When ex-The Ides Of March vocalist/guitarist Jim Peterik and co-founded Survivor with lead guitarist Frankie Sullivan in 1978, few could have accurately predicted the impact the group would have on the Hard Rock genre. Issuing their self-titled debut (1980) and sophomore effort (Premonition, 1981) in rapid-fire succession before the multi-Platinum Eye Of The Tiger (1982) propelled them to the dizzying heights of international acclaim. Returning with a renewed sense of purpose in 1984 with the Jimi Jamison-led Vital Signs, the group continued onward before initially imploding after touring in support of Too Hot To Sleep (1988). Now, twenty-three years after his second and final departure from the group, the oft-prolific Peterik has once again returned with the mighty Winds Of Change (2019), the latest--and possibly greatest--from the star-studded collective World Stage.
Todd: When The Ides Of March were writing and recording “Vehicle”, did anyone think it would become a hit?
Jim: “Speaking for myself, and actually, a lot of the band members has had that same impression, “Vehicle” is a song I wrote to try to win my girlfriend back. I had no idea or no concept of hit records. But I do know is every time we played it at one of the teen clubs, the dance floor would immediately fill up and people would start bopping. When we went into the studio, though, our manager said 'What about that song “Vehicle”? and I said 'Oh, that's just a dance tune (laughs). There's no potential for a single.' And my producer/manager said 'Well, let's record it anyway.' We recorded “Vehicle” in two takes and caught lightning in a bottle. We sent that demo tape to Warner Brothers and ended up putting it fourth on the record because we just didn't give a shit about it. Warner Brothers calls our manager and said 'The first three songs are pretty lame, but that fourth song will be an absolute smash' (laughs) and we go 'Really?'. ...It was a situation where we didn't know our own best materials.”
Todd: Once your initial run with The Ides Of March came to an end, you began working with Fusion/Jazz Rock icon Bill Chase. Although it was tragically brief, in hind-sight, how do you remember your time with the group?
Jim: “Very, very fondly. They were managed by the same manager/producer that handled The Ides Of March. We we're a little jealous at first when they signed Bill Chase because we knew they were hot stuff and another horn band, but as soon as we met Bill and the band, any kind of jealousy just melted down. We played some shows with them and their high brass section didn't need a microphone or a PA system. It would just clear the air. The loudest thing on stage would be those four trumpets (laughs). On their final album (Pure Music, 1974), I contributed a song called “Run Back To Mama” I was going to give to The Ides Of March, but I really like the opportunity of giving that song to Chase and they did a great job on it. Flash-forward a few years, and this time, The Ides Of March were on our last legs...and we recorded Pure Music at Universal Studios in Chicago. What a thrill it was working with Bill. I still have the videotape of when we played Faces, which was a club in Chicago. I got on stage with him and we did both “Love Is On The Way” and “Run Back To Mama” (also from Pure Music). As I came up the stage, he said 'That's Jim Peterik. We're going to be making music'. ...Sadly, about a month later, their DC-3 went down and we lost the whole band (near Jackson, MN). It was so very devastating.”
Todd: At what point did you realize your time with Survivor was officially coming to an end? Was there a clear, defining moment where you'd had enough or was it a situation that had culminated over a longer length of time?
Jim: “That's a great question, actually. Not really. I remember the day I didn't get on the plane that was going to the south to do a show. I just didn't get on the plane. And it was the 4th of July, ironically. Independence day. And I'm sitting there and (guitarist) Frankie (Sullivan) tried to get me back on the plane. I said 'You know what? Sooner or later, it had to happen. I'm just not getting on the plane'. It caused a really big uproar, of course, but I remember watching the fireworks with my wife and feeling completely untethered. At the same time, I was like 'What did I do? What the hell did I just do?', but ultimately I knew it was the right thing for me. ...I had always said 'When it stops being fun, I'm out' and it really had stopped being fun for me. And I never stopped working with The Ides Of March. In the seventeen years that I was with Survivor, The Ides Of March still did shows every year. And I really missed being that guy that I was in The Ides Of March, the frontman, the lead guitarist, the lead singer. Survivor was blessed with some truly amazing lead singers beginning with Dave Bickler (later of Bud Light's Real Men Of Genius) and then Jimi Jamison (ex-Cobra, D Beaver, Target) who took over from there. I can't sing like those guys, but I still loved to sing and always missed it, so when I left in 1996, it was my mission to get back into that position, ya know? I got serious with The Ides Of March again and we went out on tour. I was flexing those muscles again. The same muscles I flexed when I was nineteen and sang on “Vehicle”.”
Todd: When Dave Bickler left the group (Bickler was suffering vocal issues that would required surgery to remove vocal nodules), how difficult was it to find the best replacement? Did you audition anyone noteworthy?
Jim: “We wanted continuity. When Dave left, we wanted to find someone who sounded enough like Dave, but had a personality and a sound all of his own. A lot of bands don't survive a singer transplant. Sammy Hagar fit in very, very well with Van Halen, but it's hard. We auditioned maybe seven or eight people. There were some really laughable auditions and then (future The Storm vocalist) Kevin Chalfant came in and he was great. And we almost gave him the job, but two days later, Jimi Jamison flew in and just blew the doors off the place. Frankie and I had just written “The Search Is Over” (from Vital Signs, 1984). The second song we taught him was “Broken Promises” (also from Vital Sings) and when I heard him sing it, I got goosebumps. That's a sheer litmus test that someone's really striking a nerve, you know? ...So then we showed him “Search Is Over” (from Vital Sings) and when he hit that high note, his voice cracked. I stopped the band and said 'Frankie, we better lower this a half step' and Jimi said 'Give half a man a chance', so he tried it again in that key and this time he nailed it. The next day, we said 'You're in, man.' But as I'm sure you've noticed, Kevin Chalfant is a great singer and we've always stayed really close. I've written a lot of songs for both The Storm and his solo work. It's such a shame he didn't land the gig with Journey. ...He would have been absolutely perfect, but I'm not in their head.”
Todd: For the uninitiated, what are the main differences between Pride Of Lions and World Stage? What are the differences between the songwriting 'approach' for each group? Does your focus depend on who is singing lead?
Jim: “Yes. One of my specialties is co-writing with different acts and trying to bring out what's best about those groups. With Pride of Lions, I write with (vocalist) Toby (Hitchcock) in mind. That was my original concept for Survivor. I was sharing lead vocal duties with Dave Bickler, but then it morphed into a different format when I switched to keyboards and stopped singing almost all together (laughs). ...When I get together with (Loverboy vocalist) Mike Reno or any of the other artists I work with on World Stage, I try to become the guy in the room that remembers what some of these artists have forgotten through the years. With (ex-Styx vocalist) Dennis DeYoung on the song “Proof Of Heaven”, I said 'Your solo album seem to almost downplay the sound of Styx. You've got to get back and stake your claim of being a huge part of what made Styx who they are with your voice on those grandiose harmonies and big themes.' I like to remind people of what they do best. With Mike Reno is just a great singer. We did a World Stage show in Chicago and he was one of the guests. I said 'Mike, stay over another three days. Let's sit down and write a great song that recalls the glory days of Loverboy.' I remember touring with Loverboy when I was with Survivor. At the time, Eye Of The Tiger was number one and we we're wrapping it up. I said 'I want to be that guy in the red leather pants with the red bandanna.' The chicks are going nuts in the first two rows'. That's what I wanted in the song we wrote together. And, without a bullet being fired, he said 'I like that' and we set our sights on recapturing that. Really, the biggest difference between the two groups is that I write specifically with those groups in mind, trying to bring out the best in those artists.”
Todd: Is it safe to assume it was difficult to co-ordinate the recording process for Winds Of Change? With such a diverse array of talent, I would deduce getting everybody and everything recorded must be quite an undertaking.
Jim: “And that's why I didn't do one for about twenty years. If you're a great artist, you're going to be on the road and you're going to be hard to get. But I was persistent and started making calls. People would say 'I want to be on this record', but then the logistics of it would sometimes make it difficult. I had to fly to Atlanta to meet with .38 Special because they're so busy. I caught them on an open week when they weren't on the road and we wrote “Winds Of Change”. And it was the same way when I wrote “You're Always There” with (ex-Chicago vocalist/bassist) Jason Scheff. He was entrenched in Nashville and couldn't travel because he had a lot of business to deal with, so I flew to Nashville and wrote there with him. And then there are times where I have to work long distance. One of my favorite tracks is “Where Eagles Dare”. And of course it was that way with Lars Safsund and Robert Sall of Work Of Art as they live in Sweden. I wasn't going to fly there, so we worked long distance FaceTime and they recorded their vocals and guitar parts in Sweden, shipped them back to us, we blended them in, mixed it, and it works that way too. ...A lot of these were captured in one room, but when it's impossible like it was with (vocalist) Danny Vaughn of Tyketto (ex-Waysted) because he was in Spain, which was a deal breaker. ...So again we worked via FaceTime and wrote “The Hand That Was Dealt” in that manner.”
Todd: Is World Stage something you can actually take out on tour? From a logistical point of view, it must be an absolute nightmare to get a truly 'functional' line-up onstage. I would imagine you definitely have to plan ahead.
Jim: “Obviously, you have to cherry pick certain people at certain times. It's never going to be a totally stable lineup. We we're looking at some dates. In January, there is definitely going to be a really big show in Chicago. Generally, I do a World Stage concert probably twice a year, but always in January and I'm just going to include as many of these artists as I can afford and whoever else is available. I'm putting together that roster now. And like I said, it's doable, but it's never going to be a stable lineup because everybody's on the road with their own bands. I have my favorites from the first record. And we always start the show with “Night Of The World Stage”, which isn't on that album, but it's our theme song and it's really cool. I think it's on one rare EP if you really want to find it. We usually do that and “Can't Say It Loud Enough”, the song that (Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist) Johnny Van Zant and I did which comes up very, very strong. But most of the material is going to be culled from Winds Of Change, with the songs “Winds Of Change” and “Bullet” definitely being in there. We're still putting that set list together. (Night Ranger drummer/vocalist) Kelly Keagy is someone that I know I will want. He's at most our live World Stage shows which is very, very cool. He's such a powerhouse drummer and that's one of my favorite tracks. ...He's a monster drummer and vocalist and is great with the tempo of the song.”
Todd: Am I correct in remembering you also worked on his solo records? It's odd they're gone underappreciated.
Jim: “Yes. I wrote and co-wrote a lot of the songs on (Keagy's solo records) Time Passes (2001) and I'm Alive (2006). Time Passes really became his biggest seller with songs like “Too Close To The Sun”, which really is one of my favorites. My other favorite of all is “The Journey”, which we still do live. We wrote that together in a cathedral. We were both in London at the time for different reasons and we went across the street from the hotel to this cathedral and there was a piano that was actually open. We wrote the song and just when we finished, the vicar came and politely shut us down. But we got a song out of it and it and great memory as well.”
Todd: What have you done to maintain your voice? Is there a secret to you sounding amazing at age sixty-eight?
Jim: “I've been pretty careful. I was always very careful in my young life by not doing drugs and not boozing it up. While the other bands were out partying, I was in my hotel room writing the next album, so I think my early health was really good. I didn't have to play catch-up and suddenly quit drugs and drinking later in my career. I'll have an occasional Martini, but it's always in moderation. I work out at the health club and I have a steam room, which is really good for the vocal cords. Plus, I get a lot of rest whenever I can. Rest is absolutely the best healer, ya know? I can still do at least three shows in a row without a problem and I'm pretty proud of that.”
Todd: How do you ingrain yourself in the groups you write for? Is it difficult to become one with their sanctum?
Jim: “First of all, I'm a huge fan of music. I think we all start as fans. Even the biggest stars in the world were influenced by somebody. And if they deny being fans of music, they're lying to themselves. It's not all about you. I was a huge Beatles fan and a huge Elvis Presley fan. And as you know, I'm sixty-eight years old. My older sister has had all these groovy records. ...And so I was a fanboy of all these groups, so I'm really paying homage to all these different artists when I write. I think you tuck a portion of your personality aside and get in the framework of .38 Special or Sammy Hagar. When you write with all these different people, you sacrifice a little of your own ego and become a part of their band. I always start out as a fan of everyone I've worked with.”
Todd: At this point in your career, where do you primarily draw your lyrical inspiration(s) from? Aside from the obvious emotional point of view, what is your source of material? Do you focus more on the past or the present?
Jim: “Probably real life and whatever is inspiring me from that at the time. ...Winds Of Change was inspired by a real life incident or event after the Parkland, Florida shootings, which were so tragic. Some of the teenage survivors were stepping forward to speak about the tragedy as well as gun control and violence in America. They spoke so eloquently and so well that I said to myself 'I could never have spoken like that when I was sixteen.' These kids are the future and these kids are the winds of change. If the politicians aren't listening to them, they're not going to get re-elected because these people are going to be voting age very soon and they're going to remember this stuff. When I talk about a ship capsizing out on the blue horizon, that's the whole school that's capsizing. I won't mention any names, but you know who they are and they're not going to be around for much longer. ...I really get inspired by current events and things that matter to me at the moment. Some resonate with you and, of course, finding love and losing love is the eternal inspiration point. It's just a matter of finding ways of recasting it in an original manner so it's not the same old stuff, ya know? I've always big into love songs like “I Can't Hold Back”, “Is This Love” and “The Search Is Over”, these are love songs. And there's never a day that goes by that I'm not amassing ideas from more of those kind songs. ...It's a really big part of what I do.”
Todd: Taking into consideration the sheer amount of songwriting you've contributed throughout your career, is it ever difficult to not, for lack of a more succinct term, plagiarize yourself? How do you avoid making a mistake?
Jim: “Sometimes you do re-tread, even though you try not to. I have a certain style like all songwriters do, and sometimes a chord pattern that sounds like another song emerges. You always have to monitor yourself and try to find new ways of expressing what are basically similar ideas. I work with different tempos, different feels, and try to change things up. With this World Stage album, I focused on the Melodic Rock genre that Survivor is a part of. But with the new The Ides Of March album, I really get to spread my wings and go back to the Horn Rock that we became famous for. It's funkier and more soulful and of course I'm singing all the lead vocals. It was refreshing to do something that didn't line up with the tastes of (Frontiers Records founder) Serafino Perugino. He would never had signed The Ides Of March album because it's too damn soulful and funky, ya know? With the Melodic Rock genre, there really is almost a formula. The problem is that there still has to be great songs in place. I think the problem with a lot of Melodic Rock is that they sound like the genre, but the songs just aren't there. It's like 'Where is the lyric content?' It's all a little too generic and I don't like that. I like it when there's something fresh about lyrics with a good slant. ...They can't all be a huge chorus and keyboards.”
Winds Of Change (2019)
Forces At Play (2011)
Rock America: Smash Hits Live (2002)
Jim Peterik And The World Stage (2000)
Too Hot To Sleep (1988)
When Seconds Count (1987)
Vital Signs (1984)
Caught In The Game (1983)
Eye Of The Tiger (1982)
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