Neal Schon Says This Journey Classic Was Inspired by Lindsey Buckingham

According to guitar virtuoso Neal Schon of Journey, the band’s classic song “Wheel in the Sky” was partially inspired by Lindsey Buckingham’s work in Fleetwood Mac. Speaking to Professor of Rock in an interview, Schon was reminded of this 1978 song and how it featured lyrics co-written by Diane Valory, wife of the band’s bassist Ross Valory. The band’s vocalist at the time, Robert Fleischman, ended up not performing the song in the end, as he was replaced by Steve Perry right when the band was getting into the studio to record their fourth album.

To give us a full picture of how the song came to be, Schon recalled while the band was on the road back in the day and the moment when he came up with the chords for “Wheel in the Sky.” He offered (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“We were all traveling in two station wagons at the time — we had like about 13 guys crammed in each car because that’s all we could afford to get to the gig. [Laughs] And so there would be these lengthy road trips in between gigs.”

Journey - Wheel in the Sky (Official Video - 1978)

“Aynsley Dunbar [Journey’s then drummer] was behind the wheel, and he’d have his little radar thing stuck in his ear. And Gregg [Rolie, Journey keyboardist] would say, ‘Aynsley, pull over to the side of the road’, and Aynsley says, ‘Sorry, mate, we got to get there.’ [Laughs]”

Infuriated, Gregg threatened him (and used profanity in the process), so Dunbar had to stop the car. Schon continued:

“So we pull over, Gregg goes to do his thing, and by this time, Pat Morrow, our road manager, switches off with Aynsley, gives him a break, and he’s driving. And Pat gets a little fatigued after we’ve been driving another three hours, he starts beating up, and Pat would always go like, ‘I need a candy bar, I need a candy bar.’ [Laughs]”

Journey - Wheel In the Sky (Live 1981: Escape Tour - 2022 HD Remaster)

And it was during this break when the song’s basic structure just happened naturally:

“So Pat would pull over, we pull over and fill up with gas, and he goes get himself a candy bar. While he was getting himself a candy bar, I pulled out an acoustic Guild that I had in the back of the station wagon, and I just started strumming the chorus to ‘Wheel in the Sky’ and then sort of made up the verses just acoustically.”

To this day, “Wheel in the Sky” remains one of Journey’s biggest songs of all time. Sure, most people will remember them for “Don’t Stop Believin'” from 1981 album “Escape.” But going back to 1978 and the band’s fourth album “Infinity,” “Wheel in the Sky” was crucial in helping Journey make their massive commercial success in the coming decade. After all, it was their first single to break onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

But, as Neal pointed out, the song was inspired by Fleetwood Mac, particularly guitarist Lindsay Buckingham. When the interviewer reminded him how “Wheel in the Sky” gives out some “Layla” vibes, he explained that during that trip they were listening to some of Fleetwood Mac’s classics:

“Well, there’s a little bit of a Fleetwood, too, [that] I’d just heard on the radio. I was listening to some new Fleetwood Mac record — I think it was ‘Go Your Own Way’ — and I thought, ‘Lindsey Buckingham, that’s some cool guitar.’ Like bluesy, but different.”

Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way (Official Music Video) [HD Remaster]

The lines between “stealing” and “inspiration” are always kind of blurry, especially in all genres that are heavily relying on blues music. But, in most cases, this is considered the highest form of flattery. According to Schon, he really liked Buckingham’s work:

“So that was kind of stuck in my head at the time, and that was really the inspiration for the beginning of ‘Wheel in the Sky’. I was just hearing the song on the radio, and that’s where that one came from — I go, ‘Oh, Lindsey Buckingham, that’s pretty cool, man, I like the guitar.'”

Although he never told Schon directly, the Journey guitarist is sure that Buckingham noticed the obvious inspiration with “Wheel in the Sky”:

“And it was funny that after our record came out, I was about to meet him, and he wanted to get together and write some — I guess he heard the similarity of that. I kind of knew where he was coming from, that kind of mixing — like rock with some bluegrass vibe in it.”

The Guitar Neal Schon wrote "Wheel in the Sky" with - Guild F50R, Natural Acoustic Guitar

Discussing this piece further and how it was the band’s first single to be on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Schon was also reminded how this marked the start of the band’s collaboration with their classic singer, Steve Perry. At this point, Schon feels nothing but pride in the music they’ve all written and recorded together. He said:

“We ended up writing some incredible music together. And some of the stuff is… All this stuff is actually etched in stone for life. It survived the test of time. I’m very proud of that huge legacy that we’ve done in music there.”

Photo: Raphael Pour-Hashemi (Lindsey Buckingham (cropped)), Matt Becker (Neal Schon)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.