Let Ryan Christopher take you on a 'Journey'
Maybe on some level, Ryan Christopher never stopped believing that he would earn his living making music.
From the time he was about seven years old, he realized that he came from a musical family. Most everyone around him played the guitar or sang. His aunts even had a radio program on which they sang live.
By the time he was a sixth-grader in upstate New York, Christopher decided to pour himself into his art. He joined choruses, choirs and a barbershop quartet. During his senior year of high school, he was involved in 11 different musical productions of varying styles.
He dreamed of attending The Juilliard School or Berklee College of Music. He wanted to get a degree, make connections and network.
“This is the heart-breaking part of the story,” Christopher said, during a telephone interview with a What’s NXT reporter. “When I graduated high school, my mom and my grandfather came to me and said, ‘Save yourself the trouble and the heartache. You are not going to be able to make it in music. Get yourself a real job.’”
Christopher took their advice. He joined the military, received information technology training and made a living in that field for about 25 years. He did wonder throughout those years, “What if I have real talent?” he said.
Now 44, he has no regrets and sees his path as “a blessing in disguise.” His passion for music never died. He continued to play in cover bands and years later found himself fast-tracked into a leading tribute band crooning in the role of a singer who is widely regarded as one of rock music’s greatest voices.
On Saturday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m., Christopher will portray Steve Perry at The Maryland Theatre with Resurrection – A Journey Tribute. Formed in San Francisco, Calif., in 1973, Journey exploded in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with Perry on lead vocals, releasing a series of hit songs including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Faithfully” and many more. The production promises to recreate the experience of a 1980’s journey concert with sights reminiscent of arena rock. The Nashville, Tenn.-based Resurrection – A Journey Tribute has received accolades from not only Journey purists, Christopher said, but from Steve Perry himself.
“What is a tribute?”
Over the years, Christopher performed in cover bands singing songs of rock and punk artists like Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Seven Mary Three and Lenny Kravitz.
In 2005, while living in Nashville, he sang in a karaoke contest and friends dared him to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
“I never trained myself to sing like Steve Perry. Steve Perry is the man,” Christopher said. “He is iconic, one of the most recognizable voices in classic rock. It was different for me to grab a hold of that. I was scared out of my mind.”
That night, he received a standing ovation, and won the contest and $1,000. Soon after, he received a call from “a guy asking me to put together three or four songs on a demo.” He recorded some Journey songs and Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie.”
“This guy introduced me to a guitar player,” Christopher said. “He came to me in 2006 and said he was putting together a Journey tribute. I said, ‘What is a tribute?’”
Christopher learned that tribute bands playing the songs and emulating the vocals and styles of particular bands or artists were gaining in popularity.
Though he was just six years old when Journey’s groundbreaking album “Escape” was released in 1981 and he had “just missed the Journey train,” Christopher said, he knew a few of the band’s songs from radio play and as cultural icons.
“I thought they had like three songs,” he said, laughing. Then he bought every one of the band’s albums and dove into their catalog.
“I learned my lesson well. I came to the band with a list of 54 songs I wanted to sing,” Christopher said. “Steve Perry’s voice is not only iconic but a challenge. He is a rock vocalist who made me think, ‘I bet you can’t do this.’ That’s kept me on fire for over the last almost 14 years.”
He performs along with Vic White on keyboard and vocals; Jim Handley at drums; Steve Sheroan on guitar and vocals; and Ben King on bass and vocals.
Christopher said the tribute band’s passion for Journey and its songs is the driving force behind its success. The songs and the emotion with which they were performed hold universal appeal. Many people associate specific memories or periods of their lives with particular Journey songs.
“I’ve learned a huge respect for the band and the music. Imagine sitting down to write a song. Not everyone can do that,” he said. “Then try to think about taking 10 or 12 albums’ worth of material and knowing that every single one of those albums had a hit on it. It’s like they were blessed with this divine understanding of songwriting, like they were visited by aliens.”
Throwing down the gauntlet
The band members want to share their passion for the music of Journey with audiences.
“We want to try to help them understand exactly what Journey did for music and for rock music,” he said. “We want to help them rediscover, or in some cases discover for the first time, the magic of Journey.”
Christopher’s favorite song to perform is “Mother, Father” from the album “Escape,” as it resonates deeply with some of his personal experiences. Fan favorites are mainly any of Journey’s greatest hits, he said, including “Who’s Crying Now,” “Any Way You Want It,” “I’ll Be Alright Without You,” “Girl Can’t Help It,” “Ask the Lonely” and others.
Sometimes skeptics are leery of tribute bands, but Christopher challenges people to give it a try.
“Often times, skeptics have become our greatest fans,” he said. “We will pay homage and respect for their performance. We are throwing down the gauntlet. If you are a Journey fan and you think there is not a band on the planet that can replicate the feelings you had when you saw them, come on and see for yourself.”
Top photo: Resurrection — A Journey Tribute members, from left, Vic White, Jim Handley, Ryan Christopher, Ben King, and Steve Sheroan will perform on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at The Maryland Theatre. (Submitted photo)