Jonathan Cain Looks Back as Journey’s 50th Anniversary Dates End
Jonathan Cain is returning to career highlights as Journey wraps up a string of improbably smooth 50th-anniversary tour dates.
He and Neal Schon were trading furious accusations and legal paperwork before the shows began. There had also been a jumbled situation within the rhythm section, which finally settled into place with the installation of former longtime drummer Deen Castronovo and Schon's ex-Hardline bandmate Todd Jensen on bass.
All of those troubles seemed to recede, however, as Journey plugged in again to perform Cain's co-written favorites like "Don't Stop Believin,'" "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" and "Open Arms." Cain talks about key moments from his time in Journey, how an earlier stint with the Babys created a foundation for success and his role in getting Castronovo back in the lineup.
Journey is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and you were there for all but the first seven. I wonder what you are most proud of achieving along the way.
You know, just the consistency. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I was going to be able to create this kind of lasting longevity when it comes to writing. I'm most proud of my songwriting and my relationship with [classic-era singer] Steve [Perry], and how we were able to craft these songs with Neal that mean so much to so many people. That's pretty overwhelming to think about.
As the tour continued, you undoubtedly saw new generations of people finding their way to this music. What's that like?
It's special when you become a soundtrack of people's lives, and they bring their kids and say, "This is what I listen to when I was a kid." All this stuff, it's pretty great. We're most proud of that. But I never looked over my shoulder, really. I'd say my father was my mentor – and that was his advice: never look back. So I didn't, and it's served me well. We started with back-to-back platinum records for Escape and Frontiers, with four Top 40 singles on each record. Even with the incredible amount of touring we did, we were still able to able to crank out quality music. I wrote "Faithfully" in about half an hour on a napkin. That was pretty supernatural. Of course, getting inducted to the Library of Congress with "Don't Stop Believin'" and then into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I pretty much never thought that would happen – but there it is. So, it's an honor. It's almost like being a knight of the round table. You know, you get to represent your king and your country.
It's interesting because "Don't Stop Believin'" wasn't the biggest hit of its era or even the biggest hit off Escape, but it ended up being Journey's signature song. What's the secret to its staying power?
I think it's a song that gives permission to dream. It really does. It's a song that says, "You're not stuck where you think you are." That midnight train going anywhere, it gives people possibility – and new people are welcoming that song every decade. Who wants to keep believing? That would be everybody, you know? And I think it's a certain song in uncertain times. You have this certainty about that song, and it has this rhythm to it that's just very assuring and very sure of itself. From the beginning piano line, it speaks – and it speaks to hope. I think people are looking for hope.
Watch Journey Perform 'Don't Stop Believin'' in Concert
Your stint with the Babys didn't last long, but it changed your life forever by putting you out on the road with Steve Perry. What did you think about Journey back then?
The first thing that hit you was the voice. I thought, "My goodness, what a voice!" And they had a lot of cool pieces. I liked the nod to soul because Perry was very much still singing a Sam Cooke kind of thing. I liked the fusion of it. Back then, they had that prog-rock thing going on underneath it all. So it was a really interesting combination of styles. But I thought it needed to be tied up in a lyrical way. Right away, I heard that they weren't singing to their fans. So I watched it for a while and I thought, "You know, if they sang a song for their fans, a song about their fans, they'd really connect – because the fans love these guys. I knew that too. So when I came into the band, that was my observation. I said, "Lyrically, you need to connect with these people that love you so much." That was my message, and they took it to heart. Then we wrote Escape, which was all about the blue-collar guy who came to the Journey show, getting on that midnight train.
You worked with two of rock's most distinctive frontmen. How was it different to write for John Waite versus writing for Steve Perry?
Well, you have two different characters. You've got to the boy next door who's shy and hasn't fallen in love yet. He's still looking for the girl. Then you have John Waite, who's Vampire Lestat. He has a harem, you know, and "that dress you're wearing is way past your knees" [from the Babys' "Midnight Rendezvous"] – come on! It's just this whole different actor; he's another character – and I stay true to those characters. Even when we came back to do Bad English, "Forget Me Not" was very much a dominant, sexual "I will be your keeper"-type male. That was about possession, with all of the sexual innuendos that John loves to deliver. "Ready When You Are," all these fun, fun songs, "Best of What I Got" – they were sexual and hot. He needed that to be John Waite. Even "Missing You," it's still that male, macho kind of lyric – very, very English, you know? Sort of sexy, but I'm in charge. But not with Steve. So you stay true to that. Even when we sat down to write "When You Love a Woman," he doesn't get the girl. She's waiting out there somewhere – and he's comfortable with being that guy. You know, he believes that when he sings. So as a writer, you need to find the right words that evoke emotion so the singer can connect with an audience. That's the difference, really.
You played a key role in Deen Castronovo's reunion with Journey, working with him on some of your solo music before he eventually returned to the lineup. What did you see in him that told you he had changed?
Repentance, really. He repented. I think he felt like he had really created his own tragedy. When you're ready to recognize that you're in your own way, then you change. Until that happens, there's really no hope that anything different is going to take place. I knew he needed a gig, and I just called him out of the blue. I had plenty of Nashville studio guys that could play my Christian stuff, but I thought that it was a time to connect with him – and I was right. That sort of pulled him back into a confident place.
Watch Journey Perform 'Open Arms' in Concert
He also has this secret weapon with his voice. Did anybody have a sense back when Castronovo got started with Bad English that he could do that behind a microphone?
In Bad English, I asked him to sing backgrounds because I knew he was singing. We got on the mic together for the "Best of What I Got" session and I said, "Oh, boy, this is powerful." He was a great ear for a drummer. It's incredible, and he's learned how to play for the singer – which is really good. The only thing he didn't have was time; he couldn't keep a really good tempo. So I got him a click track with all the tempos and said, "This is your friend." You know, the click track made him a better drummer. His feel is great, but that's really how we got the job with Bad English. It was a secret click that I gave him, a little box that nobody saw. "You know, don't show this to anybody." It had a little light that flashed, so you didn't hear it. I said, "Watch the light, Deen. Stay with the light" – and he got the gig. John wanted to 86 him. We had rehearsals and John said, "This guy is all over the map." John's a soul singer – and that's what he had in common with Steve. Both of those guys were very much pocket singers; they had to have that solid drum. You know, going from [Babys drummer] Tony Brock to Steve Smith was a massive adjustment for me. Because of his interest in jazz, Steve Smith wasn't a real keen tempo guy either. But you want to talk about tempo? Tony Brock was a force. I mean, he ended up with Rod Stewart's band. That's how good he was.
It must have been tempting to give up on "Open Arms," since members of both the Babys and Journey seemed uninterested at first. What turned that song around for you?
It was Steve's voice. First, his range and then the ease in which he maneuvered and sold it. I mean, he sold every word. You just believe him. He had this amazing ability to get inside of a song and put the right emotion on it – and his read on "Open Arms" is spectacular. Even [founding manager] Herbie [Herbert] couldn't deny it. We heard it in the studio and it was like, "OK, it's huge." It was No. 2 for a long time, and then it made the Escape album No. 1. It's been voted the top power ballad in all kinds of polls. A lot of people get married to it and proposed to it, and other things in the backseat with it. [Laughs] So, I'm proud of that one. It started out as a wedding song for my first wedding, and I hadn't gotten around to writing the verses. I didn't know what they were but I knew I had a melody. Then when I played it for Perry, he just went, "Oh, let's do this. I got this." And we did and that was the beginning of our lyrical partnership.
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