The anthemic pop-rock fueling Journey’s greatest hits might not have been possible without keyboardist Jonathan Cain.
The former member of The Babys joined Journey in 1980 as the jazz-influenced band was developing a more radio-friendly sound.
Cain, working closely with co-founder Neal Schon and lead singer Steve Perry, helped shape the songs — and tone — for “Escape,” Journey’s biggest album success. The 1981 record spawned three major hits, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Open Arms,” and set the template for a series of popular records.
“They asked me to join without any audition,” recalls Cain, who performs with Journey 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at Revel in Atlantic City.
“We had no idea what the chemistry would be with the songwriting. It turned out to be an easy way to go — we just really clicked.
Journey split in 1987 and re-formed briefly in 1995 to record “Trial By Fire,” before disbanding again due to Perry’s health issues. The band got back together in 1998 without Perry, and has been together ever since, although with some lineup changes.
Cain, ahead of Journey’s A.C. show, talks about how “Escape” changed Journey’s trajectory and why the band is unlikely to deviate from its musical formula.
Q: You joined Journey just before its commercial peak. What did you bring to the table?
A: Steve Perry and I and (co-founder) Neal Schon had a lot in common with mutual backgrounds and what we were trying to do. We liked the same hit records. I could take Neal’s ideas and present them to Steve, and put a spin on them and a face on them. I knew knew we had great musical components and great creative energy, but we had to find it.
Q: The “Escape” album really established Journey’s new pop direction. Was it a tough sell for the band to move in that direction?
A: I had seen the band for months and watched them on the road every night and listened to them and studied them. When it was time for me to step in, they were very open to change. That allowed me to help them move on to the next place in their sound. They evolved because they wanted to evolve. I probably would have gone along with the program. I was just happy to be in the band. But they drafted me to be that guy. We crafted it together — it was fun.
Q: “Faithfully,” which you wrote for “Frontiers,” is probably one of the most-played rock ballads. What inspired the song?
A: I noticed the crew in the band had to sacrifice quite a bit when they did the tours. They were missing a lot. I saw them on the phone talking to their wives and girlfriends. I thought it would be great to have a song where we could salute our loved ones. What it is to be away from your loved ones. I wrote that one for all of us, all of us who sacrifice their home life to be on the road. At the end of the day, you have to say to your significant other, I’m forever yours, faithfully.
Q: You continue to make your own records and collaborate with others outside Journey. Do those projects influence your work with the band?
A: When Neal and I get together for Journey, it’s Journey, it’s separate. We focus on what we’re supposed to do and what we’re supposed to sound like.
Q: Journey has done well with recent albums “Revelation” and “Eclipse.” Do you have anything new in the works?
A: The fans now want to hear the hits or something that sounds like the hits. If we make another album, we’ll stay closer to home with what Journey fans would want.
Q: You’re a consultant on a boutique wine label called Finale. What are the parallels between making wine and making music?
A: We both begin with the end in mind. I find that winemakers are soulful people that inspire me. They start with dirt and plant material and end up making art in a glass. We have some lyrics and some licks and try to make something memorable. All of it is very similar. We’re looking constantly for the parallels.
Journey’s Oprah moment
When Journey needed to hire a new lead singer in 2007, the band’s search led via YouTube to the Philippines and Arnel Pineda.
“There already was a Steve Perry — we didn’t want another one,” keyboardist Jonathan Cain says in reference to the lead singer for the band’s biggest hits. “We wanted someone with their own sound who could still pull off the Journey experience.”
By hiring the lead singer of Journey tribute band The Zoo, the group took a chance with someone who had no major performing experience.
“We rolled the dice on him — we thought what do we have to lose, we believed in him,” Cain says. “Once we met him him and he came over, we fell in love with the heart of the guy.”
As chronicled in the new documentary, “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” and a 2009 episode of “Oprah,” Pineda had a powerful personal story to match his powerful vocals.
“He’s been there and back, homeless and hungry,” Cain says. “He climbed back from a lot of obstacles. That gives you a lot of character.”