Neal Schon : Melodic Master

To prepare myself for the onslaught of Xmas shopping I popped my copy of Journeys “Escape”on the CD player the other morning.

As I munched on my fruit N Fibre Neal Schon’s beautifully executed tasteful solo work gave me goosebumps and if anything still stands up today as an example of less is definetly more.

Schon is something of an Enigma to me. A cursory glance at his playing could lead you to believe he’s just another 80′s hard rock guitarist with a bad mullet and silly sunglasses, but there is so much more.

The son of a Jazz Saxophonist Schon was a hotshot guitarist at the age of 15 and was courted by both Eric Clapton to join Derek and the Dominoes and also by Carlos Santana…..this is while the young Schon was still a teenager???? WTF???

Schon eventially joined Santana, toured, played on a couple of albums and then formed Journey with Santana bandmate, keyboardist Jonathan Cain. They recorded gazillions of albums of varying quality and still treads the Classic Rock nostalgia circuit with a different Journey lineup regulaly. Although “Escape” is probably their biggest worldwide hit.

However Schon is also a bit of a pioneer, back in the mid 80′s he had his own brand of guitars made (well ghostbuilt by Jackson & Larrivee in fact) under the ‘Schon’ brandname long before Brian May had a stab at a reproducing the Red Special for the mass market.

In addition his latest Gibson Les Paul signature model actually has some amazing features such as a heeless cutaway and Fernandes Sustainer. It also comes with a Floyd Rose, but apparently, Neals also tried out other types of licensed Floyd, by Ibanez in order to find the perfect whammy. I wonder how Gibson feel about that.

When I saw Rush recently. I noticed Alex Lifesons Floyd Equipped LP Custom had the same heeless cutaway as Neals. So Gibson will surely do a stock production run of contemporary LP’s at some point?

Schons rig is also unusual in that he prefers using old Boss Multi FX units (ME-5′s/ME10′s/GT-5′s etc) and programme up endless big fat overdriven sustained tones with washes of chorus and echo, before running these units into big fat clean valve amps such as Hi-Watts. In a world of boutique this and handbuild bespoke rigs. Its nice to think a world class player fiddling with his FX units overcooked presets like Barry in the covers band down the Dog & Duck on a Friday night.

Back to his playing, while Schons name is littered across numerous American Melodic Rock album credits, he has made an instrumental album as well. But its his better work with Journey that shows how to really deliver raw emotion with just a few well placed licks. The guitar break in “Who’s Crying Now” is just 4 or 5 simple notes, played with such heartfelt emotion and raw passion it harks back to an era when guitar solo’s were common in pop/rockmusic.

Schons tasteful phrasing gives a nod to classic soul vocalists such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett and its this wider influence that marks him out as a true original.

Merry Xmas

Classical Guitarists are in the main Pretentious Twats!: Discuss

I saw him standing in a corner of St Pancras Station, Thick brown wavy hair, long black coat

The case looked like It may be an acoustic or maybe even a semi, like a 335, maybe an Archtop

So I asked him

He replied ” God-No” in a dour pretentious Schoolmasterly voice. His tone was dismissive.

Then it dawned on me

He played one of these

Now I love the tone of a good gut or Nylon strung Classical guitar. I fell in love with Balleto by Weiss at the age of 14 and wished I could play it. I even went for Classical guitar lessons for a bit as a 15 year old.

Thats where my problem started

My teacher was well meaning, but at 14 I could play quite a lot of stuff and rather than help me adapt and build the Classical discipline into what I already knew. My teacher insisted on brushing that aside and making me learn from scratch.

He’d taunt me and say “its not a Fender Stratocaster now” as if a strat was a garden spade and his midrange Spanish a paintbrush in comparison, as if he was the artist and I the DIY enthusuiast.

Eventually I lost interest, there seemed no point to learning to play Bah Bah Blacksheep when reading music, when I could work out a Yes track by ear?

Then later I met a guy who could play Classical Guitar, at Conservatory level, he’d studied under the masters and knew his stuff. He also ran a Classical guitar society to boot.

But he’d also auditioned for Iron Maiden and played Rock, his hero was Steve Howe from Yes and he had an unhealthy obsession with Fender Amplifiers designed by Paul Rivera.

I went to a recital by his Classical guitar ensemble and I quite enjoyed it. He had people of all different levels playing together and a few duo pieces.

But while I drank Chilean wine and M & S nibbles, I talked to some of the other players and noticed an interesting correlation in their attitudes.

Some of the weaker musicians were total snobs about the electric guitar, again they saw it as a terrible crude thing. The more advanced players seemed prejudiced free, maybe they didnt like it. But they didnt seem to see it as a lower art form.

I find this funny because at the moment the Electric guitar is undergoing a massive transformation. In the past you bought a cheap guitar and taught yourself, off records or CD’s and stuff you saw. Other guitarists, relatives, siblings and friends. The Electric Guitar was a folk artform, a beginner could get a reasonable sound and result out of it.

But soon that will pass. Personally I’m scared. There have always been guitar teachers and some of these guys are good. But now the Electric guitar is becoming institutionallised.

There are now music schools in both Britain and the United States, music grades and exams, you can learn songs and solos and be graded on your competency. The pretentious music snobs who rejected me have all gone out and bought a Yamaha Pacifica 112, to teach kids with and earn money. Its funny how money will malke some people lower themselves eh.

I wonder what these Royal College of music Examiners and Academics would make of true originals like Keef, Kevin Shields, John Martyn, Will Reid, Polly Harvey etc etc. What would they make of originators of the form, Robert Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Albert Collins.

In a way its a scary thought, does an artform die as soon as you institutionallise it?

You could look at 20th Century art and a school of tradition. But to me I prefer Art made by the likes of the French Postman Ferdinand Cheval, an ordinary man, who at the age of 43 created the palace of his childhood dreams using stones he found on his daily route and discarded objects. To me he made this beautiful artwork out of some divine inner need to create. Not because he thought it was a good career or maybe a right wing advertising executive with a perchant for busty Jewish Princesses wanted to buy it.

Beautiful isnt it.

So long live Rock and Roll and the poor disenfranchised kid sitting alone in his bedroom on a borrowed unplayable guitar witha high action, making mistakes & trying to figure it out and discovering him or herself in the process. If one day that kids replaced by a calculating, careerist fame academy wannabee who cares only about their “grades” then humanity is fucked as far as I’m concerned and we will go to hell in a handcart.