Journey Guitarist Demands Sole Credit for Onstage Tribute to Aretha Franklin

Writing in response to a concert review in the Tampa Bay Times, Neal Schon insists the rest of the band had nothing to do with his live salute to the Queen of Soul… or with founding the group, for that matter.

Neal Schon isn’t one to miss a chance to let the world know that he’s not entirely in synch with the rest of the members of Journey — even when they’re sharing the stage on a nightly basis. Latest example: his letter to a concert reviewer insisting that he, not the band as a whole, should get sole credit for paying tribute to Aretha Franklin in their shows. In the process, the mercurial guitarist also managed to specifically drag the group’s current management and only other remaining original member.

The latest flare-up started when Tampa Bay Times music critic Jay Cridlin gave Journey’s area arena show a positive review Monday (Aug. 20). Schon, bypassing the flattery, wasn’t pleased when Cridlin noted that Schon played an extended solo with “some honest-to-goodness heart… before ‘Wheel in the Sky,’ as the band scrolled photos of the late Aretha Franklin on screen behind him.”

In response, the critic first got two emails from Schon’s publicist, Tom George — not to be confused with the publicity firm Journey employs as a group — asking for a word change from “the band” to “he” “to make it clear it was a tribute from Neal to Aretha.”

When the writer balked at the publicist’s “odd” request, as he explained in a subsequent column, a more detailed email came in from Schon himself, again demanding sole credit for the photo of Franklin appearing on screen, while throwing shade at their management for allegedly not wanting him to get too much glory.

“The correct way to say [it is] Journey’s Neal Schon did the tribute to Aretha Franklin. That would be honest journalism of what it was and is,” the guitarist wrote to the critic. “The only ones that knew what I was planning were our lighting director and designer. I often do something new EVERY NIGHT. Nobody knows really what it will be. It is my solo section (by myself to do as I please) as Steve Smith and Jonathan Cain do every nite. It’s called improv and that’s precisely why it’s different every night.” (As Cridlin pointed out, Schon had Instagrammed himself doing an identical tribute at a previous show.)

“The audience loves it every single night,” Schon continued. “It seems that management has more of a problem than anyone as it’s me by myself and tend(s) to get tons of media press that’s not necessarily branded as a Journey brand or song. God forbid lol what’s good for me in the end is good for all.”

While he was at it, the guitarist had some other credits he wanted to arbitrate. Schon registered an objection to the reviewer referring to Ross Valory as Journey’s “founding bassist” — a seemingly uncontroversial contention, since Valory came on board in the year of Journey’s founding, in 1973, and he’s appeared on every album from the first one to the last save for one. Not that Schon was making a case for a different founding bassist; he just wants sole foundational credit. “I myself started the band with ex-manager Herbie Herbert,” Schon wrote. “Everyone else came afterwards including Ross Valory. You can’t rewrite history man. It is what it is.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, reaction on the Tampa Bay Times’ site as well as in social media has involved a lot of use of the D-words — “douche” and “diva” — although Schon certainly has his fair share of online defenders who take his side when he takes a contentious attitude toward other past and present members or the group’s management and publicists.

Schon went on the warpath with another media outlet last week, too, tweeting, “Ultimate Classic Rock article is full of shit,” in response to a story with the headline, “Neal Schon Shoots Down Talk of Journey Reunion with Steve Perry.” The website replied, “Which story are you talking about? The only thing we’ve done on that topic was this one, which you retweeted two days ago… It was a positive story.” Schon subsequently tweeted that it was a “positive, great article” except for “miss leading (sic) headline that drives Google and that’s why they do it, to create drama.”

Last year, Schon went into battle on Twitter with members of the band who went to the White House and posed for a photo with the president — a visit presumably instigated by keyboardist Jonathan Cain, whose evangelist wife, Paula White, has acted as the president’s spiritual advisor. “I think the RRHOF has gone to everyone’s head,” he tweeted. “Not me.” He soon tweeted a chart, borrowed from Wikipedia, of how long every member had spent in Journey, and specifically took on current singer Arnel Pineda, leading Pineda to tweet, “Just so you know, I have no problem being an #expendable #entity. nothings #permanent in this world.” The oddest thing was that these exchanges were happening while the band was on tour, which seemed then, as now, to be no obstacle to taking things public.

This past February, as the band announced a joint headlining tour with Def Leppard, Rolling Stone asked Cain, “Is it hard to be on the road with someone that’s bashing you on Twitter day after day?” “It’s something that you tolerate,” the keyboardist answered. “Everybody has to vent.” Of the White House brouhaha, Cain said, “Don’t go to the fans about it. If you had a problem with it, talk to me. I never heard from him.'”