Journey’s Jonathan Cain

A Legend Reflects on Making a Difference, Balancing Work and Family Life, and Working With Angry Poets I recently had a chance to catch up with Jonathan Cain, keyboardist for the legendary Journey. The band has sold 60 million albums with a string of top-ten singles accounting for over two decades of music played on the radio. As a songwriter, Cain’s had songs recorded by Michael Bolton, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Rogers, Heart, Greg Allman, Conway Twitty, The Oak Ridge Boys, Colin Raye, Lorrie Morgan, Maria Carey, Jimmy Barnes, and Peter Frampton. In short, Cain has been a prolific composer and performer. In addition to Journey, he also previously recorded and toured with The Babys and Bad English and has written and recorded six full-length solo albums. This was a great opportunity for me to speak with someone who has been to the top—and stayed there.

First off, how much rehearsal it will take to pull together the upcoming tour?

A couple weeks.

A couple weeks, eight hours a day to go through all the tunes?

We don’t do eight hours, but we certainly manage three to four hours a day, at least.

There’s a lot of old material being brought out of the archives for the tour. What tunes are you most excited about playing?

I don’t think some of these songs have ever seen the light of day. Great songs. I had nothing to do with them, so I’m just trying to faithfully reproduce them, with other records, so it’s fun in the sense that we’re kind of reinventing them to some degree. Certainly, to play “Kohoutek” and “Of a Lifetime,” songs like that, and “Mystery Mountain,” it’s pretty cool. “City of Angels” has never gotten played; “Daydream” off Infinity, another song that never really got played. These songs have finally seen a little exposure, and we’ve played almost everything else in our catalogue.

Has the record company stepped up its marketing for your 30th anniversary tour?

Oh, we’re the record company now…There is no record company.

In that case, do you feel that you’re getting proper marketing for the tour? Because I know you expressed some dissatisfaction with the amount of marketing effort in past years.

Oh, the amount of money that you’re taking per unit was not so…yeah… But I think the fans are first and foremost in our minds; they’re getting the music first. So, what can you say: It’s awesome and they’re gonna get a brand new CD when they come to the show, and you can’t get it anywhere else, so that’s how we’re playing this one. And also have a Journeyville [Journeyville is a festive area located near the front entrance at most of the venues. Fans will be treated to continuous video playback on large outdoor screens showing various moments throughout Journey’s history, such as classic music videos, behind-the-scenes clips, and more]; it’s sort of an interesting retrospective to look back over 30 years of what the band has been up to. It’s a very retro kind of feeling. [Plus] we’ve got a brand new motorcycle, a Ness bike, that we’re going to auction off for the St. Jude’s Hospital.

That’s got the custom paint job—

It’s got a custom Journey paint job, so that’s pretty special. All in all, it’s a pretty cool little set-up.

Are you bringing the whole piano setup, the Whale?

The Whale is coming out, yeah.

What about the Hammond organ with the actual Leslie amp?

I got the actual Leslies, yeah, and the Hammond. It’s not the old giant B3, but it’s a Hammond-made product that has the Leslies, so it sounds pretty authentic.

Now does that have the actual rotating speakers?

Oh, yeah.

Oh, that’s beautiful. You’ve always had the duality of the analog and the digital. Are there any new advances in your setup that are making that easier? Do you have the midi stuff on the piano?

Yeah, there’s the midi on the piano; it’s a pretty basic stock setup. I’ve got a lot of the samples; it’s the same rig I’ve used for a lot of years. I’ve added a couple pieces here and there.

But it’s basically the same. OK, so can you explain a little bit about how you came up with your travel café recipes? What was the inspiration behind that?

Well, I like to cook, and when I’m home with my wife and family…it was just one of those things. I was doing the jazz records, and they said why don’t you cook for this guy, and we did, and next thing you know I was on television cooking. It’s something I like to do just to relax; it’s fun.

It looked like some spicy recipes, too.

Oh yeah, there’s good stuff. I like Cajun food. I’m kind of a food buff, and I like wine. It’s fun for me, like making a great song.

A way to relax.

Yeah.

So what charitable organizations are you currently working with? I see that you have some information with the Bright Star Foundation; are there other charitable organizations?

We’ve done stuff for Make-a-Wish; we just auctioned off a few guitars for them and made a bunch of money. We’ve done stuff for Toys for Tots with the Marines, and TJ Martel, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, stuff like that.

Are you involved at all with music education or foundations for the arts?

Actually, I do a lot of stuff in my own community with music with the kids. I help at the elementary school at Christmastime, and I help them with their talent shows.

Oh, wow, at a real local level. All the mothers in the audience must love that!

I guess so. I’m right there, hands-on with them; we do a Christmas show every year.

What music education did you have?

I’ve been to college and everything; I did the whole thing, scoop to nuts. I was in the Conservatory of Chicago, played in jazz bands and soul bands. I took about three and a half years of music in college, and of course piano lessons for years that I studied, so I was taking probably for ten years, at the least.

What are the challenges and difficulties of balancing family life with the demands of your career? Has that been a difficult role?

You know it is; it’s something that the kids and my wife just have to understand and go with it. When it’s time to be with my son and my daughters, I’m just with them; I try not to bring my work home with me too much.

Reduce the interruptions and all that.

Yeah. My son every once in a while wants me to play ball and do this and do that and I can’t and he gets kind of disappointed, so yeah, you gotta make up for it by taking him on some special things. This summer he’s going to go see the St. Louis Cardinals and get a personal tour with Tony LaRussa, a friend of mine—that kind of stuff. He got to go to Wrigley Field last summer and do the number at the Cubs game while Journey played the National Anthem. And then he walked out and helped me throw the first pitch.

Oh, that’s exciting for him.

Yeah. I try to make up in other ways.

I see that you have a studio setup at your house. Does that help with keeping your work closer to your home?

It does, it helps a lot. I can do a lot of my pre-production, and I did a couple of solos off this last record right at the house.

How do you spend your time away from music? Like you said, when you are away from it and you are spending time, are there certain hobbies that you like?

I’m a golfer, and I ski a lot.

Snow-ski?

Snow-ski, yeah. And then I’m constantly hiking with my wife. We hike all over the place. So we get out and do it.

Good. And what new projects do you have on the horizon?

Right now it’s just Journey. I’m due for a solo album at some point, and I started a bunch of new songs, so I’ll try to finish those on the road and come home and try to get it together.

I need to admit that I’m also a Babys fan. Has there been any talk of a reunion with John Waite?

Mmm…no. John has issues with the whole thing.

Is that right?

He’s an angry poet…I don’t know what his deal is.

Oh, that’s no good. I’m a fan of some of those tunes.

Yeah, he can’t get over himself. He’s his own worst enemy sometimes.

Well, you guys have a huge family tree of musicians and projects that Journey as a whole…if you take all the side projects that each of the members has done, it’s a huge influence. What work are you most proud of?

Besides Journey, it’s being with my kids and my family. That’s my work, really. Music-wise, I’ve done a lot of things that haven’t really gotten much attention, but yet they’re very near and dear to my heart, so I don’t judge myself on my work. I just do it out of the joy and the passion for what I have. The success is great; Journey pays the bills and it’s fun for me.

If I could ask just one last question: Has the ecstasy of the applause and all the admiration been worth the demands of life on the road?

It’s a give and take; when you go out there and you get that feedback, it makes it rewarding. That’s why you do it. And so the fans, it’s a responsibility to them to a large degree, and they pay us, we have the money for doing something we love doing, so I think it’s a pretty fair tradeoff.

You have a statement on your charitable page where you state that it’s a privilege to be able to do that, and I really commend that attitude and all of your charitable work.

We’re not going to stop doing that; if we have an opportunity to do some good in this world, we’re going to do it. Besides make a living, you don’t just want to take all the time. It’s wonderful to be able to give back a little.

Thank you for your time; it’s really been a privilege speaking with you. I’m an enormous fan of all your work.

We’re looking forward to a fun summer and a retrospective look into a band that’s been around for a long time

You know I’ll be in the audience.

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