Interview with Jonathan Cain of Journey

Published in The Santa Barbara Sentinel

We all know the words and when the song plays, most everyone in earshot gets wide-eyed, giddy, and belts the chorus to the tops of their lungs.

Musician and songwriter Jonathan Cain is behind the ballad, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, an American classic that universally brings people together with fist pumps and high-fives.

Soon, we’ll hear it in real life when Jonathan and his band, Journey come to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday, September 1.

Mr. Cain was gracious enough to take a moment to explain some of his Journey, journey. Even Prince makes an appearance.

I read you took accordion lessons as a child.

I sure did!

What made you choose that particular instrument?

Well, my hands we too small to play the guitar back then.

I was eight years old.

We couldn’t afford a piano and I wanted to play music really bad.

At the time, it was the rage. Everyone was playing it.

I lived in an Italian neighborhood and learned all those Italian songs.

It drove all the guys wild so I was pretty popular. With the old guys, especially.

They loved me.

Was that the moment you decided music would be a lifelong companion?

Yeah, it really was. I’m writing a memoir actually right now. It’s called, “Don’t Stop Believing,” of course.

I lived right above an Italian Deli.

The boss of the store heard me play and said, “When you have ten songs, we’re going to close the store and do a concert.”

I thought that sounds like fun, I’m going to do that.

Sure enough, I ended up playing and it was terrific.

I told my father that’s what I wanted to do and he said, “Well if that’s your vision, son, I’ll share it with you. Something great is going to come out of it.”

People used to tease him and say, “What’s your son going to do with all those accordion lessons anyway?”

My father would look at them and say, “He’s going to be a famous songwriter and play in front of ten thousand people a night!”

That’s the way it was.

That’s amazing to have such family support!

Yeah, he covered me. I call him my “vision keeper”. 

To touch on the conversation you had with Prince…

I was down in LA working on an album. I think it was Michael Bolton or something.

I got a call from the record company that I needed to listen to something right away.

So, I dropped what I was doing and went.

They played me this track and said Prince is concerned that (Purple Rain) sounds too much like (Journey song) “Faithfully” and that he would change something if you’re not ok with it.

I listened to it and I get the similarity but they’re two different songs.

So they put him on the phone and I told him it was a great track and I loved the song.

He said, “Thank you, sir. Can I get you tickets when I come to San Francisco?”

He put me in the front row and threw a tambourine that had “Purple Rain” on it.

I still have the darned thing.

He didn’t have to call.

But I’m the writer of “Faithfully” so he wanted to check in.

It just shows what a classy guy he was.

My last and favorite questions, what advice would you give your younger self?

My younger self? Don’t stop believin’!  My dad was actually the one who told me that.

When I was struggling in L.A. I wasn’t sure if I should stay and tough it out.

And he said, “Son, I’ve always had a vision for you. Don’t stop believin’”.

So I wrote it down in my spiral notebook and that was it.

Did you start writing the song right after that conversation?

No, it wasn’t until Journey needed another tune on the Escape album.

I look in my notebook and saw it sitting there and I thought, “Steve Perry should sing this”.

How old were you when your dad said, “Don’t stop believin’?”

I was probably twenty-five.

It was back in the ‘70s and I was living in Laurel Canyon, trying to make it in the big show.

I slugged it out. Joined the band, The Babys with John Waite.

Then we opened up for Journey and I was in the band a year later.

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