Throughout his life, Jonathan Cain – songwriter and keyboardist for the rock band Journey – has always believed in the power of music. It led him to join Journey in the early 1980s, where he found a new level of success. Cain helped write some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and he recently released his tell-all memoir, aptly titled after the aforementioned song, which details the challenges of keeping the band going after longtime singer Steve Perry left the band.
Prior to the band’s co-headlining bill with Def Leppard at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater July 4, we caught up with Cain to talk about music and life.
What was it like getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year?
It was quite an honor. Standing on stage there at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, it was an inspiration for this memoir. We were all a brotherhood up there. We were pretty united and felt happy to be there. Everyone showed up that was invited. There weren’t any hard feelings. It was a strong unity. It felt good.
You reunited with singer Steve Perry there. It must have felt like things had come full circle after so many years apart.
Absolutely. It was about time. I hadn’t seen him since the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in 2004 or something. It really struck a chord. He thanked me in his speech and it was very touching. Quite gracious, and [it] showed a lot of class on his part.
I thought I had a story of survival, of perseverance. It was a love story of a son to his father. My father has passed on and I wanted to leave a legacy for him. And as a survivor of the Our Lady of the Angels School fire [in Chicago], I wanted to tell our story coming up on 60 years, remembering that horrible tragedy in 1958 where 92 children died. When I wrote the book, it seemed like it had legs. It was interesting how there were recurring themes of escape and redemption. And out of the ashes I got something beautiful.
Having lost my dad two years ago, I really appreciated your stories about how your father had such a big impact on you musically.
Yes, very much so. He could have easily said, “Hey John, get a real job. Why are you pursuing this music?” He shared a vision with me and encouraged me. After the fire, it became a distraction for me, really. We didn’t really have any trauma therapy at the time. We were all suffering from PTSD. And music seemed to be healing to me at that point. My father realized how I embraced it and knew he was on the right path with putting me in that place. I want dads to encourage and inspire and recognize the uniqueness of their children, and put them on a path.
What are you enjoying most so far about this tour with Def Leppard?
I enjoy seeing different fans. Some Def Leppard fans haven’t seen Journey. And some Journey fans haven’t seen Def Leppard. So, I like the idea that we’re mixing a crowd. And we’re exposing them to different styles of music.
In your book you talk a lot about living in Chicago. How do you think being from the Midwest has impacted how you approach Journey and music in general?
In Chicago, it’s roll up your sleeves and get to work and get it done. And don’t whine about it. Sometimes Chicago people are brutally honest. There’s not much of a filter. They’ll just tell you what it is, and if you don’t like it, too bad. I think the work ethic there is strong.
Chicago is a city of extremes. It can be freezing cold or muggy and hot. And it can be windy and bone-chilling cold. And other times it can be absolutely stunningly beautiful. We have all four seasons. So, you’re constantly shifting.
What do think of the success the band’s had with attracting different generations of fans?
It’s an honor to resonate with different generations. We wrote a universal theme of hope and love. We wrote rock and soul and pop that transcends generations. We were just being ourselves. Ironically, critics hated the band. Always wrote negative reviews, pretty much across the board. But the fans still bought it anyways. We sold over 85 million records worldwide. We survived and lasted, and they were wrong.
What are some of your earliest memories of Milwaukee?
Milwaukee was certainly a cool getaway for anyone from Chicago. We used to go to a place called Zoey’s. We’d see this guy, Wayne Cochran, and the CC Riders. He was like a white version of Otis Redding. It was a supper club and they had the top show bands in Milwaukee performing. It was really cool to go up there and do that.
We were on a ferry [once] and my brother had his head out looking at the lake and someone had gotten seasick above him and threw up. And he pulled his head up and we laughed so hard. Somebody had barfed on him.
What do you recall of your first introduction to Summerfest?
The people there were pretty wild. Lots of beer. Lots of food. And lots of music. And it seemed like everyone had a good time. There weren’t any fights. Everyone was polite and happy to be there sharing their space. You couldn’t have asked for a lovelier event.
What should people in Milwaukee expect from the show?
It’ll be a rocking show. We have beautiful production. Both bands are hitting it on both cylinders and it should be a night of hits and singing and partying. There are millions of dollars of production we’re bringing in to make it a real rock show. So, we’re happy to bring that sonic quality to Milwaukee — showing fans what a real rock show looks like.
Go See It: Journey with Def Leppard at Summerfest: American Family Insurance Amphitheater, July 4, 7:30 p.m.