‘It’s just going to be magical': Neal Schon sparked the long-awaited Santana reunion

For Neal Schon, the chance to connect again with childhood mentor Carlos Santana has been more than a musical journey: The Santana band reunion has been an emotional one, too.

“I love being around Carlos again,” Schon told us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “As a kid, we hung out so much. So, we’ve been really enjoying re-connecting. There are so many stories that we have. We hung out every day. So we have a lot of great memories. He and I just really click. Musically, there’s nothing that we can’t jump on top of and make it sound really good, really quickly.”

Schon, who joined Santana as a teen for a two-album stint before founding Journey, spearheaded this new project — which brings together a Santana band lineup that hasn’t worked together since 1971.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Neal Schon's 1970s-era bandmate Gregg Rolie shares his own memories of their time together, both in Santana and then in the early days of Journey.]

The legendary Woodstock edition (featuring Santana, Gregg Rolie, David Brown, Michael Shrieve, Jose “Chepito” Areas and Michael Carabello) was first augmented by the child-prodigy Schon for that year’s Santana III. Schon returned for 1972’s Caravanserai, but by then both Brown and Carabello had departed. Rolie was also replaced by Tom Coster for a few tracks.

Not long after, Rolie and Schon split off to form Journey — and, other than the occasional on-stage intersection with Carlos Santana, that was that. Schon says, in many ways, he never looked back.

“I really didn’t think about it much,” says Schon, who has a new solo album coming out in May, as well. “But I always thought it would be cool, and I was the one who pursued it — and, actually, I feel good about putting it all together. You know, I started running into Carlos a lot, here in the bay area. Everywhere I was, he was. We started talking a lot, and hanging out. And I just brought up the idea to him, and he slept on it for a good while. Then, all of a sudden, it was like: ‘OK, we’re going to do this.'”

It won’t be a complete reunion, as Brown died in 2000. When the remaining members of that era, save for Santana himself, reformed for 1997’s Abraxas Pool, bass duties were handled by Alphonso Johnson, a later-period member of Santana from 1985-1989. Since, Rolie — who left Journey for a solo career at the turn of the 1980s — has worked with Areas’ son Adrian in the Gregg Rolie Band, while Schon has focused on Journey. The Santana band has continued, though with different, newer faces.

Still, a return to the studio, Schon says, instantly brought back all of the Santana magic: “We got together and we rehearsed a few times,” he says, “and we wrote some material. We managed to get into the studio and lay, like, nine or ten ideas down. And — wow, we’re off to a good start. That’s all I can say. It’s smoking. It sounds like the old band.”

There is some talk of a tandem tour, once the new Santana album emerges, featuring both of Schon’s legendary bands. With Rolie on stage, that could lead to some intriguing on-stage collaborations on early Journey classics like “Feeling that Way” and “Just the Same Way.” “If we get this tour together, like we’re talking about in 2015,” Schon says, “you might just see that. Who knows what will happen, you know?”

Schon cautioned against any comparisons with the more recent Abraxas Pool album, since that partial reunion didn’t include his guitar-slinging mentor: “I think that Carlos, in his own right, is just like a monster. He’s so open minded, and has always been so musical. He’s still a teacher for me. Carlos just knows so much about music. It definitely full circle, very exciting. I’m extremely blessed to even have done it, when I was 15 that many years ago in 1970. Now, to come back to it again, and see it all coming together again, it’s just going to be magical. Beautifully magical.”

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.