You might not know his name, but you can’t escape his music.
Jim Peterik’s been writing hits for almost half a century now, penning pop masterpieces in at least two major bands—and several side projects. He’s also coauthored memorable tunes for other artists, like southern rockers .38 Special (“Hold on Loosely,” “Caught Up in You”).
Peterik would be first to acknowledge that his biggest claim to fame came as a member of the group Survivor, whose “The Eye of the Tiger” and “Burning Heart” set the tone for the blockbuster boxing movies Rocky III and Rocky IV. Comprised of fellow guitarist Frankie Sullivan and singers Dave Bickler and the recently-deceased Jimi Jamison, Survivor also scored big with the uber ballads “High On You” and “The Search is Over” from 1984’s Vital Signs.
But long before Survivor rose up to the challenge of their AOR rivals, Peterik fronted The Ides of March, who likewise ascended to the top of the charts with “Vehicle” and “Like It or Lump It”—albeit a decade earlier.
Formed with high school friends outside Peterik’s native Chicago (Berwyn, Illinois), Ides dabbled in the jangle-pop and barroom rock that became so popular in the wake of the British Invasion of the ‘60s. They eventually added a horn section and experimented in soul, R&B, and funk, releasing a batch of well-regarded singles and a half-dozen studio albums on Parrot, Warner Bros., and RCA before disbanding in 1973.
The band reunited for a single show in 1990—but wound up bulldozing into the future with dozens of new gigs a year. Another full-length, Still 19, arrived in 2010.
Now Peterik and his pals are pausing—if only for a brief moment—to reflect on their fifty-year career together. The comprehensive new Ides of March box set, Last Band Standing, collects the band’s entire output (and unreleased gems) into a single, handsome five-disc set that quite literally spans the fifty years from 1965-2015.
Disc One commences with three brand-new studio tracks, including the titular “Last Band Standing” (featuring guest guitarist Steve Cropper), then plunges back in time to “The Beginning” with initial Ides singles “No Two Ways About It,” “You Wouldn’t Listen,” and “My Foolish Pride” (issued on the Epitome, Parrot, and Kapp labels). Previously unheard ‘60s offerings like “Don’t Cry to Me” and “Train of Love” sit nicely alongside B-sides “Give Your Mind Wings” and “Girls Don’t Grow On Trees.” The remainder of Disc One and bulk of Disc Two draw from the albums Vehicle (1970) and Common Bond (1971). There are two versions of hit “Vehicle” (mono and stereo), a poignant symphonic tribute to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” and a clever borrowing of Crosby, Stills & Nash nugget “Wooden Ships.” Heck, there’s even a 1970 Pepsi commercial jingle—and a terrific run through the national anthem.
Discs Three pulls from the LPs World Woven (1972) and Midnight Oil (1973), placing Ides barnburners, folk tunes, and countrified numbers (“Mother America,” “Lay Back,” “Quicksilver” with previously “lost” songs (“American Express”) and live performances (“Love’s Got the Power”). There’s a nice cover of Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Summer in the City,” too. Disc Four assembles cuts from the Ides’ later years—the reunion era (“Spirit of Chicago,” “Age Before Beauty”) and post-millennial albums (“Pepperhead,” “Keep Rocking”).
The fifth disc in the olive branch-adorned package is a DVD of the band’s incendiary Windy City concert at House of Blues Chicago in May 2014 (not even a year ago). Comprising fantastic footage from over eleven cameras, the hi-definition video sees the Ides gentlemen bouncing through their ‘60s and ‘70s oeuvre with an energy that belies their ages. But they make time for Peterik’s other tunes, too—including some of his Survivor and .38 Special chestnuts. Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy even shows up at the end to help the guys celebrate.
The DVD contains a treasure trove of extras, including a photo slideshow, music video for “Last Band Standing,” and interviews with Peterik and the gang (Larry Millas, Bob Bergland, Mike Borch, Dave Stahlberg, Scott May, Steve Eisen, and Tim Bales).
We caught up with Peterik by telephone earlier this week to discuss the box set and look back on his prolific career. Humble, reflective—and funny—“Jimbo” still takes none of his success for granted.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hello, Jim! How are you, sir?
JIM PETERIK: I’m doing great! Thanks for talking to me!
EXAMINER: Heard you just got back from Italy. Busy these days, eh?
JIM PETERIK: Yeah! Just got back from Milan a couple days ago. My jet lag is pretty much okay. I’m feeling pretty good. It took a while. I was out there with another band I have called Pride of Lions. We headlined, which was a dream of mine! Frontiers is our label, and they hosted. They’re based in Italy, and they take on all the acts that were big in the ‘80s. They signed Pride of Lions about ten years ago, which was unusual for them. Because they usually sign established bands, like a Toto or whoever. But the president of the company really liked what I was putting together. After Survivor, I put together Pride of Lions. And I said, “Okay, this is going to be the band that I wanted Survivor to be.” I love Survivor—always have—but I had a different vision. So we built the momentum, and finally headlined a set. People were very, very enthusiastic. So it was a great moment!
EXAMINER: So the big news now is Last Band Standing. Could you tell us about the project, and what it was like looking back on The Ides of March?
JIM PETERIK: Yeah, absolutely. Fifty years in the making. And as we were compiling this, I was almost in tears, because I’d almost forgotten some of these tracks! We went back and we licensed the Parrot years—Parrot was the subsidiary of London Records. And we used the best of those, and some we had to transfer off of vinyl, because acetates just didn’t exist. But for most of them, we were able to find the masters. And we licensed the years off the Warner Bros. era, which was our biggest era. That was when “Vehicle” became #2 on Billboard, in 1970. We got the originals of all that stuff, all the best of the two Warner Bros. albums. And we got the licensing to the two RCA albums that span 1971-73. That was interesting, Pete, because that was the first time that stuff had been transferred from analog tape. And after all those years, you literally have to put it in the oven—special ovens—so the film doesn’t flake off! But to hear these masters in pristine condition was really revelatory, because I didn’t know they sounded that good! Everybody goes, “Back to vinyl!” But some of that vinyl stuff sounded awful. Some of the RCA Dynaflex, that vinyl was about a millimeter thick. It was awful shit! But the sound quality is good on these discs. Seventy-seven cuts! Four CDs, and then the fifth is a DVD at House of Blues Chicago last year, where we performed the best of the Ides, and the catalog of things I co-wrote with the band Survivor, and songs with .38 Special and Sammy Hagar—but all those are done in the Ides of March style. And there are outtakes from Dick Clark’s TV show, and “Mama” Cass Elliott, and Tom Jones performing “Vehicle” in the ‘70s. A lot of curio pieces that even I hadn’t seen, ever! What a journey!
EXAMINER: Who is in Ides with you now? It’s the same guys from way back, yes?
JIM PETERIK: Bob, Mike, and Larry, and me. The original four from ’64. Our very first single, we financed that by playing sock-hops after basketball games. “Like It or Lump It” is on the record. But what’s really funny, Pete, is that we have three brand new songs on the discs. “Last Band Standing” is the title track, and it’s a neat song because it’s autobiographical and mentions a lot of the high points of our career. Playing with Led Zeppelin, and jamming with the Allman Brothers. Meeting George Harrison. That’s all in the song. And we were fortunate to get Steve Cropper, the famous Muscle Shoals guitarist. He did a show with the Ides. We did “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock On Wood” and learned all that stuff—re-learned it, actually, because we’d played those in the Sixties. But he was nice enough to stand in with us, and he had his Stratocaster. That was a real feather in our cap, a real moment. And there are two other brand new songs, “Who I Am,” which is an anthemic, brass kind of song. A sort of homage to all those brass bands like Chicago and Lighthouse. You’ve heard of lot of it on the oldies stations!
EXAMINER: I love the band Chicago. Earth, Wind & Fire. Average White Band. But I love Chicago.
JIM PETERIK: Yeah! Brass is an exciting element. But the thing with the brand new tracks is, you have those, and then the CD goes right to 1964, where the next track is “Like It or Lump It.” And you expect there to be this radical difference. And there is a difference, but it still sounds like the same band that’s been together for fifty years. That same musical personality comes through. That was kind of a revelation. There is a thread that kind of goes through all the cuts. The Ides of March: This is what they are!
EXAMINER: Bands like The Beatles and The Who would’ve been your contemporaries back then. Were you influenced by them, or were there other musicians who inspired you even earlier?
JIM PETERIK: Wow, great question! I’d have to say, you know, Elvis Presley changed my world. I was only five years old, but my sisters said, “You gotta watch this!” And Elvis came on the TV and did “Hound Dog.” And it electrified me. I saw the future! I knew I wanted to be a rocker! The Ventures came along, and that’s about when I got my first good guitar, a Fender Jazz Master. And we started The Ides of March, but we were called The Shon-Dells. Before Tommy James and The Shondells. And we were learning a lot of Ventures songs, and doing the little steps that they used to do. And then The Beatles came along and blew it all out of the water! When I saw them on the Jack Parr show—two or three months before Ed Sullivan—he showed some grainy footage from the BBC, and it was like, these longhaired aliens doing “She Loves You.” I was like, “This is the shit!” So The Ides of March immediately became a Beatles-wannabe thing. We loved The Kinks, The Who, The Zombies. Our first single on Parrot was very much an amalgamation of the The Hollies meet The Kinks. We did some Curtis Mayfield and those R&B changes that I love so much. You’ve got to realize, Pete, that when you’re a young band, you kind of change along with the times, because you don’t know who you are yet. When you’re only 15, you’re influenced by everything. We heard Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and we’re like, “We’ve got to get some brass! That’s the ticket!” And that of course led to “Vehicle.” And then you hear that brass is passe, that the new thing is harmony, like Crosby Stills & Nash. That’s what spawned the song “L.A. Goodbye.” We were changing because we were so young! We loved it all. We wanted to be all of that!
EXAMINER: Your recent autobiography Through the Eye of The Tiger recounts your journeys in rock and has lots of anecdotes. Generally speaking, what was it like hanging out with Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and all those greats on the road?
JIM PETERIK: It was pretty surreal. You’re sharing a lunch tray with Jerry Garcia. I mention in the book about walking Janis Joplin back to her place, because she couldn’t find it. She was a little under the weather! But I was never influenced by the drug culture, even when it was happening around me. The whole band was like that. We were invited to this big party after the Winnipeg show with Zeppelin, and you’d walk into the hotel room, and there’d be this orgy! It’s like, “What’s this!?” We kind of scanned the groupies, and they’d invite people in, and we’re like, “Thank you very much, Robert! We’ll see ya!” And we’d go to the Dunkin Donuts across the street, and we’d be back in our comfort zone! So it was a little surreal. But we never fell into any of that. We just kind of observed it.
EXAMINER: Do you suppose being from Chicago—being a Midwest band, as opposed to a coastal band—had anything to do with those down-home sensibilities?
JIM PETERIK: I mean, I think there’s something to be said for Chicago and that kind of meat-and-potatoes upbringing. Good people, suburban, blue-collar. We never got too impressed with ourselves. Obviously there are some casualties from Chicago, but overall I think the good upbringing helped us survive the fifty years!
EXAMINER: In between Ides and Survivor—and after Survivor—you wrote lots of great songs for other bands. Everyone knows those .38 Special hits, but even I wasn’t aware you’d had a hand in them until much later. How’d you come on board for those?
JIM PETERIK: Yeah, that gets into a lot of sticky stuff, only because the first song that I actually collaborated on…. Well, let’s say this. We had a song—this was before Survivor was signed—there was a song we were playing at all the clubs called “Rockin’ Into the Night.” It was a big song; we used to close with it. But when it came time to make time to make that first record, our producer—we really respected him—but he said, “That song isn’t really right for you guys.” We didn’t necessarily agree, but he was our producer. Next thing you know, we’re driving down the highway, and we hear, “New from .38 Special, this is ‘Rockin’ Into the Night!’” It was like, “Oh, shit!” John Kalodner, who signed us…he’d slipped the tape to .38 special’s manager Mark Spector, and they cut it the next day. So it was a real hard lesson. It didn’t make me the most popular guy in the band, because they considered Kalodner to be like, my guy. Because we were buddies. So it was tough. But I knew part of my calling in life was to be a songwriter, a collaborator. And Kalodner finally put us together physically the next year—me with .38 Special—and the next thing we come up with around my kitchen table was “Hold on Loosely.” It was one of those things where everything gelled. We got real lucky, and it became one of their biggest songs. And we went on from there with “Caught Up in You,” “Fantasy Girl,” “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys.” We had a real run there!
View the Ides of March Last Band Standing promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZvLlesH22p0
EXAMINER: What was it like transitioning from Ides of March to Survivor? There were some big changes in music, and in the music biz, between the early ‘70s and early ‘80s.
JIM PETERIK: Oh gosh, yes! It was a real paradigm shift, because Ides of March… we were a family band. We chose each other because we were friends. Most of us were actually in the same Cub Scout pack back in third grade; that’s how far back we go. All four original members were in the grade school band together. It was friendship over talent—not that we didn’t have talent, but we grew to be a great band. We didn’t start out being a great band. The difference with that is, you have a real chemistry when you’re friends with people. You look across the stage, and you smile and laugh, and you have a great time. And the audience picks that up. I love Survivor—it was absolutely my biggest success—but we were never that. It was more calculated, more of a business. And then Foreigner came out, and we put together Survivor…that became our role model. It was like, “Let’s be kind of mainstream, melodic rock.” It was kind of a decision, because prior to that I’d been doing soul and R&B. Ides of March were a funkier thing. But the main difference is that Survivor didn’t have that kind of long-term friendship bond. We were friends, but not like that. And musicianship only goes so far. When you’re hanging on the road with five other guys, hey, you’d better like each other! So there was some tension. It was never as much fun as The Ides. But I can’t argue with the success. When we got into the studio, we made some magic!
EXAMINER: What brought about the Ides reunion for the 1990s?
JIM PETERIK: Berwyn, Illinois is our hometown. They offered us quite a bit of money to reunite. This was 1990. It was gonna be a one-off show, but 25,000 people showed up, and we were pretty damn good. We had three months of rehearsing, learning the material from the vinyl. So we’re like, “Screw this, we’re gonna keep going!” So from 1992 to present, every year we’re going between 35-50 shows a year. We just keep making music and putting the records out. Last Band Standing is proof of that whole recorded output, from ’64 to now.
EXAMINER: I studied Latin in high school, and my daughter’s a Latin scholar now. So I’ve got to ask where you got the band name from. Ides of March.
JIM PETERIK: The funny story is, originally the band was The Shon-Dels. But Parrot was just about to put out “You Wouldn’t Listen,” and they had the labels printed out. And we were riding down the highway—another one of those “Oh, shit!” moments—and we hear the D.J. tag, “New from Tommy James and the Shondells, it’s ‘Hanky Panky!’” So we were scrambling for names. And of course we had a lot of fun with ridiculous names. But we’d all read Julius Caesar in high school. And Bob says, “Look at this: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’” It sounded like a name to us!
EXAMINER: Julius Caesar.
JIM PETERIK: Yeah! Straight out of Caesar.
EXAMINER: Would you mind reflecting a little on your time with Survivor’s Jimi Jamison? His passing a few months ago was quite a shock for everyone.
JIM PETERIK: Yeah. I mean, that was a life-changing day. A sorrowful day. I was at my cottage in Michigan, and I got a call from my personal trainer. Actually, it was a text. She wrote, “It’s a shame about Jimi.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” But then the phone rings, and the name Jimi Jamison lit up. I was like, “Thank God!” So I cheerfully say “hello,” but there was a voice on the other end—his daughter—and she was sobbing. She said he’d just passed. And you can imagine how devastated I was. I’d talked with him just two weeks before. We were very close friends, even though I wasn’t in the band with him at the end. For about a week I couldn’t even move. But the way I deal with loss a lot of times is to pour it into the music. There’s this song, “Heaven Passes the Torch.” I poured all my emotions into that, and I got some of the greatest singers in the AOR world to sing on it: Bobby Kimball from Toto, Mike Reno from Loverboy, Kelly Keagy (Night Ranger), and Bill Champlin (Chicago). They all contributed vocals. And we premiered it—I hate to say “premiere,” because it sounds so, you know—but we did it at his funeral service in Memphis. And they organized a video collage of his life. I still can’t believe I got through that ceremony. We put together a homage album called Torch: The Music Remembers. For Jimi and Freddie Frederiksen [from Toto]. It was available…we had it in Milan, and we sold out 500 copies in the first two nights. It had the best stuff that Jimi and I did for Frontiers, and some of the new songs. But that’s how I dealt with the loss, helping people remember the best of both of them.
EXAMINER: Texting and cellphones can be weird sometimes. You don’t want to get that kind of news in a text. But it sounds like this was accidental, like she thought you already knew. But it’s weird.
JIM PETERIK: Yeah. It’s kind of weird. It’s impersonal. I mean, “What a shame about Jimi.” I was like, “C’mon, what the fuck are you talking about?” It’s impersonal; something you don’t want to hear about that way.
EXAMINER: Your website has a couple video addendums like, “The Singer Not the Song,” where you discuss songwriting as an art. Can you tell us more about that?
JIM PETERIK: It’s a web series that they produced for me. We have maybe four episodes so far. And it’s basically about songwriting. It’s a solo website along with the Jim Peterik website. We look at the world of technology as much as we can. I try to connect people to that, and to who I am. When I put out my book, it was like, “Jim who?” Then they’re like, “Oh, oh yeah, ‘Eye of the Tiger.’” But gradually people get it. And that feels good.
EXAMINER: So what’s coming up next for Ides? Will the band be touring behind the box set?
JIM PETERIK: We’ve got isolated shows. The economy being as it is, a lot of the festivals dried up. But we do have some significant shows coming up. We’ll do kind of an unplugged set. We’ve got some stuff—but that’s off the record, until it’s “real!” But we’re going to keep posting stuff. We’re doing a lot of in-stores. Like Record Store Day this Saturday, the day that emphasis the sort of brick-and-mortar record stores. That’s the premiere of the box set. And then we’re pretty much doing drivable locations outside Chicago. And New York in September.
EXAMINER: You’ve got to add Cleveland to the itinerary.
JIM PETERIK: I would love that!
Jim Peterik / Ides merch, autograph book, apparel, etc. http://jimpeterik.com/merch/
Ides of March box set on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ides-March-Last-Standing/dp/B00TPEG1UA