Journey is back on the road this spring, with Steve Smith returning on drums and with Arnel Pineda singing songs that former vocalist Steve Perry made famous in the late 1970s and early ‘80s (as well as other material).
Plenty of people wish Perry would return to Journey. And for his part, guitarist Neal Schon maintains he’d welcome Perry if he wants to perform with the band, which was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was joined by Perry to accept the honor.
But according to Schon, one thing Perry fans shouldn’t count on as a motivation to bring about a more substantial Perry/Journey reunion is the lure of a lucrative tour.
“You know what people don’t understand is that we couldn’t even possibly be doing better right now even if he (Perry) was with us,” Schon said in a recent phone interview. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to build it back up, but you know what, we’re here again. We’re sitting there. And management is the first one to tell me it couldn’t possibly be bigger.”
The fact is, Schon is perfectly happy with Journey as things stand. And there’s little reason for him to think otherwise.
As he mentioned, Journey has done what many considered highly unlikely – if not downright impossible — by regaining its stature as one of rock’s most bankable arena and outdoor amphitheater headlining bands — despite the absence of Perry, who sang the band’s many hits (“Open Arms,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to name a few).
But Pineda has now been the band’s lead singer longer than Perry and has shown that he’s more than capable as Journey’s frontman.
“Arnel, he’s bionic, man. He sounds better right now than ever,” Schon said. “The guy can, seriously, he can sing anything. Any type of music you want to play, he can sing anything.”
The rest of the Journey lineup is now the same as the one that recorded the band’s two biggest albums, 1981’s “Escape” (which sold 10 million copies) and 1983’s “Frontiers” – with Schon on guitar, Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass and Smith, who handled drums from 1978 to 1985 and 1995 to 1998, back on board, replacing Deen Castronovo.
(Castronovo was fired from Journey after his indictment in June 2015 on multiple charges of domestic violence. The drummer has since gone through rehab for alcohol and drug problems that have plagued him at various points during his musical career.)
Journey’s original run of success came to and end when the band broke up after its 1986 studio album, “Raised On Radio.” After nearly a decade apart, the “Escape”/”Frontiers” lineup reunited to make the 1996 album, “Trial By Fire.” Perry then opted out of Journey and has shown no interest in rejoining the band since.
The fact that many fans continue to blame Schon for Perry’s absence irks the guitarist.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Schon said about Perry’s absence. “The door has always been open…He’s really not interested in doing anything with us. We’re completely fine with that.”
It was after “Trial By Fire” that Schon, Cain and Valory decided to put together a new edition of Journey, with Castronovo replacing Smith on drums.
Journey cycled through a pair of singers (Steve Augeri, from 1998-2006 and briefly Jeff Scott Soto) before Schon discovered Pineda while surfing YouTube looking for a new singer.
Along the way, Journey has worked its way up from theater size venues back into amphitheaters as “Don’t Stop Believin’” and other vintage Journey songs got new life through placements in television series, movies and commercials.
The group has released four albums since Perry’s departure – “Arrival” (2001),” “Generations” (2005), “Revelation” (2008) and “Eclipse” (2008). Some band members have balked at doing any further writing and recording because the plummeting sales of albums in the internet age makes it hard to justify the expense and effort that goes into making a new album.
But Schon hopes to reverse that thinking and said he has a number of song ideas in hand and plans to start writing soon with Pineda. He thinks the success of “Santana IV,” his 2016 reunion album with the classic early lineup of that band, will convince his bandmates that a new Journey album can be viable.
The acclaimed “Santana IV” album is the culmination of a reunion that began taking shape in 2013 of the lineup that included guitarist Carlos Santana, Schon, keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve and percussionist Michael Carabello.
Rolie and Carabello were part of Carlos Santana’s original band that recorded the classic 1967 debut album “Santana” and the 1970 followup, “Abraxis.” Schon and Shrieve joined in time for the 1971 album, “Santana III,” before the group, which created a trailblazing mix of rock, jazz, Latin and African music, broke up.
Schon and Santana started to reconnect about six years ago, and over time the idea of reuniting the “Santana III” lineup took hold.
Despite not playing together for some 45 years, Schon said the lineup immediately recaptured its distinctive sound, and the “Santana IV” album, which sounds very much in line with the first three Santana albums, came together smoothly and spontaneously.
“The coolest thing about the record was we didn’t really have to talk about it or work at it to make it come together,” Schon said. “We just kind of went in the studio and played. A lot of it was made up on the spot. I brought in a few ideas, so did Gregg, brought in a few songs. And Carlos brought in a whole bunch of ideas and we just sort of chipped away at it. Some days, we laid down two or three songs. That’s kind of the beauty of that band. It sounds the way it does when those people play together.”
That edition of Santana is already talking about making another album, but for now, Schon will be busy touring with Journey into summer.
Along with the hits, Schon said Journey might dust off a song or two that hasn’t been performed in years (such as “Line of Fire” from the 1980 album “Departure,” which was in the band’s live set last summer) and do a little stretching out instrumentally.
“I think right now we’ve got it going on, with adding just a few little different things and solo sections,” Schon said. “What I did notice is that in the earlier shows we did, we tried to cram more songs in with less segues, less solos for myself and Jonathan and Steve Smith and everybody else. But really, I felt like the audience liked it better when we had them in.”
Journey will play at the Huntington Center at
7:30pm on Sunday, June 25. $55+