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Jonathan Cain Interview: Journey Keyboardist Says, "My Father’s Prophecy Came True"

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Image attributed to Michael Cairns

Jonathan Cain

Longtime keyboardist and rhythm guitarist in the rock band Journey, Jonathan Cain is known for writing or co-writing such hits as “Don’t Stop Believin,” “Faithfully,” “Open Arms,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “When You Love a Woman.” In 1979, he joined British rock group The Babys but left in 1980 to replace keyboardist Gregg Rolie in Journey. Other members of Journey include Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Steve Smith and vocalist Arnel Pineda.

Cain was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Journey on April 7, 2017. In April 2015, he married minister Paula White, and he recently released his memoir Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song that Inspired Generations.

“I’m looking forward to some great nights with Def Leppard. We represent almost 200 million albums sold. With the hits and the great songs that they have, it’ll be a celebration of pretty cool songs. Great songs matter.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jonathan, thanks for taking the time. I’m in Birmingham, and I know you’ve spent some time in the Florence-Muscle Shoals area over the years.

Jonathan Cain: We have, yeah. We had an idea for a music conference group where we take on the challenges of the music business down there, sort of a three-day seminar in songwriting, producing, social media, publishing, legal, all of the challenges of the business that we have to face today. So we’ll see how that goes. Got some things in the works.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds good. What do you want the readers to take away from your memoir Don’t Stop Believin’?

Jonathan Cain: I want to inspire and encourage anybody that has a dream. If you can dream it, anything is possible. Also maybe to fire up the dads around the world who read this book to encourage their children to see a unique gift, to recognize it and keep that vision going the way my father did for all of us kids. He was quite a dad.

I think it’s time dads take some authority back and stand up for the family because you want to know what I think? You could be an actor, so I think you should go to acting school. You could be a dancer or a golfer. You could be anything. But you see those gifts in your children and encourage them.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “Don’t Stop Believin’” was something your dad told you to instill faith in yourself. But do you feel those words were also a Christian message?

Jonathan Cain: I think so. My father brought me to the Lord at a young age. He prayed very deeply to Jesus Christ, showed me the way he prayed and how to pray to Jesus at a young age. He was a very strong spiritual man. Life can distract you away from the ways of the Holy Spirit, you know, and you just have to tune in and get back to that place with the Lord. I think certainly his statement was some double entendre in a way. Without having that covering, I couldn’t have possibly ended up where I ended up because when he told me that, I was selling stereos (laughs). The music business was a dream. I was writing songs at night and selling stereos during the day. I put what dad said in the back of my notebook.

When I got with Journey to make that Escape album, I knew what that song was. I carried it around with me all those years just sort of like a prayer, just to pray that I’m going to overcome this and last through it. It felt good having somebody keeping that fire alive for me. That would be my dad.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I cannot comprehend the horrific tragedy (Our Lady of the Angels School fire) you witnessed as an eight-year-old in Chicago. Do you believe that if you could’ve gotten help or counseling, your life would’ve taken a different path and perhaps your marriages would’ve been successful?

Jonathan Cain: It shook me. I’m sure if I’d had therapy, things would’ve turned out a little differently, for sure. But my father just shifted me to music, and that was kind of like my redemption there. It was just “how to get away from that feeling.” It was through the music and learning that, I was able to escape it. The marriages are part of the tragedy of being on the road. Unfortunately, you don’t make great life choices when you don’t have an anchor, and you’re out there just drifting. That is a big price we pay for being out there living out of a suitcase not really having a life at home. So when you do get home, you’re not really grounded. You don’t really have your anchor down, and it takes time to learn how to do that.

Over the years, of course, I’ve been able to get there with it, but it’s tricky. I wrote the song “Faithfully,” and said, “They say the road ain’t no place to start a family.” I wasn’t kidding. Things happen. The road’s a powerful double-edged sword. It can work both ways. It’s got its blessings, and it’s got its evil there, too. I was lucky to stay away from a lot of it though.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of “Faithfully,” is it true that Prince called you and asked if “Purple Rain” was too similar to that song?

Jonathan Cain: He did. He had wanted me to hear the song “Purple Rain” that he was getting ready to release. It was the end of the song. He said, “I’ll change those chords if you want me to.” I said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” (laughs) It sounded like a hit record to me. Yeah. There was similarity there, but certainly I’m not going to make a fuss over it. I just congratulated him. But it showed class. It showed that he cared.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why were you and Steve Perry such a magical writing team?

Jonathan Cain: I think it was just the Lord putting us together for such a time. I didn’t know what to expect when I went up there. The Lord knew before I did that this was going to be something special between the two of us. We bonded pretty strongly, and we liked the same music.

I was in awe of his vocal ability being able to sing like that, and he liked the way I played, the way I wrote, and he wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be a part of what he was doing and what Neal was doing, for that matter. So it was really cool. It was very fortunate that we landed together in the same space at that time.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you and Steve take some flak from the band in the beginning for writing and singing the power ballads?

Jonathan Cain: Steve actually wanted to try his hand at some ballads and was talking about doing a soul album. I said, “You don’t need to do a soul album. We can do it right here in Journey.” I told him I thought the rock world was ready to hear him sing a ballad or two. I had heard some things he had done on Infinity. I had that album from ’78 before I was ever in the band, so I knew what he meant. That was easy, you know. I was supposed to bring edge to the band, and I ended up bringing ballads (laughs). So go figure. God has a sense of humor.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’d have to say it worked out, Jon (laughs).

Jonathan Cain: It worked out. Yeah.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “Open Arms” and “When You Love a Woman” are incredible songs.

Jonathan Cain: Oh, thank you. That was just a blessing to have Steve. When I was rejected for the final time in LA for my solo career as a guitar player, I was asked, “What are you going to do now, Jon?” I thought, “I’m going to find a really great singer to sing my songs.” I declared that out of my own mouth back in 1978. Then the Lord brought me John Waite and The Babys, and he sang my tunes.

The next thing I’m no longer with them, and then Steve Perry comes along, and that was it. My father’s prophecy came true. He always told me when I was eight years old that music was going to be something I was going to shine at, and I made that prophecy come true thanks to his belief in me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you traveling with your wife in her ministry?

Jonathan Cain: We do a lot of that. I go with her just about around the world when I can. Of course, when Journey calls, I’m on the road with the guys on the tour. She comes with me when she can, and we make time for each other. Of course, I’ve written two worship albums now and working on a third one, had a great Christmas album last year called Unsung Noel, have been leading praise at the church and loving that. I don’t get to sing lead in Journey, so it’s an honor for me to get to sing for the Lord.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ironed out the difficulties between you and Neal?

Jonathan Cain: I think, yeah. I think we’ve reached that with each other. Every 38-year relationship’s going to have a bump in the road here and there. For 38 years, we’ve been brothers, so something’s bound to happen like that. But I think the misunderstanding is cleared up. We’re beyond that. That was then, and this is now. It’s about the fans, the music and the tour. We’re good to go.

I’m looking forward to some great nights with Def Leppard. We represent almost 200 million albums sold. With the hits and the great songs that they have, it’ll be a celebration of pretty cool songs. Great songs matter.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will Journey be writing new music?

Jonathan Cain: Yeah. We talked a little bit about it. I wanted to explore that and try to line some things up while we’re out there.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Looking back on a childhood dream, do you ever regret not becoming a pastor?

Jonathan Cain: (laughs) You know, I’m a pastor in my ministry of music. I felt that was the right place for the Lord to put me there in that regard. I was actually going to be a priest, which is different than a pastor, and I came to find out that priests can’t have wives (laughs). In that narrow focus I was in at the time, my mom would tease me about my twin girlfriends. When I was a kid, I was sweet on both of them. She’d say, “You can’t have any of that when you’re a priest. It ain’t going to work.” I’m like, “Oh, boy. I never thought of that, ma.” She said, “Well, you better start thinking about it. Are you ready to give up your girlfriends?”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And you weren’tready? (laughs)

Jonathan Cain: (laughs) I don’t think so. I was having too much fun. I got teased a lot. But I do appreciate what Paula does in her ministry, in her transparency, in her truthfulness and the way she preaches the gospel. It’s had a profound effect on me even in writing this book. Being truthful and transparent was always my goal.

I learned to tell my testimony years ago to a congregation, and it felt good. The Bible says, “Out of pain, something new is born.” I believe I took that pain and created a musician and a writer.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): From that pain you suffered as a small eight-year-old watching people perish in the school fire?

Jonathan Cain: Yeah. Out of the embers comprises something bigger and better than you were before that day. Also the confidence. I was able to face evil in the face. I looked it right in the eye, and I walked away. As much as I shudder thinking about it now, I just feel like that’s a blessing. You feel like you were saved for a reason. You just keep busy and show God why he has saved you. That was my father’s whole thing, “Show the Lord why I’m right. Show him.”

When my father passed away, I didn’t think I could carry on because I couldn’t think of one note I played that didn’t trace back to him. But in the book, I kind of go through this cathartic thing about the Lord. It was this “aha” moment of sitting at the piano with tears coming down my face going, “It’s always been you, Lord. It’s always been you through my father.” It was a great realization for me that I’d been covered in grace all those years. So I’ll spend the rest of my life giving Him all the praise and glory.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else is going on?

Jonathan Cain: The audiobook is interesting because I was able to include a lot of songs I’d written about my life and all the stuff I went through to chronicle everything in music. My first solo album was pretty much this book in music. So I included a lot of those songs, and I wrote a couple of new ones for the CD called The Songs You Leave Behind. It’s the last page of the book I leave the reader with. I wrote a song about the process of writing the book and what my takeaway was, and that’ll be on iTunes in June. I’m looking forward to making some new Journey music, and I’ve got a beautiful album in the can waiting to come out in the fall sometime. I continue to write a lot. So there it is.

I want to keep ministering with Paula, growing in my faith and studying the Bible. I just don’t want to waste anymore time in being the guy my dad raised me to be. I feel like I’m back to that kid he believed in, you know. He left big shoes for me to fill. I tell you. It turned out we wore the same size (laughs). I’ll never forget that. I got to wear his shoes at my high school prom because I didn’t have nice ones. I said, “Dad, we wear the same size.” (laughs) So, yeah. I hope that this book just inspires anybody who’s got a dream.

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