‘He’s like our hidden weapon’: Neal Schon on the overlooked vocal talent of Journey’s Deen Castronovo

Neal Schon’s solo project with Marco Mendoza and Deen Castronovo has clicked with a listening public hungry for new music from the Journey guitarist. “Serenity,” the Castronovo-sung single from their new fusion power trio recording So U, shot into the classic rock radio Top 5, peaking at No. 2.

And, make no mistake, it’s a true trio recording — with all three sharing lead vocals. Journey fans will recognize Castronovo (Bad English, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Vai) from his on-going stint with Schon in Journey, where he’s played drums since 1998. So U is the first studio project from the two since Journey’s 2011 album Eclipse.

“Deen is just a monster drummer, and an amazing singer,” Schon tells us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “I’ve been pushing him for years — you know, ‘you’ve gotta sing; you’ve gotta sing.’ He’s like our hidden weapon in Journey, still to this point. He sings a lot of high stuff live, and if [frontman] Arnel [Pineda] goes down, if he gets sick — which is inevitable; it just happens — then we let Deen sing, and he does an amazing job.”

Meanwhile, Mendoza (Whitesnake, Ted Nugent and Thin Lizzy, among others) first intersected with Schon and Castronovo in the early-2000s project Soul SirkUS. Something clicked, though all agreed that they wanted to explore further out to the edge of where rock, blues and jazz meet.

“I met Marco years ago,” Schon tells us. “I was in LA and saw him play at the Baked Potato with his trio. They did fusion-Latin jazz rock versions of, like, Stevie Wonder songs — and I was like, wow. This guy can just sing his ass off, and play his ass off. Both of those guys, I felt, were worthy of being lead singers. They certainly sounded great together. We had done the Soul SirkUS album before. Deen and Marco just clicked as a bass player and drummer, in the early stages of that. So, we were looking to get back into that and sort of open it up musically, so it wasn’t just all in a rock theme.”

Schon hopes to take this new group on the road after the August completion of Journey’s summer tour, which also includes Steve Miller and the Tower of Power.

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.
  • Rasmus Heide

    Soul SirkUS’ groove was improved greatly when Deen’s drum tracks were re-recorded by Virgil Donati. This new projects feels like backwards move.