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Journey's Neal Schon: Aretha Franklin tribute was my idea, not the band's

Journey's Neal Schon, left, and Ross Valory performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Aug. 18, 2018. Jay Cridlin | Times
Published Aug. 21, 2018

During Journey's concert on Saturday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, guitarist Neal Schon put a momentary pin in the band's parade of hits to perform an extended solo, during which photos of the late Aretha Franklin flashed on screen behind him.

Schon would like the world to know that this tribute to the Queen of Soul was his idea and execution, not Journey's.

I know this because he asked me to alter my concert review to reflect it.

"The correct way to say (it is) Journey's Neal Schon did the tribute to Aretha Franklin," Schon wrote in an email Monday. "That would be honest journalism of what it was and is."

Let's back up. I covered the concert on Saturday, and gave it a favorable review, writing that "time hasn't caught up to Journey and Def Leppard," and saluting both bands for "giving the people what they want." Of the Franklin tribute, I wrote:

"(Schon) took several extended solos during the show, meandering and mugging it up as his fingers flicked across the fretboard. He put some honest-to-goodness heart behind the last one, just before Wheel In the Sky, as the band scrolled photos of the late Aretha Franklin on the screen behind him."

REVIEW: Journey, Def Leppard defy Father Time, thrill 17,500 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa

That prompted a response from Schon's publicist, Tom George.

"You said that the band scrolled photos of the late Aretha Franklin. The tribute was done solo by Neal himself. It was a tribute from Neal to Aretha. Can you please change the word band to he or Neal? We want to make it clear it was a tribute from Neal to Aretha."

Requests like this are rare. Of the hundreds of concerts I've reviewed, only a few have prompted a response from the artist or their team. Sometimes the feedback is positive. Sometimes it's negative. Sometimes it's to correct an error, like a typo or mixed-up song title.

This was a little different. This was Schon demanding full and sole credit for an Aretha Franklin tribute during a Journey show. Putting aside the fact that Journey's production team also played a role, it seemed odd that Schon would go out of his way to make sure readers knew his bandmates had nothing to do with it.

"Were you at the show? It was very clear Neal Schon was paying a personal tribute to an artist he greatly admired," George said in a second email, copied to the band's attorney for emphasis.

After further prodding, a few hours later came an email forwarded from Schon himself. While he didn't comment on Franklin specifically, he said the set's solos were slotted out every night, and allowed the individual members of Journey, including pianist Jonathan Cain and drummer Steve Smith, a moment of their own in the spotlight.

"The only ones that knew what I was planning were our lighting director and designer," he wrote. "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."

Actually, over the weekend, Schon Instagrammed a clip of his Franklin tribute at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, which took place the night before the Tampa concert. But as he tells it, the rest of Journey didn't know it was coming in Tampa.

Neal Schon BB&T Center Fort Lauderdale Florida last night. I did tribute to Aretha Franklin- Queen Soul R.I.P. with much Love & RESPECT @nealschon @nealandmichaeleschon #ladym vid @journeymusicofficial #schön #schon #nealschon #journeythroughtime #guitar

A post shared by Neal Schon Music (@nealschon) on

Schon had one other issue with my review. At one point I referred to the band's only other originating member, Ross Valory, as its "founding bassist." Valory was the group's first bassist, joining even before they adopted the name "Journey," and he wrote and played on their debut album. But Schon drew an emphatic line of distinction between the phrases "founding bassist" and "original bassist."

"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."

Journey fans can debate it amongst themselves. What's not up for debate, according to Schon, is the importance of his solos to the live Journey experience, even those not tied to honoring Franklin.

"The audience loves it every single night," he said. "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."

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