Journey’s Neal Schon v. Everyone: Will Band Members Go ‘Separate Ways’?
The band is fighting over a member's Mar-a-Lago performance, suing over the group's Amex account, and hiring and firing managers. But it's still filling arenas.
Early in Journey’s 2022 arena tour, lead guitarist Neal Schon became convinced people were out to get him. So he stationed two off-duty police officers outside his dressing room, according to sources familiar with the tour. And at a Florida show last spring, Schon and his wife, Michaele, sent an assistant into keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s dressing room to snoop around — to find what, the sources have no idea.
Cain caught the assistant red-handed, and then hired an off-duty officer to guard his own dressing room, the sources say. So for much of the tour — which sold 296,000 tickets and grossed $31.9 million, according to Billboard Boxscore — two of the three musicians who wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and performed it every night for decades squabbled over whether one guard outranked the other in the event of a dispute between Schon and Cain. “That’s just the level of pettiness and control and conspiracy they came to believe in,” a source says of the Schons.
From the outside, Journey’s business might seem easy — perform hits like “Wheel in the Sky,” “Any Way You Want It” and “Who’s Crying Now” in arenas and watch the money roll in. Most of those guitar-piano-and-whoa-oh-oh classics are from the ’80s, when Journey dominated rock radio and MTV, scoring eight multiplatinum albums and six top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles, and becoming a bridge between ’70s regular-guy bands like Boston, Styx and Kansas and the more dangerous-looking Bon Jovis and Mötley Crües of subsequent years.
Journey has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, according to a recent lawsuit involving the band, and Billboard Boxscore reports a career gross of more than $352.5 million on sales of 7.6 million tickets. Journey has also cleaned up on synch licensing for decades — the iconic final scene of The Sopranos in 2007 famously used “Don’t Stop Believin,’ ” and the band’s songs have appeared in Caddyshack (“Any Way You Want It”), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (“Faithfully”) and last year’s season of Stranger Things (“Separate Ways [Worlds Apart]”). And the group’s 2022 tour was one of its biggest ever, nearly doubling the pace of its previous standalone tour in 2017, which took 67 shows to gross $31.7 million.
Recently, though, simmering, passive-aggressive, behind-the-scenes tension between Schon and Cain has blown up into dueling lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters, including one over Cain’s performance at Mar-a-Lago. Journey is hardly the only group to tour and make albums amid acrimony between band members; examples include Sam & Dave, The Kinks and Van Halen. But Journey’s personality conflicts have spread to its business far more than most, and sources say the Schons have run off business and road managers, accountants and longtime band members. In February, Journey’s longtime bank, City National, cut ties with the band, according to sources, hampering the group’s ability to easily pay its day-to-day touring expenses. Even Journey’s official webpage abruptly stopped operating for several weeks in early February before it recently reappeared.
At the Jan. 27 opening show of Journey’s 2023 arena tour, which runs through April, Cain and Schon stood at least 20 yards apart at all times, on opposite sides of the stage at the Choctaw Grand Theatre in Durant, Okla. The 3,000 fans singing along to hit after hit clearly energized the band, especially frontman Arnel Pineda, who sprinted and twirled around the stage. But Cain and Schon barely looked at each other, even when Cain sang these lines from “Faithfully,” the 1983 hit he wrote: “Circus life under the big-top world/ We all need the clowns to make us smile/ Through space and time, always another show.” Another show: Check. Circus life: Check. Shared smiles: Absent.
Neal Schon has been litigious for years. In 2007, he sued his ex-wife’s mother-in-law for blogging that he didn’t pay child support. The mother-in-law, who has since died, said she didn’t say that and the case was eventually dismissed. (After the publication of this story, Schon texted to point out that he had sued The Daily Mail for running a story based on the blog that referred to Schon as a “deadbeat dad,” which led to a settlement with terms that included a public apology from the British tabloid. “It was all false and damaging,” Schon said by text.) In 2019, he sued Live Nation, then-promoter for the band. And in 2020, along with Cain, he sued then-Journey drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory.
That lawsuit settled in April 2021, for undisclosed terms, and Smith and Valory soon left the band, leaving Schon and Cain to publicly turn on each other in the months that followed. In October, Schon sued Cain in Superior Court in Contra Costa County, Calif., for “improperly” refusing him access to a corporate American Express account representing “millions in Journey funds.” In Cain’s Jan. 13 response, he accused Schon of “completely out-of-control” spending, charging the band’s American Express card for what Cain said were $1 million in personal expenses, including — in a single month last spring — $104,000 for jewelry and clothes, $31,000 to the Bergdorf Goodman department store and $54,000 toward his insurance premiums.
The dispute between Schon and Cain even involves Trump. Cain is married to the ex-president’s spiritual advisor, Paula White-Cain, and he performed “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” at Mar-a-Lago. He also appeared at a Las Vegas “Evangelicals for Trump” event three months before the 2020 presidential election. In December, Schon sent a cease-and-desist letter that called Cain’s Mar-a-Lago performance “deleterious to the Journey brand as it polarizes the band’s fans and outreach.” (Cain declined to comment and Pineda did not respond to interview requests.)
This combative back-and-forth might suggest the central tension in Journey is between Schon and Cain, the remaining members of the group’s megastar era. But numerous music sources who have worked with the band over the years say the lead guitarist is obsessed with controlling the band with Michaele, a fan since childhood, who took an interest in Journey’s affairs soon after their 2013 wedding. The actual conflict, they say, isn’t Schon vs. Cain, but rather Schon vs. everyone. “He’s just an impossible human being,” says an industry source, who has worked with the band. “Jonathan, he’s a good guy: ‘I wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and I’m blessed.’ Neil’s just ‘I’m a superstar.’ ”
The source refers to a 2018 Tampa Bay Times concert review in which critic Jay Cridlin praised the band’s onstage tribute to the late Aretha Franklin. Schon directly emailed Cridlin afterwards, demanding he change the review — it was Schon who orchestrated the Franklin tribute, not the entire band, as Cridlin had reported. In a Times story he published later about his exchange with Schon, Cridlin wrote, “It seemed odd that Schon would go out of his way to make sure readers knew his bandmates had nothing to do with it.”
The son of a professional singer and a jazz saxophonist and composer, Schon was a teenage guitar hotshot in the early ’70s, when Eric Clapton invited him to jam with Derek and the Dominos onstage at Berkeley Community Theatre, near his home in the Bay Area. Word got around, and both Clapton and Carlos Santana made offers to Schon to join their bands. At 17, Schon picked Santana, then in its post-Woodstock prime, before forming Journey in 1973.
Four years later, frontman Steve Perry ushered Journey into its FM-radio golden age. Perry became the face of the band as Cain underpinned the songwriting with Broadway-style piano and melancholy verses, and Schon electrified the earworms, matching every catchy chorus and Perry high note with a melodic guitar solo.
Over the years, as happens with many successful rock bands, Journey’s business grew into a jigsaw puzzle of financial deals worked out over decades of negotiation. Perry, who quit for good in 1997, landed a deal in which he still makes 1/41 of the band’s net income from recording royalties and touring, after management fees and other expenses. Which means he pocketed roughly $400,000 in 2022 from Journey’s tour alone, according to sources, while sitting at home making TikToks about how much he loves Harry Styles. The remainder is then split among Schon, Cain and Pineda, a cover band singer from the Philippines, whom Schon discovered on YouTube in 2007.
In the early 2010s, according to sources, Schon became more litigious and started spending more money, when he became serious with the former Michaele Ann Holt, whose Oakton, Va., high school friends in the ’80s called her Rock Chic Miss, according to Washingtonian. A Journey superfan and once a Real Housewives of D.C. cast member, Michaele first became famous with her ex-husband, Tareq Salahi, as the White House gate-crashers who joined former President Barack Obama’s 2009 state dinner without an invitation. Two years after that, Salahi reported his wife missing to the police and appeared on TV, begging for her return. “I swear to God, I’m missing my wife,” he said through tears. “This is not a joke.”
It came out later, in Salahi’s divorce filings, that when he made that plea, he neglected to mention that he had already received a call about his wife’s whereabouts. It came from Neal Schon. As Washingtonian reported, Schon told Salahi, “This is Neal. I am fucking your wife.”
In 2013, Neal married Michaele, in a pay-per-view wedding that cost viewers $14.95. One of the three dresses Michaele wore was by Oscar de la Renta. Neal wore a long black coat without a tie. Sammy Hagar and Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir attended. So did Omarosa Manigault, the Apprentice villain who later worked in — and still later turned against — the Trump Administration. The San Francisco wedding, held in a white tent, had a winter-wonderland theme, with 36 crystal chandeliers and a four-foot-tall, berry-and-custard white cake. Paying customers could watch for up to 12 hours — more than six times the length of a typical Journey concert. Journey performed, of course, and a portion of the pay-per-view gross went to typhoon relief, a cause Pineda favored. The wedding cost between $1 million and $3 million, according to music-industry sources familiar with the band’s finances.
After Michaele left Salahi for Schon, the couple began getting Journey’s publicists to work for them. Emails from the time show Neal and Michaele calling and emailing a publicist late at night, to tweak language and order photos for press releases about Michaele’s divorce. When a publicist responded to an 11:30 p.m. email by saying his business hours were 9 to 5, Neal responded, “sorry we didn’t fit into your biz hours. Lol.” At one point, the publicist emailed, “I rarely answer calls from numbers I don’t have saved. Michaele’s 12:28 a.m response: “Are you still up?”
After she married Schon, Michaele gradually became more involved in various aspects of Journey’s business: She asked to be copied on all band-related emails, according to multiple sources, and sometimes responded by CC’ing as many as 15 other addresses, including those of attorneys and other band employees.
In early 2021, after Smith and Valory settled their lawsuits and left the band, Schon became Journey’s manager.
By the time Schon started managing Journey, he and Michaele had spent six years scrutinizing trademarks and merchandise and ticket sales. And they came to one conclusion: Journey was getting screwed. That meant everyone had to go, so Schon fired or sued managers, accountants, bandmates and promoters, some of whom had worked with the group for decades. John Baruck, who managed the band for 20 years and oversaw its 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the hiring of Pineda as lead singer and the band’s post-Sopranos renaissance? Gone. Peter Mensch, also one of Metallica’s managers at Q Prime? Gone. Smith and Valory? Gone, when Schon and Cain jointly sued them for $10 million, claiming the two “launched a coup” to take control of the Journey name and “set themselves up for retirement.”
“I took the bull by the horns and started cleaning things up,” says Schon, 68, with matter-of-fact rock star charm on Zoom audio last summer, throwing in a “ha!” or two to illustrate the absurdity of the music business. “It was a mess, I have to tell you, business-wise. It was set up to be chaotic, so you would never be able to have a clue of how messed up it was.”
Schon and Cain took over as Journey’s co-managers in early 2021, splitting the standard 15% fee. (Cain shared some of his 7.5% with Pineda, according to sources.) The idea was to bring order to the business chaos. “I believe the government calls it ‘chaos merchants,’ ” Schon says, in a charming non sequitur, with a soft-spoken laugh. But Schon also created chaos of his own, sources say.
In 2019, the Schons filed a lawsuit against Live Nation, which promoted Journey’s tours, after Michaele alleged that a security employee at the band’s show at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., “violently assaulted” her and threw her into a PA system while she was taking photos near the stage. (Video on YouTube that seems to show the incident includes no evidence of violence, but it’s blurry, distant and missing several crucial seconds of the alleged confrontation.)
The Schons fired three different law firms that represented them in that case, including one that cited an “irretrievable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.” They also stopped responding to discovery requests and court orders, prompting an Allen County Superior Court judge to mandate a court appearance. When they didn’t show up, the judge held the Schons in contempt and dismissed the suit last March.
In early 2020, Schon and Cain filed their California Superior Court lawsuit against Valory and Smith, claiming the duo’s “coup” to take over one of the band’s business entities, Nightmare Productions Inc., “placed their own greed before the interests of the band, sowing discontent and discord, jeopardizing the future of Journey.” In a counter-complaint, Valory said Schon and Cain were “deceptive, misleading and false,” and that he and Smith tried to protect Journey from their bandmates’ attempts to trademark logos and song titles to use on merchandise for Schon’s side project, Neal Schon Journey Through Time, which toured briefly in 2019. (Valory, who is no longer in the band, did not respond to interview requests; reached on his cellphone, Smith said, “No, I won’t do a phone interview on or off the record, and if you don’t mind, I have to go.”)
After Schon’s enthusiastic Zoom interview last summer, he declined all further requests to comment. Skip Miller, his attorney, responded to an email list of questions by saying, “Please be advised that your email, and the questions and matters therein, are largely incorrect.” He would not specify which parts were incorrect, but said: “As the band’s founder and leader, Mr. Schon puts Journey above all else. Unlike another band member, he doesn’t think Journey should be involved in politics on any side, red, blue or whatever.” Later, he added, “For Neal Schon, it’s all about making great music for Journey’s fans.”
Journey’s blockbuster 2022 ended with Schon suing Cain, his final remaining bandmate from the “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” years. Schon v. Cain, the legal dispute over the band’s American Express account, is pending in California Superior Court, and representatives for both sides would not comment. By early December, Def Leppard manager Mike Kobayashi confirmed Journey had hired him to take over management from Schon and Cain.
By early February, sources say, Kobayashi was no longer manager.
Over Zoom last summer, Schon says he became suspicious of the people handling Journey’s affairs before he started doing it himself. At one point — he won’t give the date or context — he asked band accountants how many fans attended each amphitheater show he played. “You did OK,” came the response, according to Schon. “You didn’t do as well as two years ago, when you had 19,000. You had 18,500, or 17,000.” His conclusion: The band’s representatives were lowballing him.
So, Schon says, “I would pay guys in the parking lot and say, ‘How many cars are here tonight?’ And they’d say ‘Dude, they’re plus-five miles out’ — that means about 23,000. With a band like Journey, that has hits like Journey has, you can’t just try to squash them down in a box and make them believe that they’re no longer big.”
During Journey’s business purge of the last few years, one of the managers Schon fired was Irving Azoff, the uber-manager who represents the Eagles, John Mayer, Jon Bon Jovi, Gwen Stefani and others. Azoff wouldn’t comment for this story, but in his lawsuit against Live Nation, Schon says he developed a “medical condition” and criticizes Azoff for nixing “continued off-duty law enforcement protection” for the Schons during the band’s tour. In exchange for forgoing personal security, Azoff agreed to provide the Schons with private-jet transportation, according to the lawsuit. (Neither Azoff nor Baruck — Azoff’s former college roommate, who worked at his management company for years — would comment.)
Azoff’s team, Schon says on Zoom, “ended up doing some great things,” but frustratingly kept the band in amphitheaters when he insisted to managers for years that Journey should be headlining arenas. “What I did was follow my gut instinct, and it was just time to move on,” he says. “We tried Q Prime for a second, and it seemed like it was going to be alright, but, you know, politics come into play.” (A rep for Q Prime declined to discuss Journey.)
By then, Schon thought, “We don’t need these guys, man,” as he remembers telling Cain. “I swear to God, I’m mostly doing everything, anyway.”
Over the last few years, as Schon and Cain managed Journey, they had help from CAA agent Jeff Frasco and AEG Live CEO Jay Marciano. (Neither would comment for this story.) On Zoom, Schon lists Journey’s switch from sheds to arenas as his top accomplishment as manager, and some in the concert business agree. “It’s a much bigger statement for a band to headline an arena than a single day at an amphitheater,” says New York promoter John Scher, who booked the band in the ’80s. “Could they be doing better with a different manager? They seem to be doing OK now.”
Schon’s other business priority is Journey trademarks. He says he was amazed to learn that since 1973, Journey hadn’t trademarked its name or logo, despite selling T-shirts for years at venues, as well as retailers from Walmart to Neiman Marcus. After the Schons realized this, in 2019, Neal and Cain registered 20 of the band’s song titles with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for use on T-shirts, caps and hoodies. (Since Journey’s songs and the recordings are already protected by copyright, this would only cover the song titles for use on merchandise.)
“I’d introduce myself to the CEO and I’d say, ‘I’m Neal Schon, the founding member of Journey, and I now own the trademark for all Journey material. And you guys have kind of gotten yourself in a weird position here, because you’ve been selling tons of Journey merchandise for decades, and we’re seeing peanuts, and I’d like to have an electronic audit,’ ” Schon recalls. “Then a legal team would get on the phone with myself and my wife and they’d say, ‘Well, you know, we weren’t really selling it under the name Journey.’ And I’d go, ‘Well, that’s kind of laughable. I have boxes and cases of stuff in my living room and it’s just from your store and it all says Journey on it.’ ” (A Walmart spokesperson said the company was “not aware of any unlicensed Journey-branded products being sold by Walmart.” A Neiman Marcus spokesperson said he would “need to look into” Schon’s claims, then didn’t respond to follow-up inquiries.)
In fact, the Journey “mark” has been the subject of many years of negotiation among past and present band members. In 1985, the band’s company Nightmare Productions licensed it to a separate partnership, Elmo Partners — Perry, Schon and Cain — according to the complaint in Schon v. Valory.
In a September filing to cancel the trademarks with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office’s trial and appeal board, Perry declared that Schon and Cain sold the rights to the songs they co-wrote and once owned. As of 2019, according to Merck Mercuriadis, CEO and managing partner of U.K. song-investment firm Hipgnosis, his company owns all recording royalties and publishing that previously belonged to Schon, Cain, Valory, Smith and Herbie Herbert, an early longtime manager who died in 2021. Perry argued that Schon and Cain no longer retained the standing to trademark the songs. Plus, the trio’s 1985 Elmo agreement requires “unanimous agreement and consent” among Schon, Cain and Perry to use a trademarked song for T-shirts or other products.
In his filing to cancel the Schon-Cain song trademark action, which cost him $12,000 in fees, Perry accused the duo of making knowingly “false or misleading” statements. In January, Perry abruptly dropped the motion to cancel the trademarks. Schon used the occasion to rip his current bandmate — Cain — on Twitter: “So much for [Cain] trying to throw me under the bus as he claimed I was blatantly trying to rip off [Perry] while collecting the checks for the very diligent work my wife and I did to protect our Merch.”
While federal trademark registration can be important, Journey already had other ways to assert its rights to logos or song titles associated with the band that appear on merchandise. The band could have protected its holdings through “common-law rights,” says Michael N. Cohen, a Beverly Hills, Calif., an intellectual-property lawyer who specializes in trademarks and represents classic rock bands: “Just by virtue of using the mark, you’ve acquired some degree of rights, but those rights are limited.” In other words, Journey has always had the right to make merchandise deals — just by being Journey.
With Kobayashi gone, Schon seems to have taken over again as manager — with the help of Michaele, whom he recently praised on Instagram for serving as the band’s road manager in 2022, even though the band employed experienced road managers throughout the tour. (Kobayashi didn’t respond to requests for comment.)
By February, Journey may have also lost its bank, and with it the ability to easily pay employees and cover expenses on the road. (A representative from City National declined to comment.) As manager, though, Schon understands an important thing about Journey: If the band puts out a new album every now and then — like last year’s Freedom, which didn’t do nearly as well as its classic ’80s material — the arena dates will keep rolling in.
“Let’s be honest: There’s no new Journey fans,” says Brock Jones, a veteran Nashville and Philadelphia promoter and consultant. “It’s about playing the right markets, playing the right rooms, pricing the right tickets and making sure the package is correct.”
At the Choctaw Grand Theatre, before boisterous fans singing along to every “na-na,” Cain manned his red piano at stage right, while Schon soloed constantly at stage left. After the finale, “Any Way You Want It,” the six band members lined up and group-hugged and fist-bumped, happy to perform again after several months off for the holidays. But Cain and Schon stood at opposite ends of the line. They did not hug each other. They did not bump fists with each other. Finally, Schon bounded off-stage — by himself.
Additional reporting by Bill Donahue.