Journey plays South Florida this weekend

 

Guitarist Neal Schon chats about the tour, new lead singer and ‘The Sopranos’

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By Michael Hamersly | mikehamersly@gmail.com

Journey is one of those classic-rock bands that somehow transcends both genres and generations. You'll find Journey lovers among an amazingly diverse span of music fans, and you'll hear the group's soulful and melodic songs - including "Wheel in the Sky," "Any Way You Want It," "Open Arms," "Lights," "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" "Who's Cryin' Now," "Faithfully," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" and, of course, "Don't Stop Believin'" on a wide variety of radio stations.

Saturday night at West Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphitheatre, catch Journey (with new singer Arnel Pineda, who's a dead-on match for original, departed frontman Steve Perry) as part of a triple bill also including '80s MTV mainstays Pat Benatar (“Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” "We Belong," “Love Is a Battlefield”) and Loverboy (“Turn Me Loose,” “Hot Girls in Love,” “Working for the Weekend”).

Journey's legendary guitarist Neal Schon - who chose to join, ahem, Santana at the tender age of 15 over Eric Clapton's request to play with him in Derek and the Dominos - talked to Miami.com about the tour, his first reaction to discovering Pineda, and the amazing final episode of HBO's beloved mob drama "The Sopranos" that so effectively utilized "Don't Stop Believin'."

How's the tour going so far - is it fun playing with Pat Benatar and Loverboy?
Yeah, the bill is really great. Musically, it fits really well, and the audience is into all three bands, and we never have problems. We go out with a lot of different people, and it always seems to be good. I think in the future, for myself, I'd prefer to play with one other act and not two, because I believe that our diehard fans would rather hear a bit longer show out of us. We're playing from 75 to 90 minutes.

I guess you have a lot more hits that you could play, yeah. So what can we expect from the show?
Well, definitely we'll play the hits, and then we add what we can add - we've been squeezing in a couple new songs, and I play a solo and [keyboardist] Jonathan [Cain] plays a solo. We improvise, you know? We're gonna jam - we play the songs, but we always jam also.

What did you think when you first heard Arnel sing?
I had been looking on YouTube for two days, and basically went through every genre of every male singer - I looked at a lot of R&B and rock and blues - and there were a couple guys that popped up from England that sounded really good. They were more R&B-type singers on really light R&B tracks. And it sounded really excellent and really soulful, and a regular rock singer really doesn't sit with us, you know? There's an R&B thing mixed with the rock thing that makes us sound the way we do. So there were a couple guys that sounded good, but I didn't feel when I listened to them that they had the pipes to withstand the band and hold up on top of it. And right in the 12th hour when I was just burnt from looking, I felt like I had exhausted this idea, like I don't think I'm gonna find anybody.
And then I punched onto this link of a Survivor song with Arnel's name attached to it, and was pleasantly surprised - I was like, "Wow! Who is that!?" And so I got really curious and went back to a website that his buddy had made for him, and there were 40 tracks of him, all cover songs, and Journey was just a small portion of it. There were only two songs by us out of the 40, but there was everything from Zep stuff to Aerosmith to Police stuff - you name it and he was doing it, and doing it really fricking well. I've never heard anybody be a chameleon like that as a vocalist, and really nail stuff. And I thought, for him to actually sound more like the artists than the artist does, that's really insane. He's the person of all those voices, and he's capable of doing anything. So there would be no restrictions in writing a song with him as far as where we can go or can't go. Sometimes when you work with different singers, you go, "Well, I know that this will work, but I know this other thing won't work." So I really like the idea that it was an open field, that musically there was really nothing that we couldn't do. And so far, so good.

Are you a fan of "The Sopranos"?
Yes, definitely!

So what'd you think of the use of "Don't Stop Believin'" in the finale?
I was just completely blown away. I mean, we get so many emails a day, and I remember months beforehand I received an email from management saying that possibly the producer of the show was gonna use "Don't Stop Believin'" in one of the scenes in the last episode. So I looked at it and went, "Oh, that's great - if it happens, it happens," and thought the chances were probably nil. So I kind of wrote it off and never paid attention to it again. Next thing you know, my phone is blowing up, and everybody's going, "Dude, did you see it!?" and I'm like, "What?" And they explained what happened, and I went and checked it out and was blown away. You know, it would have been amazing to have the song in any part of the episode, but to actually have the last seconds of the last episode be our song, was just the most ... my God."

Did they ever explain to you why they chose that song?
No, not really. I felt it was apropos, though. I thought it did fit the scene. I mean, you never know if they're gonna come back or what. I mean, I was thinking that this show was so successful that they'll have to come back at one point. But I heard it's really not going to happen.

You're obviously a guitar hero to countless fans - who are some of your favorites?
My guitar heroes are pretty much the same as they were when I was growing up. There are a lot of great, newer-generation guitarists out there, but my heroes were, you know, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page. And then I had my blues guys even before the English revolution that I just mentioned - B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters - all the really old, real blues. Those were really my roots.
And then I listened to jazz guys, too, like fusion and avant-garde jazz, and I've always loved John McLaughlin - he's still one of my favorite guitarists that I listen to almost daily. And I loved Wes Montgomery, and Mike Bloomfield. And I listened to a lot of Aretha Franklin, believe it or not. I used to go see her live at the Fillmore West in San Francisco when I was a kid, and she just messed me up live - my hair was just standing up on my arms. So I started listening to her singing, and trying to cop a lot of her phrasing and turns and vibrato and choice of notes  while I was playing guitar, rather than listening to guitar players.
And then my time when I managed to get in the band Santana - which was another crazy point in my life - just completely opened me up, with Carlos and the rest of the guys always listening to Latin, Brazilian, African music. So my mind kept expanding.

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