On a break from power rock band Journey, guitarist and co-founder Neal Schon was looking for something to do.
So the Marin County resident put together The Neal Schon Band and decided to take it on the road. The 2-month-old group plays a sold-out show at the State Theatre on Saturday.
"It's been something I've wanted to do for a while — go out by myself," he said in a phone interview. "I'm sure it's not the last time."
Schon, 56, said the only Journey music the band will play are obscure songs from its early history, before singer Steve Perry joined. He'll be delving into his older catalog, doing tracks from his 1998 album, "Piranha Blues," songs from HSAH, his 1980s band with Sammy Hagar and some covers.
"It's going to be a rockin' show," Schon said. "I yank a little bit from here, a little bit from there. If I'm doing an instrumental, I'm doing stuff that's bombastic and majestic sounding, not so tame this time around."
Raised in San Mateo by musical parents, Schon grew up surrounded by jazz and blues. While his saxophone-playing father tried to interest him in the horn, he gravitated to the sounds of the guitar as he heard it performed by The Beatles and the Dave Clark 5.
He bought a cheap guitar at Sears, took a few lessons to learn how to tune it and play some chords, then started teaching himself. As a teen, he started playing clubs in San Francisco's North Beach district.
"I would take my guitar and walk up and down Broadway," he said. "It used to be all music joints — jazz joints, blues joints, dance places. I would go from one to the other asking to play."
During one week when he was 15, Schon was invited to join both Carlos Santana's band, Santana, and Eric Clapton's group, Derek and the Dominoes. He decided to join Santana and began touring the world.
At 19, Schon left the group and joined forces with keyboardist Gregg Rolie and other musician friends to form the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. The intention was to serve as a studio band for artists who wanted to record in the Bay Area. Instead, the group evolved into Journey.
The band released three albums in the early 1970s before Perry joined as the vocalist. The group reached its height of popularity in the early 1980s when it recorded such hits as "Who's Cryin' Now," "Open Arms" and "Don't Stop Believin'."
That last song, which Schon co-wrote, has resurfaced recently with its inclusion in movies and TV shows, including "The Sopranos" and "Glee."
"A whole new generation got turned on to us because of that," Schon said. "They never knew Journey existed. It's been widening our audience. We have an audience of four to five generations now."
He has never stopped playing with Journey and is the only musician who has been featured on all the band's recordings. He returns to the studio with the group next month and will tour with the band again next year.
"This record is definitely going to be on a very up note," he said, adding that it deals with everything from spirituality to sex.
Schon's other projects over the years included Schon & Hammer, Bad English, Abraxis Pool, Hardline, Planet Us and Soul SirkUS.
The Neal Schon Band features Marco Mendoza (bass, vocals), Prairie Prince (drums), Keith St. John (vocals), John Varn (drums) and his son Miles Schon (guitar).
Schon said he doesn't know why his new band was able to sell out the 600-seat State Theatre nearly two weeks in advance of his performance. He said radio publicity helped.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "Maybe Modesto is a great area for me."