Ernie Shepherd Lead Vocals

Ernie has been a Journey fan since he was 10 years old.  It has always been a dream of his to stand on a stage and sing the classic songs made famous by his favorite singer Steve Perry.  Ernie also loves Soul music made famous in the 60's...Same Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye are big influences.  Ernie's favorite part of the show is getting to meet the people that come out to support the band.  Ernie is originally from Boston MA, but proudly calls North Carolina home.

Choosing a Favorite Journey Album is hard for Ernie because they each bring him to a time in his life that he holds dear.  If you had to press him he would most likely say Raised on Radio for its soulful overtones.  His Favorite song to sing live is Faithfully.


Questions, Questions and Questions!!    

Questions, Questions and Questions!!   

I asked people to send me questions for this blog entry, and I got some good ones.   I love the interaction I have with people I would have no other way of knowing.  Technology is so cool! 

So let's get to the questions! 

Rachel Jimison Mattox asks….. Have you ever had a show where all members wore Journey shirts on stage at the same time? I mean a planned thing to do, just for fun. 

This is an easy answer...It has never happened...Our Drummer Dan Ross will occasionally wear his Escape tour T shirt on stage.  I have multiple Journey T shirts but I always feel odd wearing them...It’s like HEY LOOK AT ME I LIKE JOURNEY!!!    

Julia Love Alden asks…. Outside venues and the uncooperative weather or indoor venues and storms/heavy rains that affect the show. 

In a perfect world Weather wouldn’t be an issue...But we all know we don’t live in a perfect world.  If I had to choose between the two, I’d have to go with indoor venue,  At least when you get there you can enjoy the show.  The band has it in their contract that we get paid either way...Show or no Show...but if you know the guys in this band we would much rather play than to not play!  I can say one of the hardest things to do is to plan for a big show and to see that the weather might make folks stay away.  We always want people to be safe, but we love seeing your faces! 

Kenneth Harris asks….I know you love Journey and your band just kills it... But as a musician does it feel constrictive? 

I can’t speak for the band but I can say playing the same 25 songs every week can be a challenge for most.  I promise you it isn't for me.  I love these songs with such passion I wish I could sing them 5 days a week(I’m human I need 2 days to rest).  Also I’ve never considered myself a musician.  I'm a singer, a performer.  Musicians are those artistic types that produced music or play an instrument.   As for the other guys, well I’ve had about 15 people or so come and go over the last 7 years.  There are many reasons for this but I imagine one of them is they just wanted to play something other than Journey.   

Shawn Dison asks….What would you do if Steve Perry showed up to one of your shows. Stood right up at the front of the stage and was singing along? 

HAHAHAHA...WOW...well this is an easy answer.  I would stop the show and ask him to please come to the stage and take over singing...I would basically swap places with him.   Those songs belong to him...I’m just borrowing them! 

Wendy Mcintyre Butler asks…. Do you have a certain area of the states that you like to perform at more so than somewhere else? 

The political answer is we love to play anywhere that will have us.  We so love the idea that people choose to spend their free time and hard earned money on us.  But the band originally starting out in Charlotte NC I would have to say anytime we play the Fillmore in Charlotte is like being in the SUPERBOWL for us.  (we play the Fillmore in Charlotte Aug 6th….don’t miss it!) 

Alicia Yvette Jamison asks 3 questions…. How do you feel right before you walk on stage? 

Usually I am a wreck all the way up til show time…..and it has nothing to do with the show.  It's usually band manager stuff...Are the tickets ready...will the band be on time….do I need to eat...will there be a good crowd...will the opening band be good...will I sing well….do these pants make me look fat….I hate my hair….non stop….and then it's 5 minutes before we go on and the world comes into balance and focus...Usually we will call the band members and those that are in the Green Room with us to join in a family prayer.  It’s not meant to be Religious...It’s meant to pay respect to the all knowing force that has given us the chance to perform.  It puts our hearts in the right frame of mind….3 mins before show time...the Intro plays…”it's just another Trial by Fire…..”    I take a deep breath and step out on stage and feel the most relaxed and comfortable I’ve ever been. 

Ok next question...What do you do after to settle down from the adrenaline rush? 

The simple answer is I go out into the audience and thank folks for being there.   But sometimes it takes until 4am to drop down.  Sometimes we are in a car driving hours and that adrenaline rush is what gets me home safe.  Other times you lay in a hotel room and think of your favorite moments from the show and smile.  The secret is knowing that it's ok to have that rush and it's ok to let it go.  Many musicians have tried to maintain that high and that's a terrible mistake.  It’s a high that can not be replicated with drugs or drink, So why try? 

Last question from Alicia,  What would be the one Journey or Steve Perry song you wish you could add to set list? 

That’s a tough one, because I don’t like to add songs that I would like.  I like to add songs that I think would make the show better.  We have learned and dropped so many songs in 7 years because they just didn't grab the audience attention.  We don’t want to bore people, we want them to sing along.  So for that reason we try to play the hits. 

But if I had to choose it would probably be The Steve Perry song Strung Out….I used to sing that song every day….and to this day the words ring true….It's hard to love somebody...especially when they don’t belong to you….cause they’re loving someone else...strung out and hung up on you! 

Karen N John  ask…..Who began the formation of TBF and how did y'all meet? Where did your first venue take place? Is there any particular show that stands out in your mind and brings back special memories? 

I started Trial by Fire in 2008.  The original members were people I found on Craigslist as I was new in town and didn't know any local musicians. (you can read the previous blog post for the origin story of why I started TBF) Our first show was at the Berewick Community club was my Birthday April 18th 2009...this was at the neighborhood that I lived in when I lived in Charlotte....We build the stage by hand...we practiced in my garage for months...I drove my neighbors crazy!  As for a venue that brings back memories...I could do a whole blog post on that.  Let's just say I have many memories and stories to tell.

  The band has grown and evolved in its short 7-8 year span.  All the members have changed a few times, as people come and go..just a fact of life.  I met our current keyboard player in a bar called Brewballs in Burlington NC.  He offered to fill in one day and I had been chasing him to be in the band from that moment on.  Our Drummer Dan Ross brought Scottie Jordan and Rich Barefoot to me.  In a moment of depression I was threatening to end the band and Dan said let me show you these two’ll love them...and love them I did…..And so I credit Dan Ross with saving Trial by Fire….The current line up has been together for 2.5 years...And I love them! 

Rachel Jimison Mattox asks….If you had to perform only one Journey song, but you knew Steve was there watching, which song would it be? 

That’s a tough one...First off I don’t think I’d want to sing for him.  I’d want him to sing for me.  But if he insisted I would probably sing “Send Her My Love” or “I’ll be alright without you” as I’ve heard he really likes those two and I think I do them better than the rest…..but I'm sure I’d be a shaking blubbering it doesn't matter! 

Thanks again to all that sent a question...This was fun!! Let's do it again soon!!

How it all began. 

Where to start?  I have an idea, let's start at the beginning. 

How did you start Trial by Fire? 

I get asked about the origin story of the band all the time.    It is one of my favorite stories to tell. 

I was at the end of my first marriage.  Yeah this posting stuff is going to be real.  It's going to be raw.  No bullshit.  Just the facts as I remember them.  You've been warned.   

Like I was saying, it was the end of my first marriage.  I had spent the better part of the last 10 years trying to be someone I wasn't.  I did this to try and make someone else happy.  I've learned  that kind of behavior just doesn't work, but like all things it took time to learn it.   

I could go into the ugly details but that is not the purpose of this post. 

The short story is that here I was 10 years later and without a clue of who I was. 

The Family had gone home for the Holidays and I was left alone in our massive Charlotte home with nothing to do.   It was the wednesday before Thanksgiving 2008. 

I grabbed my guitar. 

Now mind you I'm no guitar player.  I know 5 chords...maybe.   I had played some worship songs at church home groups, but never a rock tune.  I had not honestly listened to Traditional Rock music in almost 10 years.  At the time we only listened to Christian music in my home. 

I played every worship song I could remember.  For those who have ever done this kind of thing it can be quite a moving experience.  I believe I was into it about 2 hours, singing and crying.   I remember asking the empty room, “what do I do now?” 

I waited for an answer. 

Now I'm not going to say I heard a voice.  I will say I had a deep rooted feeling.  The source of this feeling can be debated, but again that's not the reason for this post. 

I got a response. 

“What do YOU want to do?” 

To which I replied, “I don’t know, thats why Im asking you!” 

And then I heard/felt, “Ernie What do you love?” 

I sat there for what seemed like hours. 

I remember talking out loud a lot.  I remember being very upset.  I remember saying something like, I want something for me.  The voice came once again. 

“What brings you Joy?” 

“I love to sing!”  I almost shouted.  I felt foolish.  I knew from things I have learned that you can’t make a good living by “loving to sing.”  Almost as if I was trying to bribe this higher power voice I offered, “maybe I could become a worship leader?”  Singing in a church is admirable thing to do and I wanted to be a good man.  The voice interrupted, 

“If I wanted that I would have asked you to be a worship leader, I asked what brings you Joy...think back to when you were a child….think of a joyful moment….what did you want to be?” 

And I blurted, 

“I wanted to be in Journey”   

Specifically I wanted to be Steve Perry.  As a 10 year old boy I had fallen in love with the music of Journey and the amazing tenor of Steve Perry.  I would listen to those records for hours, torturing my older brother whose musical tastes were much heavier...think Led Zeppelin...think Ozzy...Think AC/DC.  We shared a bedroom and we’d take turns with the record player.  You can just imagine it I am sure.  The voice from inside came to me once again awaking me from my flashback, 

“Sing Journey” 

And like the crazy person I was sure I was in the process of becoming I grabbed the guitar and tried to figure out how to play a journey song.  Madness.  Just utter and  complete madness. 

I chose the song “Lights”  Key of D...4 chords  D A G and a minor Bm.   

I sang that one song for three hours.  When I was finished it was dark out.  I had lost track of time.  The more I had sang it the better it sounded.  My voice started off deep.  When I was finished my voice was in a much higher pitch.  I thought I had gone mad, but I was starting to think that maybe I could actually sing Journey. 

Now I know there are many people out there that say, “sing Journey...what's the big deal?” 

I see many singers out there that say they can sing Journey, I mean look, Journey has had 3 singers since Steve Perry left the band.  So I can see why people think it's no big deal. For me though, it was huge.  I had idolized this man’s voice for a large part of my life.  To me to say anyone could sound like him was ludacris.  So after my 3 or more hour jam session of the song “Lights”, I was once again lost at what to do. 

In the months leading up to this I had tried to start a Christian Rock band, I had a cool name(my opinion) all picked out.  I wanted to start a band called 40dayReign...I actually got the band together and played a show.  The Christian Rock band wasn't meant to be….Sometimes the door just doesn’t open and that's okay.  The good that did come from it was I had discovered that you could find musicians on Craigslist!  “Hey maybe there is a band out there that needs a guy who can sing Journey?” 

I grabbed the laptop and did a quick search and found a band that was looking for a singer.  I read their ad and at the bottom was a list of bands they covered, one of which was Journey.   I called the number, now mind you this is 9pm or so on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.   I wish I could remember the guy’s name but the conversation was brief and strange...all on my end of course. 

Ernie: hey man I don’t want to be in your band….but I want to see if I can sing Journey...can I come try? 

Freaked out band member:   AHHHHH UMMMMM AHHHHH okay….we had an audition scheduled for Friday do you want to come sing the Journey tunes? 

Ernie: I would love to!!!!   Which ones do you do? 

Freaked out band member:  Don’t Stop Believing, Faithfully and Lights. 

Ernie: oh cool I just sang lights for like 3 hours! 

Freaked out band member:  AHHHH UMMM AHHHH well okay I’ll email you the address...see you on friday. 

The fact that this guy actually emailed me the address is a miracle in my mind.  I can only imagine the conversation he had with his band members. 

I was too excited.  I was nervous.  I listened to those songs for 2 days straight! 

I arrived early(surprise) on Friday.   I tried my best to appear sane.  I was introduced to the band members.  They were located in Kannapolis NC.  For the life of me I have no idea who they were...If I did I'd call them and apologize.  They handed me a microphone and said, 

“Let's do Don’t Stop Belivin’ first” 

The band started, I was just in shock to hear a band play journey live like this I almost missed my cue.  I was just in shock that here I was about to sing a Journey song with a band! 

The song went by in a blur….I can’t tell you if I did well or not.  I just sang my heart out.  When we were done the band leader formerly known as “Freaked out band member” had nothing to say but, 

“Let's do Faithfully” 

Again the song started and I wanted to bust out laughing at how cool it was to hear someone play that famous piano intro, remaining as clam as I could I hit my cue and sang my heart out once again.  When the song was over the band leader had nothing to say but, 

“Okay let's do Lights” 

And once more I swang for the fences and gave it all I had.  When the song was done I was expecting them to say I did a pretty good job or something, but all I got was silence and puzzled looks.  So I began to apologize, 

“Hey guys I am so sorry I wasted your time, I just always wanted to sing Journey and I'm so grateful…..” 

The leader of the band interrupted me, 

“Man I don’t know what kind of scam you are trying to pull.” 

I was dumbfounded.  I didn't mean to upset anyone.  I didn't know how to react. 

He continued, 

“But if you think we are going to believe that you are some random guy off the street who just came to sing Journey...we are not stupid” 

I was very confused and apologetic.   

“I'm so sorry guys I didn't mean any harm I just figured out I could sing Journey 2 days ago and I wanted to try to sing it with a band I am so sorry!” 

The band leader cut me off, 

“Alright if you say so but I'm pretty sure you are a Journey Tribute singer sent here to mess with one walks in and sings Steve Perry like that just out of the blue….If you are serious and are on the up and up I suggest you start a Journey Tribute.” 

I responded. 

“What is a Journey Tribute” 

And the rest as they say is “history”

Connect with Ernie here