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Classic Rockers Heart, Journey battling internal strife

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Heart and Journey are in the same place these days — and not just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Both groups weigh in at 44 years, celebrated careers as enduring rock favorites on radio and on the road. But there are fears that each are going, as the Journey hit says, their “Separate Ways,” with plenty of drama at the core.

The split has already happened for Heart, with sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson pursuing their own projects this year and the band on indefinite hiatus. The tipping point was an incident in August when Ann’s husband Dean Wetter was arrested on charges of allegedly assaulting Nancy’s 16-year-old twin sons backstage at a Heart show in suburban Seattle. Wetter pled guilty and received a suspended 364-day sentence. He also has to undergo counselling and is barred from having any contact with the boys.

“When something like that happens inside a really tight family it’s really scarring for everyone involved,” Nancy Wilson, who’s launched a new band called Roadcase Royale, says by phone from her home in California. “There’s a lot of victims besides my own kids in the scenario. I hope it can resolve, and I think it will resolve. Time is the healer. I’m just wishing and hoping for the best. The thing to do is go forward and be positive and stay as affirmative about everything as possible.”

Ann Wilson has launched a solo tour of her own, but says the incident only hastened an inevitable schism.

“It was already happening long, long before that, at least a couple of years before, and that was just the straw that got things moving forward,” Wilson, 66, explained by phone from a tour stop in Clearwater, Fla. “The last 10 years have been mostly constant touring, year-round with different packages. By the end of last year I felt like I was being imported to do a job, but there wasn’t anything new about it.

“I just went, ‘Well, I want to do something else for a while,’ and see if I could get a breath and some distance and recapture my fire.”

She’s doing it with shows that not only feature Heart material but also covers of favorites from the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, the Black Crowes, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and others.

“It’s been fantastic,” Wilson reports. “I think people were ready for something like this, and they just seem to get off every night, and we’re having a blast. It’s definitely a dream come true.”

Wilson has filmed one of the concerts for a home video release later this year, and she plans to record new material during the fall, after the tour ends. And she’s making no predictions about the future of Heart.

“I really don’t know at this moment,” Wilson says. “But I do know for sure it will never be the way it was before. It will be something out of the box, moving forward and evolved — if it ever happens again.”

A Rough Journey

Heart’s situation is far more cut and dried than what’s going on with Journey, however.

The afterglow of the group’s Rock Hall induction — which included a reunion at the podium with former frontman Steve Perry — has been plowed under by an intense social media assault by guitarist and co-founder Neal Schon against keyboardist Jonathan Cain — even as they appear on stage together during Journey’s current tour.

In addition to changing his Twitter handle to Neal Schon’s JRNY, the guitarist attacked Cain’s musical direction as well as religious and political beliefs, even implying that Cain “is trying in press to (remove) my name from songs I wrote” for the band, including the hit anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Schon declares that “bottom line I’ll always be JRNY as it’s been my baby from birth. ... I’m not the problem.” Cain’s sole response has been to write, “A heart of gratitude leaves no room for complaining. For it is impossible to truly be thankful and filled with negativity and ungratefulness at the same time.”

Neither Journey man has spoken about what’s behind the discord, or how they’re managing to continue to tour together. Previously, both have been open about creative differences between them — particularly over Journey’s last album, 2011’s hard-rocking, Schon-dominated “Eclipse.” Cain, 67, says that, “I think we have another album in us, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page where we’re going, all going together.

“I think the last record we made was kind of a departure from what I think people want form Journey, so directionwise we’ve got to get on the same page before we move forward.”

But Schon, 63 — who also releases solo albums and is part of the Santana reunion project — doesn’t sound like he’s ready to compromise his creative ambitions. “I’m always champing at the bit to do new music,” the guitarist says. “If it’s not happening with Journey I’m in the studio doing something else for myself.”

But he doesn’t close the door on the band entirely.

“I feel that (Journey) should at least do from here out one song to two songs a year, new songs,” Schon says, “even if we just release them as singles and get in a movie or something with it, just to keep things moving forward.”

Classic Rock Double Shot

• Journey performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 22, at the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, 377 Riverside Drive East. Tickets are $128-$408. Call 800-991-7777 or visit caesarswindsor.com.

• Ann Wilson of Heart performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, as part of the River Days festival along the Detroit Riverfront west of the GM Renaissance Center. The concert is included in the $5 admission. Visit riverdays.com for more information.

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