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Ross Valory always had pieces of music tucked away that he had written, although songwriting contributions to Journey slipped away after the first three “experimental” albums. As an original member of the multi-platinum juggernaut of “Don’t Stop Believin’” fame, bassist Valory concentrated on shaping the rhythm section and contributing his baritone vocals to the background blend.

During the band’s second coming following the 1995 reunion album Trial By Fire, Valory began sorting through his files and polishing up some of his old notes. In between tour dates, he pulled together a tight-knit group of collaborators and slowly began to finish what he started. After a lifetime in music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer scrupulously etched his first solo album, All of the Above, to be released in April 2024.

From the Latin-fired intensity of “Wild Kingdom” to the ethereal dirge of “No One Wins a War,” the raucous party on “Low Rider” or the brilliant reprise of Santana’s “Incident of Neshabur,” the debut album by Ross Valory presents an evolved artist fully in command of his vision, a lifetime of experience behind the project, augmenting his core associates with guest musicians such as Gregg Errico of Sly & the Family Stone, drummer Steve Smith, and saxophonist Marc Russo.

Although he spent the bulk of his career with the massively successful rock group, Valory is much more than the bass player in Journey. He came to the band already established as one of the top players on the San Francisco rock scene, having worked the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms with pioneering psychedelic rock band Frumious Bandersnatch and touring the underground rock scene across the country as a member of the Steve Miller Band.

His recording studio hides in a modest suburban industrial park off the freeway in the East Bay between a heating and vent company and a building contractor. In the well-equipped, split-level studio, Valory has been working endless hours with colleagues keyboardist Eric Levy (Garage Mahal, Night Ranger) and engineer Jacob Stowe.

The nine tracks on the album represent the full maturity of Valory’s musical gifts, cutting a broad swath through the instrumental territory the music travels. He plays keyboards, guitar, and, of course, many basses in a display of cultivated virtuosity across a palette far broader than could be found in his work with Journey. He is stepping out from behind his bass and, for the first time in his more than half-century as a professional musician, representing his vision and his compositions.

For Valory, music has been a lifelong obsession, beginning with growing up listening to his mother’s records–anything from Handel’s “Messiah” to Ray Charles, Mozart to Brubeck– and she gave him his initial lessons on piano and ukelele. He sang in church choirs starting at age four and continued in competitive a cappella choirs, eventually singing with the Oakland Men’s Chorus. He joined the school band on clarinet in third grade, switching to bass clarinet in junior high. He found the family’s Spanish guitar and fooled around with it at home. He was in high school when he was inveigled to pick up the bass and join his first rock band, a “white soul” outfit called Little Jimmy and the Goodtimers.

Valory grew up outside San Francisco, across the bay and over the hills in small town Lafayette before the suburbs had encroached on the bucolic little enclave, a one stoplight burg surrounded by farms and ranches. By the time he started playing in rock bands, a tidy little group of aspiring musicians had come together in east Contra Costa County. Frumious Bandersnatch introduced Valory to George Tickner, Jack King, Bobby Winkleman and other musicians who would figure in his career. That was also when he met Herbie Herbert, who had at the time given up playing drums and bought a panel truck with an eye toward going into all things management.

After he left Frumious Bandersnatch, Valory went to Los Angeles to work with Tickner in a group called Faun. Returning home, Valory briefly considered attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, when Winkleman brought Valory and King onboard the Steve Miller Band in time to cut Miller’s sixth album in 1971, Rock Love, and spend more than a year on the road across the country.

Back in Contra Costa, Valory worked out of a studio in his Lafayette home, where he recorded with a variety of local musicians like Tickner, or guitarist Greg Douglass. Valory, Tickner, singing drummer Jack King, and saxophonist Barry Wolfe laid down an album’s worth of highly experimental tunes not unlike the beginning of Journey under the name Wizard that never saw the light of day.

Meanwhile, after three massively successful albums, the original edition of Santana dissolved and Herbie Herbert encouraged organist Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon to be part of a new band. The plan originally called for the creation of a monster band to be called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section that could back other musicians in the studio. Herbert went back to his Frumious roots and brought Valory and Tickner into the fold along with the superb drummer Prairie Prince. They cut a demo at Wally Heider’s Studio in San Francisco with engineer Steve Jarvis, who had been the vocalist in Little Jimmy and the Goodtimers. That band played their debut public performance on New Year’s Eve 1973 under the name Journey, and Hawai’i’s Crater Festival the very next day.

With the release of the monumental 1981 album, Escape, and the anthematic hit “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey vaulted into the top ranks of rock bands of the day, touring to stadiums full of fans with breakthrough audio and video pioneered by the band’s manager Herbert.

In 1986, Valory’s first run with Journey came to an end when the majority of band members decided to move in a different musical direction on the Raised On Radio album. Valory returned to his studio. He was cutting tracks once again with George Tickner, guitarist Stef Burns, and vocalist Kevin Chalfant of 707 under the group name V.U., along with Prairie Prince and keyboardist Tim Gorman, sideman from the Who. He did the first tour by vocalist Michael Bolton during summer 1988 in support of his album The Hunger, recorded with other members of Journey.

Chalfant stayed onboard in 1991 as vocalist of the Storm, a band Valory formed with his former Journey mates Gregg Rolie and Steve Smith. At Prairie Prince’s invitation, Valory had time to join Todd Rundgren for the experimental live recording sessions that produced his 1991 album Second Wind.

He also played in the blues band led by Sy Klopps, the pseudonym adopted by ex-Journey manager Herbert in his career as a vocalist and guitarist, Valory serving as musical director on the first album. Then, after a ten-year hiatus, Journey began recording the first album in the second stage of the storied band’s career, Trial By Fire. “When You Love a Woman” hit the charts in 1996 and Journey was back in business, as big as ever.

With Journey in a relative groove for the time being, Valory found himself experimenting in the studio with accomplished engineer Tom Size (Mr. Big, Y&T, Aerosmith), and teamed with Ticker and keyboardist Steve Roseman to record Cinema under the name VTR. It was during a day off on a tour of Mexico with Santana where Valory hooked up with Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo and played him the rough demo for “Wild Kingdom.” It was the unconscious beginning of the Ross Valory solo album, sonic and rhythmic explorations guided by instinct and experience.  The track went back to the early ‘80s when Valory found the calliope sound on a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, but with Perazzo bringing the fiery Latin touch to the track alongside Cuban American drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr. from the Santana band, “Wild Kingdom” came alive and set the tone for what was to follow. “I see myself as an Impressionist,” he said, “mixing and matching, painting songs.”

Over the next ten years, in between Journey activities, Valory, keyboardist Levy and engineer Stowe worked on his compositions at his studio, three generations of musicians joined in common cause. Valory left Journey in 2020 and the band members worked out their issues in a peaceful mediated settlement. Valory, who spent most of his life as a member of Journey, has no regrets. He counts his blessings at having spent an amazing career with a remarkable group of musicians who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

After the sad loss of engineer Tom Size in 2016, Valory completed building out his recording studio. Once installed in the new workplace, the core three collaborators used many other musicians with the tunes they were cutting. They called in different drummers, guitarists, horn players and cast the musicians to the material, with engineer Stowe, keyboardist Levy and Valory at the center. They brought in co-producer Steve Jarvis, who supervised post-production at 25th Street Studios in Oakland.

Valory brings a lifetime in music to his solo excursions. All of the Above, a true labor of love, represents a culmination of his experience, at the same time as it points to the future. “Whatever came into my ears and brain came out in various ways,” he said. “I have been revisiting material that has been piling up over the years off and on and carrying it forward.”

–Joel Selvin, January 2024

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