Deen Castronovo Doesn't Stop the Beating

To say that when Deen Castronovo sings, he sounds like Steve Perry somehow isn't enough. The experience is mystifying, at first, to hear that famous tenor coming out of Journey's drummer, but no matter. It worked out pretty well when Steve Augeri, front man at the time, was having trouble with his pipes while on tour. As well as fortifying the multipart weave of backing vocals the band are known for, Castronovo was able to take over the lead vocals on some of the Journey gold that remains on the set list. Later, he sang lead vocals on two cuts from 2005's Generations. “Deen Castronovo is such a frickin' franchise talent,” ex-manager Herbie Herbert said to's Andrew McNeice in 2008. “Great singer, great drummer, tremendous talent, and so they really could pull off serious vocals.”  

But the disconnect is this: Castronovo's everyday speaking voice is raspy to the point it sounds as if it must hurt to talk. “I'm a smoker, and it sounds like I'm swallowing gravel all the time,” he says. “But when I sing, it just opens up. If it ain't broke, I'm not gonna fix it.” He laughs. Castronovo's in his car, somewhere in Oregon, and it sounds like he's shouting into his cell phone.

“I got home Saturday night [from the European leg of the tour], and I am jet-lagged hard,” he says, with a measure of brio not common among jet-lag sufferers. His energy level is contagious and possibly dates back to childhood. When it was suspected that Castronovo suffered from ADD, his mother bought him a set of drums instead of Ritalin. In time, he became known as a powerhouse drummer with cannons for feet and surgically precise hands. He made his bones as a teen percussionist with a Portland thrash-metal band called the Wild Dogs. From there, Castronovo worked for a host of rockers including Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Paul Rodgers, Steve Vai and, eventually, Neal Schon.

“After Bad English, Neal took me to every band I was in, with the exception of my stint with Ozzy,” he says. “I was with Neal nonstop, almost like Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Inseparable. I owe him a lot. I'm very fortunate.”

It turns out that when Castronovo was 11 or 12 years old and on the way to becoming a thrasher, he also mastered the parts to dozens of Journey hits. “They were my guilty pleasure,” he admits. “They were the soundtrack to my teen years. I'm a metal drummer, but it was the Journey ballads that sold me.” When Journey needed to change drummers in 1998, Schon knew he wanted his old partner from Bad English. After being offered the gig, Castronovo says, one of the first things he did was to call Journey's old drummer, Steve Smith, for advice.

“I've known Steve for a while. But I got really close to him when I joined Journey,” he recalls. “I said, 'Well, I want to make sure these songs are correct. Can I come to your house, and can you show me exactly what these parts are? I don't wanna screw them up, because I know the band's gonna crucify me if I do.' He goes, 'Yeah, come on over.'”

Love them or hate them (Rolling Stone pop music critic Dave Marsh once called Journey the worst No. 1 band ever), the band remain one of the top-selling groups, with more than 47 million albums sold in the U.S. since they formed in San Francisco in 1973. “Don't Stop Believin'” is one of the highest-selling catalog tracks in iTunes history. Since Steve Perry's final departure in 1998, Journey have had a number of front men and an even larger number of drummers. Of them, Castronovo has held the job the longest.

They are now touring behind Eclipse, a record that is not your mother's Journey. “That's the great thing with having Arnel [Pineda, the Filipino singer whom Journey famously found singing their covers on YouTube] in the band now,” Castronovo says. “We can really go in any direction. We can experiment and try different things without a record label telling us what to do, saying we need to stay with the Journey formula.” He puts emphasis on the word Journey. “We can just kind of write and record and do what we do. The greatest part of this last record is that Neal said, 'Okay, we're gonna make this one bite. This one's gonna have teeth and be guitar-driven, and we're gonna rock.' It came out great. I love the thing.”


This article appeared in print as “Don't Stop the Beating: Deen Castronovo's drumming journey through—yep—Journey.”

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