Neal Schon's cover of the signature Prince track “Purple Rain" for 2020's Universe is more than a tribute from one guitar great to another.

Prince had been a fan of Schon’s work for some time. One of the most-played records in his collection was reportedly Journey’s 1981 album Escape, and one of the last compact discs he bought before his death was 2016’s Santana IV – both of which feature Schon at his emotionally explosive best.

He then made contact with Journey before releasing the original version of “Purple Rain,” because the influence of their 1983 song “Faithfully” was undeniable. Composer Jonathan Cain took the call in 1984. “I want to play something for you, and I want you to check it out,” Prince told Schon's bandmate. “The chord changes are close to 'Faithfully' and I don't want you to sue me.”

Nothing was further from Cain’s mind, as he told Billboard: “I thought it was an amazing tune, and I told him, 'Man, I'm just super-flattered that you even called. It shows you're that classy of a guy. Good luck with the song. I know it's gonna be a hit.’”

Cain added that it would have been “bad ju-ju” to try to claim a writing credit, and that he was more than happy with the reward of “amazing seats” on Prince’s Purple Rain tour. “I thought it was ridiculous how cool it was,” he noted.

Listen to Neal Schon's Studio Version of ‘Purple Rain’

Schon released his “Purple Rain” cover to mark Prince’s birthday on June 7, 2019, before launching Universe. He performed it at Prince’s Hometown Tribute in Minnesota later the same month.

The studio version was accompanied by an anecdote sent to Schon by mutual friend Rick Barron: “Late ‘80s and I am sitting with Prince on the floor in his apartment at Paisley Park. We’ve listened to Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel,” Barron said. “I notice a worn Journey Escape record in his collection. Surprised, I turned to him and said, ‘Never took you for a Journey fan.’ He gave me that doe-eyed look that always made me uncomfortable and said: ‘Neal Schon is one of my favorite guitarists on the planet. … He is a genius.’”

Barron added: “Neal’s beautiful interpretation makes the loss of the colossal talent of P a little less sad. They are each prodigies [who] have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives… and our lives are richer as a result.”

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