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