'It was a crazy time for us': Journey's Neal Schon on his whirlwind romance with Michaele Salahi

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Over a career with stops in legendary rock bands Santana and Journey, Neal Schon has seen his share of press. But nothing like last year’s avalanche of attention when he began a relationship with Michaele Salahi, famous as a White House gatecrasher and reality star on “The Real Housewives of D.C.”

It’s something he compares to a perfect storm in a new talk with UltimateClassicRock.com’s Matt Wardlaw — a “tornado hurricane.”

Salahi first came to national attention in 2009, when she and husband Tareq famously crashed President Obama’s first state dinner — taking pictures and shaking hands with various dignitaries without having ever been officially invited. The stunt drove ratings for Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” and turned them both into media sensations. But by 2011, as a friendship with Schon turned more serious, Michaele jumped on the Journey tour bus and the new couple’s whirlwind romance was underway.

Of course, the first issue was that Salahi was still married when her relationship was revealed with Schon, a situation which led to a eye-popping $50 million lawsuit — since dismissed — from Salahi’s soon-to-be ex-husband. Tareq had been so distraught and confused when Michaele first left with Schon last September that he actually reported her kidnapped, telling authorities she didn’t return from a hair appointment and a dance class. Of course, the next issue was that Schon had also just married Ava Fabian the previous July. The former Playmate took to the airwaves, as well, with a series of scathing interviews.

Turns out, however, all of it only increased the buzz around the video for Journey’s single “Resonate,” released on Valentine’s Day 2012 and featuring Schon and Salahi frolicking at the beach. That got Schon to thinking about ways to leverage this new media crush. He and Salahi will now be part of a June 23, 2012, event aimed at guiding budding media sensations through the process. “How To Be a Reality Star,” to be in the El Paso, Texas area, will also include appearances by “O.C. Housewife” Gretchen Rossi and celebrity columnist Rob Shuter.

“It was a crazy time for me and us,” Schon tells Wardlaw of UltimateClassicRock.com. I got a grip on it and I’ve learned to deal with it. Everybody’s just been really supportive. All my friends and even people that I don’t know have been completely tremendously supportive. You know, there was a lot of crazy stuff going on that I’ve never dealt with in my life before. The only thing you can do is keep your head up and know that you’re not doing anything as malicious as they try to make it sound. It’s rock and roll, man!”

Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll, Schon also has not one but new solo albums coming out this year — one featuring former Journey bandmate Steve Smith, keyboardist Igor Len and Jan Hammer (with whom Schon had previously worked in the 1980s); and another featuring the band’s current drummer Deen Castronovo, bassist Marco Mendoza and lyrics from Jack Blades, of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees fame.

“I’m in really great space,” Schon says, “we’re in a really great space and I’m just getting back into playing now.”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Journey. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

NEAL SCHON WITH STEVE SMITH, “THE CALLING” (2012): This new instrumental is interesting because Steve Smith showed up just as Journey took a turn in the late 1970s from its more fusion-informed early period toward a platinum-selling arena-rock formula. Still, you always got the sense, as he subsequently moved deeper into the jazz roots of his youth, that Smith might have been a better fit for the early Journey records — when co-founding guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Gregg Rolie and bassist Ross Valory indulged themselves in a looser, free-form rock amalgam. “The Calling” makes good on that notion, as Smith joins Schon for the first time since their mid-1990s reunion as members of Journey.

JOURNEY – ECLIPSE (2011): In many ways, the initial cuts on Eclipse recall the wide-open heavy fusion of the the band’s original Gregg Rolie-era records, a period when guitarist Neal Schon pulled and stretched his muse. At the same time, singer Arnel Pineda possesses a second-act Steve Perry-sounding penchant for soaring expectancy. For age-old fans, that often makes this album the best of both worlds, a musically dense recording in the style of the band’s underrated 1977?s Next, and a loud one, but at the same time one that doesn’t completely abandon the visceral mainstream pop sensibilities that defined the band’s subsequent hitmaking period in the 1980s.

ONE TRACK MIND: JOURNEY, “FEELING THAT WAY/ ANYTIME” (1978; 2011 reissue): A new Greatest Hits Vol. 2 was, in some ways, more interesting than Journey’s initial best-of compilation — if only because its songs haven’t necessarily become ear-wormingly familiar. Perhaps the most potent examples are these twin 1978 gems from Infinity, Journey’s first project with Steve Perry. His appearance would immediately transform an interesting, if often unfocused jam band — co-led by Santana alums Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon — into a hit-making juggernaut. This album easily became the band’s biggest seller to date, as Journey moved toward a tighter focus on songcraft.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: GREGG ROLIE, FOUNDING MEMBER OF SANTANA AND JOURNEY: Gregg Rolie, a 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, has learned a lot about himself since taking fame’s exit ramp to start a family almost 30 years ago. He’s put into perspective the work done as a founding member of Santana, a stint that saw Rolie co-produce the group’s first four albums beginning in 1969. The bluesy B-3 stylist then added to an overstuffed resume that already included an appearance at Woodstock, leaving with Neal Schon to launch Journey. There, he helped craft a series of 1970s recordings that set the stage for that band’s arena-rock supernova moment in the 1980s.

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