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Faith, family and rock and roll - Jonathan Cain’s amazing Journey

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Faith, family and rock and roll - Jonathan Cain’s amazing Journey (edge photo/Kevin Bennett)

Journey keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain says the perfect opening for his long-awaited memoir, “Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song that Inspired Generations” (Zondervan/Harper Collins), arrived when his band received a richly deserved, long overdue accolade in April 2017.

“The opening is the most important part of a memoir,” Cain told me during an interview for BIG 104 FM and The Maine Edge. “Those first three chapters are so important for setting the stage. Once Journey was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I had my opening. I’m glad that I had that experience because I don’t think it would have been the same book without it.”

A band that had achieved mega-success more than a quarter-century before the Rock Hall induction, Journey had been continually snubbed by the nominating committee – that is until they appeared on an online fan vote ballot. Journey’s loyal and passionate audience – the same one responsible for the sale of nearly 50 million of the band’s albums in the U.S. - responded overwhelmingly.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” is a revealing, inspiring and fast-moving account of Cain’s life in and out of music.

From his upbringing in a loving and supportive family on Chicago’s mean streets to Journey’s dizzying success, the book is brimming with page-turning ‘you are there’ stories. Cain takes the reader on a journey where music is never far away, success is not always a given and faith is paramount.

Of Chicago, Mark Twain said “She is novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through last time.” Cain gives the Mecca of the Midwest prominent placement in “Don’t Stop Believin’” as one of his book’s wild and colorful characters.

“Growing up in Chicago in the ‘50s and ‘60s was eye-opening on many levels,” Cain said. “A city can make you who you are and Chicago is a city of extremes. It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s windy – it’s all of these things rolled into one. It was a good breeding ground to stay tough. We really learned to stick up for ourselves. Chicago taught us to get up when you get knocked down, and to keep going.”

Cain says it was Journey bassist Ross Valory who convinced him to write “Don’t Stop Believin’” after hearing so many of the book’s stories on the band bus.

Inspired by reading Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” Cain says he began researching his family’s history to help him fully understand where he came from.

“Writing a hit song is one thing but writing a memoir is another thing entirely,” he said. “I had to learn the voice and the rules related to writing a memoir. The big rule is ‘Show don’t tell.’ I found myself telling a lot of the story and I had to rewrite those sections. It’s also important to take the reader by the hand to give them a reason to go to the next chapter.”

Another critical element to a successful memoir is an author’s gift for recall. Cain’s ability to summon fine details relating to specific moments of his life is astonishing.

One of the book’s unforgettable chapters recalls the events and aftermath of December 1, 1958. The 8-year old Cain was a third-grader at Our Lady of the Angels, a Catholic school on the west side of Chicago.

Shortly before classes were to be dismissed for the day, a fast-moving fire - originating in the basement of the school - roared through the building. 92 students and three nuns lost their lives when fire, smoke and toxic gas prevented them from being able to escape. While ultimately declared an act of arson, a culprit has never been formally identified, even though one of the students later confessed to setting the blaze. A judge concluded that the evidence was insufficient to substantiate the confession.

“I wanted the darkness to go away, but I knew the stain of soot would forever be marked on my soul,” Cain writes.

“I know that I was in trauma,” Cain said of the pain he felt at witnessing the horror and devastation. “We were all in shock and I’m sure that we needed grief counseling of some kind but we didn’t get it. We weren’t even allowed to talk about the fire when classes finally resumed, yet the investigation continued on.”

Cain says that the Chicago school fire was ultimately a game-changer for schools everywhere when sprinkler systems became mandatory in educational institutions around the world.

To cope with the physical and emotional effects connected to the tragedy, Cain says that he turned to music, a passionate interest that intensified at this crucial stage in his development. 

“Music became a redemption for me,” said Cain. “I believe that music can help heal you. I actually went to Washington D.C. to lobby for music in schools. I told the senators that music saved me and it’s saving these kids today. I pointed out that most of the honor roll students were all in bands that is no accident.”

Cain’s wife is Paula White-Cain, evangelist and pastor of Paula White Ministries. When Jonathan is not immersed in work with Journey, he frequently travels with Paula, providing musical support for her ministry.

“Paula preaches that God rides on waves of sound,” he said. “I felt like that was when the winds hit my sails to move onto a different kind of fire and that was the fire of desire for music. My father said ‘Let me give you the gift of music because I know you’ll run with it’ - and he was right.”

“Dad was amazed at what I could do without ever having taken a single lesson,” Cain writes in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” “After seeing ads for a local music school, he surprised me with private music lessons at the American School of Music on Armitage Avenue. It didn’t matter that my father had to sacrifice 10 dollars a week of his hard-earned paycheck; he knew it was time to start me on my musical journey.”

Anyone who has ever played in a band will relate to Jonathan’s tales of playing and interacting with his first bands during the 1960s. In his book, he writes that as a junior in high school, he realized he would be able to make actually make a living doing the thing he loved the most.

Later, he writes of attending his first real rock concert featuring a group calling themselves The Big Thing. “They had a great sound with a tight brass section,” he writes. They changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority before being legally forced to shorten it simply to - Chicago.

“It was remarkable to have seen their transformation from a club band to recording artists,” Cain said. “They were simple kids with a dream to make it in the music business.”

Before Cain could get there, there were dues to be paid. His book details the highs and lows of trying to crack the code of musical success.

From a recording session with The Swampers (the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section who had recorded with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett) and The Memphis Horns (Sam and Dave, Elvis Presley, U2) to brushes with greatness (Wolfman Jack, Dick Clark, the cast and crew of “American Graffiti”), Cain came close when he signed with Bob Dylan’s former manager, Albert Grossman. He came closer still when he recorded with an all-star band for Warner Brothers. Those dreams, like many that came before, washed away.

“The wave always heads back out to sea,” Cain writes in “Don’t Stop Believin.”

Almost ready to give up, Cain says that his father’s faith in him kept him from abandoning music.

“Stick to your guns,” was the directive from Jonathan’s dad.

Cain wrote a new song – one that he describes in his book as a “bluesy, Bad Company-type of tune, a smoky number with a Robin Trower thing going on.”

“When I send the tape to Dad, he tells me he loves it,” said Cain. “‘That’s a great song,’ he says. ‘Keep ‘em coming.””

Cain was urged to play the song at an upcoming audition – this time for a British band in need of a new keyboardist – The Babys. The group had previously scored two #13 hits with “Isn’t It Time,” and “Everytime I Think of You.”

Cain nailed the audition and went on to tour with and record two albums with The Babys.

On March 28, 1980, The Babys opened for Journey at the 20,000 capacity Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. In his book, Cain recalls the details surrounding the day as if it happened last week.

At the end of the year, after establishing first a professional relationship and a personal friendship with the members and management of Journey, Cain was asked to join the band when longtime keyboardist and original lead vocalist Gregg Rolie moved on. Cain joined with Rolie’s blessing.

His songwriting chops honed from years of writing and recording, an inspired Cain began writing (or co-writing) songs that have since become anthems.

With lead singer Steve Perry, Cain came up with “Who’s Crying Now,” a top-five gold single.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” came from a three-word directive from his father during a phone call when it looked like The Babys were about to call it quits. It has become the best-selling digital track of the 20th century with 7 million copies sold.

Since 1981, nearly every Journey song has contained a Jonathan Cain songwriting credit. Between 1981 and 1986, the band recorded three albums before an extended hiatus led to the formation of a side project involving Cain, Journey guitarist Neal Schon and former lead singer for The Babys, John Waite.

Bad English recorded two albums and a #1 1989 power ballad – “When I See You Smile.”

Journey resumed recording with 1996’s “Trial By Fire.” Plans for a subsequent tour were scuttled after Steve Perry was injured in a hiking accident in Hawaii. He left the band in 1998.

“Neal (Schon) and I persevered through those dark days after Steve left the band,” Cain said. “Steve was gone and we had to find a way to get through it. I still remember the day Neal came and knocked on my door and said ‘I want my band back.’ That was pretty powerful. He explained to me that his voice was the guitar player for Journey and that was the voice that he wanted to get back to and would I help him? I told him that I was certainly down for anything we could do. So we went forward and pulled that sled up the hill.”

In 1998, a Brooklyn-born singer named Steve Augeri became Journey’s new lead vocalist and Journey resumed touring relentlessly. The band recorded three albums with Augueri before vocal problems forced him to step away.

In 2007, Neal Schon saw some YouTube videos from a band called The Zoo fronted by Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer and songwriter with a voice uncannily similar to that of Steve Perry’s. Later that year, Schon contacted Pineda and invited him to audition as Journey’s new vocalist.

Reinvigorated with Pineda fronting the band, Journey’s success continued unabated for the next decade, until mid-2017 when stories of a feud between Cain and Schon began appearing in the press. Was it merely clickbait fodder or did Journey fans have real reason to worry?

Bandmates for nearly four decades, Cain says that he and Schon have put their differences behind them.

“I think we’ve hit reset,” he said. “Regarding some of the issues we had – I think this book might have reset a lot of things between us. I certainly choose to remember the victories and the things we had to overcome. I couldn’t have done it without Neal and Neal couldn’t have done it without me. Journey is a band because of the two of us. That’s what’s in the book and that is what I choose to focus on with regard to our relationship.”

Fans eager to attend Journey’s upcoming summer and fall co-headlining tour with Def Leppard will be relieved to hear that this storm has passed. The tour will begin on May 21 in Hartford, CT. and is set to conclude in Inglewood, CA on October 7.

“I want to thank all of the fans for sticking with us for all these years,” Cain said. “It’s been an incredible ride and we’re grateful that they’re still with us.”

Jonathan Cain’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is available in hardcover, E-book via Amazon Kindle, and an as an audiobook on CD and download.

“I got to read the audiobook personally and I really enjoyed doing that,” said Cain. “We have bonus chapters and video that we’re making available to fans. There’s a lot of music in there and I have a CD coming out in June with music from the audio book. It has been so much fun getting all of this stuff together.”

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