How Neal Schon Completed a Circle With His ‘Purple Rain’ Cover
When Neal Schon included a version of Prince’s signature track “Purple Rain" on his 2020 solo covers album Universe, it was more than a tribute from one guitar great to another.
Prince had been a fan of Schon’s work since his earliest times. One of the most-played records in his collection was Journey’s 1981 album Escape, and one of the last CDs he bought before his death was 2016’s Santana IV – both LPs feature Schon at his emotionally explosive best.
In fact, Prince had made contact with Journey before releasing the original version of “Purple Rain,” because the influence of their 1983 song “Faithfully” was undeniable. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who’d written it, recalled taking a call in 1984. “I want to play something for you, and I want you to check it out,” Prince told him. “The chord changes are close to 'Faithfully' and I don't want you to sue me.” Nothing was further from Cain’s mind, as he told Billboard: “I thought it was an amazing tune, and I told him, 'Man, I'm just super-flattered that you even called. It shows you're that classy of a guy. Good luck with the song. I know it's gonna be a hit.’” Cain added that it would have been “bad ju-ju” to try to claim a writing credit, and that he was more than happy with the reward of “amazing seats” on Prince’s Purple Rain tour. “I thought it was ridiculous how cool it was,” he noted.
Ahead of launching Universe, Schon released his “Purple Rain” cover to mark Prince’s birthday on Jun. 7, 2019. He performed it at Prince’s Hometown Tribute in Minnesota later the same month; both versions can be heard below. The studio version was accompanied by an anecdote sent to him by mutual friend Rick Barron: “Late ‘80s and I am sitting with Prince on the floor in his apartment at Paisley Park. We’ve listened to Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel… I notice a worn Journey Escape record in his collection. Surprised, I turned to him and said, ‘Never took you for a Journey fan.’ He gave me that doe-eyed look that always made me uncomfortable and said: ‘Neal Schon is one of my favorite guitarists on the planet… he is a genius.’”
Barron added: “Neal’s beautiful interpretation makes the loss of the colossal talent of P a little less sad. They are each prodigies [who] have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives… and our lives are richer as a result.”
Neal Schon - ‘Purple Rain’
Neal Schon - ‘Purple Rain’ Live