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Guitarist Neal Schon has been a constant in Journey's evolution
by Doug Fox - Daily Herald
August 03, 2012

The main problem with interviewing Journey guitarist Neal Schon is figuring out where to start.

There are almost as many pertinent talking points with the 58-year-old guitarist extraordinaire as there are hit singles by Journey.

Schon just recently kicked off a brand new summer tour with Journey-a U.S. jaunt that includes Friday's stop at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City. Additionally, he has not one but two separate solo projects in the pipeline, his experience of finding current Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda has inspired a new reality TV show, and, as if that was not enough, he's been all over the news and tabloids during the past year based on his relationship with girlfriend Michaele Salahi (of "Real Housewives" fame).

In a very ironic but real sense, Schon goes on tour to get a little time off.

"Actually, you know what? I've just had 10 months off and I worked my [butt] off," Schon said during a phone interview from Paso Robles, Calif., last week, where he was preparing for just the third night of Journey's tour with Pat Benatar and Loverboy.

"Sometimes I get more sleep on tour than when I'm home."

The fledgling tour-Friday's USANA Amphitheatre show will only be the eighth stop of 46 scheduled dates for this package-got off to an intriguing start. The band had not performed together since ending the "Eclipse" tour last October, and did very little rehearsal for the July 21 startup to the current venture.

"I was just trying to remember songs. I had a couple train wrecks, you know, up on stage," Schon said with a laugh. "I did some fast editing in my mind-that sometimes works in the studio, but it doesn't work on stage. So I'm playing an extra chorus and I'm looking around at everybody going, 'Where are you guys,' you know? So we had some real moments like that, but I think overall it was good."

The band's second show, in Lake Tahoe, Calif., faced a different set of challenges. In addition to the high altitude, there was a nearby forest fire that rained ashes down on the band and audience during the set, and created a difficult environment for Pineda and his soaring vocals.

"I'm sitting there singing and I'm going, '...I can't even breathe,' " said Schon. "And so I'm going, 'I don't know how he's doing it.' He really did well, I thought. He got through it with not such a great environment to try and sing in. But, you know, that's what the road is. You deal with all these different elements from time to time, things that happen. That's what it is. Sometimes you get dealt lemons, you make lemonade, you know?"

Schon holds the distinction of being the only constant member of Journey throughout the band's entire 37-year career. Bassist Ross Valory was also there from the beginning, but did not participate in the recording of or tour for 1986's "Raised on Radio." Keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined the fold just in time to contribute mightily to 1981's "Escape" album, recognized as the definitive Journey record and featuring three of the band's biggest hits: "Don't Stop Believin'," "Who's Cryin' Now" and "Open Arms." Deen Castronovo has been on drums since 2001, and Pineda debuted as lead singer in 2008.

Schon said the band still catches some grief from fans upset about the ouster of longtime vocalist Steve Perry-the voice behind almost all of the band's biggest hits-who last appeared on the 1996 release, "Trial By Fire." Pineda's vocals, however, are hauntingly similar to Perry's, and the Filipino frontman has been embraced by most of the band's base by virtue of his energetic stage presence and engaging back story.

"All I know is that we always have fans like that, that say, 'You guys are not Journey' without this, without that or without Steve," said Schon. "And I'm like, 'Well, obviously we are because we're doing better than we've ever done in 20 years, and this tour is already doing better than we've done in the markets prior to this. So we're off to a good start again."

Outside of his Journey commitments, Schon has always been quite active in solo and side projects. Some of his band side bands include HSAS, Bad English, Hardline and Planet Us.

The first of Schon's upcoming two solo albums is a fully instrumental record titled "The Calling." It features Schon on guitar and bass, former Journey drummer Steve Smith, and keyboardists Igor Len and Jan Hammer. The album is scheduled for release on Oct. 29.

"I'm really proud of this record. It came out of nowhere," said Schon. "The record is really well-rounded musically. There's a lot of different variety on it, which I'm happy about. So when I got done with that record, I decided, 'Well, I'm going to stay in and I'm going to do another record.' I had the creative juices flowing, you know? That's how it is with me, once I get going...if I get going and off to a good start, I sort of have endless creative ideas."

The second solo album features Castronovo on drums and vocals, Marco Mendoza on bass and vocals, and additional songwriting help from Jack Blades of Night Ranger.

"That record is just being finished right now," Schon said. "I'm tweaking the mixes right now, but it's done and it sounds really strong. Very experimental, every song is a bit different. You go, 'Are those the same guys?' Really jamming stuff, pretty cool."

Despite a career in the spotlight as the lead guitarist of one of rock's biggest acts, Schon was still taken aback at all the publicity generated by his romantic involvement with Salahi-which began when her husband, Tareq, mistakenly reported her missing last year. It was soon discovered, however, that she had run away to join the rock 'n' roll circus with Schon, who she had dated previously.

"It's been a lot to digest, a big learning curve, though, for me, because I never knew any of this stuff existed out there," said Schon of the tabloids and paparazzi. "And then, bam! 'What is going on?' It was crazy, really kind of surreal. But people have been really great through it all to myself and Michaele. Everywhere we go, people are very, very nice and supportive. You know, we were just dealing with some crazy things-the fact that everything went so ballistically public, in TV and everything, you know? I've had my divorces before but everything was taken care of behind closed doors, and so the fact that everything was brought out into the open, and brought on "Good Morning America" and this and that, I was just like, "Wow, this is insane!" But we're alive and well, and skin has gotten thicker and we're still smiling. All is good, you know?"

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