Interview with Jim Peterik (Survivor/Pride of Lions)

Jim Peterik

He has written multi million selling songs in Survivor and written songs for Sammy Hagar, 38 Special and Cheap Trick as well as recording with his band Pride of Lions. Mick Burgess caught up with Jim Peterik to chat about his new project.

You’re latest album Risk Everything was released recently. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

I’m pretty blown away by the reviews. I don’t remember reviews being this good since the first Pride of Lions album back in 2003. The reaction this time has been very similar. I don’t know if it’s the timing or Marc Scherer’s wonderful voice but it’s been really well received.

This is your first with singer Marc Scherer. Where did you and Marc first meet?

I’ve been criss-crossing paths with Marc for years. I was in the studio with Ides of March way back in 1972 and in the next studio I heard this great voice and I went in and met this 18 year old kid called Marc. I got his number but I lost it. 15 years later I’m in the studio with Survivor and I heard this great voice coming out from a nearby studio. Again I got his number and again I lost it. When we were looking for a new singer I thought of him but I couldn’t find his number or remember his name. About 2 years ago in my home studio I heard that same voice again. This time I wasn’t going to let him get away and this time I wasn’t going to lose his number. I said to him that we just had to make a record. I wasn’t planning on working on a new project but sometimes you just hear a voice and it inspires you to work.

So Marc was in the frame for Survivor back in the ’80s?

He was. When Dave left the band I just couldn’t find him but we did get Jimi Jamison thankfully. When Jimi left and we were at a loose end I still wished that I’d had his number.

When did you start work on the record?

We actually started work around two years ago. Serafino from Frontiers was involved closely in making the album and on any given album I might submit 20 songs and 11 are chosen by him. It can be frustrating at times but usually he’s right dammit. He’s a good song man and knows his market so he knows what’s good.

Did you have many of the songs already written or did you write everything from scratch with Marc in mind?

We started writing straight away and we wrote three songs together including the title track, “Broken Home”, which was about the situation with his divorce. We had this great chemistry and I hope that this shows on the record. I think with Pride of Lions, Toby had a more operatic voice so I’d tend to write more theatrically. With Marc he has a more pointed style so I tend to write a little more Rock.

For me the stand out track is “Cold Blooded”. What is the story behind that one?

I was trying to put myself back to the age of a 33 year old person at the age of 64 and the way I was feeling and passion I had when cutting the Vital Signs record. Jimi had just joined the band and the first song I taught him to sing was “Broken Promises.” When I heard him sing that it sent shivers down my spine and I wanted to recapture that. I wondered how I’d approach a song like that today and I started off with the title. I usually write songs that are very positive but this one is about a girl who’s a real bitch. We sent the demo to Serafino and he said it was the best thing he’d heard since “Vital Signs”. It became the single and the video. The video is very ’80s and the girl in the video, Lee Anne Marie, is the same one that was in the “Can’t Hold Back” video in 1984. I thought it’d be a cool idea to get her to do the video. I had no idea if she’d be 400 pounds now but she hadn’t aged a day. She reprised the role and I think it turned out great. I did the lead guitar on that one too, I plugged in my Strat and just let go. That’s my forte, Bluesy Rock.

There’s 11 songs on the album. Is that all you wrote and recorded or is there some finished or part finished songs waiting to be used sometime?

There were about 18 or 19 songs, all of them really good but if they were too outside of the genre Serafino would say to save it for another record. I think the 11 that we kept or the 13 for the Japanese version were just right. I think sometimes you can have too many songs to digest but I think we got this just about right.

Buddy Rich’s grandson, Nick Rich, is on the album. Has Buddy’s drumming DNA passed down the line?

Man, he’s got a lot of Buddy in him. He’s an amazing drummer. Nick really laid it down on “Cold Blooded”. He has everything that Buddy had except the bad temper. He’s very talented. He can do Rock, jazz, the lot.

You’ve also brought in Shoshana Bean, who is a singer on Broadway who sounds fantastic on “Broken Home” What made you decide to bring in Shoshana for that song?

She was a friend of Marc’s. I thought it would be nice to reflect the man and woman parts in that song. Marc played me some stuff by her and I liked not only her voice but her character, it wasn’t brassy, it was sweet. She had a really angelic high range. She sang on 5 songs but only one made the record. She sang on “Voices of the Heart” that Joe Lynn Turner did a few years back that we re-recorded but Serafino decided not to include that on the album although I thought it was a great version.

Were you able to get most people into your home studio to do the recording or were some parts done elsewhere?

We did some of the recording in my studio, Shoshana flew in to do her parts here but through file sharing you don’t have to bring everybody into the actual studio. It’s a different world. It’s neat as you can get a lot of people involved who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do it but I long for the old days where everyone was in the same room.

Are you hoping to take this project out on the road?

At some Pride of Lions shows and also some of my solo shows and Ides of March shows too we are taking Marc out as a special guest. Financially it’s hard to maintain a band on the road so at the moment he’s our special guest. We bring him along whenever we can. It’s an honour to have him on stage with us.

On the album cover you dedicate the music to your friends Jimi Jamison and Fergie Frederiksen who we have sadly lost recently. Both of those losses must have hit you hard? What did they mean to you both on a personal level and as singers?

They both meant everything to me. My biggest regret of leaving Survivor was that I wouldn’t be working with Jimi. I don’t want to work with anyone if they’re an asshole no matter how talented they are. From day one, me and Jimi had this great rapport and I sometimes think Frankie was jealous of that. Back in 2008 when Serafino asked if I wanted to write and produce Jimi’s solo album and I said yes straight away. I was in Heaven working on Crossroads Moment, working with Jimi again was wonderful. That voice and to work with my son; to hang out with them, they were great moments. We recorded a lot of extra songs and Andrew McNeice from was granted permission to release an album as Extra Moments.

I was friends with Fergie from when he was a member of Probe, a band from Chicago from way back. I remember seeing him for the first time in this little club and there was this blond haired kid doing gymnastics on stage and his voice was just fantastic. We met up afterwards and have remained friends ever since. When we fired the original Survivor rhythm section we spent a long time auditioning their replacements and we were getting very despondent when Fergie suggested going to the local roller disco to check out the hot chicks. Me, Frankie and Fergie went to Flippers Roller Disco. The girls there were really cool but there was a band in the middle called Baxter and the bass player had a Tele Bass and played with a pick and looked the part. We all thought he would be perfect for Survivor so we dodged between the hot pant beauties and I asked Stephan Ellis if he’d like to audition for Survivor but he’d never heard of us. Anyway he came along for an audition at the same time as Mark Droubay and as soon as we hit the first downbeat of a song called “Heart of Stone”, which never made it onto a record, we just knew that we had found the magic combination. If it wasn’t for Fergie dragging us down to that roller disco we may never have made it with Survivor.

If you could pick one song by both Jimi and Fergie that you feel represents them at their very best, which songs would you pick?

I’m a little biased here but one of his best songs that still kills me when I hear it is a song called “5 Year Hurt” which I wrote and he did a video on that was done three years before he died. The emotion that I hear on that, from his voice just kills me. For Jimi, I love “Desperate Dreams” but for me his crowning moment was “Man Against The World”. That is a magical song with a magical vocal. There’s a few lines in there that speak for Jimi’s life. “Now I walk the path from dark to light and they’ve yet to come to terms, alone I take my stand, I’m only a man against the world” He did have a struggle between dark and light. He was a wonderful guy but he did have a dark side too.

It’s been a while since we heard from Pride of Lions. What is the current status with the band?

I think my next album will be by Pride of Lions and I have started writing already. I think we’ll record in the Fall and hopefully it’ll be out early next year and of course I hope it’ll be the best yet. That’s always the goal. Toby is an incredible singer live. I’ve never heard him hoarse or out of breath.

Your first band Ides of March celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and you had a very special release for Record Store Day. What was included in that boxed set?

50 years is a long time so it’s a pretty cool career retrospective from 1964 with our first self-financed ’45 called “Like It Or Lump It” that I wrote when I was 14, right through the Perret years, a London records subsidiary. We had a Top 40 record with “You Wouldn’t Listen” in 1966 and we finally secured a deal with Warner’s and the big moment was “Vehicle”, that reached Number 2 on the Billboard Chart in 1970 and that still gets played on the radio to this day. We’ve been very lucky to have been able to licence all of the 77 tracks from the various labels along with three brand new tracks including the title track “Last Band Standing”, which features the great Steve Cropper on Telecaster. It’s a musical biography of the band and namechecks the bands that we opened for like Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers. There’s 4 musical discs and the 5th is a DVD of a really great show that we did last year at The House of Blues and we have archival footage for the Dick Clark show and footage from the ’60s. It’s a neat package and we’re very pleased with it.

Do you have any special shows lined up to mark your anniversary?

We do, we’re amassing shows all the time and we’re putting a good calendar together. We’re doing some record store in store appearances which seems to be a dying art these days. These are independent record stores too, not the chains.

It must be an incredible feeling that a band that started off with a bunch of school mates is now 50 years old?

Every time we’re together we feel like we are 19 again. I’ve known these guys since Cub Scouts. It’s a blessing. We take it really seriously but we still look at each other and can’t believe we’re still doing it.

You’re probably best known for your time in Survivor. That period from the late ’70s through to the end of the ’80s was a wonderful time for Melodic Rock, How do you feel when you look back on that period?

It was my most successful decade with Survivor, ’38 Special and Sammy Hagar that was my bread and butter really. The ’80s is what I’m known for and I’m good at it. I’m known for great melodies and messages that are positive, uplifting and powerful. The ’80s was the decade of the anthem and I was all about that.

Your main writing partner was Frankie Sullivan. How did you two tend to write together? Did you bounce ideas off each other or did you each bring in defined parts of a song and piece them together?

We worked a bunch of different ways. I had my differences with Frankie but I will say that when we came to write a song he came in with his best attitude. I wouldn’t say he was a great songwriter but he had great taste in what Survivor was meant to be. He knew what the brand meant and what it should be. If I went too far one way or another he’d let me know and most of the time he was right. I used him as a rudder to keep me right but he did come up with some great guitar work and riffs that made the song. He was good to collaborate with but then personal differences got in the way so that was no longer possible. “Caught in the Game” was one of his best riffs.

Caught in the Game, the album is such an underrated album from your catalogue and tends to get overshadowed by the likes of Vital Signs, Eye of the Tiger and Too Hot To Sleep.

I think you’re right. The title track is really good and “Jackie Don’t Go” is too. I just don’t like “Slander” though and didn’t really want it on the record. “Santa Ana Winds” is great and I think the ballad “I Never Stopped Loving You” is the prototype to “The Search Is Over.” It’s a little overlooked as an album but Dave was struggling at that time and when I hear that record I tend to think of that rather than the songs.

Were you worried that the band might fold when Dave ended up leaving or did you already have Jimi Jamison in mind?

We didn’t have Jimi in mind at that time but we knew we weren’t going to break up. We had too much going so there was no question of not continuing. We auditioned a lot of singers but most weren’t any good but there was a guy called Kevin Chalfant and he was so close to getting into the band then Jimi came along and blew us all away. We called Kevin and told him he was great but we were going in a different direction. The first thing I showed Jimi was “Broken Promises” and he sang the first verse and I was covered in goosebumps. His voice was just magic.

To me, Survivor’s finest moment was Too Hot To Sleep. Were you disappointed that the album did not do better when it came out?

We were devastated. We didn’t feel that it was promoted right and came out at the tail end of Melodic Rock’s popularity and Grunge was just round the corner. The label thought it was passé and I thought that was bullshit. We were so discouraged and it broke up the band really.

You seem to have the knack of discovering great singers. Dave Bickler and Jimi Jamison, Toby Hitchcock and now Marc Sherer to name a few. Do you find them or do they send you a demo through the post or something?

Everyone is different. I discovered Dave Bickler when I was doing jingles for American Airlines and MacDonald’s. There was this skinny guy that kept coming to the sessions with a Sci-Fi novel and he’d be singing across the mike from me and he had an amazing voice. I was doing a solo record Don’t Fight The Feeling in 1976 and I invited him to do background vocals on “Let There Be Song”. When I was putting my wish list together for Survivor, Dave was really the only choice for lead singer. We got around my kitchen table and we sang harmony on a song called “Pepper Head” that I’d written and the blend was absolutely incredible. If you listen to “Hearts a Lonely Hunter”, that’s the blend I heard around the kitchen table.

For Jimi, he came for an audition and was with a band called Cobra, at the time where they were breaking up. Our manager sent us a video featuring Jimi and we knew we had to get him into town.

As far as Toby, I have a niece called Kelly who is a singer who auditioned for a Dick Clarke reality show and Toby was there auditioning at the same time and she told me I had to hear this guy called Toby and one thing lead to another and I got him into the studio. At that time Serafino said that I had to start a new project and he suggested all these famous singers but I said I had a guy who wasn’t famous yet and that he had to hear him. We recorded a demo “Love Is On The Rocks” and Serafino ended up flying out to meet Toby in Nashville and immediately fell in love with his voice.

With Marc Scherer I met him over the years in various studios but I kept losing his number until I heard him again in my own studio and I wasn’t going to let him get away again.

As a songwriter you have written million sellers, you have Number 1 hit singles and have worked with a diverse range of artists. How do you start writing a song do you have a melody, a chord structure or a lyric and build it up from there?

It’s an ongoing process; I write every day. It’s not usually sitting down and writing. I just go about my business and I used to have a tape recorder with me, now it’s an i-Phone and I record ideas that come to me and I have a notebook to sketch down lyrical ideas. I am auditioning every moment for a song idea. Nobody is safe. If I’m talking to a friend and they say something I think is cool, write it down. I’m lucky as when I’m sleeping I’ll often hear a melody and if I wake up I’ll record it then in the morning I’ll listen to it and if it’s any good I use it. Often the best stuff comes in my sleep. I’m a bit spiritual so maybe it comes from somewhere upstairs.

Few people have written a song that crosses over the generations that everybody knows. “Eye of the Tiger” is one of those rare songs. It ended up as the theme tune to Rocky. Did you already have that written when Sylvester Stallone called you or did you write it specifically for the movie?

I wrote that specifically for Rocky. Sylvester called me up and left a message on my answering machine. I thought someone was having me on. I called him back and he told me to call him Sly. He said he loved Premonition and the song “Poor Man’s Son”. He said that was the sound he wanted for his new movie, Rocky III and asked if we could help him out. He sent us a rough cut of the movie and we wrote “Eye of The Tiger” watching those punches being thrown and the energy of the show and we captured lightning in a bottle.

Even today, it’s just as popular. UK TV have an advert for Warburtons bread featuring the song that even stars Sylvester Stallone delivering bread. Have you seen that?

My publisher got us that and I’ve just seen it. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. That song is the gift that keeps giving and I’ve been very blessed.

You followed that up with “Burning Heart” for Rocky IV. Was it difficult to come up with something in a similar vein but not repeat what you’d done with “Eye of the Tiger”?

It’s always difficult to clone or emulate a big success as it’s always going to be a carbon copy that isn’t maybe as powerful. I think the lyric is really strong but it’s never going to be an “Eye of the Tiger” but people are rediscovering “Burning Heart” and are digging it for what it is.

You released your biography last year Through The Eye of The Tiger. Is this your story from the very start to the present day?

I had to cut a lot of stuff out as my publisher didn’t want a 600 page book so there’s a lot of stuff I’ll be putting on a website to go with the book. It is basically my story and the first chapter is about that phone call I had with Stallone. It then cuts back to my childhood growing up in a small town called Berwyn in Illinois and my blue collar upbringing. It was a really great childhood. It goes through putting together the Ides of March and Survivor with the ups and downs and the good parts and bad parts. It was hard to write but I’m glad I did. People are enjoying the book so that’s really rewarding.

Looking forward, what projects have you got lined up over the coming months?

I’m going to be doing an unplugged record and it’s the first time I’ve done a stripped down record where I’m going to reinvent the songs. I’m going to look at the songs from the inside out and there’ll be a few guests on the record and I hope to start that in July. There’ll be a couple of new songs on there too and it’s going to be a really natural sounding album.

Risk Everything by Peterik/Scherer is out now on Frontiers Records.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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