As it approaches its fifth decade of existence, Journey shows no signs that it’s reaching the end of its … well, you know.
The band hits central Ohio Nov. 7 for a show at Nationwide Arena, courtesy of Live Nation.
Starting out as an all-instrumental act called the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in 1973, Journey has gone through some serious evolution in its nearly 40 years.
The group did not even have a lead singer until 1977, and that singer was soon replaced by the iconic Steve Perry, who was with the band when it hit the big time in the late 1970s.
The hit songs for which the band is best known began in 1978 with Wheel in the Sky, the first single from Journey’s Infinity album. The mega-hits then continued into the mid-1980s, the band climbing the charts with tunes such as Lights; Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’; Any Way You Want it; Who’s Crying Now; Stone in Love; Don’t Stop Believin’; Open Arms; Separate Ways (Worlds Apart); Faithfully and Only the Young.
Since then, the band has continued to release music at a steady clip, the most recent album being 2011’s Eclipse.
Band members have come and gone, but two constants remain: guitarist Neal Schon and bassist Ross Valory, both of whom were part of Golden Gate Rhythm Section when it formed in 1973. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain has been with the band since the early 1980s. Drummer Deen Castronovo joined up in the late 1990s, and singer Arnel Pineda is the newest addition, having come on board five years ago – he took the place of Steve Augeri, who himself replaced Perry in the late 1990s.
Pineda’s path to Journey was atypical – Schon discovered him via a YouTube clip of his cover band playing at the Hard Rock Café in the Philippines and, impressed by his incredible vocal range, extended him an offer to join the group. Pineda fits the band “like a glove,” Schon says, and has the vocal chops to sing anything that’s thrown at him.
“That boy is a chameleon,” says Schon. “He can go anywhere you want him to go.”
Playing the hits is an important part of Journey’s live shows, and with a 90-minute set, there’s not time for much else. But the band works in new material and lesser-known old material when it can, Schon says. And some of what it plays live cannot be heard on any album – the band members love to jam on stage.
Though loath to name a “favorite” song – many seasoned musicians liken picking a favorite song to picking a favorite child – Schon says his top choices vary from show to show, as the band plays different songs in different ways on different nights. For example, Journey has recently been putting a jam session in the middle of Wheel in the Sky, which has made playing the song an entirely new experience each night.
“One night, we played Open Arms and we stuck a guitar solo in it,” says Schon.
In recent years, no Journey song has gotten more mainstream attention than Don’t Stop Believin’, which, 20 years after it was first released, has started to appear everywhere.
It was sung karaoke by characters on Family Guy. It was the soundtrack to the Chicago White Sox’s 2005 playoff run. It accompanied the final scene in the series finale of The Sopranos. It was sung in the pilot episode of Glee. It accompanied a character’s desperate scramble to escape capture in 2010 action film The Losers.
The song was re-released on Journey’s 2009 album Revelation with Pineda on vocals. Today, the two versions add up to the top-selling song in iTunes history.
Schon is not surprised at the song’s resurgence – the band felt, after recording the song decades ago, that it was destined to be a huge hit. But at the time, it didn’t quite reach the heights achieved by some of the band’s other songs, such as Who’s Crying Now and Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).
“I was surprised back then that it wasn’t as big as it is now,” says Schon. “We get like 50 emails a day of people requesting to use it.”
Though Schon has been writing music for decades, his influences haven’t changed much, he says – and though Journey’s music can definitely be classified as rock, Schon’s influences span a variety of genres, from Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix to B.B. King and Muddy Waters.
“A lot of my influences are the same as they were a long time ago,” he says. “Good music is good music, no matter when it came out.”
He also cites a lot of jazz musicians as sources of inspiration – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington.
“My dad turned me on to a lot of early jazz because he was a jazz musician,” says Schon.
When not continuing to forge new ground with Journey, Schon keeps himself busy with solo projects. He’s put out many solo records over the years, a number of them – including his most recent offering, 2012’s The Calling – entirely instrumental. Though best known for his work for vocals-heavy Journey, Schon’s roots since his teenage years playing with Carlos Santana are in instrumental music, and he enjoys any opportunity he gets to make that kind of music.
“Your guitar becomes a voice – whatever instrument you’re playing is the voice,” he says.
The thrill of performing live and reaching audiences with recorded tracks helps keep Schon interested in being part of a band nearing 40 years of age.
“Music is and has been my life,” he says.
Also on the bill for the Nov. 7 show are Pat Benatar (Love is a Battlefield, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, We Belong) and Loverboy (Working for the Weekend, Turn Me Loose, Lovin’ Every Minute of it).
Garth Bishop is editor of CityScene Magazine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.