By Tom Prestopnik
When I first met Jim Peterik on a Moody Blues Cruise in February 2016, he was fronting The Ides of March. Coming off the stage, the sweat was pouring off him, all the way down to his high-heeled boots. I approached him to pat him on the back for an outstanding show and he said, ‘’Don’t get too close, I’m soaking wet.” After a close-up photo with him, and an autograph, I decided that this is one rock ‘n’ roller I’d have to get to know more about.
Fast forward to January 2018, and once again I’m on the Moody Blues Cruise, which featured 20 other name acts besides the Moodies, such as Alan Parsons, Richie Furay, Lighthouse, The Zombies, Jefferson Starship, Al Stewart, The Orchestra (ELO) and, of course, The Ides of March. This time, I was more prepared and planned to get an interview with Jim Peterik between concerts, photo ops, meet-and-greets and Q&A sessions.
Peterik has built up quite the singer-songwriter credentials over the years. I doubt there’s anybody out there who doesn’t recognize the opening brass introduction to “Vehicle” by The Ides of March, or the guitar rumbling of “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor; both are written or co-written by Jim Peterik. On top of that, he’s lead vocal and lead guitar on “Vehicle.” His roster of co-written songs includes hits for 38 Special (“Rockin’ Into The Night,” “Hold On Loosely” and “Caught Up in You”), Brian Wilson (“Imagination”), The Beach Boys (“That’s Why God Made the Radio”), Cheap Trick (“You’re All I Wanna Do”), REO Speedwagon (“Just For You”), Blackhawk (“Spirit Dancer”), Sammy Hagar (“Heavy Metal”) and many others.
Originally from Berwyn, Illinois, Peterik officially formed The Ides of March in 1966 with friends Bob Bergland, Mike Borch and Larry Millas, playing sock hops and small shows until stardom hit in 1970 with“Vehicle” reaching the top of the charts. Fifty-two years later, the same four are the core of the band, with Scott May playing Hammond B3 and Tim Bales, Steve Eisen and Henry Salgado added as the brass section.
While Peterik and I had prepared for a face-to-face interview aboard the cruise ship, time constraints prevented it, so we followed up with a telephone conversation.
GOLDMINE: I really enjoyed myself on the Moody Blues Cruise and could tell that all the entertainers were there to have fun and meet the fans. Is there another Moody Blues Cruise planned?
JIM PETERIK: If there is another cruise, we hope that we’re going to be on it. We’ll find out very, very soon. We are booked for The Flower Power Cruise in 2019.
GM: A previous Goldmine article I had written about Carl Gardner and the Coasters (June 19, 2009), addressed the problem he had with people stealing the name ‘The Coasters’ and using it professionally. On board the cruise, the Little River Band and Jefferson Starship were performing — and both bands have had trouble with their name, being used by authorized or unauthorized bands. I know that you had some legal problems with the band Survivor and your former writing partner Frankie Sullivan. Have those problems been resolved?
JP: Frankie is still performing with Survivor. Since I left the band in 1996, when I tour it’s as The Ides of March featuring Jim Peterik; Jim Peterik and World Stage (my Superstar Review); Pride of Lions; and my Americana band, Jim Peterik and The Storm Chasers. I also tour with the Cornerstones of Rock, a show with many bands from the ‘60s whose roots are in Chicago. The Ides of March, The Buckinghams, The Cryan’ Shames, New Colony Six, The Shadows of Knight, Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah and The American Breed. The Pledge Drive Soundstage show we did for PBS featured the last performances of Gary Loizzo of The American Breed and Skip Haynes of Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah. Very sad indeed.
GM: The Beach Boys and the song, “That’s Why God Made The Radio”... tell me how that came about.
JP: Back in 1998, A friend and associate of mine, Joe Thomas (producer), asked me if I would like to co-write with him and Brian Wilson, and I, of course, jumped at the chance. Brian was one of my heroes. We did some work on Brian’s solo album including the title cut “Imagination,” and Brian, Joe and I co-wrote the song “Dream Angel” about his young daughter. We went on Letterman and played “Imagination,” which was a huge thrill.
About five years later, Joe contacted me again and said that there was going to be a Beach Boys reunion album of new music and would I like to get involved. He was able to put together most of the original Beach Boys, including Mike Love, Al Jardine and David, for the project. One night at dinner in Chicago, Brian, Joe, Larry Millas (of The Ides of March) and I started shooting the breeze about the upcoming record. We were talking about AM radio, and I said, “There’s nothing like hearing a song coming out of the AM car radio on the dashboard... that compression, there’s no high end. I miss that sound!” And Brian said, “Yeah, that’s why God made the radio.” I had my notepad right with me and I said, “OK, Brian, now we have to write this.” And he said, “Write what?” and I said, “That’s Why God Made The Radio.” It took us five years to really get the song right. Finally in 2011, we actually recorded it. I didn’t realize what an impact it would have. The album came out in 2012, and suddenly Brian and The Beach Boys are on all these TV shows — Good Morning America, Letterman, Leno — the works! They had a pledge drive for Public Television and they sold something like 20,000 CDs in one hour’s time. I went to see them at the Chicago Theater and went backstage with my wife and son Colin and we got to hang out with Brian, Al Jardine, Mike Love and David Marks. Their tour was also called “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” and the album went to No. 2 on Billboard record charts.
Brian, Joe, Larry and I co-wrote another song for that album called “Isn’t It Time.” When we were recording the song, I instinctively started stomping my feet and I asked Larry to mic my feet. Brian loved it and it ended up being on the record. They also took a loop of it when they played it live on the concert tour.
GM: On the cruise I showed you two Henry Paul Band albums and noted that you wrote a lot of the music on those two albums. Henry Paul, when not recording solo, was also the voice of The Outlaws and Blackhawk. Henry is from Florida. How did you hook up with him?
JP: I have kind of a mentor, whose name is John Kalodner. He’s a famous guy in the A&R business, and at that time worked A&R for Atlantic Records. He signed Survivor to Scotti Brothers, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. He’s the guy you’ll recognize with the Hasidic beard in the music video by Aerosmith, “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).” Kalodner loved my writing and he hooked me up with 38 Special, Sammy Hagar and Henry Paul. I was with Survivor at the time, but in my spare time I would fly to Tampa to write with Henry Paul, Jacksonville to write with 38 Special, or to San Francisco to write with Sammy. Henry came to Chicago and demo-ed many songs that ended up on his album Anytime including “Keeping Our Love Alive.”
GM: Listening to Henry Paul, he has a very distinct voice, almost like Roy Orbison or “King of the Honky Tonks,” Gary Stewart. You hear these voices and know who they are immediately. I mentioned Blackhawk and the title song of the album “Spirit Dancer.” The song “Brothers of the Southland” was also a standout song written by you.
JP: I wrote those with Henry Paul and Dave Robbins (keyboards). “Brothers...” was dedicated to the Southern Rock bands, and we mentioned several of them by name in the song. A lot of them have come and gone. We namecheck a lot of them. We talk about The Tucker Boys, The Caldwells, Ronnie Van Zant, Duane Allman and others. It became like an anthem.
GM: When you were writing with Paul and Robbins, were you all in the same room, or back and forth like Elton and Bernie used to do?
JP: We were all in the same room in Nashville. That’s usually the best way. I’m getting ready to fly to Atlanta to write with 38 Special again. I bring my Midwest rock thing to their Southern thing and it seems to work really great – it’s a blend of styles.
GM: Of your songwriting, performing or producing,what do you like the best?
JP: One thing leads to the other. I can’t be one of those guys who sits in a cubicle all day and cranks out songs. I need to be onstage often. I need to see the people, feel the vibe and see what’s working. Sometimes after a good show, I’ll hit a creative high, a creative flow, and I enjoy doing all equally.
When I write a song, I always visualize myself on stage live, or if I write with 38 Special or the Ides, I envision them on stage. You have to think how this is going to work in reality, not just in the cubicle or in the studio. How it translates to people, that’s why I need to do it all.
GM: On board the ship somebody asked you how Stallone got in touch with you to do the music for Rocky III. You said that you would save that story for the next concert, the next day.
JP: It’s a pretty simple story really. One day I came home and played back the messages on my answering machine. I got a call saying “Hey Jim, this is Sylvester Stallone, give me a call.” I figured, yeah...somebody is putting me on. My wife heard it and said that it really sounded like Stallone, so I had better call him back. So when I called him back, I said, “Hi, This is Jim Peterik, is this really Sylvester Stallone?” “Yeah, Jim. Call me Sly.” I’m talking to Sly Stallone and I’m shaking in my boots. I mean the first Rocky movie was something else. Survivor hadn’t really taken off yet. We were playing the local clubs and short tours. The first album, from 1979, didn’t set the world on fire and the second, Premonition from 1981, did a little better with a song called “Poor Man’s Son” and a second single called “Summer Nights.” Maybe they scratched the Top 40. Sly said that he heard our song “Poor Man’s Son.” When our label head, Tony Scotti, played it for him, he decided that was the sound that he wanted for his next movie. So Sly sent us the first three minutes of the movie and told us to rent a Betamax Pro to watch it. I called up Frankie Sullivan, the lead guitarist of Survivor. All we had was the first three minutes and he wanted us to write the theme song! There was music already attached... “Do, do, do, another one bites the dust...” I said that he’s already got his song... What are we doing here? We called him back and he said that he couldn’t get the publishing rights for the Queen song. So Queen’s loss was our gain. We watched the amazing intro and were doing our chord changes to go along with the punches.
But that’s all we had. I called Sly and told him that we needed (to watch) the whole movie to get the idea for our music. At first he balked, but then relented and sent us the whole rough cut of the movie with the promise that we’d send it right back. Then, watching the movie, we saw the trainer, Mickey, telling Sly, “Rocky, you’re losing the eye of the tiger.” I looked at Frankie, Frankie looked at me and we both said, “There’s our title.” Four days later, we’re in the studio recording the song, and the first recording, the demo, was the one that was used in the movie. People don’t realize that the movie version is a bit different from the album version. A few weeks later we went into the studio and recut it. We had better equipment and it had a better sound. Both versions have the real triumphant feel that we were looking for.
GM: You won a Grammy for “Eye of the Tiger.” Where is your Grammy right now?
JP: It’s in my studio, on top of my recording console, proudly. The original one I got, back in ’82, they were kind of flimsy. And I don’t know anybody’s whose didn’t break in one way or another. On mine, the bell of the gramophone fell off and it looked pathetic. Finally, I got in touch with the Grammy Foundation and they made me a new one, which is like the current one... weighs a ton! It’s sturdy metal and looks good now.
GM: On board the cruise ship, you told us the story of how you wrote “Vehicle.” Would you relate that to us?
JP: I was standing in line to see The Turtles, April 9, 1968. I remember it as if it were yesterday. She was with three other girls, but she just stood out, physically beautiful. There was just something about her. And I was thinking to myself, she’s way out of my league … she’ll never talk to me. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to get up the courage to approach her when just then she turned around and said, “Aren’t you Peterik? I just saw The Ides of March last month and you guys were great.” Immediately my nerves calmed down and we started talking and we never stopped. We ended up sitting with each other during the concert and watched Flo and Eddie singing “Happy Together” and that became our song. About half a year later she decided that she wanted to date other guys and I was crushed. She was 15 and I was 17. The Ides of March went on tour and I was really broken up. I thought that if I could write a No. 1 record I could win her back.
We got back from our tour on the road and one day she called me up and told me that she needed a ride to modeling school. “But we’re not dating!” So I drove her to modeling school and thought I might get a kiss, but nothing! Two weeks later, she called again and needed a ride to modeling school. I started resenting her and started thinking that all I was to her was a vehicle. Then I thought that would be a great idea for a song, about a guy who is getting taken for a ride by a girl. I came up with a great horn riff, and we started playing it at the local dances. The dance floors would always fill up with that song and we started thinking that we might really have something here, so we went to Columbia Studios in Chicago and cut the thing. We caught lightning in the bottle. Warner Brothers heard the master and put it out. It became the fastest breaking record in Warner Brothers history. It went to No. 1 in Cashbox, No. 2 in Record World, No. 2 in Billboard, and suddenly we’re on tour with Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers. And guess who called me? “Hi Jim, this is Karen, maybe we should try dating again.” I thought to myself, I wrote a song for you and I got you back. My plan worked! From that moment on, we started making wedding plans and now we’ve been happily married for 45 years.
GM: That’s a great story. A great finish to this interview. Last question, is there anything you want to say to your fans? How much longer do you see yourself doing this?
JP: I always expect that one day I’ll be on stage singing “Great God in heaven you know I love...” and I’ll hit the floor. (laughs)
GM: Just like Jackie Wilson.
JP: That’s right, the same way. I hope that I can keep on going at age 100, if I’m still singing. I’m 67 now, and have no plans of stopping. I want to add that Goldmine is a fantastic magazine, because they don’t forget about anybody who’s ever been significant in the business, and also the people who were in the footnotes of the business. Everyone is special to Goldmine, because if you had a record out there, it touched somebody. If it didn’t touch a million people, it might have touched a few. Goldmine is out there for the fanatic, like me. I still have my old WLS Silver Dollar Surveys, and WJJD record surveys. They are like the ancient sea scrolls to me. And I’m a big music fan above all else. I’ve had a degree of success, but over all, I’m a fan.
Finally, I want to mention a few other projects that I’m working on. I’m writing with Dennis DeYoung, formerly of Styx. We’re working on a new album and his voice sounds terrific. He’s on tour now doing the whole Grand Illusion album and it sounds great on stage. We only live a few blocks away from each other in the ‘burbs. I’m also going to be writing with 38 Special again. This will be the third writing junket for the new album, which is going back to the sound that really made them famous — but updated!
We’re also going into the studio soon to record a new Ides of March album, all new songs, with a guest artist or two or three (laughs)... Stay tuned for more information in the upcoming months — you never know, we might have special guests on stage as well from time to time. Again, check out our Facebook and website, www.theidesofmarch.com, often for details!