Neal Schon had a heartfelt message as he celebrated today's announcement that Journey will join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: thank you. "I'm so grateful that our fans never gave up on us," Schon tells Ultimate Classic Rock. "I do feel we've had the credentials for quite some time." 

Eligible since 2000, Journey finally earned their first nomination this year, then topped the fan-vote ballot on their way to the 2017 induction. They're paired with Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur and Nile Rodgers of Chic as part of the Rock Hall's new class. In an exclusive interview, Schon discusses the chances of a long-hoped-for reunion with Steve Perry in the wake of this honor, while speaking emotionally about a career that began as a sideman to Carlos Santana – with whom he reunited earlier this year – before Journey hurtled the guitarist to platinum heights. "I'm very happy, and grateful, for such a long, great career – not only for myself, but Journey," he says.

This has been a long time coming.
I guess it's better late than never, you know?

Any idea why a band like yours would have to wait this long for even a nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
You know what? I really don't have a clue, but I just more or less kind of forgot about it. The main thing to me, the thing that means the most to me, has always been the same: It's the music, and the fans. The rest of it is all really nice to obtain and achieve, but the fans are really what it's all about. Making music is what they love, and what I love to do. So, I've kind of put things in my own priority.

The last Journey tour saw the return of fellow inductee Steve Smith. Between that and his work on your solo albums, describe what it's been like to have this musical relationship rekindled again.
Steve and I, as you know, have been working together forever. I think it was a great opportunity for all of us to play together again, and I think Steve enjoyed it. Now, we're going to start up again next year – and that will be interesting because we're going to finally break out of the mold. We're going to play some new old stuff. We're going to play Escape in its entirety, same as it is on the record, and then Frontiers in its entirety – in one night. You can only play the greatest hits for so many years in a row, without completely becoming a nostalgia act. We have so much great material, and I think it's imperative that we play a lot more of it. The way you can do it, and make everybody happy, is you have to play longer – so I'm definitely pushing this next year to play at least two-hour shows, if not a little longer. The hits are not going anywhere; I think we just need more time.

I know that we're going to play at least until mid-July. It's supposed to be a relatively short year. We're playing plenty of dates, but we'll get done quicker – and that should free everybody up. I am conversing with Carlos, and we're seeing if we can work things out to go out and play some more [Santana reunion] shows. Everybody is anxious to do a bit more of that. Also, I'm going to be looking at some possible solo dates.

Is there a chance we'll hear a new Journey record? It's been five years, and interest might be peaking right now.
Absolutely, I'm ready – and I know that [singer] Arnel [Pineda] is champing at the bit. We're going to see if we can get together. I've been writing; I've got a lot of ideas, and we'll see what happens. I think that it's a good time for us, and there's no reason we shouldn't come out with a new record. Timing is everything, you know? Getting everybody on the same page is another thing. [Laughs.] I know that I'm there, and I know that Arnel is there, but we'll see what happens. He and I, we are writing. I've got plenty of ideas coming. So, one way or another, there's going to be another Journey record – I can tell you that.

You've been very open over the years to reconciliation with Steve Perry. Do you think this Hall of Fame honor can finally make that a reality?
You know, I have no clue. I definitely think that he will be there, as he should be. Musically speaking, I'd love to have him do a song with us – or two, or whatever. What would be even greater would be for him to do a song with Arnel too. I'm open to everything. I'm very open-minded to whatever happens, and any ideas that are brought forth.

Is there something bigger that could grow out of this?
I can truly envision seeing everybody playing. I've got other, bigger master plans of what I'd like to do, and I've told management about it. I'd like to have a festival that's based around us, where we can explore all of the different time periods of Journey. I think there are a lot of people who would want to see that. When Coachella first started happening, I remembering telling one of my managers, "I think this is going to be really big." And he said, "You're crazy; nobody is going want to see that." So, I was rubbing it in the other day. We're definitely working on something like that for possibly – I don't know about next year, but maybe the year after that.

Journey Albums Ranked Worst to Best