Late in the process of recording his new solo project The Calling, Journey’s Neal Schon was reminded of Ronnie James Dio, and a musical connection they made in 1985.
The tracks on The Calling, he tells Premier Guitar, didn’t have titles yet, and as Schon listened there was one that reminded him of Dio — one where he really lets loose on the guitar. It was eventually named “Blue Rainbow Sky,” after the former frontman with Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own Dio band.
Dio had memorably invited Schon, who rose to fame in Santana before co-founding Journey in the early 1970s, to join with a group of other rock artists to perform the song “Stars” in ’85, in an effort to raise funds for famine relief in Africa.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Neal Schon's 'The Calling' touches on both of the most recognizable elements of his guitar playing legacy - reanimating his fusion roots without forgetting the arena-rock licks.]
“Stars” was co-written by Dio and his band members Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell, who were also instrumental in bringing together a group of players that included members of Judas Priest, Quiet Riot, Iron Maiden, Motley Crüe, Dokken, Queensrÿche, Twisted Sister, Vanilla Fudge, Blue Oyster Cult, Y&T, and others.
Schon says he and Dio had met before, and shared a “mutual admiration,” but had never worked together. Unfortunately, a late night bout of partying had set Schon back the day before the session for “Stars” was to be held.
He says he intended to beg off, before Dio intervened.
Allowing that he “wasn’t feeling so hot,” Schon remembers telling Ronnie: “’You’ve got a zillion guitar players down there. What do you want me for?’ He said, ‘No, you have to come. You’re one of my main guys.’ I was like, ‘Really?’”
Schon jumped on a plan to LA from San Francisco, and ended up sitting next to Ynwie Malmsteen, while he heard the others doing take after take of their parts. Schon made a pact to do his solo live, with no overdubs.
Nearly three decades later, Schon says that moment — heard at roughly the 3:30 mark of the embedded video above — continues to resonate with him. “I listened to what I played and I was like, ‘Man, I was shredding,’” he adds. “I rose to the occasion.”
“Blue Rainbow Sky” is Schon’s tribute to that day, and the lost genius of Dio — who died of stomach cancer in 2010.
“It was wild,” Schon tells Premier Guitar. “I didn’t have any titles for these songs. The record was way done and titles were the last thing that came to me.”