Posted September, 2014
Photo by Lynne Peters
If you and I were sitting around, shooting the breeze about music and the people who write it, chances are that, unless you’re just a real propeller head about songwriters, you may not have heard the name, “Jim Peterik.” However, I’d betcha a dollar to a donut that you’ve undoubtedly heard music that he’s either written or co-written. Let’s rewind the soundtrack of your youth and see if I win this bet.
“Vehicle” by The Ides Of March? Jim Peterik
“Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor? Jim Peterik
“Hold On Loosely,” “Rockin’ Into The Night” or “Caught Up In You” by .38 Special? Guess.
“That’s Why God Made Radio” by The Beach Boys? Y-y-y-yup.
Jim Peterik wrote or co-wrote those songs and many, many others as well as recorded some of them. He’s also worked with Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Brian Wilson and The Doobie Brothers. So, yeah, odds are really strong that you have heard Jim Peterik’s music at least a couple of bazillion times.
I’ll take that donut now. Krispy Kreme. Glazed and fresh.
In addition to all that great music that Jim’s written and even recorded, he is also a co-star of the reality TV show, “Ariel, Zoey and Eli” on the Cozi network. Oh, and he’s an author, too. Four years ago, he co-wrote “Songwriting For Dummies” with Cathy Lynn and Dave Austin. This month, his autobiography (written with Lisa Torem), “Through The Eye Of The Tiger,” was released and is chock full of some great rock and roll history.
A couple of weeks before Jim and I were supposed to chat about his book, he (and Survivor fans around the world) learned of the unexpected passing of the band’s lead singer (and his dear friend), Jimi Jamison. Obviously, this put a damper on the positive vibe surrounding the release of the book. Before we got into discussing the meat of the book, I asked Peterik how he was doing.
“It felt like a punch in the heart, you know? I was at my cottage, chilling out and feeling good when I got a text from my personal trainer. She said, ‘It’s such a shame about Jimi” and I go, ‘What are you talking about? What. Are. You. Talking about?’
“It’s one thing when you get a warning when someone is dying of cancer and you get a few years, maybe, to get used to the idea. It’s always tragic. With Jimi, he did a show two days earlier. He was vital and sounded good. Then, suddenly, the phone rang and it was it was Amy Jamison and she was sobbing. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ She goes, ‘He died. My daddy died.’ I was devastated. Devastated.
“I spent most of that day phoning people and getting calls from a who’s who of the rock world from the eighties. Everybody was calling me because we were very close and they knew it. Jim and I had done many shows together over the past eight years. I do this thing called ‘World Stage’ and it’s kind of a who’s who of the eighties. He was always there for me. He called me two weeks before he passed and said, ‘Jim, I love you. I just want to hear you voice. I miss you, man.’ I called him back and left him a message and we traded calls. That was the last time I heard his voice.
“I’m still not over it. I’ll never get over it. He was not only one of the most talented singers I ever worked with - he was probably THE most – but he was also a dear friend. I loved the man.”
When I asked Jim how Jimi’s family were doing, he replied, “I think that they’re so busy planning a big memorial show that – sometimes busy work is the best thing to take your mind off of it. It’s going to be kind of a show with a backline and the whole bit. We’re all going to get up there and – it’s very unplanned at this point. It’s going to be a homage to Jimi. They (Jimi’s family) sound like they’re really holding it together.”
I asked Peterik what he would like Boomerocity readers to know about his dear friend.
“I think that it’s that he gave all to his fans. There was never a moment where he didn’t gladly shake hands or sign everything. Not only that, but give people the time of day. He valued everyone as a human being – not just as a fan. He made everybody a friend. He was warm and, yet, he could spot a phony a mile away – someone who was there for the wrong purpose or just trying to get on his good side for not the right reason. He would hold off. He would say, ‘Well, see ya later.’ But the real people he cherished.
“There’s an ‘X-Factor’ of a performer that you just can’t put your finger on. Yes, he’s got a great voice; yes, he was great looking but he connected with the audience. As a songwriter, it was such a gift when I would teach him a song and he would wrap his voice around it and improve the song. He made every word believable.
“My mind goes back to ‘The Search Is Over’. That was a very important song for the band and for myself because it was really from the heart. When I heard him sing it during the audition, it was like this song was written for him. In my book I tell the story of teaching him ‘The Search Is Over’ and he gets to the high note and cracks. I said, ‘Oh, Frankie, we better lower it a half step’ and Jimi looks me in the eye and goes, ‘Give half a man a chance, man!’ I played it again in the same key and he hit it like a trooper and it stayed in the higher key.”
Shifting to a little more brighter subject, I read in “Through The Eye Of The Tiger” that Jim met his lovely wife, Karen, when he was seventeen at a Turtles concert. They’ve been married over 42 years now so I asked him what he attributed to his successful marriage within the soul crushing atmosphere of the music business.
“I analyze that sometimes myself. I think that it has to do with Karen’s independence and not being the Yoko Ono type. She’s always had her own career. She also valued what we had. She knew how rare it was, the love that we found at the Turtles concert, waiting in line to see Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan.
“By the way, that was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. I talk about it in the book. They’re singing ‘Happy Together’ and suddenly, Karen – I had just met her – threw her leg over my leg and I’m going, ‘Holy crap! What the hell is going on?’ Her girlfriend goes, ‘Karen, what are you doing?’ and Karen goes, ‘It’s okay. It’s okay.’ And it was okay. But when you realize how special our relationship was – even when I was gone for months and months at a time – we knew that I would come back and it would be like it was. She was independent and had her own career as an interior designer then, later on, she makes wigs for women. She was very independent as was I.”
Continuing on, he added, “We had trust. I think trust is the number one word. I didn’t mess around. She didn’t mess around. There’s that feeling that this is stable and she trusted me. That’s an amazing thing because in my business - or any business – it’s very tempting out there. They used to call me ‘Father Jim’ because I used to counsel all the guys. ‘What are you doing, man? You’ve got a better looking girl at home!’ That’s just the way I was. The trust factor was huge.”
Peterik has worked with some amazing talent in co-writing songs like .38 Special’s biggest hits. He’s also rubbed shoulders – quite literally – with some rock royalty. A couple of stories speak to his amazing integrity: Walking a very drunk Janis Joplin to her room without taking advantage of her and walking out of a particularly decadent Led Zeppelin after-show party. Both took tremendous spine. I asked Jim what he attributed that spine and integrity to.
“It’s a good question. I come from a blue collar family. My dad worked at the phone company. My parents led by example. They really did. They didn’t lecture me ever. All the guys in the band had these parents that trusted us. When someone trusts you, you want to live up to that trust. Nowadays, it seems like there’s all these questions. Don’t do this and don’t do that. None of them told us ‘Don’t.’ We just knew what was right and what was wrong.
“The real reason I never partied – yes, I was tempted, but I have a thing called the gift of song. My belief is that we are all born with some gift whether it’s as a songwriter or singer, whatever, it’s very important to protect that gift. I saw people all around me squandering that gift and I’m going, ‘What are they doing?’ If I could do cocaine and smoke pot and still write great songs then maybe I’d do it but I can’t. It just doesn’t work.
“I mention a person in the book who will still remain nameless and he was a number one artist. He said, ‘Jimmy, I can’t write unless I’m on coke.’ I felt that that was so tragic because, eventually, it will bite you on the ass.”
Peterik first charted two years prior with his first band, The Ides of March. I asked rhetorically if he was still rockin’ along with that band.
“Yep! Fifty years! We have a lot of great celebrations on the 27th of this month (September). We’re playing in the town of Dupage which has this great venue in the suburbs of Chicago. We’re literally going to play the whole catalog. Then, we’re bringing on stage what we call ‘The Cornerstones of Chicago Rock.’ Carl Giamarese of The Buckinghams, Tom Doody from The Cryan’ Shames, Jimmy Sohns of The Shadows Of Knight and Ronnie Rice of The New Colony Six. It’s just going to be a blast. The, we’re putting out a three disc set. We released all of the original masters from Warner Bros., from Parrot, from RCA and we’ve got two brand new songs and a live video from the House of Blues. So, fifty years and we’re still standing! In fact, that’s the final cut, ‘Last Band Standing’. We’ve very proud of that. The original four from 1964 are still great friends and we’re blessed.”
Researching the work of this prolific artist, I lost track of what all he was working on so I asked him.
“Man, I tell ya, I’ve been busier than ever. When I left Survivor, it was like this blank sheet of paper and I can fill it however I want. The chains are off. It’s very confining to be in a band with Frankie (Sullivan) because Frankie felt that you don’t do anything outside of Survivor and I really wanted to do some other things. So, I left the band in ’96 and, before you know it, I was writing with Brian Wilson – one of my biggest heroes. We wrote two songs for the ‘Imagination’ album and in 1999 I was on the Letterman Show with Brian and it just went on from there.
“Currently, I’ve got a band that is popular in Europe called Pride of Lions, which you’ll need to check out the lead singer, Toby Hitchcock, who is just a fantastic singer and a great guy. We’re on our fifth album including a live one from Belgium – a DVD – that shows the band and what we can do and what I can do. Pride of Lions is kind of what I originally designed Survivor to be, which is co-lead singers. Toby and I share lead vocals where I’ll take the low parts and he’ll take the higher parts. That concept never went over because Frankie wanted it to be a one singer band and I went along with that for the greater good. I thought it was something that I should go along with.
“But, to this day, I so much love fronting the Ides of March and getting up there and being the guy that talks to the crowd and be the lead singer and lead guitar player. That’s the subtext to all my motivation. I love to exert myself.
“I have a new artist named Marc Scherer that just signed with Frontiers – an amazing tenor. I love to work with tenor voices – males. You’ll never be able to replace Jim Jamison. He’s the finest voice I’ve ever worked with. But Marc Scherer is absolutely terrific. I just wrote a tribute song to Jimi called 'Heaven Passes The Torch,' which is going to be premiered at Jimi’s memorial service. It’s going to be very emotional.
“I work with a new country artist – an eighteen year old male named Hunter Cook. We just released a real terrific country album which is more like 80’s rock except with fiddles and mandolins. You know, the new country is so much rock oriented. It fits my style of writing. And I have a reality TV show on the Cozi Network called, ‘Ariel, Zoey and Eli’. It documents me working in the studio with the kids, who are ages 13 through 15. I teach them songs, co-write with them, recording them at my studio. It’s a very interesting show and it’s really gaining in viewership so I’m really excited about that, as well.”
Jokingly, I asked Peterik what he did in his spare time, to which he said, “I collect guitars.” Because his book has a picture showing a small portion of his guitar collection, I asked him how many guitars he owned and what guitar does he consider to be the Holy Grail and whether or not he owns it.
“I have 182 guitars and almost all of them are out of the cases and displayed in the house somewhere. I have them in the foyer, which you saw. I have them in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. My wife is a saint, believe me. It’s better than chasing women, you know? Ha! Ha!
“Holy Grail. It’s not always the most valuable guitar. For me, the Holy Grail is my 1969 gold top Les Paul that I played ‘Vehicle’ on. It traveled around the world with me. That’s the guitar I played with Led Zeppelin in Winnipeg, with (Janis) Joplin, the Grateful Dead, with Poco, with all the bands after Vehicle. I just pulled it out for a record I’m producing and it still has the mojo. It’s in the DNA of that instrument.”
When I suggested that he put out a photographic book featuring his guitar collection, Jim replied, “I’d like to do that. I have a video series now that’s called, ‘Guitars That Followed Me Home,’ that you can check out. Yeah, I didn’t buy it. It followed me home. Ha! Ha! It’s pretty cool and it’s on my Facebook page. Check it out. I’ve only got three episodes up so far but it’s fun.”
In the press release for the book, Jim is quoted as saying that writing this book tore him apart. I asked why that was.
“I think the main thing is that, when you live in the creative cocoon, you don’t realize all the crap you’re going through at the time. You hide. One of the reasons I didn’t know if I’d write a book was that I didn’t feel that I had enough drama in my life to hold interest. I was used to reading Motley Crue and all the train wrecks and drug addiction and I’m going, ‘Is my life going to be interesting enough?’ But, as I said, in writing it, it tore me apart because all the stuff I did go through was tempered by the music. If I hadn’t had music as a crutch, I probably would have lost it. It was my saving grace. So, I realized that there is plenty of drama in this book between inter-band struggles and marital problems and losing my father, losing my mother, there was a lot going on.”
When I asked Peterik what the biggest surprise people will learn about him from this book, his reply was cagey.
“Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise, then, would it? Ha! Ha!” Gotta buy da book, folks, to learn the answer to that question!
With over fifty years in the music business, Jim has witnessed a lot of changes within it. I asked him what are the biggest positive and negative changes that he’s seen.
“I think the positives are that, because of the internet, you can get a buzz going for pretty cheap if you really got the goods. If you’ve got the goods and you know how to work it, you can get an enormous following and you don’t have to hire a publicist to do it. But it’s an art. It’s a skill. That’s the good side.
“The bad side of the internet is there’s a lot of illegal downloading. It’s harder to make money. And, as an artist, you better watch the road because that’s where you’re going to make the money. You’ve got to create a following. You’ve got to go out and hit the road. You’ve got to sell your merchandise. Expect the ol’ work ethic because there’s no brass ring any more. There’s always going to be artists who sell a million copies but it’s very rare. The royalty stream is way, way down. You better love what you’re doing or else get out of the business.”
Because of that perspective, I asked Peterik a question that I’ve asked others of his same stature in the business: If the president were to contact you and appoint you as Music Industry Czar, what would you do to fix the industry?
“Gosh! No one’s ever asked me that. You know, I don’t think it can be fixed. I just think that it’s going to evolve. You have to be committed as an artist now. It’s not the dream. They’re not going to get signed automatically just because you look good. It’s going to separate the men from the boys. Cream is always going to rise to the top. You really can’t fix it. You just have to live with it and realize that real talent will shine on.”
And what advice would Peterik give to aspiring artists?
“I would say to write great songs. Hone your own style. To me, songs are still the coin of the realm. If you write a great song, write a great track, there’s a ton of potential for placements. Nowadays, the biggest money that I make is from licensing. It’s not just vintage artists like myself, it’s young acts. You watch a movie and you see unknown bands that have licensed their music and, literally, made a scene magical. Commercials. I know they used to be a bad word. They’re not a bad word any more. Television. Movies. Write a great song – it’s like Kevin Costner: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It starts with the song. Hone your craft.”
In addition to his own successful work, Jim has collaborated with some pretty big names. I asked him who he hasn’t worked with that he either wishes he could’ve before they passed away or would still like to try to get together with.
“Mick Jagger. Yeah. I’m a pretty good riff guy. You’ve heard my riffs through the years. Keith Richards, of course, is the ultimate riff guy. I just love Jagger’s sensibilities and I love his lyrics. I would love to collaborate with him on the lyrics and the music. I love the Stones. The Beatles and the Beach Boys was always top tier. The Stones are just below it because I’m not as much of a blues guy as I am a pop guy. But, the older I get, the more I love the Stones. Other than Brian Wilson – was - and is - a dream come true – Jagger, to me, is so understated. He never toots his horn about how great he is, which is killing me. If I had that many hits, I’d be, like, ‘Listen to this lyric, man!” He’s, like, ‘Whatever, man. I just wrote it.” He’s like Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry was a poet but would never admit to being a genius.
“Burt Bacharach. I’m actually trying to write with Burt now. Burt Bacharach and Hal David. He needs a new Hal David. I wouldn’t mind throwing my hat in the ring. That would be number one, I think. I don’t know if you know this but Brian Wilson just finished a brand new album called, ‘Peer Pressure’ for Capitol. It’s coming out, I think, in January. I have a song that I wrote with Brian and Joe Thomas, and Larry Millas of The Ides called, ‘Sail Away.’ You’re probably familiar with ‘God Made The Radio’ by The Beach Boys. That is my song with the same team, so we did it again. It’s got Blondie Chaplin singing the first verse, which is brilliant. You’ve got Al Jardine singing the chorus and you’ve got Brian singing the second verse and the bridge. It’s just terrific! I can’t stop listening to it.”
And what’s on his radar for the next year or two?
“Well, Ides of March is big on my radar because of its fiftieth year, which spans from this October to next October; a lot of concerts; the triple disc set; continuing to produce these wonderful artists that I’m developing like Marc Scherer; a new Pride of Lions album is going to be happening; and a new Ariel, Zoey and Eli project. That’s been a lot of fun. I’d like to grow the viewership on that. Otherwise, I’m a lucky guy. I love my life and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. The book was an enormous undertaking. I’m glad it’s done. I’ve got a book tour coming up in the Midwest and also in New York City. A lot of book signings in Nashville and Milwaukee, telling my story.”
“Through The Eye Of The Tiger” is a great book and Jim has a lot going on but asked that we fast forward many years from now to when he steps off the tour bus for the final time and are in that big gig in the sky. How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?
“Mainly, as a guy that put a lot of spirit and positivity in his songs and inspired people. My biggest royalty is not when I go to the mailbox – although that doesn’t suck. My biggest royalty are the stories that people tell me of inspiration and how a song like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ got them through a rough patch or motivated them to the finish line first. Or, ‘The Search Is Over’ that they fell in love to that song. Those are the real royalties for me.
“I want to be remembered for creating those memories for people and gave them something to take home and, possibly, a little bit of wisdom along the way.”
Fans can follow all the latest goings-ons in Jim Peterik’s life at JimPeterik.com. While there, be sure to order his book, “Through The Eye Of The Tiger” as well as the box set from Ides Of March.