It has been a long and winding road for Journey, the veteran California rock band that will be in concert Sunday night in Promenade Park.
Formed by guitar prodigy Neal Schon in San Francisco in 1973, the band has gone through a number of personnel changes while rarely missing a beat. Now, after 18 U.S. albums that have sold a total of 60 million copies, Journey is about to embark on a new course.
“We've got a new EP called 'Red 13' that we just finished that we're putting out ourselves,” Schon said in an interview. “We're no longer with Sony, and this is the first time I've not been on a big corporate label since 1970 when I was 15.”
Schon said he is grateful that Journey has built a big enough following so it can go it alone. He didn't appreciate having label executives interject their opinions during the band's recording sessions, or the way they failed to make a genuine effort to promote Journey's most recent recordings.
“There was no one from the major label breathing down our necks saying what we should be playing and not playing,” Schon said of the sessions for the new release. “We sound dignified again. `Red 13' really showcases us again instrumentally as well as vocally. ... We weren't thinking about radio at all. This is probably one of the most creative things we've done in a while.”
The band's current tour features Schon, original bassist Ross Valory, drummer Deen Castronovo, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, and lead singer Steve Augeri.
Augeri has the task of filling the large shoes of Steve Perry, the distinctive star vocalist who helped shape Journey's sound. But fans and critics alike have expressed amazement at how similar the two singers sound.
“We were looking for someone who did sound similar so we could play our older material,” Schon said. “We have a tremendous Journey fan base and they want to hear the hits. You're never going to get away from that.”
Recent Journey concerts have included such classics as “Be Good To Yourself,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Escape,” and “Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'.”
While Schon and colleagues have been on the cutting edge of music technology, the band was among the most severely wounded by computer piracy. Its last Sony release, “Arrival,” ended up on the now-defunct Internet swap site Napster long before it was officially released. Millions of people downloaded Journey's new material for free.
“Someone in Europe from Sony gave the early pressing to a friend and the friend downloaded it for everybody to take a look at,” Schon said. “It sort of took the gusto out of the record. It's the first time anything like that had happened to me with the Internet. Seven months before the release date, everybody already had the CD, plus an extra song from the Japanese version that was not included in the U.S. release.”
Schon said he had tried all along to persuade the band and the label to include more songs on “Arrival,” but it wasn't until the Napster fiasco that they agreed to add new tunes to the final release to give fans an incentive to buy it.
When Journey is not busy recording or touring, Schon, a self-confessed workaholic, has innumerable side projects to keep him occupied. His latest solo disc, “Voice,” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the pop instrumental category, and he has been writing and recording with Castronovo and Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen.
Schon, 48, was 13 when bluesman John Lee Hooker invited him to go on tour. “I said, `John, I'm only 13!'” At 17, he turned down a job offer from Eric Clapton to join Derek & the Dominoes, saying he just didn't feel it was the right decision, and the next morning he was hired by Carlos Santana.
Schon's latest new group with Hagar is called Planet Us and it plays “very, very high-energy music and just flaming guitar,” he said. “We're going to do a lot of different stuff, plus a couple of Halen tunes, a couple of Journey tunes, a couple of Zeppelin songs.”
In addition, Schon is featured on a new concert DVD by Bad Company. That group's singer, Paul Rodgers, has been trying to get together with Schon to write new material.
Until September, however, when the current tour concludes, Schon is focusing on Journey and its new release. He gave a rundown of the songs: “The EP has an intro called `Red 13,' then `State of Grace,' then there's `The Time,' then there's a real stretched-out power ballad, not poppy at all, called `Walking Away from the Edge,' and another tune called `I Can Breathe.'”
Journey will be in concert Sunday in Promenade Park, as part of the 2002 Sunday Promenade Park Concert Series. Gates open at 6 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. show. Tickets are $34.50 from the SeaGate box office, 419-321-5007; Ticketmaster, and Boogie Records.