Story provided by Adam Reader, Professor of Rock as a special to Good4Utah.
When I was six years old, I heard a song on FM radio while my mom drove me to school that shook the very foundation of my small soul. My story is no different than millions of other 80’s kids who heard the same song. It was an anthemic rock song that to my underdeveloped mind was about a train, street light people, (whoever they are), and to never stop believing. The part I remember most was that gigantic guitar sound that to my tiny ears felt exactly like the Incredible Hulk picked me up by my windbreaker and threw me a thousand feet. That was my introduction to Neal Schon and Journey.
I’ve always maintained that there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who love, Journey, and those who are lying! They are America’s Band. At an age where most kids are just discovering Rock ‘n’ Roll, Neal Schon was a prodigy being recruited by two Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers at the same time. Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana both asked him to join their band. I guess you could say he was the number one draft pick of the 70’s.
Like Lebron James, Schon went straight from high school to the pros. Music history was made again, when Neal combined his magical, perfectly melodic and joyful guitar vibrato with the pure sincerity and heavenly angst of Steve Perry’s vocals. It was an epic merger of guitar and voice that hadn’t been accomplished quite like that since Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
In my interviews with many artists over the last few years, Neal and Steve have come up a lot. That’s because many legends and up and coming artists have a deep respect and gratitude for the body of work that they created together. Steve is not even human. He is a flawless rock singer, the only two singers on his level are Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. He’s almost like the half-way point between Sam Cooke and Roger Daltrey..
On the other hand, Neal Schon is the undisputed king of melodic rock guitar. As several singers who have worked with him have relayed to me, he could play for two days straight and you would never hear the same progression of notes twice. When he plays live, there is a joy that few guitarists emanate. He is all teeth and fingers. one of the widest grins in rock and roll You just don’t see that as much anymore, that pure love of music.
As you know, Journey was recently inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I’m just going to say what everyone’s been thinking for the last decade. It’s an embarrassment of epic proportions that they weren’t inducted the first year they were eligible, which was 1998. Not to overuse sports analogies here, but it would be like if Hank Aaron had to wait 20 years to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
They are a cornerstone of rock’s last forty years. Neal not only founded the band, he also co-wrote the biggest selling rock song of all time, the aforementioned “Don’t Stop Believin’” a song that is now on the same trajectory as Hey Jude and Stairway to Heaven. Many have pointed out the rare song structure of Don’t Stop Believing, because for a hit song you don’t even hear the chorus until the last 40 seconds. One of the reasons the song is perfectly timeless and works so well is because of how Neal’s guitar and Steve’s voice sews it all together.
From the midnight train going anywhere, choo choo train guitar starter, to the sweltering, ferocious and show stopping solo that delivers our ears, hearts and soul to the passionate Steve Perry sung chorus, (which again, only first appears in the last 40 seconds of the composition. With this song, even after hearing it a thousands times, as a listener, you always think the song has peaked but it keeps climbing higher and higher, when Steve dives into the final throughs of the aforementioned end chorus and screams “Street Light People oh whoaaaaa for the last time, the band collectively puts the final nail in the coffin of maybe, the last great american rock epic.
As I said earlier, Neal Schon and Steve Perry have come up in many of the conversations I’ve had with legendary artists and contemporary bands, here are a few examples:
“Neal’s a very wise person, in the way that he was able to maintain and sustain Journey…After Steve Perry left and after Herbie Herbert left, and last time I saw him, they were tearing it up…The bottom line is that they give a lot of people joy, people get up and dance, people celebrate, cause that’s what you’re supposed to do with your band, is invite people to celebrate the gift of life.” – Carlos Santana
“I had not really taken their music seriously until I saw them perform it, and then I said ‘holy, this is an amazing band’” – Kenny Loggins
“It’s pure serendipity, he can—plug in and play for three days probably without repeating himself…with Neal you have to have a recorder going at all times cause he ain’t going to do it again.” – Sammy Hagar
Journey, for me, was one of my favorite bands growing up. When I was a little kid, I used to sing “Separate Ways.” “Worlds Apart” was one of my favorite songs and I would try to learn it on piano, teach myself. My mom’s favorite song was “Faithfully.” It ended up being me and my wife’s wedding song so we danced to that. It came full circle. Yes. For me, it’s Steve Perry’s voice, Schon’s guitar playing,. They’re just a super group of super humans who just make this awesome rock, ballad, music anthems. It’s awesome.—Brendan Urie “Panic! at the Disco”
Journey will soon celebrate 45 years as a band and they still sell out arenas every night all over the world. They witness first hand, the tens of thousands of screaming fans singing every word to the anthems they have birthed night after night, but if you look closely, it’s four different generations singing those songs together. That’s what truly great music does. Without a doubt, centuries from now, some six-year-old kid like me will hear that majestic Steve Perry belt and the massive echoing Neal Schon guitar tone and the earth will once again stand still. It’s called Rock ‘n’ Roll, and this is a band that keeps the flame burning.
The Professor of Rock