Neal Schon From Journey Says He Still Has More to Do — Like a Solo Project

Neal Schon is an icon.
Neal Schon is an icon. Erik Kabik

Bands that transcend the here and now of modern music are rare, and when they roll through town, they become bucket list shows that are worth stopping down to indulge and appreciate. Outside of festivals where one has to brave the elements and sweaty crowds, it’s almost unheard of to see two iconic bands at the same show. On Wednesday, DFW will get one of those rare opportunities when 2017 Rock and Roll Hall Fame inductee Journey co-headlines with British '80s rock 'n' roll hit machine Def Leppard at the American Airlines Center.

The two bands are in the middle of a colossal 58-city tour, still packing arenas and stadiums like it’s 1985. Between the two juggernauts, there are enough platinum records to fill the AAC to the rafters. Those fortunate enough to snag a ticket are virtually guaranteed a night of generation-defining, vintage rock 'n' roll. Expect all the hits — “Don’t Stop Believin,” “Faithfully,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rock of Ages.” Expect to sing every song and expect to leave without a voice. Despite being known as acts that etched their names in history during the late '70s and all through the '80s, both groups have fans that span generations. During the tour, the bands alternate evenings opening and closing. Wednesday’s show at the American Airlines Center starts with Def Leppard opening at 7 p.m. and Journey will follow.

We spoke with Journey’s founder and lead guitarist, Neal Schon, about the band, his experiences through the years, and what’s keeping him busy these days.

What’s it like having two legendary bands touring together?
We’re having a gas out here. It’s really nice to work with people that are so cordial and have a lot of respect for one another, especially on a long tour. It’s fun to watch Def Leppard do their thing.

With TV shows like The Sopranos and Glee putting your music in the limelight, you made a lot of younger fans. Do they gravitate to the same songs as the older fans?
That’s a great question. I ask a lot of young fans and it’s really split. They all know the greatest hits, but there’s a group of kids that know songs off Revelation and more recent stuff. It’s really controlled by what is played on the radio.

Is it easy to maintain your energy after doing this for 40 years?
Absolutely. I consolidate my energy by resting a lot and not out running around partying. If I did that, I wouldn’t last very long. My wife and I hang out and enjoy the day. She’s been by my side, at every show for the last nine years.

With a set list pretty much set in stone, how do you keep things fresh?
I take a lot of liberty with my solos and improvise a bit with Steve Smith [drums]. I’ll also do dedications. I did one for Aretha Franklin a few nights ago and I did one for Prince when we were in Minneapolis a few years ago.

How did you learn to do what you do? Do you still practice after all these years?
I practice a lot and there’s no end to the learning curve. I’ll go down into my studio and get lost for hours. When I was 11 my dad hooked me up with a really great jazz guitarist. I was learning how to read music and studying hard, but one day he heard me warming up before our lesson and said, “I’m hearing you play the blues and singing through the guitar. That’s what you’re about.” I took his advice and just went back to what felt natural to me. All my favorite guitarists, Albert King, B.B. King, Michael Bloomfield, Clapton, Hendrix, weren’t heavily schooled. It’s all natural and timeless.

You are in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, have one of the most famous songs of all time, and you’ve sold millions of records. What do you have left to do? Just have fun?
It’s about having fun and I’m still driven to get better. Next year I have a solo project coming out called Universe. Narada Michael Walden, who’s produced Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, just huge credentials, wrote all the music for it. It’s very diverse with classic blues, R&B, jazz fusion and some amazing covers. My wife and I are also starting a clothing line, Schon Clothing, and I’ve also got an autobiography coming out about the same time as the record. It goes all the way back to my childhood, but it’s got some really great stories told by people who have known and worked with me over the years.
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