Longtime Journey songwriter/keyboard player/rhythm guitarist Jonathan Cain may have just made his Christian music debut with “What God Wants To Hear” (Identity Records) on the heels of marrying minister Paula White, though he continues to juggle solo offerings alongside 35 years of membership in his full time band. Throughout it all, he wrote or co-wrote the unforgettable likes of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Faithfully,” “Who’s Crying Now” and “Open Arms” (amongst many others), exponentially boosting the Hollywood Walk Of Famers (and current Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees) towards nearly 90 million records sold. Given that intimate association with one of the globe’s most successful acts (along with The Babys and Bad English), it was impossible not to ask the veteran musician some rock n’ roll-related questions in between spiritual insights spanning his most famous songs, former singer Steve Perry, plus a candid glimpse into the mammoth touring juggernaut that simply never gave up.
Can you describe this whole wild ride known as Journey from the time you joined through today? What does this look like being in one of the world’s biggest rock bands?
If this leads me to a Journey album, then so be it. I never say “never” about anything. I just look at what’s going on and I just might wake up and say “let’s do one.” I am on fire when it comes to songwriting. I’m writing up a storm every day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this juice that’s running through my veins and it sure feels good.
Jonathan Cain: It was phenomenal, supernatural, blessed by God, an increase in favor beyond your wildest dreams. Playing at the Rose Bowl, playing at all these huge concerts, Golden Gate Park for 300,000 people and just this last gig for 50,000 at AT&T Park was fantastic. You can’t describe it. It’s bigger than anything…I’m on 35 years now. God never turned His back on us even in our darkest times. There was always hope. When [original guitarist/songwriter] Neal [Schon] and I put the band back together in ‘98, it was God that told me somebody wanted Journey again. With or without Steve Perry, that music was bigger than all of us and all of our disagreements and all of our fall outs and it had to carry on. I believed it, he believed it and we made it happen. It took determination and it wasn’t easy. We had to start from the bottom, but we did it. And what really Journey is about is an army of people that you can’t forget. It’s the radio disc jockeys that spun the records, it’s the program directors, it’s the label, it’s the warehouse people that put the records in stores and it’s the fans.
When other bands were making sexy videos running around on sail boats, we were inventing video screens for the big stage. Nocturne [the group’s video production and management company] was where people wanted to come. It was always a higher level and the records we made are still popular because they were made in a soulful, effortless way. It took no effort at all to make those records. They were absolutely pure. I mean that’s how good the band was. It was all live in the studio. We made “Escape” for $80,000. It’s one of the most well-rehearsed bands in the world. Every note that Steve Perry sang was put in a certain place so it seemed effortless but impossible to duplicate. The way Neal played, the way [drummer] Steve Smith performed, the whole band was like being a part of the Blue Angels with absolute synchronized flying.
Was it all milk and honey? No…There was divorce, there was drugs, there was conflict, there was a break-up, there was too much of the good and plenty. For every favor and increase, the enemy wants his pound of flesh, so he came marching for us. But yet He hadn’t forgotten us and the music was blessed and it carried on. Of course getting “The Sopranos” was huge, as was “Rock Of Ages” picking “Don’t Stop Believin’,” [along with “Glee” and the Chicago White Sox]. There it was, seeds planted by God for us and all we had to do was pick up and carry on and we did.
Are you still in touch with Steve Perry? Do you think they’ll ever be an opportunity for you guys to work together again?Cain: I hope so. You know the Lord told me it may come over this music. I almost asked him to come sing with me on this album and I may do it this next record that I’m gonna do…I wrote a song with him back on “Trial By Fire” [in 1996] when he brought the Bible into the studio and said “there’s a scripture I want to show you. I think there’s a song here.” So we wrote a song that day based on “treasures in the jars of clay” and that ended up being the title song on the album “Trial By Fire.” We bonded over that and then his mom was ill and passed away and we wrote another song for her and that was the last of what we had together. That last record [with Steve Perry] was just a magical season and I’m real proud of that one. I’m sorry that his health went south and things ended the way they did. I don’t talk with him, but he certainly has helped us with a lot of licenses. He sent us a nice telegram when we were on Oprah’s show wishing us the best. He’s just a classy guy.
Does it even feel like you were the writer of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms” and all of these classics or have they become so ubiquitous and synonymous with pop culture and rock history that you almost feel like they came from a different place or belong to the world at large?
Cain: No, they’re very much embedded in my heart. I brought that music to the band. That was personal music between God and me. My father was the one that told me when I was getting my butt kicked [as a budding musician] to “Don’t Stop Believin.’” And “Open Arms” was a wedding song for my first marriage. I wanted to bless our wedding with something that God had given me, so there it was. They’re mine and they’re Journey’s. Even “Faithfully,” Steve Perry wanted it for his solo album, but I took the cassette away from him and said “Journey or bust dude!” And guess what happened? It was the last song we recorded on “Frontiers” and it’s become an anthem. I wrote that one too, so the answer is “no.” They firmly lie in my heart and what God has blessed me with.
Does Journey have any current plans to return to the recording studio?
Cain: Journey can’t sell albums anymore. Those days are gone. And it’s a kids market. You can make a vanity record, but you’re gonna pay dearly for it. They’re not even stocking [that many] CDs in Walmart anymore, and at Target, they’ve just about disappeared. Where are you gonna sell music? It’s all in the live performing now. Will Journey ever make another record again? Maybe, I don’t know. Something’s gotta shift though. Something’s gotta change.
If anything else, [making “What God Wants To Hear”] woke me up. My creative spirit is awakened and the Lord provided that awakening. I’m just gonna continue to be inspired and write what I feel and it will all be good. If this leads me to a Journey album, then so be it. I never say “never” about anything. I just look at what’s going on and I just might wake up and say “let’s do one.” I am on fire when it comes to songwriting. I’m writing up a storm every day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this juice that’s running through my veins and it sure feels good.
So basically, just “Don’t Stop Believin’?”
Cain: That’s right sir!