‘Playing from the heart and soul’: Journey’s Neal Schon let his muse guide the way on The Calling

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Journey guitarist Neal Schon describes the beginnings of his new solo album The Calling as coming from a heartfelt place.

“I just started laying down lead guitars at that point,” he tells AXSLive backstage before a recent Journey concert in Miami. “I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I was just freelancing it, playing from the heart and the soul and not so much thinking — and that’s where the album came from.”

Sparks flew, too, when Schon invited drummer Steve Smith — who was part of the Journey lineup from 1978-85, then again for the band’s 1996 project Trial by Fire — to participate in the sessions for what became The Calling. Originally, Smith was set to play on a quartet of tracks over a two-day period. But their old playing chemistry heated up and by the time it was over, Smith had played on all 12 songs.

Also part of The Calling was keyboardist Igor Len, a sideman on Schon’s I on U from 2005, as well as Jan Hammer — who had earlier appeared on the guitarist’s initial early-1980s solo efforts. To add to the sense of homey atmosphere: They were working at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, where Journey completed its most recent album 2010’s Eclipse.

“I’m really happy with the results, because its very organic — and its very diverse,” Schon tells AXSLive. “Steve Smith is very musical for a drummer. We made sure there wasn’t too much of this and too much of that. We kind of moved it around musically, tried to make a musical statement.”

The Calling is actually one of two separate solo albums that Schon finished in a torrent of creativity. The next project will include bassist Marco Mendoza and Journey’s current drummer Deen Castronovo.

Meanwhile, Schon and Journey have been forced off the road this week, after throat problems sprung up for singer Arnel Pineda. In all, five concerts were pushed back across the Midwest, including tonight’s show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as those upcoming in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at Moline, Illinois, and Sioux City, Iowa.

Pineda, who joined Journey in 2008, is suffering from a severe case of throat inflammation — both laryngeal and esophageal. Doctors have ordered him off the road for a week.

Tickets for the postponed shows will be honored when the dates are rescheduled at a future time — perhaps in January or February 2013, the band says. Refunds are available where the tickets were originally purchased, as well.

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