Neal Schon Talks Journey, Santana, Gear and “Surreal” Career Highlights
It’s been another top-notch year for guitarist Neal Schon.
Besides the fact that Journey—which includes Schon, Ross Valory (bass), Jonathan Cain (keyboards), Steve Smith (drums) and Arnel Pineda (vocals)—celebrated another season of non-stop touring, Schon also reunited with Carlos Santana to record Santana IV. The album marked the first time Santana’s classic lineup has worked together in more than 40 years.
We recently spoke to Schon about touring with Journey, reuniting with Santana, the 35th anniversary of Journey’s Escape, gear and some incredible career highlights.
What’s it like to still be performing at this high level with Journey after so many years?
It’s been an amazing ride, and I think it’s all due to a lot of hard work. When we decided to rebuild almost two decades ago, it was a long ride up the hill. Those first eight years were a lot of work, and in many ways it was like paying our dues all over again. We’re grateful to everyone who put in so much time rebuilding, and we still have much more to experiment with musically.
What does the band have planned for next year?
We’ve been playing the greatest hits for a while and know we have to play those songs in order to make fans happy. But our die-hard fans want to hear different material, and we have tons of it. So that’s what’s about to come next year. We’ll be playing our first shows in the Orient where we’ve been asked to play Escape and Frontiers in their entirety. I think it will be fun for everyone to get reconnected with those records. Some of those songs, like “Frontiers,” we’ve never played live. We actually went through it at a sound check recently and it sounded amazing. I’m excited about doing it.
What was it like getting back together with Carlos and the gang for Santana IV?
For me, it was a lifelong dream. Everyone had their own hangups at the time we disbanded, and a lot of us didn’t leave on the right note. I remember when we first got together to test out the idea, we had about eight days of rehearsal and jamming and it was just amazing. Gregg [Rolie], Carlos and I brought in songs, and we went at it in a very organic way and laid it all down. I feel so proud of this record and it’s very gratifying to have helped pull all of these guys back together.
This year also marked the 35th anniversary of Journey’s Escape, an album that saw the departure of Gregg Rolie and the arrival of Jonathan Cain. What was the chemistry like in the band at that point?
Honestly, it was great. Even before we did Escape, we were already at a height, when we put out the Captured. By that point, Gregg had enough of being on tour and wanted to start a family. At the time, the Babys were opening for us. They were a solid unit and I loved [John] Waite’s vocals. I was checking out Jonathan [Cain] and felt that he was such a great player, and I also liked the fact that he strapped on a rhythm guitar and played once in a while. So when Gregg was going to leave I asked him what he thought about Jonathan taking his place. Gregg thought it was a great choice and everyone else in the band agreed. We continued to evolve and even went into some new areas I had never been in before.
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