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.