The members of Journey probably felt like they were entitled to an easy year as they planned 2022.
Along with pandemic and industry turmoil issues faced by the entire industry, the veteran group had already endured a series of unpleasant episodes that had led to the dismissal of Steve Smith and Ross Valory (not for the first time) in 2020. The associated legal action had seen classic-era singer Steve Perry side with the fired men. But with a new lineup in place and an album tracked during 2021, surely the following year would be a good one? There would prove to be both soaring highs and plummeting lows ahead – starting minutes before 2022 began.
Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronovo, Arnel Pineda, Jason Derlatka and Todd Jensen – yet another lineup, with Castronovo and Jensen appearing in place of recently announced new recruits Narada Michael Walden and Randy Jackson – had just completed a live appearance on ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, when an admittedly “overserved” Andy Cohen blasted the band on rival network CNN. “If it’s not Steve Perry, it’s not Journey,” Cohen exclaimed. “It’s propaganda! Not Journey!” He was calmed down by co-host Anderson Cooper but the damage had been done. Cohen was shame-faced the next day, but Schon had his own response: “F the haters we are great,” he tweeted.
Just days later, former singer Jeff Scott Soto reignited an old blaze regarding his brief time with the band. According to him, he’d been given full member status after replacing Steve Augeri in 2006, then dismissed without discussion less than a year later. Asked in an interview why he’d been dropped, Soto replied: “The problem is I don’t know. That’s the problem. If I knew what the problem was, if I knew the reason why I got fired, then at least I could be at peace with it; I could find a way to discuss it or talk about it. But I’m not legally supposed to talk about it. … It got to the point where we had to take it [to the] legal side of things.”
Schon offered his side of the story, saying that when Augeri’s “voice gave out” while Journey had touring commitments, he’d asked Soto – a side-project colleague – to step in. Afterwards, though, “all were not sold on him being the lead singer after writing a tune and listening.” He said he and Cain had both agreed “it didn’t sound right – or, better put, what we wanted.”
Schon added another point later, after being asked by a fan why Soto had had to wait 14 years for an explanation. The guitarist said the singer had been told at the time, adding: “It’s not my problem he can’t accept it. This is all just rehashed rubbish for PR, maybe because we just played to 50M all over the world… on ABC.”
3. Back in the Saddle Again
Journey hit the road in February 2022 for their Freedom tour, probably relieved that it was time for the music to do the talking again.
Castronovo revealed that he’d discovered his return to the band was permanent via a public tweet by Schon. The drummer had been dumped in 2015 after his life spun out of control due to addiction issues, but remained in contact with Schon. After Narada Michael Walden replaced Smith in 2020 it seemed there was no room for Castronovo – until Schon announced a two-drummer setup for two shows in 2021, then said the change was permanent.
“Neal wrote and put something up, I think it was on Twitter, but he said, ‘Yeah, Deen’s back in the band,’” Castronovo explained later. “I didn’t even know, dude! They didn’t even tell me this .… I called Neal instantly and I said, ‘Is this for real, bro? Is THIS for real?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, bro, we’re going to try this two-drummer thing and see how it works.’”
It didn’t – Walden soon left, leaving Castronovo as soul sticksman. “I think for what Neal was looking for, he thought just keeping it as a five-piece would probably be the best thing,” he reflected.
Later in the tour, Castronovo revealed that Pineda was enjoying a new lease of life after dealing with performance issues he’d faced for more than a decade without being helped to find a solution. “He’s been struggling, and we brought a vocal coach out who is fantastic,” the drummer said. “A lot of it was mental as well as physical, but once we got [a new] soundman and once things got turned down and he was able to hear, [everything was different].”
He added: “To think that [Pineda’s] been struggling with this for 14 years, he said. I had no idea. I think it was something that he didn’t know if he had the liberty to say, ‘Hey, I need to fix this,’ or ‘You guys need to try something different here.’” He described Pineda as “a different guy” and continued: “Oh my God, it blew us away. I think it’s been 15 shows since that [change], and every night, he sounds amazing.”
In March, Journey were the subject of an SNL sketch inspired by a marching band version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” which saw Bowen Yang playing a dinner guest who horrified his companions with his fandom.
Even higher-profile coverage soon followed, with the band featured on the soundtrack to the fourth season of Stranger Things. While the show would become most noted for rebooting Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” the inclusion of “Separate Ways (World Apart)” did Journey no harm. The re-imagined version included suggestions from Perry; composer Bryce Miller said: “He wanted the vocals to be brought out a little bit more in some places and just a refinement of some details. It was really cool to work with him and he had some really nice things to say. One of his favorite things now in his career is hearing these songs that he wrote decades ago get new life and be brought to new generations and new demographics through things like Stranger Things.”
For fans who might have agreed with the sentiments echoed on TV on New Year’s Eve, Cain had some interesting comments on 15th studio album Freedom, saying it was heavily based on their most successful LP, 1981’s Escape. “I said, ‘How did Escape unfold? How did it appear to the listener?’ and went from there,” he explained. “I figure, well, we’re gonna start out with a piano, just like ‘Don’t Stop Believin.’ So ‘Together We Run,’ it pulls the listener in and it’s a hopeful song, similar to ‘Don’t Stop Believin,’’and then, ‘What was the next song on Escape?’ and we just went from there.”
He also described himself as a Journey fan. Given what was to follow later in the year, some of Escape’s song titles seem ironic – notably “Together We Run,” “Don’t Give Up on Us” and “United We Stand.”
Weeks after the album’s arrival, some of the underground problems within the band bubbled to the surface, in the form of Schon’s revelations about having spent several years trying to secure control of the organization. Saying he’d “managed to get out of the clenches of the old management” during the 2020 dispute, he added that he’d “fought so hard with everybody: management and accountants and lawyers. I was being threatened by every attorney – even my own at some times. I was gonna be sued by everybody, just to [make me] back off. They really tried scare tactics. I went: ‘Fucking bring it, man. I’ve got the goods. Just try to fuck with me.’”
The sharp end of another thorny issue was shown when Schon discussed an appearance of some members at Donald Trump’s White House in 2018, led by Cain, while the guitarist kept away. “The answer to that question is to leave it alone,” Schon said. “I think that everybody is entitled to their opinion or what they think is correct for themselves. None of us ever agree — not just Jon, but many other people that I know. So I keep my political views to myself.”
Despite Schon’s attempt to keep the peace and return the focus to music, Perry launched a legal petition in September, aiming to cancel trademarks filed by Schon and Cain for 20 Journey songs. The former frontman alleged their attempt to secure merchandising rights violated an earlier agreement that required the “unanimous consent of all partners” – including him.
Schon responded by saying that the earlier agreement had been signed “under duress,” claiming it had been “forced upon us all to sign … 10 minutes before we were to go on in Hawaii at a string of five sold-out shows.” He added that then-manager Herbie Herbert had told them Perry “was not going to go on without us signing. Herbie claimed he didn’t know what else to do, so he suggested we sign… not having any time for any other legal to look at it.”
Separately, he reported that all the problems that were surfacing formed the aftermath of his attempts to declutter Journey’s legal positions, and that’s what had led to the 2020 showdown. “They knew all this time I’d been investigating our trademarks for years,” he said, adding that he’d been “trying to get to the bottom of all the corruption.” He continued: “They all went for a takeover and it didn’t work. Quite simple.”
In November, the uneasy accord between the longest-standing members came to a head in the most spectacular fashion, with Schon suing Cain for having “improperly restricted” access to a company credit card. His lawyers claimed the action was being “brought to turn the lights on, so to speak, and obtain critical financial information Schon has been trying to obtain but has been denied.”
The guitarist’s argument was that Nomota, the corporation the pair formed in 1998, agreed 50-50 ownership, and that Cain had gone on to set up the card “without Schon’s consent or knowledge, with only Cain as the account holder.” Schon reported: “The only comment I’ll make at this time is it’s all very unfortunate,” explaining that he’d been trying to resolve the issue behind the scenes for “over a year.”
Naturally, that wasn’t the end of it. Cain took the gloves off in his response, claiming his colleague was at fault after running up “enormous personal charges” on the account. “I am forced to publicly respond now to Neal’s malicious lies and personal attacks on my family and I, in an effort to garner public support for his ill-conceived lawsuit — a lawsuit that has absolutely no merit,” the keyboardist said. He added: “What he lacks – and what he is really seeking – is the ability to increase his spending limits.”
Schon replied: “Cain is lying as I do not have full access as he states… Transparency is all I’m asking for. Is that too much to be asking of a 50/50 partner? There’s no skating around this.”
Amid the turmoil – and in what might be seen as a positive move – Journey appointed a new manager, Mike Kobayashi, who was already working with Def Leppard. Perhaps the leading pair hoped another voice in the room could calm the situation.
Cain’s support for Trump (his wife is a leading religious advisor to his organization) came back to kick the feuding pair when Schon filed a cease-and-desist order, calling on Cain to stop playing Journey songs at Republican political rallies. The keyboardist dismissed the move, saying: “Schon is just frustrated that he keeps losing in court and is now falsely claiming that the song has been used at political rallies.”
Schon branded the suggestion “infuckingsane” and telling his bandmate to “get off the Kool-Aid.” He continued: “Wow – lies after lies. I’ve won one case in court with Cain and the residing one has not been heard yet.” He posted a 2017 interview in which Cain said Journey’s music should not be connected with politics and argued: “One word – hypocrite – just have a listen.”
Cain demanded that the guitarist “look in the mirror when he accuses me of causing harm to the Journey brand.” He said he’d been the “victim” of “bizarre behavior” displayed by Schon and his wife, adding: “Neal sued Live Nation twice, losing both times, and damaging our ability to ever work with them again; Neal outrageously tried to take away trademarks from Steve Perry; Neal and his wife continually insult the professionalism of numerous accountants, road managers, and management firms with endless legal threats and their bullying, toxic, and incoherent emails; Neal argues online with fans who don’t see eye to eye with him; and Neal and his wife recklessly spend Journey’s money until there is none left for operating costs. If anyone is destroying the Journey brand, it is Neal — and Neal alone.”
With few of 2022’s issues resolved by the year’s end, Journey face the future with their Freedom tour set to recommence in less than four weeks’ time.
It’s clearly impossible to predict what kind of mercurial turns the story might take in the days ahead. Will it be a case of separate travel while Schon and Cain ignore each other on stage? Will one absent himself from the trip, by choice or by force? Can the new manager find a compromise that keeps everyone together? Will the other members of the band find a way to keep rocking through the turmoil?
Responding to fans’ comments during 2022, Schon was keen to emphasize that, no matter what happened, he didn’t plan to give up on the band. When one wondered if it was all over, he replied: “It’s not, I guarantee you.” When another said, “you can put a fork in Journey as it seems to be done,” he argued, “Nah… Journey means forever changing.”
He’s certainly right about that.
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