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Nearly four decades on, Journey's still believin'

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011

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Journey has never stopped believing — not in the 38 years since the group formed in San Francisco, and not in the 30 years since it’s biggest album, “Escape,” and its enduring hit single “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

And that’s why the quintet has decided to put out new music this year instead of reveling in past glories, says guitarist Neal Schon.

“Making new music is still what we’re about,” says Schon, 57, the sole Journey member who’s stayed with the band since its formation. “We’ve seen what’s been going on with bands going out there and playing a whole record in concert or releasing deluxe anniversary editions and stuff like that. Surely we could do that at some point.

“But right now it’s more important for us to put out something new and go and promote it.”

This year that’s “Eclipse,” Journey’s follow-up to 2008’s “Revelation” and it’s second with Filipino frontman Arnel Pineda, who’s become a fan favorite thanks to his striking vocal similarity to Steve Perry, Journey’s popular frontman during the group’s platinum heyday from 1977-98. Pineda certainly helps to recall the sound that allowed Journey to sell more than 80 million albums and score 13 Top 20 hits during its career, but Schon proudly notes that “Eclipse” is Journey the way he likes to hear it — hard-edged and expansive, with the group’s ballad side decidedly on the back burner.

“I’m grateful to the band for finally letting me do one like that,” says Schon, who was playing in Santana before Journey formed in 1973. “I’ve been wanting to do more of a musical/conceptual record for quite a while, and I was glad we could get our heads together and write in this direction. I wanted it to be more like a stadium rock record, a bit more progressive and not afraid to go into some areas that we’ve never been.

“And I didn’t want to look at the stopwatch while we were writing and go, ‘Well, that’s over three-and-a-half minutes, so they’ll never play it on the radio.’ I just envisioned more of a long-play record from beginning to end.”

Schon acknowledges that he “fought” with bandmate Jonathan Cain, Journey’s other primary songwriter since joining the band in 1980, and producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley during the making of “Eclipse.”

“I was hardheaded about making sure that I made the record that I wanted to make,” Schon notes. “I felt really strongly about the record I felt we should make. Kevin and I went around and around, and I went at it with Jon until we got our heads together, and then things finally took its course.

“But I’m really glad that I just stuck with it.”

But Schon promises that the direction Journey took on “Eclipse” will not eclipse the gems fans are coming to hear when the band plays live — and particularly not the material from “Escape,” which went nine-time platinum in the U.S. and launched hit such as “Who’s Crying Now,” “Open Arms” and “Still They Ride.” None, however, loom larger than “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the song that put the nonexistent south Detroit on the map — “It just worked better for the lyric,” Perry once said.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” has become a staple at sporting events and was famously used in the final scene of “The Sopranos” season finale in 2007 and as the closing song in the Tony Award-nominated musical “Rock of Ages.” “Glee,” meanwhile, has used the song in three of its episodes, with the cast’s version hitting the Top 5 in the U.S. and sending Journey’s original back onto the charts in the U.K.

“When it was done, I went, ‘Man, I think that song is gonna be big,’” Schon says now. “And when (‘Escape’) came out, there were other songs that were actually bigger on the radio, so to have it be all over the place this many years later, and it keeps going. ...

“The coolest thing that happened from ‘Glee’ is how it brought the younger generation to be hip to the rest of our stuff — or even hip to Journey at all. We have so many kids in our audience now, it’s amazing. I mean, I believe we have more great songs than that one song, but to just have everybody latch onto it like people have latched onto it, it means it’s embedded in stone — and we’re embedded in stone with it.

“So we’re not going anywhere. We’re classic rock whether you like us or not.”

Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 31, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are sold out.

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