Journey’s Schon And Cain Sue, Charging Bandmates With Attempted ‘Coup’

Erik Kabik
– Journey

Journey principal members Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain have told drummer Steven Smith and bassist Ross Valory to go their separate ways, alleging in a lawsuit the duo has launched a “corporate coup d’etat” by attempting to claim the rights to band’s trademarks. The suit was filed March 3 in California Superior Court in Contra Costa County and seeks $10 million in damages along with other declaratory relief.

Smith and Valory comprise Journey’s onetime rhythm section, and have been fired from the band, according to a statement from attorney Skip Miller.

According to the 65-page complaint, Smith and Valory are accused of holding an improper shareholder meeting Feb. 13 to oust Schoen and Cain from leadership roles in and take control of Nightmare Productions, the corporate entity that conducts part of the band’s business and owns the Journey Mark. 

Schoen and Cain contend that under a 1985 trademark license agreement, an “exclusive, irrevocable license of the Journey mark” was issued by Nightmare Productions to the two plaintiffs via another company, Elmo Partners, which originally included singer Steve Perry, according to the complaint.  

Under the terms of the agreement, the license provided to Elmo Partners “shall continue ‘until the date upon which not one of Stephen Perry, Neal Joseph Schon, or Jonathan Cain is actively engaged in a professional music career utiliizing the name “Journey,”‘ the complaint says. Perry left the band in 1997 and the following year another agreement was made authorizing Schon and Cain to control the use of the Journey name going forward “and expressly authorized them to perform together as Journey, with or without anyone else.”

The band has since toured successfully with various members, including current singer Arnel Pineda.

Smith and Valory are alleged to have conducted shareholder and Board of Director meetings of Nightmare Productions last month, during which they removed Cain as president, replacing him with Smith; and Schon as secretary, replaced by Valory.

The purpose, according to the complaint, was to force Schon, Cain and Nightmare Productions to “provide them with windfall payments after their retirement; they want to be paid a share of Journey touring revenue in perpetuity under the guise of a licensing fee while they perform absolutely no work for the band.”

Touring revenue would be substantial. In just the last three years, Journey has headlined arenas and amphitheaters, moving an average of 13,171 tickets per show for a gross of $1,235,202. Journey has a major summer shed tour on the books in 2020 with The Pretenders in support.

Valory and Smith were included in the band lineup that performed a residency Oct. 9 through Dec. 31 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, according to the press release announcing the run. Those are the last dates Journey has performed, according to Pollstar records.

The lawsuit accuses Smith and Valory of “self-dealing,” as they purportedly expressed an interest in retirement in recent months and used Nightmare Productions “as a tool to destroy the fabric of the band, undermining the very reason for Nightmare Productions’ existence,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit further states Smith and Valory “have destroyed the chemistry, cohesion and rapport necessary for the band to play together. Journey can only tour successfully and succeed creatively if it is united and the band members trust one another. The actions taken by Smith and Valory shattered that trust.” Had the “coup” succeeded, “it would have brought an end to a legendary band that has brought so much joy to millions of people all over the world,” the complaint adds.

Journey formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1973, out of the remnants of Santana. Only Schon remains from the original iteration with Cain and Perry joining later to form the core of the band that found arena rock success with 10 platinum albums, 18 Top 40 Singles, and more than 75 million albums sold worldwide. It was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017.

Valory and Smith have been intermittent members of Journey, with Valory leaving the band in 1985 only to return in 1995, and Smith departing in 1986 and returning in 2015.

Schon and Cain are represented by Skip Miller of law firm Miller Barondess, who stated, “This is not an action that Neal and Jon wanted to bring against two men that they once considered their brothers, but the devious and truculent behavior of Steve and Ross left them reluctantly with no choice but to act decisively. Journey will continue on with great success by ridding the band of disruptive members and replacing them with top musicians; and most importantly, by keeping its essential members – Schon, Cain and Pineda  –  fully intact.”