Deen Castronovo grew up listening to hard rock and heavy metal music from the day his younger brother stole a copy of the Kiss album, Dressed to Kill, and gave it to him.
“I was hooked from then on end. I bought every Kiss record imaginable. I learned every Kiss song,” he told the Deseret News during a recent interview from his home in Oregon.
As Castronovo got into music and the drums and began performing in his own hard rock bands, he did interviews with hard rock periodicals. When reporters would ask him to name his biggest musical influences, he would rattle off the likes of Kiss and Rush. But then, he would often leave the interviewer stunned when he named another big influence: Journey.
“I was a metal kid…but me and the guitarist loved Journey because of the musicianship. It was our guilty pleasure.
(Interviewers) would ask, ‘What are your influences?’ and we’d say Journey, and they’d turn the tape off and say, ‘You can’t say that!'” Castronovo recalled with a laugh. “The guilty pleasure was Journey. (Former Journey drummer) Steve Smith was ridiculous.”
As fate would have it, Journey members Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain needed a drummer in 1988 after Journey went on hiatus and the two formed the briefly lived supergroup, Bad English. Castronovo had recently completed playing drums on the Ozzy album Ozzmosis when he joined the band.
Castronovo’s first touring memory of Salt Lake City was when Bad English opened for Whitesnake in 1990. His second, incidentally, was being in town on the day of the infamous tornado of 1999.
“I was in a hotel room watching it. I’ll never forget it,” he said.
After Bad English was over and Journey reformed with their classic lineup, they again went through inner band drama which lead to the dismissal of Steve Perry and Smith leaving on his own to devote more time to his band Vital Information. Castronovo got the call from his old bandmates, Schon and Cain, and soon found himself a member of the band that had such an impact on him growing up, and sitting on the drum throne once occupied by Smith, one of his influences growing up and one of Modern Drummer’s Top 25 drummers of all time.
Friday, Journey, one of the few bands who have sold out the USANA Amphitheatre, returns to USANA with a powerhouse ’80s lineup including Loverboy and Pat Benatar, who at 59 still has a dynamic voice.
Castronovo, who was easy going and cracked jokes during most of his interview, joked that the past few tour packages for Journey were originally his idea.
“Years ago I’d use to say, ‘We should do a tour with Def Leppard.’ And they were like, ‘No that’d be terrible, that’d be terrible.’ Then in 2006, ‘How about Def Leppard?’ Hey, that was my idea!,” he recounted with a laugh. “This year was the same thing, I was like, ‘What about Pat Benatar and Loverboy?’ And they were like, ‘Oh no, oh no.’ Then all of sudden you see management come up, ‘How about Pat Benatar and Loverboy?….That was my idea. They’re just taking cues from me.”
Castronovo’s passion for drumming is evident as he gets even more animated when talking about his favorite musicians. He jokingly suggests he “picks” bands to tour with based on their drummers. Which is why Styx and Todd Sucherman – one of the best drummers in rock today – was an obvious tour choice in 2010.
“It makes me angry, in a loving way. He’s a brother and I love him to death. But let me tell you something, that kid, when we toured with them, he wiped the floor up with me every night. It was a lesson in humility. No, it was incredible. He reminds me of Steve Smith on steroids. I’m a rock drummer. I have the finesse of a jack hammer. That’s how I play. I grew up with Kiss, I grew up with Maiden and Metallica. I learned how to play more finesse like when I joined Journey.”
Not only did Castronovo hone his drumming skills playing to Journey music, but his singing as well. When he was 11 years old, Castronovo was in a band with people who were twice his age, and told him to learn some songs off Journey’s Infinity album because they couldn’t hit the high notes.
In fact, before Arnel Pineda joined the band, the most Steve Perry-sound-a-like in Journey may have been Castronovo. On those pre-Arnel tours, Castronovo would take over lead vocals on songs like, “Mother, Father” and “Still They Ride” with incredible Perry-like quality. He admits there was even a point after Perry and before Pineda that there were discussions about whether he should be the lead singer. But Castronovo said it was an easy decision for him.
“I was not interested. I’m not a front man. Number one, I’m not a front man. Number 2, yeah, I could sing the songs but I don’t know how long I could last. Number 3, I’ve got an arsenal of stuff around me so no one has to look at me. And number 4, the fans are so critical. They are very critical, and if you blow it, if you have a rough night, they’re not afraid to tell you, and I’m really thin skinned when it comes to that stuff. Ultra thin skinned,” admitted Castronovo who said he stays away from fan message boards and social media pages. “If I see one negative thing, it stays with me for days. It just breaks my heart.
This year, Journey is concentrating mainly on touring, he said. This current set list includes some deeper tracks that haven’t been played live for awhile. But Castronovo said there will still be the “dirty dozen” songs that fans expect to hear, such as. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Anyway You Want It,” “Separate Ways,” “Faithfully” and “Open Arms.”
“Just do what we do,” he said. “Give ‘em what they want. They’re paying the money. They’re paying customers. Give them what they want.”
Castronovo doesn’t believe Journey will be recording any new music this year. But, then again, Castronovo said he’s usually the last to know. Right before Journey went into the studio to record their last album, 2011’s Eclipse, he said he was just about to go on tour with another artist in Italy when he called Journey’s management to tell them.
“They said, ‘You can’t, you’re doing a record next week.’ ‘What?! Why didn’t anyone tell me we’re doing a record next week?’ ‘Well, I’m telling you now, we’re doing a record next week.’ I’m the mushroom in the band, I’m kept in dark and fed manure,” Castronovo said jokingly with a big laugh.
It was recently announced that the movie, “Don’t Stop Believin': Everyman’s Journey” would make it to U.S. theaters by next spring. The documentary shows the real-life story of Pineda, a Filipino native who went from being homeless to being discovered on You Tube by Schon and becoming the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world.
“It was amazing to watch,” Castronovo said of the film. “It was incredible to watch Arnel’s story. I mean, we lived it. But to see it on there we actually got to re-live it. There were tears for me. There were times that little guy would come in, and he was nervous and so humble, and still to this day is the most humble, sweet kid I know.”
For old school fans, with Perry and Smith: