By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Hudson native Jason Paulino, now of Clinton, developed an interest in music as a child growing up in the 1980s. Concurrently, his relatives shared with him their admiration for the rock band Journey and its frontman Steve Perry. Now in his 10th year as lead vocalist of the Journey tribute band known as The Great Escape, Paulino and his bandmates were honored at the Worcester Music Awards presented April 12 at the Cove Music Hall.
The Great Escape was voted Best Tribute Band and Best Live Act. Paulino garnered most votes for Best Male Vocalist and Best CD for “Reflections of Memories,” featuring him singing his original songs.
“I’ve always wanted to perform,” Paulino said. “I got hooked on music when MTV started.”
His early music idols included Freddie Mercury, Hall & Oates, and INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence. However, he was surrounded by family members with different musical preferences.
“My grandmother, aunts and uncles were all into Journey,” he relayed. “The Journey album ‘Escape’ was a huge hit when my grandmother babysat for me. I got brainwashed into learning all their lyrics.”
In 2008, Paulino auditioned for a 1980s cover band and was asked to sing a song from their repertoire: “Stone in Love” from Journey’s “Escape” album. He impressed the cover band’s bass player and backing vocalist Bob Wheeler, a Waltham native now living in Hudson. Wheeler registered Paulino to audition for the local TV program “Community Auditions” at Mohegan Sun. Paulino’s rendition of the Journey song “Lights” earned him a chance to compete on the program.
Paulino and Wheeler discussed forming a Journey tribute band named The Great Escape. They recruited drummer Tony Clement of Tyngsboro, keyboardist and backing vocalist Peter Ferlisi of Mansfield, and guitarist and backing vocalist Rich Vigdor of North Grafton. The newly-formed band got their first booking at JJ’s Sports Bar and Grill in Northborough. Meanwhile, Paulino placed as runner-up on “Community Auditions” and The Great Escape landed a gig at the Wolf Den in Mohegan Sun.
“The promoter for Mohegan Sun who gets all the big national acts was in the room when I auditioned,” Paulino explained. “If I won ‘Community Auditions,’ then I wouldn’t have been able to perform at the Wolf Den with the band.”
The Great Escape debuted March 2008 with a packed audience at JJ’s, Paulino noted.
“It was amazing how many people showed up who never heard of us,” he said. “Apparently, people really like Journey.”
This past March, fans who are well-aware of The Great Escape flocked to JJ’s for the band’s ninth-anniversary show.
Among the largest venues where the band has performed is the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. They’re schedule to return there for a third time this Labor Day weekend.
“Each time, the turnout has skyrocketed,” Paulino noted. “The people in Mississippi are very nice. Their hospitality means everything to the guys in the band.”
Paulino cherishes particularly fond memories of performing in his hometown at the Hudson Portuguese Club. The band played for a capacity crowd in the club’s Riverview function hall in 2009. Last June, they attracted an even larger crowd for an outdoor concert during the annual Holy Ghost Feast. The Great Escape will return to the club for another outdoor concert Saturday, June 24 at 8 p.m.
“It’s nice to be accepted in the town where you were raised,” Paulino shared. “I’m related to half of Hudson because so many people there are Portuguese. I love everything about Hudson – that’s where my heart is.”
In addition to accolades for channeling Steve Perry with the tribute band, Paulino is grateful that his CD of original pop/rock music got recognized. He’s preparing for the release of his fourth solo CD titled “The World of You.”
“I’d like to branch out, do my own thing and have my own identity,” he said. “It’s getting kind of weird when people call me Steve.”