Personalities | Neal Schon | Journey’s Soul | Guitar Heroes

Rock and jazz guitarist Neal Schon, son of a jazz saxophonist and composer, was born in Oklahoma in 1954. A precocious talent, he learned guitar at the age of 10 and joined Santana at 15, turning down an invitation to join Eric Clapton in Derek and the Dominos.

Schon made two albums with the band, Santana III (1971), on which he was credited as co-producer, and Caravanserai (1972), a departure into jazz fusion. In 1972, he played with Azteca, a Latin jazz-rock fusion ensemble that onstage consisted of up to 25 members.

In 1973, Schon formed Journey with former Santana band member Greg Rolie on keyboards and vocals. The band was originally intended to serve as a back-up outfit for musicians in the San Francisco area, but this notion was quickly abandoned and Journey made their first live appearance at the city’s Winterland Ballroom. Signed to Columbia Records, the debut album Journey (1975), the follow-up Look Into The Future (1976) and Next (1977) were all firmly in the jazz-rock mould, featuring long tracks and lengthy instrumental workouts. The albums sold poorly, prompting a change in direction on Infinity (1978) to a pomp-rock sound similar to Boston and Foreigner.

This marked the start of a run of success for Journey that would bring them to a whole new audience, peaking with their bestselling work Escape (1981). Schon also recorded two albums with keyboardist Jan Hammer in 1981 and 1982, and has issued sporadic solo recordings since, the most of recent of which, So U, was released in 2014. After Journey split, he joined forces with former Babys singer John Waite to form Bad English in 1988. Journey reunited in 1995 and released Trial By Fire in 1996, followed by Arrival (2001), Generations (2005), Revelation (2008) and Eclipse (2011).

Schon was inspired by bluesman B.B. King and jazz-fusionist Al Di Meola. His first guitar was an acoustic Stella, followed by a Gibson ES-355, and a Les Paul Goldtop. He currently uses Gibson guitars, and the company produced a limited-edition signature-model Les Paul. In the 1980s, he inaugurated his own brand, the Schon, manufactured by Jackson Guitars and later Larrivee. Schon suffers from tinnitus after many years of playing live.

Essential Recordings

Santana: Santana

Journey: Escape

Bad English: Bad English

Journey: Trial By Fire

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