Neal Schon doesn’t like living in the past. But the Journey guitarist is hoping that San Francisco Fest 2016 on Sunday at AT & T Park — where his band will appear with Santana, Steve Miller, The Doobie Brothers and Tower of Power — will time-warp fans back three decades to Bill Graham’s sprawling Day on the Green concerts. But he has his own PRS signature guitar model, a 2014 solo album “So U” (featuring drummer Deen Castronovo on vocals) and, to replace former Journey frontman Steve Perry, an eerie soundalike whom he discovered singing in cover bands in the Philippines, Arnel Pineda, who grew up impoverished, living on dirt floors. “It’s a real Cinderella story,” he says. “And he’s no longer the new guy — he’s been with us for 10 years now.”
Any fan of Journey’s definitive “Infinity” album will agree — it’s difficult to fly into SFO at night and not punch up its flagship single “Lights” on the iPod.
I am so proud of that song. And it’s sentimental to me, because it’s about San Francisco. And I remember the day that I finished it with Perry – he was doing more of an R&B type thing with it, but I was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, and his rolling chords. So rather than playing “Lights” straightforward, I chose to put a “Wind Cries Mary” vibe into it. And once I did that, we put a stroll to it, and it took on a whole different personality. And it’s still one of our set’s high points. I ask everybody to get out their lighters, and the whole place lights up. And everybody sings it.
But your guitar solo in that is inimitable, your very own tone and voice.
We did “Infinity” with the infamous Roy Thomas Baker, and we did so many different things on that record that I’d never tried, or even thought about doing. I learned a lot from Roy. Like the multi-tracking, violin-styled guitar, as opposed to using synthesizers, and that was a voice for me. Roy basically took a lot of the things he was doing with Queen and brought them to Journey.
Playing devil’s advocate here, why on Earth can’t Journey and Steve Perry reconcile after all these years?
It’s not like I haven’t tried. I love Steve, I love the legacy of the music we wrote together. We wrote some timeless music. But if you look up Steve’s last interviews, he said, “There’s no way I can ever do that — that was then, this is now.” So that’s what he feels. And he has not allowed me to talk directly to him – I always have to give a letter to his attorney to send to him. So the resistance is not on my end.
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Fest 2016
with Journey, Santana, Steve Miller Band, Doobie Brothers, Tower of Power
Where: AT & T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, S.F.
When: 3 p.m. Sept. 4
Tickets: $25 to $250