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Journey singer Arnel Pineda on fronting his favorite band

Updated December 9, 2021 - 7:22 pm

Similar to that famous song, Arnel Pineda’s fairy tale goes on, and on, and on, and on …

The Journey singer, who has taken over Steve Perry’s former domain, is tearing up Las Vegas. The band is entering its second and final weekend of an eight-show residency at the Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Journey performs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Next up is a Dec. 18 date at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

As rock fans are readily aware, Pineda grew up impoverished in Manila. As he says, “I sang my way out of poverty,” first from the streets and then landing a spot in local rock cover bands in his early teens.

Pineda was able to eat, but he never imagined rock stardom.

But in 2007, guitar great Neal Schon caught a YouTube video of Pineda and his band, The Zoo. The singer’s life changed immediately. Within months, he was singing for 20,000 fans at the Viña del Mar International Song Festival in Chile.

The 54-year-old Pineda took time from his vocal warmup (keeping the humidifier humming throughout) at the Theater to talk of his rise to fame:

Johnny Kats: Do you look around you and wonder “How did I get here?”

Arnel Pineda: (Laughs.) Yeah, no kidding. I’ve been with them for 14 years now, and I still do. But I’m still remembering the day Neal called me in and said that I am in the band. It was Dec. 5, 2007, at the Hilton hotel in Healdsburg, California. That was when I became a member of Journey.

What was that first show in Chile like for you?

I was nervous, scared. They were nervous. We were all nervous. There were thousands of people, and it was broadcast all over Latin America. But I was just telling myself, psyching myself up, “I can do this. I need to do this right.” But I also thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

You had one show with Journey, guaranteed, right?

Yes, I mean, you’ve only been dreaming to be with this band, even for one song. And now you’re doing the whole thing, the whole set. So, even if you fail, you have four, five good songs you’ve performed with them out there onstage. I’m already happy, like, fulfilled if that happens.

You have cover band cred then, right?

True! And then I can go back to the Philippines, and I can brag about it forever and ever. You know what I mean? Like a kid, you know, it was like that. It was not about fame and fortune. It’s about me being a big fan and being grateful to have this magical moment.

You have talked about being homeless in the Philippines as a kid. You still often think about that period of your life?

Of course. I am a parent now. I am a father now to my kids. I don’t want them to go through what I went through, because it was bad. I mean, no kids in the world should deserve a life like that.

What was life like in those days?

Oh, my God. Imagine you’re living in a space about 20 square feet, and you have six kids, and you’re squatting on a riverside, which is so dirty and so polluted you can’t drink. There is a hole where you open up a piece of wood and go to the bathroom, and that’s it. When you all need to sleep, you just get out a very thin, like, mattress to sleep on, all six of you.

It happens everywhere, doesn’t it?

It’s not only happening in the Philippines, certainly. It’s happening all over the world. This is why I have my foundation (Arnel Pineda Foundation Inc.) to help these little angels. It is one thing for adults to suffer, but don’t bring these little angels into it.

How did you become a singer?

When I was 5 years old I was hearing (sings) “Great balls of fire!” and “Go, Johnny, go!” Then it was the mighty Beatles. Then there was a transition when I heard the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson, his voice. “Ben” and “I’ll Be There,” those songs, I loved singing. I just kept listening to rock songs, rock bands. Journey, of course, always. Also Judas Priest. Iron Maiden. I love Rush. I met Geddy Lee at the Rock &Roll Hall of Fame. I grabbed his hand and said, “I just want to say, I am a big fan!” He was so surprised, he was actually speechless.

You met Steve Perry there, too, yes?

Yes, yes I did.

How did that go?

He was super-nice, very friendly. I didn’t know what to expect, because I had never met him, and I had been waiting for 35 years to meet him. But he was so gracious, and super-helpful to me.

Did he have any advice for you?

He whispered something to me, through my assistant, Yul (Sessions), which I learned after the meeting. He said, “Tell him to take care of his voice.” He wants me to sing for a long time.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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