At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2017, members of Journey had a weird family reunion of sorts. First there was the Gregg Rolle thing. The HOF wasn’t keen to invite the band’s original keyboard player and vocalist, so just two days before the big night, guitarist and band leader Neal Schon said, “No Gregg, no Journey. I stood my ground and they (expletive deleted) hated me for it.” Schon also noted the maroon clothing and accents worn by some of the management team and band members that night, but we will come back to the conspiratorial overtones he was feeling a bit later. There were also reunion rumors fueled by having former vocalist Steve Perry there. Schon had not talked to him since 2005; would Perry sing with the band? According to Neal, “ The best part of the evening was speaking with Steve Perry in his room before we went on stage. We hadn’t seen each other for many years. That was the most moving part of the evening to me. We really had a connection, and a love for one another. It was emotional, I think, for both of us.” For the record, Perry came on stage for the acceptance speeches but did not perform that night.
Originally known as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the group came together in 1973 to act as a sort of all-star backup band for more established Bay Area artists. Rolle and Schon came out of Santana, George Tickner and Ross Vallory (guitar and bass) were both from Frumious Bandersnatch, and drummer Prairie Prince played primarily with The Tubes. It only took one live performance in Hawaii for them to realize they had something special going on so they began working on their jazz fusion tinged rock repertoire. Their ‘coming out’ gig as Journey (on New Year’s Eve of 1973) was at the famous Winterland Ballroom in front of an audience of 10,000. When Prairie Prince departed to rejoin The Tubes, Ansley Dunbar (David Bowie, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) took the drum chair. Between their first eponymously titled album (released in April of 1975) and their second (Look Into The Future – January 1976), the heavy touring schedule wore Tickner out and he dropped out of the line up. Lackluster album sales of their third LP Next (which peaked at No. 85 on the charts) put the band on the verge of being dropped by their label, CBS. The suits at CBS suggested the band might consider changing their jam based music (perhaps to something more commercial) by adding a second vocalist. The band complied, but the new singer wasn’t who you think.
The voice heard on the song that would be considered their first true hit, Wheel In the Sky, wasn’t Steve Perry but Robert Fleischman. Unfortunately, manager Herbie Herbert and Fleishman had differences of opinion which caused him to leave (Fleishman, not Herbert), thus opening the door for Perry to fill his spot. With Roy Thomas Baker (known for his work with Queen) producing their fourth album (Infinity released in January of 1978), the band began a remarkable run of highly successful releases, both singles and albums. Drummer Dunbar disliked the move away from their jazzier fusion sound. The tensions he created within the band led Herbert to fire Dunbar after the Infinity tour. Montrose alum Steve Smith replaced the drummer and this lineup would remain intact through the next two albums and tour cycles. After the Departure album tour, Rolle left on his own terms (to open a soul food restaurant) and was eventually replaced with The Babys former keyboardist, Jonathon Cain.
Throughout the early 1980s, Journey seemed to have the Midas touch as albums like Escape and Frontiers filled arenas. MTV made them the darlings of music television pushing their album sales through the stratosphere. Anthemic songs like Who’s Crying Now, Open Arms, and Don’t Stop Believin received extensive airplay – you couldn’t listen to the TV or radio and not hear their music. As busy as they were, Schon and Perry still recorded solo albums between Journey’s extensive touring and recording schedule in 1984. Journey recorded their ninth LP, Raised on Radio in 1985 with Perry producing the album. Tensions again arose during the next band sessions so Perry and Herbert fired the Valory/Smith rhythm section. The subsequent tour found Randy Jackson handling the bass duties and Mike Baird on the drum riser. Even though Herbert booked an additional fifteen shows at the end of the Raised on Radio tour, Perry declined to do them citing health problems and the strain the tour had taken on his voice. He told Schon and Cain he was done with Journey. With Perry’s exit, the band went on hiatus from 1987 to 1995.
When Perry agreed to a reunion in 1995, it had a condition attached: Herbie Herbert must go. Eagles manager Irving Azoff took over the job with Steve Smith and Ross Valory also returning to the fold. Journey entered the studio to produce Trial By Fire, the band’s tenth album, but a tour slated to follow the album’s release was not an option. Perry discovered he had a degenerative bone condition and would need hip replacement surgery. The album’s release was delayed while the rest waited for Perry to make up his mind about having the surgery. The members of Journey kept themselves busy with side projects until 1998 when Perry announced he was leaving the music business to take care of his health matters. Steve Smith left the band because he did not think they would be as successful without Perry. Drummer Deen Castronovo took his place and the lead singer’s spot was filled by Steve Augeri. With Journey sidelined for a decade, Schon reported a return to touring, “Feels like we are reborn again.” Journey’s next studio record was done with South African expat Kevin Shirley at the helm in 2000. Arrival was released in April of 2001, peaked at #56 on the charts and garnered mixed reviews. Sony dropped Journey from their label and the band’s last work in 2001 came when they performed with other major bands in Texas to aid the families of 9/11 victims. The Generations album followed in 2005 but during the 2006 tour, it became obvious that Augeri was struggling with his vocals. He was replaced for the rest of the tour by Jeff Scott Soto. Soto toured with the band through June of 2007 when it was announced he was no longer with the band.
Neal Schon’s Journey serves a dual purpose as the title of this article because throughout the band’s journey, he has been Journey’s one constant member and leader. With Augeri and Soto gone, Schon called the shots on personnel as they looked for another vocalist. The next lead singer lined up in 2007 was Jeremy Hunsicker from a Journey tribute band called Frontiers. Hunsicker says he was offered the position but tension with Schon saw him dismissed after a short tenure writing new material with the band. Neal resorted to searching YouTube in his quest to find a new vocalist. Schon stumbled upon internet clips of Filipino singer Arnel Pineda performing flawless Journey tracks with a cover band called The Zoo. At first, Pineda did not believe it really was Neal making contact with him, but eventually they set up two auditions. Things went so well Pineda was named the band’s new vocalist on December 5, 2007 in spite of reservations about the hire raised by the rest of the band and their management. At the time, Pindeda was having a run of tough luck and was basically homeless. He has now been with the band for fifteen years and Schon is happy he stuck to his guns. Even as Arnel worked through a recent run of rough live vocals, the band stood solidly behind his work.
Pineda’s uncanny vocal similarity to Steve Perry and the use of Don’t Stop Believin’ in the final episode of the TV series The Sopranos suddenly made Journey a household name again. They recorded a new album with their new singer (Revelation) with the multi-disk set being released on June 3, 2008. When drummer Deen Castronovo took the lead vocal to spell Pineda in concert, he too displayed Steve Perry-like vocals on the song Mother Father. Journey had entered a third life as a major touring act. Surely the band member-go-round was now over, but no, that would make their journey smoother than one could hope for.
In 2015, Castronovo was released from the band after he was accused of domestic violence. Deen himself admitted he had gone off the rails when drug dependency from various health issues caused him to lose his way. He would be replaced by studio veteran Omar Hakim and eventually Steve Smith. Not long after the dust settled on the Castronovo affair, Cain and Schon decided to go a few rounds over an invitation to tour the White House. Cain and Schon are great musical partners, but that is about all they have in common. Cain’s acceptance of the White House invitation irked Schon, thus setting off an intense tit-for-tat social media barrage. Schon maintained that Journey was never a band involved with politics or religion. Cain countered that he wasn’t promoting politics (“just taking the White House tour,” he said) or religion in the band. Those siding with Schon noted Cain had recently undergone a re-awakening of his Christian faith and his wife since 2010, Paula White, was serving on the president’s evangelical advisory board. When Cain’s wife became part of the dialog, it seemed the band was about to split at the seams for good. When Neal reminded Cain about Journey not delving into politics or religion, he ended the discussion by stating, “…and by the way, Journey is my band.”. As the title says, “Neal Schon’s Journey’.
Schon was very open about the tensions when Classic Rock Magazine’s Dave Everly interviewed him in CRM Issue 303 in the summer of 2022: “I was very vocal about it publicly. Everybody hated that, but, you know, I’m like, I’m gonna put it out there, because I want the fans to either back me or say, ‘Man, you should shut up and go behind the doors with this.’ And there was an overabundance of people that came forward and said we support you a thousand percent. Bands…you get married to these guys, And like in a marriage, people can go in different directions. Bands can be difficult and challenging, but removing certain individuals…(he trailed off without finishing the thought).” Oddly enough, it would be another round of drama, law suits, and ‘removing certain individuals’ that would bring Cain and Schon back together again. Schon sensed something was going on when certain members of the band and management team showed up in color coordinated outfits at the Hall of Fame induction. He just wasn’t sure if he was being paranoid or if something was brewing. HInt: He wasn’t just being paranoid.
In 2020, Smith and Valory decided to have a little insurrection of their own long before the attack on the U.S. Capitol put the word on everyone’s lips on January 6, 2021. Although their uprising was not of a violent nature, it was disturbing just the same. The drummer and bass player tried to oust Cain and Schon from the band. Their little ‘coup d’etat’ was designed to legally seize control of the Journey brand. Schon claims the drummer and bass player were attempting to turn the Journey brand into their own retirement account. According to Everly, “Lawsuits flew both ways, sparking a full year of tiresome and costly litigation that would eventually result in an ‘amicable settlement’, a phrase that conjures images of gritted teeth and fingers crossed behind backs.” Cain says now, “It came out of the blue. They tried to drum me and Neal out. It was unbelievable what they did. Really, really disappointing. Many, many millions were spent battling it,”
So, where does this put Neal Schon’s Journey in 2022? First off, they have just finished recording a new album called Freedom which was released earlier this year. It is said to be the strongest album they have recorded since Perry was still in the band. Producer / drummer Narada Michael Walden was supposed to carry on with his dual role after replacing Smith, but he asked to be released from the tour so he could spend more time with his family. The door was now open for the return of Deen Castronovo who began by sharing touring duties before Walden stepped back. Castronovo turned his dismissal from the band in 2015 into his own private self-help crusade which he says saved his life, marriage, and career. Pineda will no doubt be happy to have a break during their demanding shows when Deen takes the vocals on a couple of tracks.
Speaking of Pineda’s vocals, there was a period when fans were beginning to whisper that his tenure with the band was going to end much as Augeri’s run had. Arnel was obviously struggling during some of his live performances and Castronovo shed some light on the situation when he returned to the band: “We had to change our front-of-house sound guy. Arnel was having a hard time hearing: he has been fighting this for years. And we finally figured out, after years and years, that the soundman, our front-of-house guy, has been just pushing mixes that Arnel was turning up in his in-ear monitors. Arnel’s ears would just close up and he was having a hard time, struggling to hear himself. Now that we have a new soundman, who used to work with Shawn Mendes, so this guy really has stuff dialed in. Arnel, man, it was just like a flip of the switch. All of us were just, like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I mean, he hasn’t lost it. This changed everything, bro. It’s night and day.”
Schon says he is ready to do another album as soon as they can. Cain is a little more cautious, stating, “Yeah, I could do it if I had to. If it was put on me. It would have to warrant it. If this album is not a success, why do another one?” Schon counters Cain’s reluctance with, “Are we going to wait another eleven years to do another album? I don’t think so. Do I want to do another one? Absolutely. And I’m sure we’re going to do another one after that. As long as I’m here, we’re gonna keep creating.”
Getting back to the Hall of Fame induction, Neal should probably send Bruce Springsteen a thank you note. The band became eligible for induction in 2000 but the HOF did not exactly embrace the idea. In fact, they dragged their feet so long Journey fans were beginning to have doubts they would ever get in. Springsteen, who is well respected at the HOF, gave them a nudge. After performing Don’t Stop Believing with Lady Gaga and Elton John at a benefit performance, The Boss said, “That’s a killer tune, yeah, Journey, we should give them a shot.” The Boss started a relentless campaign to get them in. Once they were put on the ballot, Cain says, “The fans who voted us number one did the rest.”
There you have it, Journey lovers. Neal Schon is at the wheel and no matter what comes up in the future, you can take solace in one thing: Journey is still Neal’s band and Neal Shon’s Journey will continue as long as he is in the driver’s seat. Listen for our featured blocks of Journey’s music over the next couple of weeks on WOAS-FM 88.5 or online at www.woas-fm.org.
Top Piece Video: Deen C showing off his drumming skills and Steve Perry-like vocals: