Journey took the stage on Sept. 2, 1978, for a performance at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in California that would mark their last with drummer Aynsley Dunbar.
Dunbar joined Journey in 1974, following the departure of original drummer Prairie Prince. He was behind the kit as the band fostered their early fanbase, playing gigs around the country and releasing their first four studio albums: 1975’s Journey, 1976’s Look Into the Future, 1977’s Next and 1978’s Infinity.
Journey was working on Infinity when things began to sour for the drummer.
Why Was Aynsley Dunbar Fired From Journey?
The circumstances of Dunbar’s departure depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that Journey’s musical direction changed with the arrival of Steve Perry in 1977. Infinity, his first album with the group, would be notably more commercial than previous efforts, which tended toward progressive rock influences. Singles like “Wheel in the Sky” and “Lights” earned Journey their first major radio airplay, but it was clear they had shifted stylistically.
“There’s nothing wrong with being commercial. It’s just another way of saying you’re more successful, you’re getting a wider audience,” guitarist Neal Schon told Knight-Ridder Newspapers back then. “There’s a lot of kids who’ve never heard of Cream or Jimi Hendrix and don’t hear Led Zeppelin anymore, and they want to hear something like that. Something out of the same era, but new. I don’t think it’s a cop-out. I don’t care what they say about you – you know who you are.”
Regardless of those lofty comparisons, Dunbar was not enthused by Journey’s shift in direction, especially in the context of the band’s live shows.
“They wanted to play everything exactly note for note according to the record,” Dunbar told BAM magazine in 1979. “I never wanted to do that, but I did it for the last album. It bored the shit out of me. They could never understand my freedom. They don’t understand my playing. They thought I was trying to prove I have technique. Getting out of it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Watch Journey’s ‘Wheel in the Sky’ Video
In a separate interview with Rolling Stone, Dunbar said Journey “kept getting more formulated, note-for-note, every goddamn night. Everybody says, ‘My god, that’s a tight band.’ It’s tight because it doesn’t do anything.”
Band manger Herbie Herbert insisted that Dunbar was unwilling to evolve. “The problem with Aynsley was that he was anything but a team player,” Herbert told Rolling Stone. “He was doing anything and everything to look great. And he did.”
Dunbar claimed he quit, while the rest of the band insisted he was fired. Regardless, the outcome was the same: Dunbar’s tenure in the band was over – just as they were becoming a commercial juggernaut.
“You believe that financial success is gonna do it for you, but it never does,” Dunbar told BAM. “All the financial success in the world can’t touch your artistic feeling – once that’s destroyed you can’t really enjoy yourself, you can’t release anything. I’ve got to release what I feel. Otherwise, I start getting a temper and building up depression.”
What Did Aynsley Dunbar Do After Journey?
“In Journey, I had to resort to playing very simply. They tended not to listen. That’s one thing about the Starship, they listen,” Dunbar told BAM. “We all play as a group and it’s great because everybody hears what you’re doing and when you’re laying into something and putting your mind to it. I mean, if you’re playing with a lot of feeling and trying to help them play well, and nobody’s giving you a damn thought, they’re not listening, there’s no point in you being there.”
Even Schon believed Starship was a better fit for Dunbar. “He couldn’t stand to play what was supposed to be there,” Schon said. “He complained constantly. He didn’t want to be in that situation. He’s better off where he is now.”
Watch Jefferson Starship Perform ‘Jane’
Who Replaced Aynsley Dunbar in Journey?
Steve Smith took over drumming duties in Journey following Dunbar’s departure. He played his first gig with his new group on Oct. 1, 1978, then went on to man the kit throughout Journey’s commercial heights.
Both Dunbar and Smith were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as members of Journey in 2017.
The Best Song From Every Journey Album
Singers may come, and singers most certainly may go, but some great songs remain.
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