By Chris M. Junior
His two main bands both made it to the upper reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Even so, Ides of March singer-guitarist and Survivor keyboardist Jim Peterik admits that he is not a household name, and that’s one reason why he decided to write his life story.
Peterik’s “Through The Eye of the Tiger” (BenBella Books) also lists writer Lisa Torem on the cover, but he says her role was to be his “compass and adviser.”
Peterik recently expanded upon his truth in a conversation about “Through the Eye of the Tiger” that also included such topics as meeting original Survivor singer Dave Bickler, making videos during the band’s heyday and learning about the death of Survivor’s second frontman, Jimi Jamison.
GOLDMINE: In the book’s introduction, you mention how cathartic it was to write about your life and how it forced you to “harness my powers of recall” and “to look for answers to the complex questions” you didn’t ask yourself before. What finally made you write your life story now, and did you use diaries, journals or other materials to jog your memory?
JIM PETERIK: Well, mainly the archives are my brain. I have a pretty good sense of recall — not only recalling the events but the feeling behind the events. Why now? I just felt it was a coda in my life, kind of a crossroads between my past and the future. Usually when a guy hits 60, you’re kind of at the end of a career (laughs), and maybe you’re recycling the past. And I love the past; don’t get me wrong. I’m not the guy who says, “I’m not going to play the hits.” I play the hits for all they’re worth. But I also feel there’s a lot to be done.
GM: Were there any aspects of your life and career that were difficult to write about?
JP: I first hesitated to write this book because I didn’t think there was enough drama. If a book is going to be smooth sailing, it’s kind of a yawn, to be honest. But as I was writing, I realized my life was anything but a yawn and anything but easy. Like I say in my book, I buried myself in a cocoon of creativity, which kind of smoothed the raw edges off the conflicts, and there were a lot of them: The power struggle between [Survivor guitarist] Frankie [Sullivan] and me, having some problems with my marriage due to the separation of the road. I basically missed the ’80s at home. So as I was writing, I was crying, because I realized there was a lot of drama in my life that I’m only now confronting.
GM: Let’s delve a little deeper into a few areas covered in your book. After the Ides of March disbanded, you were a jingle singer, and that’s how you met original Survivor frontman Dave Bickler. At the time, were you quietly scouting for talent to work with on future projects, or did hearing Dave in that environment totally catch you by surprise?
JP: Pretty much by surprise. I wasn’t actively trolling for lead singers, but when [I heard that voice], I said to myself, “I’ve got to log this in my permanent files.” I was cutting the solo album “Don’t Fight the Feeling” for Epic in ’76, and there was a song on it called “Let There Be Song,” one of my first epics. I called Dave in and had him do these answer parts, and I realized how great his voice sounded on my songs. So when I was designing this “super band” in the throes of a codeine stupor, trying to recover from pneumonia, I started thinking about Dave.
GM: You write that the video for Survivor’s “I Can’t Hold Back” was the band’s best. What did you like and dislike about making videos during those early MTV years?
JP: (Laughs.) I actually loved almost everything about it, but there were certain other people in the band who didn’t like what was going on and felt that the lead singers were always featured. Frankie always felt that it was a band, it was a democracy, it was an equal thing, and any director who favored Jimi or Dave, Frankie didn’t like that. He made it unpleasant, whether it was a video shoot or a TV show. It’s just a natural thing to focus on the guy who’s singing, so there always seemed to be tension on the sets. The “Eye of the Tiger” video was all set to be a montage of us onstage cut with scenes from the movie, which have been cool and popular. But Frankie said, “That’s going to tie us to the movie, so let’s make it the story of a rock ’n’ roll band that is rising to the top and beating the odds.” I sold that concept to Bill Dear, the director, and that’s what it became. Whether that was the best decision or not, I don’t know. Certain videos were very difficult to make because of the growing tensions in the band; it wasn’t just me and Frankie.
GM: The intro to the “Eye of the Tiger” video reminded me of the opening credits to “The Mod Squad,” but instead of running through a dark tunnel, you guys meet up one by one on a city street and strut with serious expressions to a rehearsal space. Who came up with that idea?
JP: That was Bill Dear. It was a great scene, despite the fact I was wearing a big, white sweatshirt that emphasized my girth. I wish I’d never borrowed [Epic Records product manager] Cliff O’Sullivan’s sweatshirt. It taught me a lesson. Just because he looked good in it didn’t mean I would look good in it.
GM: Well, they say the camera always adds 10 pounds.
JP: Oh, man — 20, maybe. White wasn’t my best color then.
GM: In Chapter 24, you point out Frankie’s jealously of Jimi, the “new kid on the block.” Was Jimi fully aware of Frankie’s feelings at the time? And were you concerned that the revamped Survivor would suffer as a result of that jealousy?
JP: I sensed there was a problem immediately, when we started a tour with REO Speedwagon [in 1984]. After the first show, Frankie had a meeting with the lighting guy and changed the lighting. He clearly did not want to have Jimi be the main guy in the spotlight. I do not know if Jimi was aware of it or if he was offended by it. I never spoke to Jimi about that. But I was concerned that it would affect Jimi’s attitude.
GM: How would you describe your relationship with Jimi prior to his death last summer?
JP: It was excellent. Many years ago, we mended any fences that were broken due to the lawsuit and the two versions of Survivor, where we ended up in court in Milwaukee: Frankie and me against Jimi. Ultimately, Frankie and I did not win a stop and desist on Jimi using the name, which ultimately led to him rejoining the band after I left. As a songwriter — and that’s what I consider to be my biggest strength — [I felt] Jimi pulled the best stuff out of me, knowing that if I wrote it, he would just improve the song by the believability in his voice.
Two weeks before his death, he called me [and left a voicemail]: “Jimbo, give me a call. I miss ya. I just want to hear your voice. I’m out here on the road.” He sounded kind of down. I called him back and left him a nice voicemail: “Let’s get together.” And the next thing I know, I get a text from my personal trainer. She said, “It’s such a shame about Jimi.” There always has to be that first person [to break the bad news]. I was enjoying myself at my summer place, celebrating my son’s birthday, and to get that news was just devastating. Then while answering that text, I get a call from Amy Jamison, his daughter, and she’s sobbing. I said, “Is it true?” And she said, “Yeah, he’s gone.” And we were just crying our eyes out. It was very hard.
GM: Have you given any thought to bringing a condensed version of “Through the Eye of the Tiger” to the stage? There are plenty of good stories to work with, and of course there’s no shortage of music to drive the narrative.
JP: Hmm, wow. It’s not like I never thought of it, but you asking gives me a little bit of inspiration. Almost all plays fail, and it’s a scary thing to go outside your comfort zone, but who knows? GM