'Well, who’s the singer?': Journey guitarist Neal Schon's role in the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen

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Journey co-founder Neal Schon knew, from the first, that Eddie Van Halen was a special guitar talent. He’d also worked with Sammy Hagar on a project away from Journey — and that’s how Schon played a role in the second Van Halen era.

Schon had seen Van Halen’s volcanic performances up close and personal, when Van Halen opened for Journey on their tour in support of Infinity, the late-1970s debut of vocalist Steve Perry.

Later, Schon tells The (Provo, Utah) Daily Herald, he actually would take home Van Halen records and slow them down — just to see if he could replicate Eddie’s scorching runs, in particular the finger-tapping technique that helped cement his legend in guitar circles.

[SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: On the forthcoming Neal Schon solo release ‘The Calling,’ the guitarist reanimates Journey’s celebrated platinum era sound alongside former bandmate Steve Smith.]

Over time, Schon and Van Halen became friends, hanging out when concert tours crisscrossed. On one of those nights, after a Van Halen show, Schon put on a new recording he had just made with HSAS, 1984’s Through the Fire. HSAS featured Schon, bassist Kenny Aronson (formerly with the band Stories, of “Brother Louie” fame), drummer Michael Shrieve (like Schon, a fellow alum of Santana) — and Hagar.

That was the same year, of course, that Van Halen issued its last recording with original lead singer David Lee Roth, who in 1985 would issue his debut solo EP, Crazy from the Heat. By 1986, Van Halen has returned — with Hagar as its frontman.

“I had just done the record with HSAS and I had a boombox in my room,” Schon tells Doug Fox of the Daily Herald, “and I was playing Eddie this record and he was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ And he was going back and he kept listening to some riff that I did in some song back before, and I said, ‘Let the thing run, listen to the whole thing!’ And then he goes, ‘Well, who’s the singer?’ And I go, ‘It’s Sammy Hagar.’ So shortly after that, Sammy Hagar was in the band, so I think I brought awareness of him to Ed at that point.”

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

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: NEAL SCHON – THE CALLING (2012): Schon reunites with former Journey drummer Steve Smith, and they recapture much of the sound and feel of the band’s platinum era — mixing in arena-rattling tracks like “Carnival Jazz” and “Back Smash” with the soaring pop-balladry of “Six String Waltz” and “True Emotion.” “Blue Rainbow Sky” emerges from a Jimi Hendrix-style riff into something that sounds like a newly unearthed track from the Escape sessions. But there’s also a cool jazz-rock underpinning, something that allows Schon to explore further out along the edges of his craft in a way that his main band’s brand of mainstream rock almost never does anymore.

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two.

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.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: VAN HALEN: A long-waited reunion with original lead singer David Lee Roth has Van Halen back in the news … and us digging through some old albums. Here’s a look back at a few favorite moments with Roth — and yes, Sammy, too — along with updated tour date information. Let’s start shredding!

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The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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