Journey is back on the road this winter, with Steve Smith returning on drums and Arnel Pineda singing songs that former vocalist Steve Perry made famous in the late 1970s and early 1980s (as well as other material).
Plenty of people wish Perry would return to Journey — including some who will go see the band March 20 at Taco Bell Arena. And for his part, guitarist Neal Schon maintains he’d welcome Perry if he wants to perform with the band.
But according to Schon, one thing Perry fans shouldn’t count on as a motivation to bring about a Perry/Journey reunion is the lure of a lucrative tour.
“You know what people don’t understand is that we couldn’t even possibly be doing better right now even if he (Perry) was with us,” Schon said in a recent phone interview. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to build it back up, but you know what, we’re here again. We’re sitting there. And management is the first one to tell me it couldn’t possibly be bigger.”
The fact is, Schon is perfectly happy with Journey as things stand. And there’s little reason for him to think otherwise. As he mentioned, Journey has done what many considered highly unlikely — if not downright impossible — by regaining its stature as one of rock’s most bankable arena and outdoor amphitheater headlining bands despite the absence of Perry, who sang the band’s many hits (“Open Arms,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to name a few).
But Pineda has now been the band’s lead singer longer than Perry and has shown that he’s more than capable as Journey’s frontman.
“Arnel, he’s bionic, man. He sounds better right now than ever,” Schon said. “The guy can, seriously, he can sing anything. Any type of music you want to play, he can sing anything.”
The rest of the Journey lineup is now the same as the one that recorded the band’s two biggest albums, 1981’s “Escape” and 1983’s “Frontiers” — with Schon on guitar, Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass and Smith, who handled drums from 1978 to 1985 and 1995 to 1998, back on board, replacing Deen Castronovo. (Castronovo was fired from Journey after his indictment in June 2015 on multiple charges of domestic violence. The drummer has since gone through rehab for alcohol and drug problems that have plagued him at various points during his musical career.)
Journey’s original run of success came to an end when the band broke up after its 1986 studio album, “Raised On Radio.” After nearly a decade apart, the “Escape”/“Frontiers” lineup reunited to make the 1996 album “Trial By Fire.” Perry then opted out and has shown no interest in rejoining the band.
The fact that many fans continue to blame Schon for Perry’s absence irks the guitarist.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Schon said about Perry’s absence. “The door has always been open. I’ve always tried to make direct contact with him rather than using his attorney. He’s not allowed that. And so it’s really not me. The fans need to work on him (Perry) a bit more if they want him to come up and (sing with Journey). He’s really not interested in doing anything with us. We’re completely fine with that. But just, I just get so tired of hearing people say, ‘You need to put your ego aside. You need to go knock on his door and tell him how you feel.’ I go, ‘No, you just don’t have a clue.’ ”
It was after “Trial By Fire” that Schon, Cain and Valory decided to put together a new edition of Journey, with Castronovo replacing Smith on drums.
Journey cycled through a pair of singers (Steve Augeri from 1998-2006 and briefly Jeff Scott Soto) before Schon discovered Pineda while surfing YouTube looking for a new singer.
Along the way, Journey worked its way up from smaller venues back into amphitheaters as “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and other vintage Journey songs got new life through placements in television series, movies and commercials.
The group has released four albums since Perry’s departure: “Arrival” (2001),” “Generations” (2005), “Revelation” (2008) and “Eclipse” (2008). Some band members have balked at doing any further writing and recording because the plummeting sales of albums in the internet age makes it hard to justify the expense and effort that goes into making a new album.
But Schon hopes to reverse that thinking and said he has a number of song ideas in hand and plans to start writing soon with Pineda. He thinks the success of “Santana IV,” his 2016 reunion album with the classic early lineup of that band, will convince his bandmates that a new Journey album can be viable.
“I think right now we’ve got it going on,” Schon said. “What I did notice is that in the earlier shows we did, we tried to cram more songs in with less segues, less solos for myself and Jonathan and Steve Smith and everybody else. But really, I felt like the audience liked it better when we had them in.”
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, Taco Bell Arena, 1401 Bronco Lane, Boise. $29.50-$95. Ticketmaster. Opening: Asia.