Why Neal Schon Refused To Join Eric Clapton’s Band

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Best known as the guitarist of Journey, Neal Schon started his musical journey at ten. Coming from a family of musicians certainly played a role in encouraging him to become the guitarist he is today. His mother was a band singer, and his father was a musician, arranger, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. Their background in music formed the foundation for him to pursue music full-time after dropping out of high school.

Since Schon started focusing on his career when he was young, his first gig was with his dad’s band when he was 12. Schon was no ordinary kid. When he was 13, he played with the iconic blues guitarist John Lee Hooker, one of the blues gods. His talent at playing the guitar put him on the radar of many influential guitarists of that era, who wanted him to join their band, including the legendary Eric Clapton. How did Neal Schon end up in Santana, then? Let’s find out.

Why Did Neal Schon Reject Eric Clapton’s Offer?

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Like any kid growing up, most future artists have had several people they admire in the industry, which was no different for Neal Schon. He was inspired by iconic guitarists such as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Page, John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck, and B.B. King. Eric Clapton was one of the people he admired the most and saw as a mentor.

One day when Schon was working on tracks with Santana, Eric Clapton walked through the door. Neal Schon was thrilled to see him as he idolized him, and they played together for a couple of hours. However, Clapton had to leave to go to Berkeley to perform, and he left a note to Schon to come and play with him in Derek and the Dominos.

Just before he headed out to play with Derek and the Dominos, Santana offered to play with them, and he accepted without knowing about Eric Clapton’s offer. Neal arrived in Berkeley, and Clapton offered him to be a part of Derek and the Dominos; however, Schon had already accepted the offer from Santana.

The musician explained in an interview with Joe Bonamassa why he couldn’t accept Eric Clapton’s offer:

“And so, we’re in there, jamming in the weird hours of the morning, and here walks Eric. I was like the shy little kid, and I was shocked because he was a mentor to me, a major mentor to learn how to play by listening to all of his records. He sat down, and we played for a couple of hours, and then he got up and said, ‘I got to get out of here. I got a show tomorrow at Berkeley,’ and I was just astounded and couldn’t believe what was going down, even though I’ve never even talked to him.

Then I went into the studio the next day, and there was a note from him that he wanted me to come by Berkeley and jam with him in Derek and the Dominos. And so I got a ride over there by somebody that was very nice, just gave me a ride. I didn’t have a car or a driver’s license – and I walked in, and Herbie Herbert was already over there.

His story sounds – he didn’t know I was coming. I had gotten asked by Santana to join the band that day that he had asked me to go in, right before I was in to meet him. Eric said, ‘Well, I’m really glad you came. I want to jam and would love for you to join the band.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’d love to, but I just got asked to be in Santana.'”

In the long run, Neal Schon’s decision to play with Santana was the best outcome for him, as Derek and the Dominos broke up shortly after the tour. Although his tenure with Santana only led to the creation of two albums, it served him well as he was able to build his multi-platinum career with Journey.