By the time Neal was in high school, he was already an accomplished guitarist, spending his nights playing in clubs with local bands. Neal's early influences included Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, among others. At the age of fifteen, Neal met Carlos Santana, and they became friends. Carlos asked Neal to join the Santana Band at the age of fifteen. Oddly enough, in the same week, Eric Clapton also asked Neal to join his band, Derek and the Dominos. Neal chose to join Santana, and recorded three studio albums with Santana, and Neal was touring the world as a pro-guitarist at the age of fifteen. Schon and Santana trade solos throughout on tunes including "Everything's Coming Our Way", "Jungle Strut", "Toussaint L'Overture", and "Taboo". Many of these now-classic solos are incorrectly attributed to Carlos, including Schon's impressive lead on "Everybody's Everything". At the age of nineteen, the Santana Band split ways, and Neal began the next stage of his musical "Journey"...
After leaving the Santana Band at the age of nineteen, Neal was approached by legendary rock manager Herbie Herbert and asked to front a new band. Neal got together with keyboardist Gregg Rolie, bassist Ross Valory, guitarist George Tickner, and drummer Prarie Prince to form the new band known as 'The Golden Gate Rhythm Section'. Their initial plan was to be a ready-made studio band for anyone wanting to cut a record in San Francisco. While waiting for a job to come along, they started playing and recording original material. The Golden Gate name didn't stick for long, as the new name 'Journey' was adopted.
Journey was signed by Columbia records and released three albums between 1975 and 1977 - The self titled 'Journey' album, 'Look into the Future', and 'Next'. After the release of 'Next', Journey brought on Steve Perry as lead vocalist. Neal and Steve quickly penned several songs together, including "Patiently", "Lights", and "Wheel in the Sky". The release of the 1978 album 'Infinity' was a huge commercial success for Journey, and paved the way for a series of albums with widespread appeal. In 1979, 'Evolution' was released, following in 1980 with 'Departure'.
After extensive touring in 1978 through 1980, Gregg Rolie left the band, and was replaced by Jonathan Cain on keyboards. The addition of Cain brought a fresh energy to the band and the release of 'Escape' was a huge commercial success. 'Escape' climbed to #1 on the album charts and would go on to become Journey's top selling album (nine times platinum). The hits "Who's Crying Now", "Don't Stop Believin'", and "Open Arms" all reached the Top 10 as singles.
In 1983, Journey released 'Frontiers' and continued the commercial success, with "Faithfully" and "Separate Ways" reaching #12 and #8 on the charts, respectively. In 1986, Journey released 'Raised on Radio'. After touring from this album, the band separated ways.
In 1997, Journey reunited for the album 'Trial by Fire'. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, they were unable to follow the album up with a tour. Singer Steve Perry left the band, and Neal, Jon, and Ross Valory had the task of replacing him, as well as drummer Steve Smith. The three recruited Deen Castronovo for drums and vocalist Steve Augeri to continue Journey. That lineup made its debut on the 'Armageddon' movie soundtrack, and since then has recorded the albums 'Arrival', 'Red13', and 'Generations'.
Schon's guitar style has been described as soulful, taking inspiration from 1960s-era soul singers such as Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, and blending it with blues runs similar to B. B. King.
In addition to his five solo albums and 14 studio albums with Journey, his work also includes: a pair of albums with keyboardist Jan Hammer, short-term collaborations with Sammy Hagar (HSAS and Planet Us) and Paul Rodgers, stints with Bad English (a supergroup that featured Journey’s Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain's former Babys bandmates John Waite and Ricky Phillips) and Hardline (which also featured Deen Castronovo). Even as Journey’s latest lineup plays to a still-faithful body of fans, Schon has immersed himself in side projects such as Piranha Blues (1999) and "Black Soup Cracker" a funk outfit that features former Prince associates Rosie Gaines and Michael Bland, and more recently Soul SirkUS with Jeff Scott Soto.
Schon can be heard on other albums including three tracks on Michael Bolton's The Hunger, with the Schon sound most recognizable on "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". He also joined Larry Graham to play in an all-star band for cult funk artist and ex-wife of Miles Davis, Betty Davis.
Schon's first guitar was an acoustic Stella, followed two years later by a Gibson ES-335 which was subsequently stolen and replaced with a '56 Les Paul Goldtop reissue that he used for many years. Schon currently endorses Gibson guitars, and has a limited edition signature Les Paul model entitled the "Neal Schon Signature Model Custom Les Paul", of which only 35 were made according to the Gibson Custom website. He has previously employed Godin guitars on his 1995 solo album Beyond the Thunder, and more recently uses Paul Reed Smith guitars. In the late 1980s, Schon manufactured (through Jackson Guitars and later Larrivee) and played his own line of guitars. Simply named Schon, about 200 of the Jackson-produced models were made. A white Schon guitar can be clearly seen in the music video for the Journey song "Girl Can't Help It", as well as a gold version in the Journey videos for "I'll Be Alright Without You" and "Be Good to Yourself". A Gibson Les Paul Super Custom can be seen in the video for the journey song "Anyway You Want It."
As of 2008, Schon currently prefers guitar pedals from Xotic, a Vox Satriani model and occasionally uses a Buddy Guy wah pedal.
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