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Journey Fires Rhythm Section Over Attempted “Coup”

DONINGTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 14: Arnel Pineda and Neal Schon of Journey perform on the main stage on day 3 of the Download Festival at Donington Park on June 14, 2009 in Donington, England. (Photo by Neil Lupin/Redferns)

Journey’s principal members, guitarist and founding member Neal Schon and keyboardist Jon Cain, have fired drummer Steven Smith and bassist Ross Valory after alleging an attempted “coup” by the rhythm section duo which led to a lawsuit being filed in California on Tuesday (March 3).

In the lawsuit, Schon and Cain claim the fired pair concocted a “scheme” that was “not only malicious but also very ill-conceived” in order to “hold the Journey name hostage” and “provide them with wind-fall payments for their retirement.”

From the complaint: “Smith and Valory are acting solely out of their personal greed, disregarding the future of Journey and destroying the chemistry, cohesion and rapport necessary for the band to play together.”

Smith and Valory were longtime members of the band. Smith was with the band for three stints (1978 to 1985, 1995 to 1998, 2016-2020). Valory was a founding member of Journey but was fired in 1985. He rejoined Journey in 1995 before his most recent departure.

According to the lawsuit, Smith and Valory announced their retirement plans and proceeded to orchestrate a takeover of one of Journey’s corporate entities, Nightmare Productions, in order to receive a share of Journey’s touring revenue in perpetuity “while they perform absolutely no work for the band.”

Cain and Schon said that Smith and Valory, due to their mistaken belief that Nightmare Productions controls the Journey name, held improper shareholder and Board of Directors’ meetings in February in which Smith, Valory, and their allies voted to remove Cain as president of Nightmare Productions, replacing him with Smith, and to remove Schon as secretary, replacing him with Valory, leaving the defendants in control of Nightmare Productions.

Per a trademark licensing agreement dated Jan. 15, 1985, Cain and Schon say they hold all rights to the Journey name through their entity Elmo Partners which received “an exclusive irrevocable license of the Journey mark” from Nightmare Productions. As such, the pair say they exclusively control the Journey mark which includes the Journey name.

The complaint also stated that “Smith and Valory’s coup drove a dagger between band members. Smith and Valory have placed their own greed before the interests of the band, sowing discontent and discord, jeopardizing the future of Journey.” Smith and Vallory were given written notice on March 3, 2020, that they are no longer part of the band.

Schon and Cain are seeking in excess of $10 million in damages “and a declaratory judgment that Elmo Partners holds an exclusive, irrevocable license to the Journey Mark and that Cain and Schon solely and exclusively control the use of the Journey Mark and are expressly authorized to perform together as Journey, with or without anyone else.”

In a press release, Schon and Cain stated that Journey, which is fronted by longtime vocalist Arnel Pineda, will continue with a new rhythm section for their 60-plus city tour of North America that begins in May.

Journey was formed in San Francisco in 1973. Steve Perry was in Journey until 1987, left for a solo career, and came back again in the mid-nineties and left again in 1998. Schon is the only original member of Journey.