go out from that in both directions. I always share this with young people; I used to sleep with the radio on. And I would listen to hit songs all day, all night, all day, all night. I’d wake up sometimes with a splitting headache because I’d been listening to the radio all night. But I learned how to sing from drawing from that well. And it was a deep well. I was listening to the Beatles, Motown, Paul Rogers…
Well back in the day you could listen to all that, everything was played on the radio.
Kevin: Yeah, on the same station. Less was more. So we got to be rockers with soul. And we got to be soulful with a rock edge. And you learned the blues on the same station that you learned the pop. And you start to melt all that together in your head. And when you’re writing songs, as a kid writing songs, I was drawing from all of that stuff.
You know people will say “Well you must have listened to Steve Perry an awful lot.” Well actually it went back to Sam Cooke, it went back to Marvin Gaye. It went back to the same people he listened to, that he drew a lot from. And yeah we have a lot of similarities because we had the same teachers.
What are you listening to now?
Kevin: I’m kind of in my producer’s mode and my writing mode. Sometimes I just listen to talk radio and I don’t listen to music. I’m listening to see what the buzz is about. What’s the topic of the day, that kind of thing. I’m not really listening to music, cause ideas dictate the song. The idea dictates to me anyway the direction of the song; what’s the instrumentation, how serious is the song. Is the song a humorous song or is it a serious song, or a heartfelt song. So I’m not really listening. Otherwise you start duplicating other people’s work. So intentionally, I don’t listen. Not to say I won’t occasionally flip, I listen more to the oldies. I have a couple of classic rock stations, one in particular that goes way back to the stuff I listened to when I was a kid.
Kevin starts singing a verse of “Feel Like Making Love”…
That’s where I draw my inspiration. The old bluesy stuff. Paul Rodgers can still sing that stuff too and that’s where I want to be. I look at Rod Stewart, he’s a smart guy. He’s so far ahead of the curve all the time. Pisses me off. Let me tell you how much it pisses me off. I thought, man I’m a genius. Here’s what I’m gonna do. When I started getting AARP magazine, I’m like I’m gonna send an article in about ME… to AARP. And the next freakin’ month, there’s Rod Stewart on the cover of AARP. I can’t even beat him to AARP magazine.
Well, I’m sure he got his AARP card a long time before you did.
Kevin: Ha, yeah he sure did.
In 2011 you, Jimi Jamison and Chuck Giacinto traveled down to some of the flooded areas of Missisippi and Tennessee. What was your lasting impression of the resiliency of the people and the way the aid was handled?
Kevin: That was really the reason why we went. Because there’s nothing you can do, I mean what am I going to do take a truck down there and a push broom and move water? No, it wasn’t that. We went down for two reasons. To support the folks left in the cracks and to talk with a couple of the small communities there. When I heard there were a couple of communities down there that were the only ones left out of being able to get any help, it’s time to take a trip. So we did. We went down and used whatever savvy we had. We went into radio stations; we had TV stations meet us out there to look at the floods. And they were like “what’s a bunch of rock & roll guys doing out here?” Well, some people got help and some people didn’t and we wanted to point it out to everybody because maybe you don’t know it. And then they’d interview the mayors from these towns, some of the local people that had lost everything. We went; we took pizzas and pies to some of the shelters, to the kitchens. Hung out with them, played music and then went back and they were like, “oh man we never thought we’d see you again.”
I didn’t realize you went back.
Kevin: Yeah we did, because the first time we went down, Jimi wasn’t with us and we took Jimi back down there because he wanted to meet some of the folks and it was actually a really good thing. And they got help, as soon as it hit the television and the radio and we straight up said it’s just not fair. If you’re not going to help everybody, don’t help anybody. Then bang, they got the help and God bless them. If was rewarding to us to know that we took our little toy cap guns down there going pop, pop, pop. Just trying to make some noise.
Multiple choice: Walking onstage, hearing the crowd sing your songs back to you, or the standing ovation at the end. Which one gets your heart pumping the most?
Kevin: Honestly, the fans singing the songs back. That right there is real completion. You can go play at a prison and they don’t know any of the songs you’re playing, they’re just happy to see you and they’ll give you a standing ovation. But if they’re singing the songs, a whole bunch of people did their work, and the system worked. And you really have fans when they’re singing the songs back to you. So that’s the most important to me.
For information on Kevin Chalfant tour dates and music projects visit:
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor