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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Exclusive Interview: Jim Peterik of 'Ides of March' (Formerly of 'Survivor' and '38 Special' Fame) on His New Projects, Writing for Legends and How That 'Vehicle' Turned Into a Time Machine


Photo: Jim Peterik's Official Facebook

ICYMI

I was first introduced to Jim Peterik's work when I was still in diapers. In the 1970s my dad was music-obsessed and used his gigs in local radio to justify his growing vinyl collection. Growing just as quickly was his literal wall of stereo equipment. He would make several trips to a store called Stereo House before finally plunking down a wad of cash and walking out with a big box of something that he would spend the next several hours agonizing over. The sound had to be just right and one of his favorite songs to use in order to achieve that perfect musical balance was "Vehicle" by The Ides of March, a group co-founded by Peterik 55 years ago.

Aside from playing guitar, keys and being a vocalist, Peterik is also considered to be songwriting royalty. His work with 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, REO Speedwagon, and more has been top-notch, paving the way to a Grammy win for a little ditty called "Eye of the Tiger", a song by Survivor (another blockbuster group that he co-founded).

After more than fifty years in the industry, Peterik still has plenty to do. He is writing for the likes of The Beach Boys, still performing with The Ides of March, and recently released a single, "Proof of Heaven" with Dennis DeYoung off of his latest World Stage release, Winds of Change. I had a chance to chat with Peterik recently and it was like climbing into a musical time machine that I didn't want to step away from. Check it out below.

Photo: Jim Peterik's Official Facebook

Jim Peterik on working with Dennis DeYoung on "Proof of Heaven":

"The song with Dennis DeYoung was a long time coming because we've been friends for forty years or something. I had my first hit "Vehicle" with The Ides of March when he was just getting started. He was making the transition from Tradewinds (later TW4) to a group called Styx, while we were at the top of the charts. Here they come with this song called "Best Thing" and I thought, 'Oh boy' (laughing). We became friends and very friendly rivals at the same time, but we've always had a deep respect for each other. He recently moved nearby, to the suburbs of Chicago, and so we started just going to dinner together with our wives, with absolutely no agenda. Dennis started to tell me about his new band that is kind of Styx-y that he plays with now, and how he has been doing theatrical work and solo work, but he started to get really excited when telling me about how he wanted to get back into rock and roll. Of course, (laughing) I was the final nail in that coffin because I told him he had to make a new record. Yeah I know, they don't sell anymore, yadda yadda, I know, but people want to hear his voice. They want to hear his music, and so I just kept hammering him (laughing). He'll tell you that if it wasn't for me he probably wouldn't have done the album, but once he got started then he really reclaimed that sound that he was such a big part of creating with Styx.

"Proof of Heaven" is really kind of like proof of Dennis because it so echoes the Styx sound. I co-wrote it with him and I was very supportive of that sound. He asked me to put it on my World Stage album and I was stunned because it was supposed to be for his album. He really wanted it on this album and he wanted to do the video together and to just make it great, and so, of course, I said 'Hell yeah', (laughing). It was a beautiful thing and then when he gave me the green light we went into the studio with some of his band and some of the people that I work with. It was like a collective when we finally cut it, a hybrid of Dennis' world and my world.

I'm anxious for people to listen to World Stage because it's one of my highest moments. I got to work with some of my heroes and I'm really thankful to be able to blend old friends with new friends on this project."

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Photo: Jim Peterik's Official Facebook

Jim on the lightning in a bottle that is The Ides of March:

"It's a funny little story. I wrote the song "Vehicle" to try and win my girlfriend back and I guess it worked because 46 years later I'm still married to her (laughing). We never thought it was going to be a hit record. We already had one song out called "One Woman Man" which was great but it stiffed, so Warner Brothers dropped us. We were trying to win them back by putting a demo tape together and "Vehicle" was number four on this tape, out of four songs. It was decent and when we played it at dances the dance floor would fill up, so we saw it as that kind of song and not really a hit song. That's how much we knew (laughing). We cut it and the record company said, 'That's the song, guys!'. It was the fastest rising record in Warner Brothers history and suddenly I'm 19-years-old and on the road with Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead wondering what just happened. The oldest guy in our group was only 21 and it was just incredible. Even more incredible is that the song is still around. You still hear it on the radio and in commercials on television. 

The Ides of March have now been together for 55 years and on August 15th we're releasing our anniversary album called Play On, with the original four guys. We're really proud of it and we're doing a double vinyl album with the fourth side being all of the classic masters. We have never stopped playing, even in the seventeen years that I was with Survivor. It went to the back burner for me, but we never stopped. I think we're the oldest living band with its' original four members."

Jim on Survivor and unearthed Jimi Jamison vocals:

"Oh, it was a great band and we made a lot of great music. The chemistry in a band isn't always smooth and sometimes the jagged edges are what help to really create that unique band. I think that kind of summarizes Survivor. There was a lot of tension, creative differences, and power struggles that were not pleasant at the time, but I think that those things helped to form what we were. I can't argue with the success and we created a real signature sound that was Survivor. We were blessed with two great singers, with Dave Bickler who sang "Eye of the Tiger", and the Jimi Jamison who sang so many great hits. I miss him every day, to this day. 

Flash forward to the present, the last track on the new World Stage album is an uncovered, lost Jimi Jamison track called "I'll Love You All Over the World".  I found this old tape from 2008 and it wasn't cut very well but his vocal is stunning so I asked his heirs if I could take his voice and build a new track around it, and they said absolutely. I wasn't prepared for being in the studio with his voice. There was that wonderful tenor in the room, which will never be heard again, and there was this enormous responsibility of building a great track around it. Most of the musicians were tearing up because it was so emotional. Everybody loves this song and there's no one else who sounds like Jimi Jamison."

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Photo: Jim Peterik's Official Facebook

Jim on his writing process and approach to working with legendary artists:

"I'm blessed because I'm a fan of so many different kinds of music. We all start as fans, I don't care how much success you have, you've got to be a fan. When I was five-years-old it was Elvis, The Everly Brothers, and Chuck Berry. I absorbed all of those styles and loved them all, even into the horn era when Blood, Sweat and Tears reigned supreme. You can hear that being channeled on "Vehicle". I'm a bit of a chameleon and I can kind of do it all because I'm a fan of it all. Writing with 38 Special was a really cool pairing. They first came to my house in 1981 and the first song we wrote was "Hold on Loosely", which was a pretty good way to start (laughing). 

It was like a blind date, I'm sitting there in my kitchen eating nachos that my wife made, with these guys that I don't know at all (laughing). I feel like if I can break the ice and become another member of the band while writing with them, then it all works out. Don Barnes had a title, he said, 'Hold on Loosely' and I said, 'Yeah, but don't let go,' and it just went from there. In about four hours time we had that song and sent a crappy demo of it to their manager. He listened and said, 'Well guys, you just got your first top ten'. I really try to bring out what each band is all about. I knew that they were southern rock and I also knew that they needed a commercial edge to make them accessible, so that's what I tried to do for them.

I was blessed to write with one of my heroes in 2012, Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. We did "That's Why God Made the Radio" and it went to number two on Billboard for The Beach Boys. I'm a huge fan of theirs and always have been so it felt very natural to try and channel Brian. I felt like I was kind of reminding him of what made him so great. He was sitting at the piano just dorking around and I'd say, 'What's that! Let me turn the tape recorder on!' (laughing). I tried to capture some of the things that maybe he wasn't even aware of. He's a genius and just so good at everything that he does, that he almost doesn't realize how good it actually is. It was my job to capture the lightning in a bottle and that song is one of my proudest moments. 

You've got to be an open channel to other people's ideas. It can't be an ego trip. You've got to be like an antenna picking up everything and that's just how great songs are written."

Jim on how the older he gets, the more he stays the same:

"Nothing has really changed for me and that's a good thing. I've always wanted to write songs that meant something to me and I never looked at the bottom line. The bottom line will come if enough people relate to your song. I just always wanted to write songs that I would want to buy. I still get excited when I wake up in the morning and maybe there's a goal or a band who is looking for a song. Right now I'm working with a group that I can't mention, but we're writing songs for their album and that's what wakes me up in the morning. 

The performing still matters and it's certainly part of the puzzle for me. Like tonight, I'm doing a show with The Ides of March at an outdoor community college venue which holds about 6,000 people. That's a nice crowd and we're going to do our hits of course, but we're also going to do the stuff that I've written for 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, Survivor, and then three new songs from the new album. I gain so much from the live experience and the way people react.  I can ride on the high of just one show for a couple of weeks. That feeling of inspiration or of having really connected with that audience, that really inspires me to keep going. 

When I was a kid I was a worrywart. I mean I worried about tornadoes, hurricanes, getting cancer, just everything (laughing). Even if I was right with all of them, I was paying too much attention to the worries and once I found my calling and stepped on stage to play "Kansas City Here I Come" for the Talented Teen Search in my hometown, I wasn't worried. I would ride on the energy of a gig like that for two weeks and then the worries would come back, so I'd have to do another show (laughing). In a way, I'm still that kid and I need music to put that shit into remission."

Jim on what will fill his time these next few months:

"I'm always playing everything by ear (laughing), but this fall will bring a lot of Ides of March shows because that new record is coming out. Then starting in January, we're doing some World Stage shows. The bill has not been firmed up yet, but it's going to include at least some of the prime people on the new CD. We're thinking of videotaping the first show for a World Stage special. I also think there's going to be a video for another song on the album. I'm not yet sure which one or how big the budget will be (laughing). It may be a lyric video but hey, they're effective! Frontiers Records have been really good to us and if you had a hit in the 80's that Serafino (Perugino, Frontiers founder) loves, you're golden forever. 

Just to have someone who still cares means a lot. Believe it or not, we rockers can get really down in the dumps after our glory days are behind us. Serafino is like a cheerleader because he reminds us of what we meant to people and that's worth a lot. Memories are such a big part of the sound print of a song. I have a jukebox in my house and I have it stacked with my favorite memories. When I hear Elvis Presley and I can almost put myself in my parents living room with my sisters there, music is like a time machine. If you love music then it's your own private time machine and one familiar song can just change the course of your entire day."

Check out Jim's official site for updates on everything he's doing, plus info on upcoming shows. Also, check out The Ides of March's official site.  Don't forget to follow Jim on Facebook and Twitter too!  

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument and guitar
Photo: Jim Peterik's Official Facebook




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