When Journey is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7, it will mark a pinnacle moment for their manager of nearly 20 years, John Baruck. The 69-year-old, who cut his teeth as a local agent in Illinois alongside college roommate Irving Azoff, was tasked with rerouting the group's career following the 1998 exit of frontman Steve Perry. "Irving had just made a deal for the band with Walmart -- for Journey's Greatest Hits -- and we had no lead singer," recalls Baruck.
The fixer turned out to be guitarist and Internet sleuth Neal Schon, who found Filipino karaoke singer Arnel Pineda on YouTube. (Pineda joining the group in 2007 would be documented in the 2012 indie film Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey.)
Baruck followed Azoff to Los Angeles and to Live Nation, where he helped guide clients like Christina Aguilera. In September 2016, he joined Azoff MSG Entertainment. Says Azoff: "There's something to be said for not growing up in L.A. or New York and experiencing the business in the heartland. You learn in different ways what does and doesn't work."
"When we started out, I was the agent and John was the tour manager for One Eyed Jacks and REO [Speedwagon], and we both got a real good feel for the business. John was a tour manager but he was also really good with budgets and numbers and accounting. I was more the schmoozer and he was the bones of the operation and that is how we still operate today. The only training back then was trial by fire. We both survived trial by fire," Azoff adds.
Of their success together, Azoff says, "We didn't take all of it, but we sure got our fair share. We have never gotten 100 percent of L.A. but we sure got more than our share."
Read Billboard's Q&A with Baruck below: (Edited for content and clarity.)
When you took on management of Journey in 1998, was your first order of business finding a replacement for Steve Perry?
Irving had just made a deal with Walmart -- for Journey's Greatest Hits -- and we had no lead singer. Neal Schon searched the Internet tirelessly trying to find someone that could sing the songs the way they were created. [Eventually], we found a karaoke singer from the Philippines named Arnel Pineda on YouTube. We gave the green light to a documentary, Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey, which led to millions of people knowing Arnel's story -- and it was an important one to tell.
To what do you credit Journey getting past the gatekeepers and into the hall of fame on its first nomination?
There is no formula. We worked for a long time with the people that make those decisions: the voting membership and the fans. But it was also, like, how can you not have a band as popular or as successful as Journey in the hall of fame? The band is truly thrilled. I've got two tables of people coming and it's going to be a blast.
How important has film and TV usage of original Journey tracks been to its career longevity?
Steve Perry is very particular on how we use these songs, but with the movie Monster [in 2003], the Sopranos series finale in 2007 and, in 2009, Glee, it has brought a whole new age group into our fan base. We were no longer an old band playing for old fans. We had three generations at our shows.
When did you know Azoff had a future in music?
In high school in Danville, Ill. He would sit at one of those folding card tables and break up $100 [among a few bands], then collect $2 at the door. That's how he paid for college.
Is that how it started?
We weren’t making a lot of money through the booking agency and then mod clothing came into fashion along with long hair and hippies. The big thing was bell-bottom blue jeans. So we opened up a little store in Champaign, IL called No Hassle. It was about as big as a closet. It had bins all over and I think Lee jeans were our first account. We opened up more stores and then the whole thing went bust. But it was a lot of fun and a real education in commerce.
When Irving moved out to California, did he really call and say “We can take this town!
I actually can’t tell you exactly what he said, but he must have because he called me up and said, “Pack your stuff up and come on out.” He had his secretary find a house for me and I packed up my family and my furniture, moved to Los Angeles. When we opened up Frontline Management and it was just he and I and two assistants and we had Joe Walsh, REO Speedwagon, The Eagles and Dan Fogelberg. That was our roster.
That’s a great roster.
You have to realize at that time none of those bands were what we think of those bands now.
What was it like in those early days getting those bands up to the level that they eventually got to?
The bands created the music. We didn’t write any songs with them. So they were great. I mean look at that roster. You had songwriters like Danny Fogelberg and Joe Walsh and Don Henley. REO was a great rock band that toured constantly. We learned how to work the record companies, how to promote their records and we had success with all of them.
You left Frontline Management in 1977 and Irving went on to run MCA Records. You both had great success, but what brought you back together?
Irving and I had not worked together for almost 20 years. I ran into him on the driving range. We just sat down and started reminiscing. “How’ve you been for the last few years? What’s going on with you?” He called me the next day and said, “Listen. I’m managing Journey. I put the band back together again with Steve Perry and they made a record Trial By Fire but something happened. Steve injured his hip and he was laid up."
What did the band do?
The band decided they couldn't wait any longer and they were going to go on without him. They got a singer a guy named Steve Augeri who was selling pants at The Gap. He had a great voice and there were going to go out and give it a shot. In 1998 we put a tour together. Mainly small venues and we sold everything out.
Was the response what you expected?
The response was unbelievable. It really didn’t matter whether or not we had the original singer because the songs were what was important. People came to hear those songs. From that point I decided I needed to put the band in front of many as possible. We didn’t have the tools of a record, so we did it through touring. I put together packages. We did nine to ten thousand seats and basically put those songs in front of people and they remembered them. They didn’t care who was singing lead. We kept doing that and we actually never stopped.
And now they are going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That must mean the world to Neal!
Oh my goodness, hell yeah! He’s so happy. I want to add, I didn’t get Journey into the Hall of Fame. Journey got themselves into the Hall of Fame. What I did was put the music in front of many people as I could. I think their success was undeniable to the Hall of Fame when they were making the decision. It was like, how can you guys not have a band as popular or as successful as Journey in the Hall of Fame, when you have bands that were opening for Journey on their tours in the Hall of Fame already?
Now that you are back with Irving again at Azoff MSG Entertainment. What is your role in the company?
I’m really just here to manage Journey. That’s all I do. I do have a wonderful client, Heather Headley, who is a Broadway star, recording artist, and Grammy winner. She just starred in The Color Purple for about six months in Jennifer Hudson's old role. As for Irving, he's been consistent for 50 years. He’s just got a bigger toy train set to play with.
A version of this article originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Billboard.