Neal Schon has a lot to be thankful for.
Last year, the longtime Journey guitarist—and the band’s only remaining founding member—celebrated another season of touring and was reunited with his longtime friend and mentor, Carlos Santana, for the Santana IV album and tour.
The new year is already off to a memorable start for Schon. In addition to the assortment of solo-related projects he's working on, it was recently announced that Journey–whose current lineup includes Jonathan Cain (keyboards, vocals), Ross Valory (bass, vocals), Steve Smith (drums) and Arnel Pineda (lead vocals)—will be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April alongside Yes, ELO, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Nile Rodgers and Tupac Shakur.
I recently spoke with Schon about Journey’s induction, his upcoming projects and more.
Did you ever think the day would come when Journey would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I didn’t really think about it. We were up about 17 years ago, and when we weren’t nominated, I kind of forgot about it. One of the main things that got us in was our fans voting so hard. The fans and the music are the main things for me. They spoke and the Hall listened. It’s an honor to be in there and get the nod for some of the staples and cement we’ve made.
Do you see Journey’s induction as a stepping stone for other “classic rock” bands to eventually get a nod?
I really can't say because I have no clue what the voting process is. Personally, I’d love to see it be more fan-based. A hall of fame is about different artists and bands and the legacies they've left. Even if the people deciding don’t care for a certain type of music, the artists that have the credentials and sell millions of records deserve to be there.
What was [vocalist] Arnel [Pineda]’s reaction to the news?
He's really excited for us. I think it would have been great if he had been inducted too, because he’s been with us for nine years. But I’m hoping something cool comes down with him in a jam. I’m also excited for him to meet Steve [Perry] because Arnel is one of Steve's biggest fans.
Speaking of Steve, the band’s induction has already fueled talk of a “classic” Journey reunion. Do you expect Steve to join the band for a performance at the ceremony?
You know, I really don’t expect anything. Steve’s said in past interviews that he's not interested in coming back to Journey, and I respect that. It ended a long time ago. But I would love to see him at least play a song with us. After seeing him performing with the Eels [watch it below], I’m sure a lot of fans are also going to expect him to sing a little.
What are your plans for 2017?
I’m already setting up a schedule, both for myself and for the band. Journey will be touring from mid-February through mid-July. We’ll be starting in Japan, where we’ll be playing everything from the Escape and Frontiers albums from top to bottom. We’ve never done that before, and I’m really looking forward to it. The greatest hits are great, but I think it’s time to open it up and get into some of these deep tracks because Journey offers so much more than hits. We bring a lot of different things to the table, and it’s one of the reasons I felt the band deserved to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
If you listen to an album like Escape, we cover a lot of ground on that record. It can be confusing for someone who’s never heard the band before when they hear songs like “Dead or Alive,” “Mother, Father” and “Still They Ride” and then hear “Open Arms."
What other new projects are you working on?
The latest thing I’ve been working on is with Narada Michael Walden. I remember all of the stuff he wrote for Jeff Beck on Wired and asked him to write me a record. I suggested we do something really soulful and orchestral where the guitar is the voice. We’ve got a great start on it, and I’m looking forward to commencing on it in the new year. I’ve also got a real avant gard project I’m working on that’s more techno with keyboards and guitar. It’s a bunch of loops with me jamming some really over-the-top, outside-of-the-box stuff.
I tried to see how far out I could go and then come back. And if that wasn’t enough, Kevin Shirley called me and said he’d love to do a really stripped-down blues record with me. He did an amazing job with Joe Bonamassa and wants to do something with great tone into a Fender amp with a Telecaster. I’m a Tele junkie and have them all over my house. They’re beautiful, stout guitars that are so articulate. There’s a lot you can do with that guitar with no frills. Blues is where my roots are, so at the end of the tour, I’m going to set aside some time to head into the studio and knock it out.
Do you have more plans to tour with Carlos Santana?
That's the other thing we're trying to work out. By that third gig together, we were firing on all cylinders. I’d love to see what would happen if we had a few weeks under our belts. Carlos is a huge inspiration to me and has become one of my best friends as well as a mentor and someone I look up to.
What are you most proud of about Journey? Is it the albums, the overall success, the rebuilding of the band?
For me, it all started with Herbie Herbert approaching me about a band (the Golden Gate Rhythm Section) where we’d be a studio session band for hire for different artists. That band turned into Journey. We’ve taken some breaks through the years that turned into extended hiatuses. So I had to get busy and did solo projects and played with Paul Rodgers and Bad English with John Waite, Jon Cain, Deen Castronovo and Ricky Phillips.
I’m kind of like “Father Journey” in that I’ll always fight for us to get something we deserve. And we're not done. I’m not done. We have such a large audience that just keeps growing.
After 43 years with the band, I see no reason to throw in the towel. Even if I want to do different stuff, there's still time to do it and no reason not to. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about my career and am so grateful for the one I’ve had. The best is yet to come.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.