'He just continues to get better': Journey's Neal Schon reconnects with former bandmate Steve Smith

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For years, Journey fans have hoped for a reunion between Neal Schon and Steve Perry. Maybe they were pushing for the wrong Steve from the band’s best-known recordings.

Schon recently got back together with former Journey drummer Steve Smith in the studio for a forthcoming solo album called The Calling, and the guitarist emerged with effusive praise for one of the most underrated elements of group’s biggest-selling era.

Schon, who joined the Santana band as a guitar prodigy at 15, left in 1973 to co-found Journey with Gregg Rolie — the celebrared voice behind Santana hits like “Black Magic Woman.” Steve Smith took over at drums in late 1978, and remained through 1985. Together, they helped push Journey to multiplatinum status in the early 1990s behind the newly formed songwriting tandem of Perry and Jonathan Cain.

Smith rejoined Schon in Journey in 1995 for Trial by Fire, and in the interim he was also a member of the Storm with Journey co-founders Rolie and Ross Valory. Smith has since gone on to renown as a jazz drummer, leading the group Vital Information, and has become a respected teacher in his craft.

Schon says all of that has made Smith, already a legendary player, all that much more accomplished. The chemistry, as Smith confirmed to Something Else! Reviews, was electric.

“He’s one of the best, that’s all I can tell you,” Schon tells Matt Wardlaw of Ultimate Classic Rock. “I think that the guy is more disciplined than any other drummer and studies more than any other drummer I’ve ever met in my life. He just continues to excel and get better and learn more and more about every different type of music that there is out there, drum-wise. It’s just amazing how much information this guy has and the knowledge that he has over his instrument and music in general.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Hall of Famer Gregg Rolie goes in depth on classic songs and some deep cuts, too – including Journey’s “Anytime” and “Someday Soon.”]

In the end, this might just be the one Steve who will likely be working with Schon again: “There’s a lot of great players out there, but Steve, as far as working on a project like this, I will continue to do projects with him,” Schon says. “I had such a great time with him. The stuff that we came up with came very effortlessly and from a real place. I love that, that we just have a chemistry, definitely. From the second that we hit the studio together, it was happening.”

Schon is set to issue The Calling on October 23, 2012; it also includes performances by keyboardists Igor Len and Jan Hammer.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Journey. 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.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: FORMER JOURNEY DRUMMER STEVE SMITH: Smith is in the midst of a flurry of activity surrounding the 30th anniversary of his jazz group Vital Information. The first VI album appeared in 1983, even as his tenure with Journey reached its chart-topping zenith. Smith eventually left to pursue jazz, his first true love, and is commemorating that with the release of three albums over a two-year period. We just had to ask, though, since Smith played in both Journey eras: Which did he prefer, the Gregg Rolie or the Jonathan Cain editions?

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! 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.

Upcoming dates for the 2012 tour featuring Neal Schon and Journey, appearing with Loverboy and Pat Benatar:

2 Norfolk, VA Constant Convocation Center
3 Greensboro, NC Greensboro Coliseum
5 Mobile, AL Bayfest
6 Atlanta, GA Aaron’s Amphitheater At Lakewood
9 Little Rock, AR Verizon Arena
10 Tulsa, OK BOK Center
12 Tampa, FL 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater
13 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
30 New York, NY Barclays Bank Arena

2 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena
3 Manchester, NH Verizon Center
5 Montreal, QC Bell Centre
7 Columbus, OH Schottenstein/Nationwide
8 Evansville, IN Ford Center
10 Grand Rapids, MI Van Andel Arena
11 Fort Wayne, IN Allen County War Memorial
13 Moline, IL iWireless Center
14 Sioux City, IA Tyson Center
16 Milwaukee, WI Bradley Center
17 Green Bay, WI Resch Center
19 Winnipeg, MB MTS Centre
24 Grand Praire, AB Crystal Center
27 Edmonton, AB Rexall Place
28 Saskatoon, SK Credit Union Centre
30 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome

1 Kelowna, BC Prospera Place
3 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena
4 Victoria, BC Save-On Food Centre
7 Las Vegas, NV Planet Hollywood

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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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