Formed in San Francisco in 1973 by ex-members of Santana (Neal Schon) and Frumious Bandersnatch (Ross Valory), Journey's own journey brought them from the progressive rock and jazz fusion of that decade to churning out monstrous hits in the '80s with songs like "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms." Since, the band has become household name across the world with subsequent generations discovering its music through the iconic use of its music in popular shows like The Sopranos and Glee.
Always active in one way or another, Journey's singer Steve Perry was an idol of the '80s and while his departure left a sizeable void in the lineup, a couple of singers soldiered on until the lasting inclusion of YouTube sensation, Filipino singer Arnel Pineda in 2007.
We had a chance to speak with longtime keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Jonathan Cain -- who also gained fame with the Babys and Bad English -- while Journey tours with Bay Area contemporaries Tower of Power and the Steve Miller Band.
"It's an honor and I've been grateful that I get to do this every year. God's been good to us, the fans have been good to us, and our music continues to be relevant," Cain told us over the phone from the road. "It's kinda like being a knight of the Round Table. It's cool how they all sat around together and celebrated together and defended the kingdom together, for us it's like that, we're part of a group, and it's an honor. Every year when we go on the road, it's like yeah, this is what I do! It's the same way for me, even after almost 40 years."
Cain was instrumental in shaping Journey's music during the '80s, with signature balladry and a softening of the pop rock sound the band is closely associated with these days. In 2011, in what is widely considered a departure from their proven formula, Journey released the heavy and prog-influenced album Eclipse, a Wal-Mart exclusive sale that had critics and fans divided.
"The way I look at it, this was Neal's baby, you know, his vision. He wanted to make sort of a concept album that, you know, had a theme. I think it was something I agreed to do with him since he's been behind me in all the ballads and the pop throughout the years. Let's face it, I mean 'Open Arms' (laughs)... He's given a lot over the years to Journey and this was his time to have a shot at his vision," Cain explained. He compared the departure in signature sound to the Beatles' shift with "Helter Skelter." "So this was our White Album," he continued. "I'm proud of some of the songs. When I listen to it, I think some of the songs are really outstanding."
But after all these years, Cain understands the perils of deviating from the accepted norm, though it was refreshing to see the group stand in defiance of radio-friendly play and give themselves a little musical break, it might be a while before new material gets recorded. "I really think that at this point, we have to stick to what we know and what the fans want and the fans like that mix of pop and rock. And if we were to make another record, we will always go back to what they want and maybe modernize that sound, take the '80s out of it."
However, Journey's roots isn't too far from the members' hearts, as this tour with seminal Bay Area outfits Tower of Power and the Steve Miller Band shows. "We wanted to do something special and we always wanted to work with Steve Miller and we knew the guys from Tower who played at Neal's wedding and Ross has a history with Steve going back," remarked Cain. "We were in the bus one night and were just sitting around thinking, 'Hey, what if we get a Bay Area tour going?' And Steve really made it in San Fran, and of course, became a megastar and left and did all kinds of interesting things, but it was there in San Francisco that he developed his sound."
First though, he explained that Miller had to get his second wind, get back in tip-top musical shape, and put together a band that he felt comfortable with on the road. Lucky for all, he made it happen. "He's a perfect songwriter and musician, and I admire him," Cain said. "He's the whole the package and it's been really great being on the road with him."
Journey's future might not have any new recorded material in it any time soon, but it doesn't mean that the band isn't looking for new ways to repackage its hits. "The next thing that we're looking at doing is something with the symphony, Hollywood Bowl has a concert coming up, and it should be a really interesting concert with a 100-piece orchestra. So we're kinda do a symphonic DVD that will hopefully will turn out good and be good enough to be our next release," revealed Cain, hinting that it might have the crossover appeal of Metallica's S&M, adding, "Certainly the music lends itself to being orchestral."
I had the good fortune of interviewing their drummer, Deen Castronovo back in 2013 and was taken aback by his humble appreciation of being part of this band. Jonathan Cain is no different, and one of the marquee moments of any live Journey affair is his keyboard solo which has varied slightly from tour to tour. "We can't play all of our ballads, so I said to Neal, 'I'm going to play a medley of all of our ballads, and if people throw stuff at me, I'll stop. But you know, let's see what happens.' And the first night I played it, they just went bonkers. It really gets them and it fits really well on the piano. So it's my privilege and honor to play our greatest hits as a medley (laughs)."
Journey with Tower of Power and the Steve Miller Band, 7 p.m., on Sunday, March 15, at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre (formerly Cruzan), 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost between $51 and $670 plus fees. Call 561-795-8883 or visit livenation.com.