Years ago there was a very good record store in the Liverpool area and with a branch in my nearby shopping bolthole Chester. Penny Lane Records yielded a fine selection of import albums at a reasonable price. It was whilst casually browsing one day, as you do, that I came across Neal Schon’s album ‘Late Nite’. As far as I recall it never got a proper release in the UK but it was the Journey/Santana guitarist’s first solo album.
Most readers of a certain age will recall Schon as the “wunderkind” with Santana at the age of 15. just missing Woodstock but lending his skills to the two albums ‘Santana III’ and ‘Caravanserai’. He was a perfect foil for the mustachioed one, and grew in confidence so that he was sparring in finer style on the 1972 live album with Buddy Miles which yielded the wig-outs ‘Marbles’ and in particular ‘Lava’.
For many, it was Schon’s tenure in Journey from 1973 that would seal their recognition of a highly melodic and tasteful player who – given the chance – would excel on guitar-led songs such as ‘Who’s Crying Now’ and later on the more guitar-led album ‘Eclipse’ which brought Journey very much kicking and screaming fully into the millennium.
Late Nite yielded a selection of vocal and instrumental tracks, and of the latter the title track is a perfect exercise in controlled melodic rock guitar meltdown. Of the other instrumentals, the nine-minute ‘The Theme’ is another great vehicle with the world flavours that Schon would explore subsequently.
Schon handles vocals and the album vibe throughout is superior AOR, and it’s not a million miles from the sort of album Steve Lukather was producing at the same time. But as with Lukather, in-demand session men also have soul. And like Luke, during the 1980s – in downtime from Journey – Schon guested on many other artist albums.
Yes, the album is very “late eighties” but the musicianship is top notch. From the soulful ‘Rain’s Comin’ Down’ to the funky Prince-lite rocker ‘Smoke Of The Revolution’ with vocal back-up from Sheryl Crow.
Of the remaining instrumentals ‘Inner Circles’ is a fusion workout that quotes primetime Ray Gomez and ‘Schooldays’ and ‘Steps’ is the typical power ballad that we associate with Schon.
Honouring the trend for guitarists, solo albums and the need to introduce a curveball, ‘Blackened Bacon’ is sadly as whiffy as the title suggests. It is the only blip on an otherwise pristine offering. But, hey, it’s barely two minutes long.
The album was produced by Bob Marlette (responsible for Iommi’s Fused, another “forgotten” album in this series, and recently producing Vandenberg) who also contributes keyboards throughout.
Later solo albums have run the full gamut of styles from world (Electric World, 1997) via blues (Piranha Blues,1999), covers (Voice, 2001) and fusion (I On U, 2005). The more recent offerings have sometimes meandered and been a tad over indulgent forsaking the tune for sustained (and I mean sustained) guitar pyrotechnics (The Calling, So U) but pick out the nuggets and you will be well rewarded. Late Nite is one of those.
In 2015 Neal Schon chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio about his solo album ‘Vortex’. In this extended interview edit he recalls working with Santana and influences on his own playing, plus Journey and solo albums.
Album review (Vortex, 2015)
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.
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