Gary James' Interview With
Jim Peterik
of The Ides Of March and Survivor

He's a singer. He's a songwriter. And the songs he's written! "Vehicle" by The Ides Of March, "Eye Of The Tiger" by Survivor, "Hold On Loosely" by 38 Special. You get the idea. This guy can write songs! His name is Jim Peterik. Jim spoke with us about his musical career.

Q - Jim, since you've been associated with so many successful acts, how do you bill yourself these days when you tour?

A - I've got a number of formats. I left Survivor in '96 so I no longer play shows as Survivor. I played gigs with The Ides Of March, the original Ides Of March that formed in 1965. We play all across the country. That's one of my main expressions of what I do. And of course the big hit, "Vehicle" in 1970. So, Ides do about 45 to 50 shows a year. I have another format called World Stage which I maybe do two shows a year. It's kind of like my All Star Review where I'll bring up guests that I've worked with and toured with in the '80s. And other acts that I'm just friends with. This is going on our 12th year. We started in 2000. Every year the sellouts get quicker. I'm kind of the host and of course I do my hits from Survivor, 38 Special, Ides Of March. I bring on my buddies from 38 Special. Every year it's a little different. 38 Special, Starship. From Canada, Triumph, Rik Emmett, Jack Blades, Tom Kiefer from Cinderella. We've just about everybody who was anybody in the '80s. And then I also bring out new act's I'm either mentoring or really impressed with. So that's called World Stage. I do songwriting seminars. I wrote the book Songwriting For Dummies. I go around the country doing a lot of youth seminars. It's an organization called Camp Jam that I do master classes for. Then I do solo shows which is just Jim Peterik And Friends. I do the hits pretty much unplugged and tell stories. Finally I have a Jazz entity called Jim Peterik's Life Force. I just put out a double disc about a month and a half ago. In format, it's a smoother side of what I do. Many great Smooth Jazz artists have been my guests. So, those are pretty much the formats that fill my 'live' performing thing.

Q - Didn't you have a band called Pride Of Lions?

A - Oh, I forgot Pride Of Lions. There you have it. Okay. Thanks Gary. I'm glad you filled me in there. With Pride Of Lions we just released our fifth album. Toby Hitchcock is the other half of my singing duo. He's an amazing 4 1/2 octave singer from Indiana. We were signed to Frontiers back in 2002. We did our premier album for Frontiers, which sold up to that point more records than any Frontiers album had sold. Then we did a "Live In Belgium" in 2004. We just released our latest CD which is called "Immortal". Just great reviews. So, we toured with that as well. We opened up for Styx a few months ago in Chicago. So that's the other venue.

Q - How big of a marketplace is there for your Smooth Jazz group?

A - Very small.

Q - That's what I thought.

A - And growing smaller. (Laughs). The radio stations are just disappearing, which is a shame. My wife and I, when we used to get home from tours with REO or Bryan Adams in the Survivor days, the last thing I wanted to listen to was more Rock 'n' Roll. We'd put on Spyra Gyra or Acoustic Alchemy and just chill out and have a glass of wine and enjoy that. That's how I got interested in Smooth Jazz. I was doodling at the piano and my wife said, "Why don't you do that?" My first album was 2009. Bottom line is, I do it because I love it. I do it for my niche audience. I play concerts. They are very well attended, but do I expect major hit success? No. It's for the faithful who like that type of music. I reinvent certain of my classics. We have a Smooth Jazz version of "The Search Is Over", "Eye Of The Tiger", "Vehicle", but also I'm creating brand-new songs of that genre.

Q - You talked about this just a minute ago, but just to clarify, are you a producer developing new talent? Are you a manager?

A - Not a manager. I would never do that to anyone. I'm the musical side of it for sure. I like to find people who are very talented, but also need my help in terms of songwriting. I tried to produce artist that are totally self-contained and I realize there is not enough motivation in me. I'm not one of those producers who just likes to polish other people's material. Number one Gary, I'm a songwriter. That's a big part of my ego. I love performing obviously, but songwriting is a big part of my ego, what makes me tick and being able to share my message and style of melodies with the world. A lot of times I'll produce an artist who is a very good writer but needs a little bit of help. We collaborate and create something brand-new. Currently I'm actually working with two Country artists, which would sound odd coming from my background. But the way I always tell people is, that the current Country market is basically '80s Rock with mandolins and fiddles. And that's pretty true. Lyrical content is similar, but I shape my lyrics a little bit different. But Hunter Cook is one of those artists, a 17-year-old male who just has an amazing career ahead of him. Andrew Salgado I'm coproducing with Frank Papalardo. He was responsible for all the engineering and soundstage series at PBS for all those years. We are producing Andrew Salgado. Both of these artists I think will get signed in the next year in Nashville. Of course I'm producing Lisa McClowry, who is on my Lifeforce albums, for her. One called "Time Signatures" and "Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy" where I got permission from Acoustic Alchemy to lyrcisize their wonderful instrumentals. That is doing very well. I have to put a plug-in for my unbelievably talented son Colin Peterik. He was going under the name Sijay. He has an album out right now under the name Sijay. Now he's going to Colin Peterik. He's producing and writing a brand-new album which I'm just kind of overseeing. I'm not the kind of dad who has to get in there and kibitz. He's got an amazing style. He's 23 years old, a keyboard / singer / songwriter. He's very hip. It's very retro, very Steely Dan almost, meets Maxwell. You're going to be hearing something from Colin. I think he's just great.

Q - You've written so many hit songs, you really don't need to tour, do you? You could just live off the royalties.

A - I would probably be doing better if I wasn't producing other acts. That I will say. With 'live' stuff, I enjoy it too much. I don't rely on it for making my living. You're right. Songwriting is my living. When I develop a new artist, it's really just a drain on my finances. I'm not the kind a guy who can just rest on his laurels. I want to continue to make new music. I'm comfortable, but I never let myself get too comfortable.

Q - Did you like Bo Bice's version of "Vehicle"?

A - I loved it. He sold 1 million copies and we're best of friends. I remember I was in Nashville writing and going down the elevator and Mike Borch, the drummer of Ides Of March said, "Peterik, upstairs! This guy looks like Jesus Christ and he's covering the shit out of Vehicle". We had no clue. My publisher was trying to get a hold of me but I was out of town. I wasn't returning calls. He was going to ask for permission. Of course I would've said absolutely yes. So, I had no warning and I get upstairs and I see Bo Bice just tearing it up on "Vehicle". That was such a thrill. Then the guy from Bon Jovi, the guitar player Richie Sambora, played the lead on that track. So that's another thrill. Bo Bice just called me the other day about something interesting, but I can't talk about it. (Laughs). It's kind of neat. He might have this opportunity to sing lead in a band that you would know very well.

Q - How long did it take you to write "Vehicle"?

A - Very short period, probably a day. That said, I kept toying around with the lyric. I knew the first line the way I originally had it wasn't right. It was, "I gotta set of wheels pretty baby, won't you hop inside my car." It just kind of laid there. I already had the horn riffs in my head. But I knew the first line wasn't happening. So, I was sitting in high school biology with a lab partner. The lab partner was a real stoner. He'd come to school every day totally ripped. He was stoned one day. He was laughing his head off. He showed me this pamphlet that was circulating through the school. It had a little cartoon. It was an anti-drug pamphlet. This little cartoon of a friendly stranger and beware of this guy. I went home and said, "I got it. I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan. Won't you hop inside my car?" I knew that that was magic. The rhythm of the words, the whole thing, boom! Went to rehearsal that night, worked out the song. As soon as I heard that horn riff by my guys, The Ides Of March, I had goose bumps. I knew this is something really special.

Q - How old were you when you wrote that song?

A - I was 18. I wrote it in December of '69. Then we cut it in February 1970.

Q - Had it not been for that kid sitting next to you, you would have had a real struggle completing that song, wouldn't you?

A - It would still have been a good song but it wouldn't have had that magical opening line everybody remembers. All things happen for a reason.

Q - "Eye Of The Tiger".

A - That's another one that the best ones seem to come really fast. People ask me how long did it take to write? The easy answer is Frankie and I wrote it in about three days. The harder answer is that we'd been writing it all our lives. I mean, I always say good luck is where opportunity meets preparation. We were prepared. We were already for Stallone's call and being asked to write this song. So, once we had the rough cut of the movie, it just seemed to flow really quickly. So, we had the music down. Over the next three or four days I wrote the rest of the lyrics, but the music came pretty quick.

Q - How is it that Frank Stallone called you? How did he hear about you?

A - Well, I think you are thinking of Sylvester Stallone.

Q - No. As I understand, Sylvester Stallone's brother Frank was in charge of music for Rocky III.

A - That's not true. That's one of those alligators in the sewers of New York rumors. Actually I got a call from Sylvester Stallone on my answering machine. I wasn't home. I hear, "Hey, yo, Jim. Give me a call. It's still Sylvester Stallone." I'm going, "Right, yeah, whatever." I thought someone was putting me on. So I played it for my wife and she said, "Yeah, it sounds like Stallone." We were already huge fans of his from Rocky I and Rocky II. so, I called him back and said, "Is this really Sylvester Stallone?" He said, "Yeah. Call me Sly. I got this new movie called Rocky III, and I like you guys sound. It's street. It's raw." He'd heard through Scotti Brothers, our label and they were friends. He played the "Poor Man's Son" from the "Premonition" album and Stallone said, "That's the sound I want for my new album. Can you help me out?" I Go, "Yeah. I think so." I called Frankie over the next day. He had sent us the rough cut of the movie. The first three minutes of the movie you have a montage where Mr. T is risin' up and Stallone is kind of getting soft from doing Visa card commercials. And I had my white Les Paul around my neck and I just felt the rhythm. I see the punches being thrown, Bop, Bop, Bop, Bop, Bop. It was like magic. It was like an explosion. We knew we had something. But the lyrics weren't coming hard so we begged Stallone to break policy and send us the whole movie, which he did on the condition we send it back the next day. The movie company would've gotten mad. So that's when we heard these great words in the script, "You gotta keep the eye of the tiger Rocky." Burgess Meredith saying it to Rocky. We knew we had found our title.

Q - Eye Of The Tiger fit so perfectly. It wouldn't be the same if the song was "Eye Of The Lion."

A - (Laughs). Eye Of The Cheetah. It rolls off the tongue. It's just a magic phrase.

Q - And the song lives on not only in that movie, but the fighters I used to watch would enter the ring with that song being played in the background. I guess they thought they were Stallone.

A - They still do. Not a day goes by when you don't hear that song in some context in the world, either on TV or in a movie or marching bands doing it or kids singing it on the street. It's one of the biggest rewards I have in life. I mean, the money is fine and all that, but hearing these stories of people that were so inspired, that's the real payback for me.

Q - The first time I saw that movie I thought if only there were a real Clubber Lang in boxing. And then along comes Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson is Clubber Lang.

A - You're right, I'm telling you.

Q - Where do you think this knack for writing hit songs comes from? I don't think you can go to school and be taught that.

A - Right. I don't either. I think it's an inherited gene. The whole musical gene, I think you're born with it. And then it's up to you what you do with it. A lot of people have that gene but don't have other components to put it all together. My dad had the gene and so did his father. They were natural musicians. They didn't read a note of music. Dad adjusted relays at the phone company by day, but on weekends he was the head of a band called The High Hatters. It was kind of a polka standards band that were really, really good. I used to go out with them when I was old enough to play sax, since I was nine or ten years old, sneaking around playing with my dad's band. But I really believe natural musicians is something you are born with. But then you have to work really hard to maximize it. I wasn't a great songwriter right away. I wrote some songs that were horrible and even to this day I'll write a real lemon because they can't all be great. Now you play the odds. You know if you did it once you can do it again and I was lucky to have success very early on in life. I never got discouraged if there were a few flops. I would always feel, well, I'm going to have a hit again. It's just a matter of time.

Q - What I've noticed about Pop music is songwriters will pick up on some street lingo and write a song about it.

A - I totally agree. My ears are always open. I hear what people say. I listen to them talk. I write things down every day. I keep a journal with me. A person will say something and they don't know how clever or brilliant it is. They say it and I write it down. In a week it might be a song. I don't know if you know it, but I got to write The Beach Boys' come back song last year. It was a real fun thing for me. It's called, "That's Why God Made The Radio". That became the title of their comeback album on Capital last year. It went to number three on Billboard. Kind of a big deal. As they toured last year, every set they played "That's Why God Made The Radio". I wrote a second song for them called "Isn't It Time", which was also on the record. I wrote those with Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas, the producer of The Beach Boys. This is really a cool thing, Larry Millas, who is The Ides Of March, I've known him since third grade, so there's four writers on both of those songs. We are in the Chicago Theatre listening to our song and our heroes The Beach Boys are singing it. I mean, it didn't get better than that.

Q - You've certainly written for some top-notch artists.

A - It could've been The Beatles and I wouldn't have been any more excited. The Beach Boys were "it" for us when we were 12, 13, 14 years old, and actually continued.

Q - I would've thought the whole surfin', hot rod era would have been more meaningful to someone living on the West Coast.

A - Right, right.

Q - Wouldn't you agree The British Invasion was more exciting?

A - Well, I loved The British Invasion, but I was living vicariously through that whole surfing and hot rod thing. Then of course they shifted gears and they were more into "Good Vibrations" and "I Get Around". They really wrote some great songs

Q - Was your hometown of Berwyn, Illinois a good place for a band to play in 1964? Were there a lot of venues?

A - Not at all. The typical bungalow community, blue collar. Very neat brick homes. There was the youth center, which we had to beg to play for, pro bono of course. There was finally a club in Lyons which is next door to Berwyn called The Key Note Club. We opened that club. Of course no drinks. We couldn't play bars although we snuck into a few to play. Berwyn didn't have any kind of scene whatsoever. We used to play The Red Feather Building and VFW Hall. And of course Morton West High School, which was our high school and Morton East High School which was the sister school. But we just begged, borrowed and stealed. Anyplace we could play, we would play.

Q - In 1965 you started your own record label, Epitome. Was that in name only?

A - (Laughs). Epitome, yeah. It was just in name only. It was just to distribute our first single, "Like It Or Love It", backed with "No Two Ways About It". We pooled $300 from sock hops that we played at Morton West High School. We got those two sides and my dad played tambourine. We're just loading our equipment to go out the door and the engineer comes white faced and says, "Guys, we have to do it all over again. We stretched the tape." (Laughs). I never even heard of stretching the tape, so we had to go in and do it all over again.

Q - You toured with Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin in 1970?

A - Right '70, '71, '72. Of course "Vehicle" had hit number one in April of '70 I believe. Suddenly, it became the fastest breaking single in Warner Bros. history. Our manager and booking agent... All of a sudden, Boom! We are on the road playing a lot of Pop Festivals. After Woodstock, everybody wanted to do a Pop Festival. In that context we played with just about everybody who is anybody and that's where we met and played with Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, Janis Joplin, Poco, Brownsville Station, Grand Funk, Jimi Hendrix. It was unbelievable. I was 19 years old sharing food with Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman. It was just incredible.

Q - What did you think of people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin? How did they come across to you?

A - Well, I loved their music. This was near the end of both of their lives unfortunately. I don't think either of them were quite at the top of their game when we played with them. They were excellent, Joplin especially. She had her brass section. It wasn't Big Brother. By this time it was her special band that she put together with a lot of studio cats. She killed. It was in Canada actually, not Winnipeg. We played Winnipeg with Led Zeppelin. That was amazing. That was part of the Peace Train Festival (Janis Joplin Show). John Lennon's tour. That particular show with Zeppelin was The Youngbloods, Iron Butterfly, Ides Of March, and Led Zeppelin. But what a night! Getting back to Hendrix and Janis, they were not at the top of their game. But man, it was such a thrill watching them from the wings. It was just incredible.

Q - After their time on stage, did you get any time with them? Did they know who you were? Were they familiar with your material?

A - Well, that would be nice. Hendrix was in a limo and off. We played a ball field and he was gone like vapor. But Janis was kind of cool. I didn't see her immediately after the show. I was walking over to the hotel which was about two or three blocks away, carrying my clothes bag. This was in Calgary. I see her on the street walking around, stumbling around. She was a little worse for the wear. I said, "Hey Janis, Jim Peterik, Ides Of March." She said, "Hello." Kind of a slurred hello. I said, "What's going on?" She said, "I can't find my hotel." I happen to know she was in the same hotel as I was an all the Ides were. I said, "I'm going there. Do you want to go?" So, she took me by the arm and I took her to our hotel. We just chatted. I said, "It's a great show." And she said, "It was a great show that we did." Very sweet. My fondest memories of that era.

Q - Did you ever cross paths with Jim Morrison?

A - None whatsoever. We never played with him and I don't know too much about that scene. I'm friends with John Densmore, the drummer (of The Doors). He has a new book out right now. It's mainly based on the lawsuits when he sued The Doors for using the name Doors unauthorized. A very fascinating book. I happen to know the distributor of the book and he invited me to the premier of the book signing and I got to play on stage with John Densmore and some local musicians for "Light My Fire". It was just a real thrill.

Q - Did you ever meet any of The Beatles?

A - I never met Lennon. I met McCartney and Harrison. I met McCartney on the 25th Anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper". I flew over to London as a guest of the local radio station. I went with my wife and I was able to meet him in Studio 2, where they recorded most of their songs. Of course I was totally tongue tied. I shook his hand and we exchanged a few words. It was just a huge thrill. Harrison, I met at a party in L. A. "Vehicle" was number one. We were invited to this posh party and it was just a matter of shaking his hand and exchanging pleasantries. I've not yet met Ringo, but I may be part of his entourage tour this coming year. I'm hoping that happens.

Q - Ringo's All Starr Band?

A - Yes. I can't announce it yet, but it's looking good.

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