After a sold-out nine-show run at the Hard Rock Hotel two years ago, arena rock favorite Journey was already signed up for a second series of Las Vegas concerts before it was announced last year the band would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Call it perfect timing: The ceremony occurred just last month — it was broadcast on HBO Sunday — and Journey opens another nine-show run at the Joint on May 3.
We caught up with longtime band member, keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain to discuss Journey’s return to Las Vegas, the Hall of Fame and how the band’s memorable songs continue to resonate with fans.
What’s it like being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?Worth the wait. I think you appreciate things like that more when you get a little older and realize how rare it is, but it really hit me. It’s really about the fans. I was so moved by their participation in this thing. It makes you realize, again, that it’s the fans that got you there, and we loved being able to honor them for being loyal and faithful all these years. And this really puts you in an elite status where you have to wonder, man, we should be gone after all these years! Losing Steve [Perry] back in the day and reforming … it’s evidence God loves you when you get one of these.
Was it a more emotional moment because Steve was there for the induction? It was sweet. It was good to see him just being himself. He seemed very at ease, comfortable in his skin. It really just made it official, and it’s nice to be official.
Now I’m thinking how exciting it will be nominate guys I’d like to see in the hall, like Joe Cocker and Bad Company and Boston. I’m making a list. I mean, the Moody Blues? Come on! That was exceptionally cool music in its day, it was just a long time ago. Does anybody remember those days? I do. They are one of the reasons I wanted to play rock ‘n roll. “Nights in White Satin?” I wanted to play like that.
You are so closely attached to Journey songs everyone loves and remembers, having written “Faithfully” and co-written “Don’t Stop Believin’,” especially that opening piano line. People hear that opening part and just freak out when that song is coming on. It’s an honor to be attached that way, and lyrically I’m pretty attached to that song as well. I lived those days on Sunset Boulevard in the ’70s, the whole premise for the song. Living up in Laurel Canyon, dreaming of being a rock star some day. I got frustrated and would call my dad, and he actually said, “Don’t stop believing.” And I wrote it down. Okay, Dad, I won’t come back to Chicago. I’m gonna see it through. Sure enough, he was right, and the song went on to become a mega classic. Steve grew up the same way, wanting to sing in a famous band, and when we got a hold of that lyric together we crafted something kind of timeless. We were both dreamers and writing about doing it. It’s the “permission to dream” song.
You’re back at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. How did those initial 2015 shows feel? We really loved the intimate surroundings. I love playing smaller places where you can look the crowd in the eyes and they can see the sweat on your brow, it’s a nice, refreshing change from the arenas. It’s face to face. And Vegas crowds are different every night. You’ve got true fans out there and some looky-loos coming to check out out. You gotta bring it. And I like the idea that we can get our sound right and explore our catalog a little bit.
This year we’re going to play Escape and Frontiers back-to-back [on the Wednesday night shows], so we’re opening with “Don’t Stop Believin’” and closing with “Rubicon.” We did it in Tokyo a while back and we had a blast, so we thought, hey, let’s do it in Vegas.
Those are Journey’s seventh and eighth studio albums. There are a lot of hits packed into those records. It’s kind of retracing history there. When you put Escape on, that’s 1981, that’s what it sounded like. The closing song on that album is “Open Arms.” So yeah, [doing this] is a little random, but it’s fun. And who knows? Maybe it will bomb and we’ll know and mix it up a little more. But those are really good albums with collectively almost 20 million in sales. We did something right with those.
You also have longtime drummer Steve Smith back with the band for this run of shows. He has a lot of dimension and adds some different dynamics to the band. He brings a swing and an orchestral sound, and with him the ballads are second to none. We play them and it’s like being in the studio. He’s a wizard, and his solos are off the charts. Every night he’s doing something wild and great, and it’s a treat to play with a guy who sort of architecturally helped create the sound of Journey. He was integral to the sound of Escape and Frontiers for sure.
You live in Florida. Will you be spending all your time in Vegas during these shows? Are you planning to explore a bit? I will. I’m one of those foodie guys who gets out to try all the crazy new restaurants. I want to go to the Mob Museum. I love the desert and I’m a photographer so I want to go out and shoot some stuff out there, spend some time with nature. I’m gonna stay busy.
I always tell people God is alive and well in Las Vegas. It’s not Sin City, it’s a city of grace. Once you meet the people behind the scenes and see the community, you understand God has his hands on that town.
Journey performs at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel May 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 13, 17, 19 and 20. Tickets start at $59.50. For information, call 702-693-5000 or visit hardrocktel.com.