Interview : Robert Cavuoto
Photo Credit : Zondervan
Jonathan Cain is most notably known around the globe for being the keyboardist in Journey. His unique songwriting skills and powerful playing has profoundly influenced Journey’s sound helping them become one of the greatest rock bands in history. His writing style established an immediate connection with listeners musically and lyrically as he weaved his way through the songwriting elements of love, pain, heartbreak, and romance. Journey’s music would soon become the soundtrack to our lives.
He joined Journey in 1980, and together released Escape in 1981 which delivered the mega-hits; “Don’t Stop Believin” and “Open Arms.” It was the album that laid the groundwork for establishing Journey’s definitive sound and was vital to the sound of rock n’ roll for decades to come. Their next albums, Frontiers  and Raised on Radio  provided classics like “Separate Ways,” “Faithfully,” and “Be Good to Yourself” which took the band to a higher level of rock stardom!
In Jonathan’s newly released book, Don’t Stop Believin, he reflects back on his life with all of its defeats, successes, and heartbreaks while professing how his father’s love and confidence in him, helped him prevail. Throughout his journey, he took everything in stride only to come out in the end, a better man who was guided by a higher power. By putting his love and trust in God, he was able to navigate the perils of being a rock n’ roller and a family man.
In my interview with Jonathan, he shares an insightful look into making timeless music with Journey, his faith in God, and what the future holds for the band.
Robert Cavuoto: Your book Don’t Stop Believin comes across like a cathartic journey. Was that the case?
Jonathan Cain: It’s lined with promises and disappointment where one corridor leads to another corridor. I think the Lord with his hammer and sword was making me go through it all as I escaped death a few times, got through bad marriages with the finale to write the album Escape with Journey. I wrote the book to let people know no matter how successful they think they are; chaos still comes calling.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there anything in the book that was difficult to share and if so which part?
Jonathan Cain: I think my failed marriages and my son being in rehab were hard to talk about, but you want to tell the truth in order to share the story. That’s the place where you learn the most, grow, and move on. Sometimes the Lord finds you in the lowest of places.
Robert Cavuoto: It seems that you prevailed over all those dark times due to God watching over you. Did you realize at the time he was with you during those difficult events or was it something you realized while writing the book and may have overlooked it?
Jonathan Cain: I think I overlooked it because I had such a loving father. When he passed away, I reached for my heavenly father, the Lord to cover me. There was still this distance with the Lord from the tragic fire and the death of so many children at my grade school it affected me. That school fire led to changing all the fire safety codes in schools around the world. I also think the first time I got married it hit me when I walked into church and realized how far away I had been from God and how good it felt being back there on my knees praying.! It’s not for everybody but in my case when you have been set apart from the Lord, and he is calling upon you; you’re his! Some people can return to the Lord through this broken disorder to be renewed. So why not share this feeling I have with others. I pray with people while on the road. I stop whatever I’m doing to pray with them. It’s good to help people through prayer; people are worth praying for and with.
Robert Cavuoto: How does it feel to have written songs equal in popularity to “Happy Birthday,” as everyone knows Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” and “Faithfully”?
Jonathan Cain: It’s an honor. I was always outside the music business trying to get in. I was told I wasn’t good enough and rejected. So anything is possible, and I’m the poster boy for it [laughing]. I had record companies saying, “You don’t have what it takes,” “We don’t hear it,” and so on but somehow I prevailed. I feel that the songs were written from a place I wanted to be. I was dreaming of the success. Steve Perry, Neal Schon, and I never thought “Don’t Stop Believin” would carry on for over 37 years. I am so grateful. Every band needs a song like that. We were doing something right at the right time.
Robert Cavuoto: Journey is truly a global phenomenon. What is it about your music that transcends to so many people around the globe in so many cultures in a positive manner?
Jonathan Cain: I think it is the blueprint of Journey that Steve and Neal set out on. It was one of hope, love, and promise. You can sing this stuff until you get old without it getting old. We were careful not to fall into the old trap of writing about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. I think it had something to do with the innocence and appeal of Americana. Our songs combine rock, soul, and pop. It’s a big gumbo of styles where we were paying homage to the artists and records that inspired us. Neal grew up listening to Hendrix, Clapton, and Santana. Steve and I loved The Hollies and The Eagles with those big harmonies and great lyrics. We wrote rock with soul and weren’t afraid to push it. When I joined the band, Steve wanted to write and sing ballads….I was supposed to bring some edge to Journey! [laughing] I had the song “Open Arms” which I was carrying around with me; so that’s where it started. It’s having the right mix and staying away from the trite.
Robert Cavuoto: How important was MTV in Journey’s success?
Jonathan Cain: It was huge! It was also an honor to play the first live simulcast and be seen by millions of people in 1981. That show still sounds and looks great. I went back and watched it the other night and thought, “What a great band that was!” We weren’t into making rock videos and didn’t even know what we were doing when we were making them. We got out of it quickly and brought the videos into our live gigs. We also shied away from trying to be movie stars and got rapped for it. Steve had a great quote about music videos; he would say, “I don’t want to rob someone’s movie of what our song may be. They may have their own movie, so who are we to have some director mess with it. Let the listeners apply their own imagination to our music.” Steve always had these nuggets of wisdom. Another saying he had was, “Timeless music takes time.” [laughing] We worked every beat of every song; we were so rehearsed. The album Escape only cost $80,000 which was unheard of at the time; people were spending $300,000 to $400,000. We had a multi-platinum record for $80,000! It sold over twenty million albums with 200,000 albums being sold each week when it first came out. The Frontiers album didn’t cost that much more and yielded four Top 40 singles.
Robert Cavuoto: Those albums were the soundtrack to our youth!
Jonathan Cain: What separated Journey from other bands of that era was that our music sounded effortless; from the rhythm section to the vocals to the guitar. It just sounded like it was easy; it was easy to listen to music. It wasn’t bombastic and had a beautiful sheen. Escape was a classy sounding record. Mike Stone who produced Queen and Asia produced it. We knew we had to work with this guy as he improved our sound.
Robert Cavuoto: Your 1996 CD, Trial by Fire is also great, but things started to unravel with Steve, looking back if that was the band’s last attempt at a reunion CD are you satisfied with it?
Jonathan Cain: Yes! It was very, very good. For the amount of gas we had in the tank being all together and the drama that was going on around us; we are lucky that we even made it! There were so much indecision and uncertainty; we knew that we were on the edge of a cliff with it. It was originally supposed to be a farewell with four or five gigs just to say goodbye. Then Neal had the idea of making an album [laughing]! We had to coax Steve into it, but when the three of us got around the piano, the ideas were coming just like in the old days. The beauty of the reunion was that we hadn’t lost a beat. Do I wish we made more albums? Yeah, I do, but I’m happy with that one. I think it makes a statement and we sounded great. It wasn’t the old Steve that was making that album with us. You can tell he was at odds with things, and what can you do? You just have to be happy with what was happening. It was a miracle record for me, and I’m sure Neal feels the same way.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think the fans have given up on a potential reunion with Steve and would welcome another Journey CD with singer Arnel Pineda?
Jonathan Cain: The door has always been open to Steve! He knows where we live and he can always get a hold of us. You would have to ask him that question. I have to respect his private life as he wants to keep it private.
We haven’t given up on making a new CD; it’s just that the market has changed so much. We have to be careful when making a new offering. We have to map it out, so it makes sense economically. Bands burn money! They are money burning machines [laughing] I’m encouraged that we can do one. I think Neal and I are going to have to rope Arnel in. We know what we need to do. I have been making Christian music, and it has given me a mastery of putting things together. When I come to the studio, I have everything arranged and ready to go. If we apply that approach, we should be able to knock things out in a week or two. That is why I think we have to be a little organized about the recording.
Robert Cavuoto: When Steve left the band in the 80’s, did you think he would return to reunite as so many artists and bands do?
Jonathan Cain: I wasn’t sure. I know the wear, tear, and pace we were going was hard during those first six years I was with the band. We rehearsed, recorded, and toured; eventually, it takes a toll on you. Back in the day, you would tour and never take into account the wear and tear on your body, on your voice, or you’re well being. With it comes all this insanity, I think you would look to change things. Everybody is different, and I couldn’t be selfish with his request to leave the band. Look at what we did together and all the great music we have made. Those three albums I wrote with those guys will stand the test of time. We didn’t announce a break up at the time as we were coming off a platinum album. It’s like taking a beautiful car, parking it, and never starting it up again. Eight years went by so Neal, and I did other things. I built my recording studio and started making my solo music. In 1991 Neal said, “I miss that voice of Journey!” I told him, you started the band with Ross Valory and Greg Rolie even before Steve was around, so I’m down with getting it started again. There were some hard times getting it off the ground again as I really had to tough it out. We figured the music was bigger than all of us and we believed in it. People may criticize us for our decision, but I want to set the record straight; we did not kick Steve out of the band. It was his decision, and we made the decision to move on without him. I have been asked so many times I decided to write it down the way I saw it. It’s what I saw in my 37 years.
Robert Cavuoto: You have an upcoming tour with Def Leppard which I think is a great pairing and monster tour package.
Jonathan Cain: This time it will even be better because of Arnel. As he has been with us for 12 years now and I’m really proud of him, he gets it done. We have our voice back. We had to limp through a tour with Steve Augeri as his voice was going. We didn’t know if he would make it and he didn’t. We got Jeff Scott Soto to sing; it was painful and hard watching a friend go down. Steve Augeri is great guy and singer, so I hated to send someone like that packing. This tour we have a fresh singer and everyone’s head is in the right place. We’ve been rehearsing, and things are going great. We are inspiring each other to play those great songs again night after night.