It's hard to believe that Journey originally formed in 1973 and is now in its 40th year as a band. Perhaps it's even harder to grasp the fact that the band's seminal album, Escape, was released in 1981. After all, even 32 years after its release, "Don't Stop Believin'" continues to sound as fresh as it did when it came out and spurred yet another wave of popularity for the band after appearing in the final scene of The Sopranos and going on to become the most downloaded single on record.
What many people don't realize, however, is that Journey has toured continuously for the past 15 years. Although Steve Perry refused to join the band in touring behind the 1996 release Trial By Fire after a ten-year hiatus, the band regrouped with Steve Augeri at the helm in 1998 and has soldiered on ever since, releasing four albums and an EP and touring worldwide -- first with Augeri, who was replaced briefly by Jeff Scott Soto in 2006 after experiencing vocal problems, and with current lead singer Arnel Pineda since 2008.
Now, with four decades of history under its belt, Journey -- and founding guitarist Neal Schon -- continues to work at a pace that many younger bands wouldn't tackle. Hot on the heels of an arena tour that brought the band to BOK Center last October, Journey rolled into 2013 to finish up its North American arena tour and head right back out on the road.
Drummer Deen Castronovo mentioned last summer that the band was working on a rough model that would bring it through select markets every third year, spending roughly two years crossing the US and using the third year to focus on overseas shows so as not to saturate the market. It came as a something of a surprise, then, to hear that the band was returning for a more intimate show at The Joint this weekend, although it came as no surprise to hear that it sold out in short order.
When catching up with Neal Schon a few weeks ago, I asked about the year's pace and schedule.
"Yeah, we started out the year with Australia and have been to the Orient, UK, Germany, and now a few US dates, so we've been all over the place," he said. "Next year is already being booked, and I've got stuff planned with Journey, Santana, HSAS (his side project with Sammy Hagar) and a couple of solo records, so I've got an overabundance of art that I've been working on."
When asked how he keeps up or makes time for it all, Schon said, "It's challenging, but it keeps me motivated -- and it keeps getting better and more fun every year. If I have a little down time and I'm not busy, I'm always up for something if a friend calls," he continued.
Most recently, that includes a guest spot on Sammy Hagar's forthcoming new solo album, Sammy Hagar & Friends, for which Schon played on versions of "Personal Jesus" and "Goin' Down."
"Sammy called me out of the blue on a Sunday morning and said 'Come down here and let's knock some stuff out,' so it was very impromptu," Schon recalled of the session.
"It's usually very painless, and I don't have to work so hard at it when it happens like that. And I like doing impromptu stuff," he said. "Sammy wanted to cut 'Goin' Down,' and I've always been a fan of Jeff Beck's version of the song, plus Chad (Smith) and Michael Anthony (of Chickenfoot) were already there, so I grabbed a Marshall 50 watt from a buddy at Bananas and we knocked it out in one take with no overdubs. When it's like that, it's very easy."
That's not too much unlike how Schon's last solo album, The Calling, came together last fall. Recorded with former Journey drummer Steve Smith, Schon admitted, "I started that not even knowing I was going to start a record. We were talking about doing something, and he said 'I've got three days available,' so I said, 'I'll book a studio.'"
Schon has always had an incredible chemistry with Smith, and when asked about that, he it's always been natural.
"Steve Smith is very musical, and he's someone who can see the big picture and where things are going -- even before the song is a song," he explained. "He's got a great ability to groove, so I'd lay down one track and we were off and running."
Schon's calendar has continued to stay busy as he's already got another solo album completed with current drummer Deen Castronovo and bassist Marco Medoza, tentatively set for a September release.
Regardless of what he's got on the books, Journey remains Schon's primary project and concern, and Tulsa gets a special show as the group circles back through for a more intimate show at the Joint, less than a year after the band's last appearance in town.
With nearly over two years since Journey's last album release, I asked about the prospects of a new album being on the horizon.
"Right now, were talking about it," Schon shared, "and once we begin, it usually goes pretty quick."
Schon admitted, however, that he'd like to change the approach and get back to the band's old approach when starting a new album.
"We've talked about going at it a different way this time," he explained. "We're all spread out now, but in the '80s, we were all in the San Francisco area, so we'd all meet at our clubhouse, which was my rehearsal space, and we'd all just jam and work stuff out.
"There's a different thing that happens when you're all in the same room together versus writing your parts and sending ideas back and forth," he continued. "I'm looking forward to going old school, with everyone back in the same room together. We need to get that unity and chemistry back."
Journey continues to move forward with Schon eyeing a new album and a full touring schedule. When asked if the band had considered playing any of its classic albums in full, as a few artists like Bruce Springsteen have recently done, he admitted that it's on the table.
"I love the idea of doing extensive rehearsals to learn all the material and being able to change it up," he said. "It would take a lot of work and pre-production, but I think we could do it."
As for now, Journey is filling the fall with a tour of smaller venues.
"When we get to play by ourselves, we get to add more material to the set," Schon said. "It's very different when you've only got 90 minutes, because you have to play what people want to hear and still try to mix it up to keep thing fresh."
Journey's catalog remains timeless, guaranteeing that this Friday night's sold-out show at The Joint will prove the band's longevity to fans young and old.
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