Fireworks Magazine Online 47 - Neil Daniels

NEIL DANIELS – author of the Journey book "Don’t Stop Believin'"

“I hate cats. They are the spawn of Satan. There is a reason why those scary animals are always in horror films. We don’t get on. I think I was traumatised as a child by cats and haven’t liked them since.” 

Neil Daniels obviously doesn’t care much for moggies, and I’m surrounded by them. And we’re here to talk about his latest book on Journey, whom at one point I will refer to as ‘a bunch of fluffy wusses’. If it wasn’t for the fact that we know each other quite well, this could have been a bit of a disaster!

Neil has clocked up ten books since opening his account with ‘Defenders Of The Faith – The Story Of Judas Priest’ in 2007. His latest, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’: The Untold Story Of Journey’, does what it says on the tin. Being a tad older than Neil, probably like many UK rock fans my age I first came across the band when ‘Sounds’ music paper championed their corner at the end of the Seventies, although they never really featured on my radar and a paltry two albums are all I own (which is enough for me, I hasten to add). So for me the book has been an interesting read, and one which plugged more than a few gaps in my knowledge of a band which for a while in the Eighties was huge beyond belief.

The attraction with Journey for Neil was that it gave him the scope to set out

“an epic and complicated story that’s never been told before,” he says. “Sure, the whole ‘Glee’ thing has brought the band back into the limelight which is a good thing for Journey – and for melodic rock in general – but there’s more to this band than that one song. Behind the ballads and all the hype, there is a lot of bitterness, heartache, inner turmoil and the inevitable clashes of ego etc in Journey’s history, which dates back to 1973. I felt it was time this story was told in book form. There are a number of reasons a book on Journey had never been published before – they haven’t been truly ‘big’ since the mid-Eighties so publishers have probably never been interested in commissioning a book; also many of the band members past and present have signed some sort of confidentiality agreement which prohibits them from talking to writers without the band’s consent. There is a lot to the Journey story which many fans don’t know and I like to think I’ve done decent job at getting all those facts together in a narrative. It wasn’t easy and I know Journey fanatics are famously zealous – maybe over-zealous – but for the rest of the fanbase it should prove to be an interesting book. But of course, I could be wrong...” he laughs.

“My own introduction to the band was through the famed ‘Greatest Hits’ collection which is surely the most perfectly-assembled collection of AOR/melodic rock songs on one disc. From there I delved into the revered Steve Perry fronted albums and to this day I absolutely adore ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers’. Then – as with any band – I discovered other albums and even dabbled with Santana because Journey (as many people might not know) was an offspring of Santana. I think Journey’s back catalogue is a surprisingly eclectic and diverse collection of albums. I mean, you’ve got the first three instrumental jazz fusion type albums and then obviously the AOR stuff with Perry but look at ‘Raised On Radio’ – it’s totally different from the previous Perry-fronted albums and has Perry’s influence stamped all over it. I didn’t care for ‘Trial By Fire’ but I do like the Augeri ones; I think despite the production, the choice of tracks on ‘Generations’ is a good one...” Neil reflects for a moment. “Very diverse… I love the ‘spin off’ bands too like Bad English and The Storm. I also have a soft spot for ‘Street Talk’, Perry’s debut solo album though I didn’t really like his second release, ‘For The Love Of Strange Medicine’.

So does that make Neil a committed fan? 

“Yes, totally! I loved ‘Revelation’ though I have reservations about how they found Arnel Pineda – a publicity stunt? – but he’s worked out great and is an amazing singer. I wasn’t keen on him as a frontman though – all that jumping around and goofiness on stage really left me feeling nauseous and wanting Deen Castronovo to carry the gig as singer as well as drummer. That guy is one brilliant singer; and drummer! But after lots of touring Pineda’s settled into the band and is much better now. I don’t think he’ll last much longer though; the band’s track record with singers proves that. Their insistence on playing the songs – a famously demanding back catalogue – note perfect onstage is a challenge for any singer. He’s maybe got another album or two left but he won’t be there forever.”

As an established author Neil now has a set way of approaching his subjects, although admits to finding the research for this book to be ...

“somewhat overwhelming. But once I got to grips with it I drafted a very detailed chronology to lead me through writing the book. Having completed the research and conducted and transcribed the interviews I wrote the bare bones of the book and built the research into it. I had a very strict word count of 80,000 words which I could not exceed; but of course I did which meant the planned chapter on Neal Schon’s solo career didn’t make the finished book. There was, however, room for the chapter on Perry’s solo music given the fact that he released just two albums.”

On a scale of one-to-ten, I asked him how happy he was with the final book.

“Interesting question and a tough one,” he ponders. “I’d say on a personal level 8.5. I would have liked the chapter on Schon in there and maybe the chronology of events I wrote but as you know yourself, there isn’t room for everything and publishers are strict with word counts!” he laughs. “Seriously, I think the book gives a detailed yet taut history of the band. It’s also a very nicely presented paperback with a glossy foil embossed cover and some fantastic colour pictures. I am really pleased with it. I set out to write the band’s story in as much detail as possible and while there is still yet the story of Perry’s clashes with Schon and Cain, especially during ‘Frontiers’ and leading up to ‘Raised On Radio’, to be written – and I doubt that will happen! – I think this book gives a well-researched and accurate history of the band. I did some killer interviews with Herbie Herbert and Robert Fleischman and they really shed some light on events. But like I said, Journey fans are so hard to please and I am prepared for some harsh criticism from them, but hopefully the more fair-minded ones will enjoy the book.”

As with all such projects, Neil interviewed a number of interesting and helpful people as the book progressed.

“Robert Fleischman was a really nice guy and I have kept in contact with him; and Jeff Scott Soto is cool too and very articulate. But I’d say it was the former manager and founder Herbie Herbert who gave the best interview. His memory recall is exceptional and while he shows no love whatsoever for Steve Perry as a person, he does show his respect for Perry as a performer. Herbie was articulate, intelligent and hugely entertaining with some brilliant anecdotes. Maybe he should write his memoirs! The only real problem was that although I had a fairly healthy list of interviewees who’d agreed to help out when they mentioned it to members of the band they were told they were not allowed to speak to me without Journey’s authorisation. I could tell some of them did want to speak to me but obviously they didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the band and their management, so they changed their minds and dropped out. A shame, but that’s the way it goes…”

No matter how much you know the subject matter you’re writing about, it’s always great when life throws up the odd surprise that you didn’t know. So I wondered what was the one thing that Neil had discovered about the band that made the biggest impression on him. “Interesting question, again,” he replies. “I guess it is just how talented and driven Neal Schon is. I mean, he is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock yet he is just so damn good! I have yet to hear ‘Eclipse’ but from the reviews I have read – and they have all been glowing – Schon has finally got his way and had full control over its creation and it’s the most guitar-driven album of their career. I read Andrew McNeice’s review over at Melodicrock.com and he’s given it a 100% rating. I think Schon is a true talent and he deserves far, far more praise than he gets. With no disrespect to Zakk Wylde, whom I do like, I’d rather listen to Schon than a million Wyldes.

“And,” he continues, “I think ‘Eclipse’ will show that they have still lots left to say and are not merely recycling their greatest hits as some of their peers are doing. Sure, they have relied on their back catalogue of hits in the past but ‘Eclipse’ and the album before it, ‘Revelation’, both show that they are still relevant and are spear-heading this revival of melodic rock and AOR. I’m really looking forward to the forthcoming UK tour with Styx and Foreigner – what a bill! UK fans should be treated to more bills like that!”

As the Fireworks ‘heretic’ – being generally much more interested in the heavier side of life – I tell Neil that from my point of view Journey are a bunch of fluffy wusses and challenge him to change my mind. He laughs and replies:

“I think even fans of seriously heavy stuff – and I like my heavy metal too! – would find enjoyment in some of Journey’s albums. And as a live band they can play pretty heavy too and some of that comes from Castronovo’s background in metal and obviously Schon’s love of Cream and Led Zep. Give a listen to ‘Frontiers’. It’s a glorious piece of work with some amazing guitars. And even for Journey, ‘Eclipse’ is apparently quite heavy too. And though their first three albums are not heavy even you [another laugh!] may find interest in them as they’re mostly jazz fusion instrumental albums. But stick with ‘Frontiers’ and ‘Eclipse’... I’d even throw in ‘Escape’ too, which I love. And of the non Perry fronted albums, ‘Generations’ has some heavy songs and its variety may surprise you if you haven’t heard it.”

Neil’s point is well proven by the fact the ‘Frontiers’ and ‘Generations’ are indeed the two Journey albums I possess. But with things winding up, and being full aware of Neil’s extensive knowledge of Science Fiction the mention of ‘Generations’ took me on a mental tangent to ‘Star Trek’. So who would Neil rather be: Kirk or Picard?

“Picard was a bore,” laughs Neil. “That’s why I always preferred Riker; at least he had a personality – as well as a beard! Plus he married Deanna Troi. I grew up watching ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and still love it to this day but it’s got to be Kirk. He broke the rules, did his own thing and always got away with it. Even when he was demoted to Captain (from Admiral) after stealing the Enterprise, he still carried on breaking rules. God, the real sci-fi fanboy is coming out of me now!” he laughs again. “I find enjoyment in all the ‘Star Trek’ movies even the even-numbered ones. But my favourites are without question ‘Wrath Of Kahn’ and ‘The Undiscovered Country’. The ‘Next Generation’ ones were disappointing but the series was and is amazing. I have also recently reacquainted myself with ‘Deep Space 9’ – it deserves much more praise than it got.”

Possibly, from what I’ve read of Neil’s book, not unlike Journey…

‘Don’t Stop Believin’: The Untold Story Of Journey’ by Neil Daniels (published by Omnibus Press ISBN 978-1-84938-657-9) is out now.

John Tucker

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