Erik Kabik / ErikKabik.com
Published Thursday, May 14, 2015 | 1:59 p.m.
Updated Thursday, May 14, 2015 | 5:47 p.m.
These are the instruments of Neal Schon’s life: A lineup of electric guitars he played on rock classics that last for infinity and for which there seems no escape.
He points toward a white Stratocaster, its surface cracking for its long use but otherwise in great repair.
“I’ve been using the Strat since ‘Infinity.’ It’s on ‘Faithfully,’ it’s on ‘Lights,’ it’s on ‘Send Her My Love,’ it’s on ‘Walks Like a Lady,’ it’s on ‘Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin,’ it’s on all those tracks,” Schon says as he peers into the glass display case at the Hard Rock Hotel, where these guitars are on exhibit and for sale through the weekend.
The four custom guitars are from Schon’s collection and cover the heart of his career.
Of that old Strat, he adds, “You know, there’s live footage of me from the ’80s playing the thing (chuckles) and it’s got an old PAF Les Paul pickup in it, in the bottom like in the ’50s.”
This means the guitar was customized to Schon’s liking. The guitars are $40,000 to $125,000, although they are priceless to any rock fan (call 702.693.5000 to set up an appointment to play one of these old axes). Fans also receive a replica Journey platinum album, and of course you get to hang for a while with one of the all-time guitar greats.
Looking every bit the rock star, the leather-jacketed and shades-adorning Schon talked of the band’s residency in Las Vegas, his upcoming album with original members of Carlos Santana’s band (“Santana IV” is the working title) and what might be in the offing in our city — including, one day, an appearance at Rock in Rio USA.
He smiled a lot, and why not? His adoring wife, Michaele, clung to his arm and hung on every word during a 30-minute standup session, which invariably attracted curious onlookers wondering if this guy talking of these instruments was actually the lead guitarist from Journey. He was, and here are the highlights:
His work on “Santana IV” is finished: This is the long-anticipated follow to 1971’s “Santana III,” for which Santana reunited with Schon, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve and percussionist Michael Carabello. The album was recorded at Odds On Records & Studios in Henderson.
“I was done a week and a half ago. When we started the residency, I had just finished. … I understand it is coming out early next year. The album sounds really amazing, and I have to say it was a complete joy to make, really organic because we just walked into the studio and everybody is such accomplished players. We passed around the ball, and it turned out to be a super-great record, super live and alive.”
Santana and Schon are planning a double-headlining tour of the original Santana and Journey bands: Santana also has talked of a fusion of these two legendary bands in a single show.
“He wants to do it chronologically, and so it would be Woodstock’s Santana, for 35 or 40 minutes, and we’d do a couple of the fusion/rock tunes like ‘Of a Lifetime’ and ‘Kahoutek,’ or something like that off our first record with Gregg Rolie.
Then we’d go into the whole ’80s era and late ’70s era with ‘Infinity’ and work our way toward our new stuff, and the new Santana comes on and then I would come on with them with Gregg and the rest of the guys.”
Santana’s opinion of him is still important: “It is absolutely a mentor/protege relationship. Absolutely,” Schon says. “Carlos, to me, is everything. He’s such an amazing man, beyond being an amazing guitar player, and he is in such a great place with his spiritualism. I have become very much like that at this point in my life, as well as with (Michaele), and so it couldn’t be better timing for him and me to get back together.”
He still vividly remembers his early days as a teen member of Santana’s band: “When I started out with him, I was 15, I was a kid basically, but I went everywhere with Carlos,” Schon recalls, laughing.
“If he went to the store, I went to the store. He went down to the guitar shop; I was at the guitar shop. We went to get a burrito; I was at the burrito place. So, I was like his little puppy dog that he took under his wing.”
Santana has tried to persuade the Schons to move to Las Vegas: “When we finish these next three dates, it will be like almost two months that we have been in Las Vegas, and Carlos and his wife, Cindy, are trying to talk us into moving next to them on the same block,” Schon says.
“We’re considering it. We have a beautiful place in Marin County, and so does he, so I would never give that up. But I’m not ruling it out. I would do it just to be next door to him because he’s so cool (laughs).”
Santana suggested “Vortex” as both a name for Schon and Schon’s new album: “This was the name that he gave me when we were first starting to work on the ‘Santana’ record, and he says, ‘Your new name is going to be Vortex,’ and so that’s where the whole ‘Vortex’ thing started, “ Schon says, smiling once more. “My new name now is Neal Vortex Schon. I dropped the Joseph!”
Michaele arranged for her hubby to spin a few laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Indy 500 on Memorial Day Weekend: “It was part of my birthday present from Michaele, so I’m going to actually be in his Formula car with him in the back probably crapping my pants!” Schon says with a laugh.
“I’m a Lamborghini freak, and so is he. It’s a complete honor. My mom, being Italian, she and the whole family are freaking out because we’ve all been watching Mario Andretti since I was this big.”
Performing at Rock in Rio USA is something that appeals to Journey: “I feel like we should be playing this Rock in Rio thing. We are built for that. We would have just killed it. Killed it!” he says.
“We would have annihilated it. But you know what? We’ll do it. We know the promoter who puts on the show, and he has already talked to the people in our little circle. He wants to go to Rio this year and play the real one in Rio in September.”
He will never stop trying to grow as a person or musician: “Every day. I feel you’re only as good as the last note you play,” Schon says. “I’m not resting on 80 million records, which a lot of people do when they get to that point. I don’t even have these (platinum) records in our house. I refuse to put them up on the wall because I don’t want to look at it and go, ‘Oh, I have done that.’
“It’s more suited to sit in here and let people look at it. But the only thing I want to remember is the last gig I played or the last night I played in the studio and think, ‘Was it really that good?’ I still love playing live.”
Arguably one the coolest joints in town, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino houses some of Vegas' best entertainment, restaurants and nightlife.
At Hard Rock, it's all about the music. From the light fixtures made out of drum cymbals and guitar shaped door handles to stage costumes and tools of the trade of legendary musicians displayed on the walls, the hotel screams rock and roll. The Hard Rock's Joint has hosted some the biggest names in music — from The Who to Bob Dylan to hometown heroes, The Killers.Aside from the music venues, the pool at the Hard Rock is one of its biggest attractions. Spread out over 4.7 acres, the pool area features swim-up blackjack, a bar and grill, private cabanas, a bevy of secluded nooks, a waterfall and an extensive live music venue with a dance floor. During the summer, the pool transforms into the Rehab club on Sunday afternoons.
The resident nightclub Body English fuses European elegance with a rock star bachelor pad and it often a hot spot for visiting celebs and popular DJs. Vintage rock memorabilia lines the walls at Wasted Space, Hard Rock's anti-club.
Restaurants at Hard Rock are just as hip as the rest of the casino. Pink Taco serves up Mexican dishes, as well as a Central American and Caribbean menu. Nobu, one of five worldwide Japanese-specialty restaurants from famed Nobu Matsuhisa, satisfies a different taste. For round-the-clock cuisine, Mr. Lucky's 24/7, is sure to ease your appetite even after a Vegas-all-nighter.