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Monday, September 23, 2002


B. C. Stangl



"Art Carney! Sheila René!" She never liked my references to Jackie Gleason’s TV show signoff from Miami Beach. "Sheila McCrae! June Allison!" No, and the lady in black - lots of black - who covered rock stars for KSJO in the late seventies was perhaps pound for pound the greatest interviewer in Bay Area rock ‘n roll history.

The late Sheila René was in fact, the same size as Ralph the bus driver. She just dressed better. Black flowing robes. Black scarves that matched her heels, black veils and hair adornments, wide black belts, anything black, well before black became so très trendy in the fashion world.

Sheila reported on perhaps six concerts a week. Her only compensation was free tickets and mingling backstage with the stars she interviewed.

It was the night a slight, unknown kid was to debut as lead singer for Journey, an extremely talented Bay Area band led by a couple bonafide superstars. One was a prankster; the other was probably the most accomplished ladies man in rock, this side of Mick Jagger.

Neil Schon had played alongside Carlos Santana since forever while Ansley Dunbar had pounded drums behind pedigreed British bands since the invasion. I had seen him almost excel all over Tawn Mastery in the KSJO studios, but that’s an entirely different story.

Rumor had it that Ansley was, how to put it… more than equipped to excel at his chosen sport, a bonafide all-star who swung a long bat. More than a few onlookers remained convinced that a pair of strategically placed sweat sox is really what perpetuated the myth.

Determined to find out, Sheila sought out Neil. Yes, he promised he’d do it. Journey was then still playing small venues like The Old Warfield at Alcoa Center in the financial district. And more often than not, they would play two shows a night.

Between shows the night Steve Perry made his debut, Schon and a couple guys from Journey’s management company, Nightmare Productions, rigged a curtain in a corner of sufficient size to hide the Kramden-sized muckraker. Where they found such a covering is anyone’s guess.

Dunbar soon came off stage. Then off came his trademark, tight, white jeans. It’s a wonder Sheila didn’t scream right there.

But shriek she did when she rolled into a small crowd of us in the tiny “green room” alongside the small stage. "It’s real! It’s real! He’s the real deal… with the real goods!"

"Yep. He often needs stagehand equipment to haul that thing around, Sheila." It was Nightmare’s #2 man, Bubba. I never heard anyone say Bubba’s last name.

At that time, he was telling the story behind Steve Perry’s trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Journey’s first four LPs really had enjoyed no commercial success outside the Bay Area. So Bubba and Nightmare’s founder, Herbie Herbert, had been busy looking for a front man.

They were positive they had found their man in the young, long-haired, almost too pretty Perry. They also felt they had secured his services at a tidy, bargain price, maybe closer to a steal. Bubba was telling us how the vocalist who would in fact propel Journey’s next album "Infinity" to over five million in sales and national prominence had been due in San Francisco two days earlier.

That’s when the phone had rung. Bubba was there when Herbie took the call. Perry was on the line from LA, demanding a sweeter deal.

"Oh, no, I knew it. It was too good to be true." Herbert whispered to Bubba.

Then, after only a short time on the line, rather surprisingly to his #2 man, he caved to Perry’s demand.

"What did he want? What was it,?" Bubba asked.

"He said if we covered the cost of his U-Haul, that would really make him a happy camper."

That deal was destined to launch one of rock’s best local success stories and no doubt brought Ansley Dunbar to the plate for many more swings.