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Never Too Late: Erik Martensson Discusses Jimi Jamison, Eclipse Albums

erik_kramerGuitarist Erik Martensson once aspired to have a career in motocross. But after being involved in a crash and during his subsequent recovery, he began focusing his time on guitar and soon discovered his true calling.

Today, Martensson not only splits his time between his own hard rock band Eclipse and the “super-group” W.E.T; a project which also features Robert Säll (Work of Art) and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman), but he’s also written and produced songs for a variety of artists.

After providing material for a Jimi Jamison (Survivor) and Bobby Kimball (Toto) project, Martensson was asked to write songs for a Jamison solo album. The result of which, “Never Too Late” has received critical acclaim both here and abroad. With catchy hooks and melodies that not only emphasize Jamison’s vocal prowess, it’s also an album that sounds fresh and new.

I spoke with Martensson from his home in Sweden about “Never Too Late” as well as his guitar laden new Eclipse album, “Bleed and Scream”.

How did this collaboration with Jamison take place?

I had originally written a few songs for the Bobby Kimball / Jimi Jamison duet album. Following the success of that, Frontiers records asked me to work on a solo record with Jimi.

NeverTooLate

When you approach a project with Jimi Jamison, what kind of writing process do you go through?

I had Jimi’s vocal range in mind when we started. I knew the sound that would fit him and also suit the fans. That was something that was really important to me.  I have the Survivor ‘Vital Signs’ and ‘Too Hot To Sleep’ albums so I know the style. But I didn’t want to just re-make an album from the 80′s. I wanted it to sound fresh. I wanted it to have one foot in the 80′s and one foot in the now.

 

Read the rest of my Guitar World Interview with Erik by clicking here.

Guest Post: Jimi Jamison’s “Never Too Late” Review

Today we do a little something different on goJimmygo. Jim and I, Kat from Kat’s Theory of Music, thought it would be a kick to both review the same album, but guest post on each other’s blog. We have been anticipating the release and have been pushing each other to do the review. In the end we decided to both do it. The CD to be reviewed is “Never Too Late” by Jimi Jamison.

Jimi Jamison, is best known as the frontman of Survivor, Cobra and Target, as well as a veteran solo artist. This latest album, released through Frontiers Records, was written expressly for him by Swedish wunderkind Erik Martensson. As a member of the European groups Eclipse and W.E.T., Martensson has gained a reputation as the go-to guy when you want your record to be well written, well produced and basically, well done.

Full disclosure: Jim and I are both fans of Jamison and we’ve had the pleasure of meeting him on more than one occasion. If this album was really bad…well I don’t think either of us would be writing the review. But it’s good, real good. I haven’t read a bad review of it. With that being said, it’s still fun to break it down track by track. Since Jim is a musician, his take on it will be different from what I absorb as a writer/music lover only. So read my review, then jump over to my blog and read Jim’s.

Here we go:

Everybody’s Got A Broken Heart: Bang…right out of the gate. Great tempo. Martensson has created a huge wall of sound. After listening to the album a few times, the one word I feel defines his producing technique is precision. Clean, clearly defined producing…it seems every note, every riff is thought through. This opening track is well put together, the vocal suits Jamison to a tee. It would be hard to find a reason not to like this song or why it’s not in the running to be released as a single down the road.

The Great Unknown: The opening notes of this song remind me a bit of Survivor’s “Can’t Give It Up.” But then Jamison voice explodes into all grit and fire…time to catch a ride. I’ve always enjoyed listening to how he interprets a vocal…this is a really nice example. The song itself has a great hook, from start to the real fun ending, it’s all good.

Never Too Late: Ultimate uplifting song. Caution: you will have the chorus in your head all day. Along with a great video, it has a great vocal, great hook, it’s just an overall spot-on balance of vocal and music production. Good choice as a first release, as it’s easily the most commercially viable song on the album. Has everything a hit should have…getting airplay is another thing.

Can’t Turn Back: If this was the 80’s, this song would be blaring out of radio stations non-stop. In this, Martensson has written a song for Jamison that plays to his strong suit…a ballad where he bounces between power vocal and marked restraint. Great haunting fadeout to the song.

Street Survivor: An electronic start into a rock anthem. It’s an interesting insertion to the CD. The rest of the album focuses mainly on the love found/love lost theme, with a few inspirational tracks thrown in, and I guess this might fit into the inspiration group, but it gives me the feel of one of Survivor’s finer songs, “Rebel Son.” The feeling of doing what you need to take on the world. A gutsy and strong rocker.

The Air That I Breathe: More of a traditional ballad, it starts with a easy feel and clear vocal before letting Jimi’s vocal chops shine through. Former Survivor bandmate Jim Peterik once commented about Jamison’s range when he’s really zoned in. He called it the Jamison yodel. As he hits some of the notes in “The Air I Breathe”, you can hear the yodel in full force. A real nice ballad.

Not Tonight: “Someday I might miss you, but not tonight.” Yeah, so who wasn’t felt that way. An underlying infusion of pop, but you can’t beat the chorus. The only issue I have on the album’s production is the backing vocals on this track. And honestly, that’s a little picky. The second half of the song sees the backing vocals become a little heavy handed. That being said, it’s still one of my favorite songs on the album.

Calling the Game: Although I’m sure it was his intent, but the writer in me hears a few too many clichés in Martensson’s lyrics. Musically, the song works. It’s well paced, catchy and Jamison’s vocal brings it all together.

Bullet in the Gun: Beginning with a beautiful piano intro, it quickly jump starts into full rocker mode. Interesting reverb ending creates and eerie fadeout….really well done.

Heaven Call Your Name: Haunting is the only word I can use to describe this. Jamison fully interprets the pain of loss. The stripped down organ intro only fuels the desperation of the lyrics. The kind of song where after you hear it you think…whoa. The use of Jamison’s younger daughter on background vocals adds to the ethereal quality; adding a female voice really provides the perfect sensitivity.

Walk On (Wildest Dreams): No doubt right from the start, this one is gonna punch it out. It finishes off the album repeating the theme of reaching for more in your life. A strong end to what is one fine album. As a whole, there isn’t a bad track on the album. Everything that was promised by having Erik Martensson command the project, was delivered. There is a reason he works non-stop on successful projects, one after another…he’s that good. To write an entire album where the material so acutely matches the singers’ ability is not an easy thing to do. To further produce and play most of the instruments, and not lose sight of the big picture is brilliant.

But aside from having good material and an intuitive producer, you still need the guy to deliver the goods. After all these years, Jimi Jamison is still at the top of his game. The voice has naturally morphed into a richer tone. And while he can still hit the high notes, as a singer he has learned that phrasing and reserve creates a much more solid and interesting vocal. In other words, he still rocks and rocks hard. If melodic rock is your passion, give in to the desire and buy the album. It’s exciting as all hell.

For Jim’s review, go to Kat’s Theory of Music

Dissecting Vital Signs

Ask any teenage music lover who grew up in the 80′s and they’ll tell you: the choice of which album to spend your hard-earned allowance on was a difficult one.

With artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna, RUSH and some up and coming band called U2 all vying for attention, it definitely was a time of great consideration as to where to put your money.

But not for me. For me there was no doubt.

The first album I ever purchased was Vital Signs, the fifth studio album from the band Survivor. Nine killer songs written by guitarist Frankie Sullivan and keyboardist Jim Peterik. Nine songs sung by Jimi Jamison, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time.

I spent many months in guitar lessons eagerly dissecting this record with my teacher learning all the nuances and theory behind the music contained on it. In the end, I wound up learning most of the album note for note.

Frequent readers of my blog no doubt already know about my love for this record but might not know why. So, to fill in the gaps I’ve decided to again dissect the record track by track to show you why this was such an influential record for me. An album that today is now framed and holds a coveted spot on my wall. Right alongside the very first Beatles record.

Track 1: I Can’t Hold Back: This was first song I heard Jimi Jamison’s voice on.  Actually, it was the video for it if you really want to know. Back when MTV was in its infancy and actually played videos.

I remember watching the guys standing around in the library as the intro played and thinking, “Oh that’s cool”. But once Jimi started singing “There’s a story in my eyes” that was all it took.

This one song is the single reason I wanted the album. And that was without even hearing anything else. It just goes to show you how big a deal the first single released from an album is.

I especially love it when Jimi sings “This Love Affair Can’t Wait” for the final time. You really feel the emotion of what the song is trying to convey. It’s the final powerful exclamation: You know what girl?…I Can’t Hold Back.

From a technical perspective one of the things that really hooked me in on this song was guitarist Frankie Sullivan’s use of feedback. Right when the song starts picking up in the first verse you hear it.

Most of the time feedback is annoying but in this case its controlled and it actually brings the whole song together.

Oh, and looking cool in the video helps too.

Track 2: High on You: Ah, the black and white video with the blue light bulbs. And another love interest for Jimi to sing to. This song hooked me with the cool keyboard sound and the little guitar lick in between verses. Of course, the powerful chord change to minor in the pre-chorus also was killer:

“Now I’m higher than a kite, I know I’m getting hooked on your love”.


Track 3
: First Night: This beautiful song begins with nothing more than piano and Jimi singing: “We will remember this first night forever, after all the songs fade away and the stage fades to gray”. Then just as you think the song is heading one way it kicks into high gear.

After still being on a high from the last song (no pun intended) this track was a refreshing change of pace. It settled things down for what was to come.

“Emotions run wild, are we on the verge?
We’ve got a hotline to satisfaction.
I’ve got the answer if you’ve got the urge”.


Track 4
: The Search is Over: Taking on the world was just his style. Hey, wasn’t this the third different girl Jimi Jamison had in as many videos? That guy gets around.

After Eye of The Tiger, this song was the one that really put Survivor back on the map. And fortunately for me, it’s a song that was just reaching its peak when I saw them on tour with REO Speedwagon back in 1985.

“Now at last I hold you, now all is said and done
The search has come full circle
Our destinies are one.”

As a hormone raging teenager, this song and I Can’t Hold Back were my refuge when the days of school and girls were tough.


Track 5
: Broken Promises:  Again, the lyrics in this song. The imagery. Magic. “Summer and smoke, diamonds and dust.”

I still remember all the weekend nights I’d spend up in my room in silence just listening. This song made me think: “Is it really written in stone that we wind up alone?”…

Or how about these lyrics:

I remember those songs on the radio
The jasmine, the wind in your hair
And how it hurts to remember those
Broken Promises

Track 6: Popular Girl: Another great track and the opening one to Side B of the album. I swear, every time I listen to this song I hear something new.

Just the other day I gave a listen to it again and really caught for the first time the moving guitar part in the chorus. A whole lot is going on there and yet out of the hundreds of times I’ve heard the song I somehow over looked it.

There’s so much more to music than just three chords.

She walks down the street, knocks ‘em dead on their feet
With a casual nonchalance
When she’s breaking your heart, she’s the state of the art
With license to take what she wants

Here’s another thing I love about the Peterik/Sullivan songwriting combination: They always take obscure words you’d probably never use and some how find a way to make them work. Like “nonchalance” from this song, “Spire” from Burning Heart, “Reverie” from Desperate Dreams…. the list goes on.


Track 7
: Everlasting: The message in the song says it all. Something I was really looking for in 1984 even if I didn’t fully understand what love was at the time.

“I’m looking for a love that’s everlasting, I wonder if the feeling’s strong enough?”.

This is the one song from the record that in my opinion best showcases the vocal combination of Jimi and Frankie. When you hear the chorus it’s hard not to sing along with it.


Track 8
: It’s The Singer Not The Song: Take a message from me and I promise not to come on strong: this song kicks. It’s raw and in your face as soon as it begins.

This is the one song on the record where I think producer Ron Nevison just told Frankie to shred on guitar. And shred he does. I can just imagine Ron sitting back in the studio, pushing record on the console and listening to this tasty outro solo that goes on for at least 45 seconds.

Yet another example of a Survivor song containing positive messages about looking inside yourself and never giving up. Sure, sometimes it’s all about love but on a track like this it’s more about self-contemplation. It poses the question: Am I good enough?

And the answer of course is YES.

Track 9: See You In Everyone: For me it was bittersweet when this track came on. First, it was the final song on the record so I knew the journey I was on with Survivor was almost over.

Secondly, it had a guitar solo at the end that I needed to learn…and immediately.

This was the first song from the album I learned at guitar lesson. I had no problem learning the chord changes, it was that damn two-part guitar solo that gave me fits.

 

Thankfully, there’s a keyboard solo before the final chorus so I had a enough time to get my bearings together before tackling it.

It took this young guitarist weeks to learn how to play the final song from Vital Signs correctly but it was well worth it.

Because I’ll never forget the first time I placed the needle down on vinyl for this song and played the whole solo along with Frankie. It was one of the first real accomplishments I had as a new guitarist.

The day I mastered See You In Everyone.

Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two)

Photo by Mary Hanley

In November of 2011 guitarist Frankie Sullivan and vocalist Jimi Jamison together announced that after a long hiatus Jimi would be returning as lead vocalist of the band Survivor. The group, which has a plethora of hits including “Eye of The Tiger”, “The Search is Over” and “I Can’t Hold Back” among others, will soon embark on a tour and begin work on their first album of new material with Jamison in more than five years.

The new lineup of Survivor includes Jimi Jamison (vocals), Frankie Sullivan (guitar), Marc Droubay (drums), Billy Ozzello (bass) and Walter Tolentino (keyboards/guitar).

In the second of my two-part interview with Frankie Sullivan I ask him about his approach to songwriting, the sessions for the album Vital Signs, his take on X-Factor/American Idol and why paying your dues as a musician is so important.

We’ll also discuss the upcoming 30th anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger”, the theme song from Rocky III, which earned the band an Academy Award nomination among other accolades, and still ranks as one of the biggest songs of all time.

It truly was an honor to speak with one of my all time favorite songwriters. I’m really looking forward to what Survivor has in store for 2012. As the band themselves have said: “Here’s to a year of new beginnings, determination and more great music!”

A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two):

gJg:  You’ve written a lot of really big hit songs and one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you about was the process you use for songwriting.

FS: Actually it all depends. Sometimes I’ll start with a lyric if I’m inspired by the right thing, or a person or a place or you know, some experience. “I Can’t Hold Back” was like that. But sometimes it could be a guitar lick like the beginning of “I Can’t Hold Back”.  I was just goofing around with the acoustic guitar one day and (Jim) Peterik was like, “Hey, what’s that you’re playing?” and we took it from there. The next day we finished writing it. That was “I Can’t Hold Back.” It’s what ever you feel at the moment.

I like to play the guitar a lot. I jam out on a lot of riffs. And it’s not really heavy or hard all the time. Sometimes it’s on acoustic or piano. I think it’s whatever strikes your chord at the moment. But as long as you can get it out there and then maybe get with someone who can relate to and finish it, that’s what matters.

gJg: So you and Jim would just sit in a room together and start bouncing ideas off of each other? Playing and writing things down on paper?

FS: Jim Peterik and I, back in the Vital Signs days and prior, would write Monday through Friday every day from 2 o’clock until six or seven no matter what. No excuses, it was like going to work. We were practicing and honing our craft trying to do the best we could do. Some days we’d write two songs, some only one but we always had the work ethic of how we wanted to go about it. I’m proud of the fact that we always worked hard.

You know, it’s really difficult to write good songs. But Jim and I were coming from two different places. We were like night and day so the stuff we wrote together would always have that extra spark to it.

gJg: Was “Eye of The Tiger” like that as well?

FS: You know, that was the easiest of them all… (laughs).

We had a ballad that we wrote called “Ever Since The World Began” (from the “Eye of The Tiger” album) and Jim and I both loved it. We thought this song was going to be great. “Tiger” we totally down played. We thought “Eh, this is going to be like “movie music” or something.”

I think we wrote the music for it in like half an hour and it took us three days to write the lyrics only because we couldn’t come up with the punch line. But we kind of had it down in half an hour.

gJg: So there’s no big story about how it was written?

FS: No, there’s no real brilliant story behind it. Some of the stuff I’ve seen on the Internet that people have written about it and I’m like, “No, it’s not like that…that’s ridiculous!” – That’s not what happened. It was real simple.

The president of our record company was friends with (Sylvester) Stallone. They were really good friends. He had the Queen song “Another One Bites The Dust” and Stallone wasn’t happy with it. So he said “Well you know, I have this band…”  It was just two social guys having dinner. That’s what started it all.

I remember Jim Peterik had pneumonia at the time so I went out alone and spent ten days working with Stallone and it was just a blast. He was totally cool. He just wanted it to slam. He wanted it to sound just like the demo but with balls. So I played it for him and took it to the limit and he loved it.

And afterwards I remember seeing it in the movie theater and thinking to myself, “Man, this sounds raw, it sounds rock. It sounds basic.” There are a lot of cool things about it. It sounds like it was on the spot. You can hear a lot of spontaneity in it.

You can hear Dave (Bickler, the singer at the time) just going for it and you can tell some of the lines are just scratch lines. There’s a lot of good stuff going on.

gJg: And thirty years later?…(laughs)

FS:  Doesn’t hurt (laughs).

You know, I can’t believe it’s been that long. And there’s still a lot of cool stuff going on with it. Even today I’m hearing that Stallone wants to go LIVE and take it to Broadway among other things.

We just got a plaque from Sony, it’s something like 2.8 million downloads. I don’t have an updated official number but I know it’s the 8th most downloaded song on the Internet right now.

gJg: Amazing.

People love the tune. They can identify with it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be part of Rocky.

gJg: Then you had success with “Burning Heart” a few years later.

FS: Yeah, Burning Heart was after Tiger. That was in Rocky IV. That one was actually just a phone call we got. They asked us if we could do another song and we were like “Of course!” We wanted to be part of Rocky too. That sure wouldn’t hurt us. (laughs). Not with a #2 record.

Photo Courtesy of: SherylRobPhotos.com

gJg: What was the story with “Fire Makes Steel”, the song from the “Reach” album that was rumored to be on the Rocky Balboa soundtrack a few years back (2006)?

FS: You know, I just think at certain times things are either meant to be or not meant to be. Looking back now, I think this was a case where it just wasn’t meant to be and I’m ok with that.

gJg:  Let’s talk a little bit about my favorite Survivor record: Vital Signs. The first album I ever bought and  subsequently wore out. That album has meant so much to me that I now have it framed and hanging on my wall.

FS: That’s really an intense album. Ron Nevison (producer) really was responsible for that record. In the beginning it came down to songwriting. Then it came down to Jim’s voice changing the whole landscape of Survivor. But in the end, Ron Nevison played such a huge part.

gJg: Yes, I read a lot of interviews where you were talking about his contributions to the success of it.

FS: Well, he’s really been underrated. I mean, I met this guy and he’s telling me that he had just finished up producing Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin) and was getting ready to go to work on The Baby’s new album. I mean, this guy is a MAJOR cat. He did Bad Company. I was like “Holy shit, the guys he’s produced are my idols!”

Unfortunately, the first time we got him on board it didn’t work out. But the second time we got him (for Vital Signs) he was really hungry and just wanted to work again. I mean, he always works hard but on ours, he worked so hard I can’t tell you.

gJg: It paid off for sure.

FS: It absolutely did. Nevison worked so hard at making us all do the best we could do. He was very demanding with us. Not difficult, but demanding. There’s a difference. Always demanding that we did our best. And it really did pay off.

We already had the songs but Ron helped us arrange them and helped us deal with this new voice that I loved. I remember when he first committed to do the record with us that he didn’t know what to expect.

I sent him over a cassette tape of our rehearsal  with some of the songs. I think “Broken Promises” was one of them. He said “That sounds great, I’ll do it”.

And the thing is, he’s very picky about what he does so we really got lucky. It’s like I said earlier, everything is always kind of either meant to be or not but at that point all of us were working together towards the same goal and that’s what mattered most.

What’s funny is that even though we worked really hard there was a lot of fun with it too. It’s true dude. People sometimes become jaded and forget that. They forget the one thing that makes it all worthwhile: It’s fun.

People sometimes ask me what I do it for and I tell them: “Because it’s fun as hell to get up there on stage and play the guitar, have people act crazy and have a good time and sing along with your songs. That’s really, really enjoying.

gJg: What do you think about those shows like “The X-factor” and “American Idol”? The ones where they get some unknown up there who wins a contest and then all of a sudden they’re famous. What are your thoughts on that?

FS: I’ve kind of been down on that ever since Tyler did it (current American Idol judge Steven Tyler).  I don’t know why. I guess I’m a Joe Perry kind of guy (guitarist from Aerosmith).

I think it’s all kind of manufactured in a way. I think it’s seen its day. I think Simon Cowell has something to say and I think he really wants to matter. I don’t know if you can find it in a TV show and giving some kid five million dollars though. If you would have given me five million dollars I probably wouldn’t even be around. (laughs)…

Seriously though, I really think that you can’t short-cut the process. What it’s really all about, at the end of the day, for any and every artist is paying your dues.

Shows like those sure as hell try to short-cut it. Sometimes they succeed but most times they fail. Most of the time when something is manufactured, especially where music’s concerned, you can tell its been short-cutted.

gJg: I read somewhere where Brittany Spears’ last album had something like 25 songwriters on it, 10 producers or something outrageous like that.

FS: (Laughs): They’re all great songwriters but still, TEN great producers?  I mean, at the end of the day, you really only want ONE….not one producer for each cut. (laughs)

I think that’s part of where things are really different now as opposed to the “old days”. It’s too manufactured. It’s like, “What is this stuff?”

Authenticity is obvious. It’s something you can’t always explain but you can feel it in your gut. That’s when I put on “Houses of The Holy”. You know what I mean? Jimmy Page and Robert Plant used to write from the heart and soul. Now that was real talent. Guys that just went in and jammed on the great tunes. Through their feel and relating to each other. Throwing down the best stuff they had to offer.

People, like Jimmy Page. I mean, the kids out there obviously know of his work but if they saw him play they would “get it” it one second .They’ll probably never get to see him play but if they did, they’d “get it” in one second.

I mean, here’s the guy who came up with “Whole Lotta Love”,”Black Dog” and all those riffs. We overlook that but man, there’s a GENIUS at work there. I mean just with guitar riffs.

gJg: It seems that contributions from artists like that are now just taken for granted.

FS: Well, I guess that’s human nature. But with music you just can’t take anything for granted.

I think you just close your eyes, put blinders on and then just go to the woodshed. You make an agreement with yourself that you’re just going to do the best you can do. You say, “I’m going to the write the best songs I can write. Put down on the table the best I have to offer.” If you do that, and really try hard you’re probably going to come close.

But if you sit around and you’re complacent and lazy and not really sure well then that’s how it’s going to come out. I really don’t have much of that in me. I really want to work.

It’s kind of a void now-a-days. I mean, except for the Chili Peppers and people like, say Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters). I really like him. They throw down. I just don’t have the stomach for a lot of this contrived new stuff.

gJg: Well I just hope you guys make it around to my neck of the woods this year.

FS: I’m sure we will man. If we get our way, both Jim and myself are gonna make it to every neck of the woods. That’s what we’d like to do.

gJg: I have to tell you the best show that I ever remember seeing was when you guys were with REO Speedwagon back in 1985 at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA. Both of you were at the top of your game. You guys had “I Can’t Hold Back”, “High on You” and “The Search is Over” out and REO had just hit #1 with “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.

FS: That was THE tour man.

Photo Credit: Tim Hardgrove

gJg: That was the best show I ever saw. I say that only because the impact of it still sticks with me today. No other show has done that for me.

FS: That’s nice of you to say. We were really at our peak. We were just on the road having a good time. We realized that the harder we tried to make something happen it just wasn’t going to. So we just decided to have the best time we could. People still like spontaneity. People can tell.


gJg: How will you choose what songs you’re going to do this time around? I mean, aside from the hits.

FS: I think this time around we’ll look at around 45 or 50. I think we’ll actually look at the whole catalog. You can look at the fact that the keyboard player just doesn’t play keyboards but is also a killer guitar player. So now you say ok, now we can do “Love is On My Side”, “Take You On A Saturday” (from the “Premonition” album). You can go down the whole list.

Then you can think “Nothing Can Shake Me” and “Somewhere in America” from the first record and before you know it you’re saying “Hell, we’ve got 45 songs to learn!”

And then you can say, “Well, isn’t this fun? We don’t have to play the exact same set all the time. We can change it up every night.” And people can kind of be re inspired. It will be like playing a different show every night. I think that’s where both Jamo and my heads are at. It’s a good place to be, where we’re at right now.

gJg: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me Frankie.

FS: No problem James.

gJg: Back in the day, my guitar teacher thought I was crazy coming in there to learn songs from the Vital Signs record and me telling him that I wanted to learn “See You In Everyone” note for note… (laughs)

FS: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s kind of like me with “Black Dog” saying “Yeah, how do I play like this guy?” But I found it didn’t sound exactly the same. Then I realized it’s because Jimmy Page has got different fingers and a different soul.

gJg: I felt the same way playing your stuff.

FS: Well, that’s nice to hear. I’m glad you enjoyed it though. I really am. Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

gJg: No problem. It’s been great talking with you. Looking forward to what’s next with Survivor. Happy New Year to you.

FS: And the same you too.

Article first published as Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part Two) on Technorati

Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One)

In November of 2011 guitarist Frankie Sullivan and vocalist Jimi Jamison together announced that after a five-year hiatus Jimi would be returning as lead vocalist of the band Survivor. The group, which has a plethora of hits including “Eye of The Tiger”, “The Search is Over” and “I Can’t Hold Back” among others, has been recording and touring sporadically the past few years with vocalist Robin McAuley.

The news of McAuley’s departure and Jamison’s return also coincides with the announcement that Survivor will embark on a new tour in the summer of 2012. In addition, the band also plans to start work on their first album of new material since 2006′s “Reach”.

The new lineup of Survivor includes Jimi Jamison (vocals), Frankie Sullivan (guitar), Marc Droubay (drums), Billy Ozzello (bass) and Walter Tolentino (keyboards/guitar).

I was fortunate to be able to speak with Frankie Sullivan and get the inside scoop on the reunion with Jamison and a lot more. In the interest of space I’ve divided this interview into two parts. In part one Frankie will discuss the decision to go back to the classic voice of Survivor and talk about the group’s plans for 2012 and beyond.

As you read this interview you may discover that at times it sounds as if I’m being a bit biased and for that I apologize. You must understand that this band’s music has had a huge influence on me as both a fellow musician and as a person. What follows surely reflects that. For me, the excitement of having both the classic voice of Survivor back and the opportunity to speak with Mr. Sullivan personally is a dream come true.

Photo by M. Hanley

A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One)

goJimmygo (gJg):Hey Frankie, how are you?

Frankie Sullivan (FS): I’m just fine, how are you?

gJg: I’m doing good. It’s great to be able talk to you.

FS: You too man. What’s shakin’?

gjg: Right now, pretty much everything is actually (laughs). When I heard you guys were coming back with Jimi (Jamison) I was stoked.

FS: Yeah, that was the call of the century (laughs). It was a decision that wasn’t that hard to make. It took me about two seconds. I was like (referring to Jamison): “Dude, what are we doing here? C’mon”.

gJg: When I was out seeing concerts last summer I noticed that all of the bands that I loved from the 80′s were teaming up together on hugely successful  tours. Packages like Journey, Foreigner & Night Ranger; REO Speedwagon and Styx. All of these groups out there and I’m there thinking to myself “Where’s Survivor? These are the only guys that are missing!”

FS: Yes and now we can finally team up with them.

gJg: What I thought was even cooler was that bands like Journey and Night Ranger, who both had released new albums, were mixing new songs into the set list instead of just playing all of the hits. It was nostalgic and it was new at the same time.

FS: Yes, it’s really cool because now they want us out there again.

gJg: Well, truth be told, I’ve been wanting you for years. (laughs)

FS: It actually took a while to get Jimi into it though. He was trying to do his own thing and sometimes you just have to try and give people space. Eventually, it all comes full circle and so now, here we are.

Jimi and I were actually talking on the phone a lot the past few years just keeping in touch. Then one day I just said to him “Dude, we should just do it again.” I know most of those players in those other bands and they all want to know what we’re doing because they want us to be on the dates with them. So I’m like,“Well, ok let’s go do it!”

So now we’re just waiting. You’ve just got to let things take their course. Jimi still has some obligations to fulfill and ours (Survivor) are done.

gJg: I noticed that Jimi seems to be playing a lot of dates in Europe and very select shows here in the states. Is there a reason for this?

FS:  Oh yeah, Europe is a huge market for us. For both Jimi and Survivor. It’s a huge market.

gJg: I have to be honest, I was really starting to miss not having you guys come around a lot.

FS: Well, we’re going to be doing that again. Jimi and I just want to play forever you know? Now we can go and do that again. We just haven’t done it as a band. I think the last time we did was around 2006.

gJg: The last time I saw you guys was at Hershey Park (Hershey, Pennsylvania)

FS: Oh did ya?

gJg: Yeah, that’s where I got my Vital Signs record signed by you and Marc (Droubay, drummer).

FS: Oh really, at Hershey Park? (laughs).  All the chocolate all over the place. That’s great. It will be great to get back out there again.

gJg: Oh man, I’m really excited for this.

FS: Right now we’re really having a lot of fun with just the idea of it. Once Jimi’s done with his obligations then we’ll really start picking things up. You have to finish all of your obligations otherwise it reflects on the whole rather than the individual you know?

He’s got about three or four weeks left and then we can get together, start rehearsing and go to work.

gJg: Do you have plans for a record after the tour? Have you been writing or anything like that?

FS: I’m always writing and Jimi’s actually become a good writer too. Plus he can sing anything. We’ll probably end up doing both. Spend the summer playing dates and getting on a tour package and then maybe recording during the fall/winter.

gJg: From the moment I first heard him back on the Vital Signs record right up until his newest album this year with Bobby Kimball he still sounds exactly the same. Not a sign of slowing down. He’s just unbelievable.

FS: He was actually the very first guy we tried out. (Survivor replaced original vocalist Dave Bickler following a vocal condition that would require extensive rest). I loved him from the start and everyone else in the band would say “Ok, that’s cool but let’s try out the next three or four singers”.

I was like, “Wh…wh…why?” (laughs)

So after the fourth guy I can remember saying “Man, I don’t want to do this anymore. Let’s just bring the first cat from Memphis back!” (Memphis, TN – Jimi Jamison’s hometown).

So I think it will work better in terms of new music with Jimi being more involved in the writing rather than just having to show him and say “Here, sing it this way.” He’s always better when left to his own devices.

gJg: It’s the singer not the song right?

FS: That’s what it is. That’s what it is man.

gJg: I’ve always loved the way yours and Jimi’s voices sounded. They blended so well together.

FS: We’ve always sang well together and had fun on stage. Again, it’s all just a matter of timing. People have to go off sometimes and do their own thing. Everyone at some point has to try something on their own. It only makes them bring more to the table when they do come back.

gJg: Do you have any plans to work with Jim Peterik or Stephan Ellis again this time around? (Peterik and Ellis were also part of the “classic “Survivor line-up in the 1980’s).

FS: Well you know, Marc (Droubay, drums) is still with us and Stephan doesn’t really play much anymore. I’ve seen him a few times over the past few months. He’s a really good guy. It looks like it’s going to be me, Marc and Jamo (nickname for Jimi Jamison, pronounced “jay-moe”).

Jim Peterik I’ll always call my partner. I call him that because we’ve written so many songs together over the years. But Jim’s always been trying to do his own thing. He really wants to do that.

gJg: Was it difficult letting Robin (McAuley) know of the decision to go back to the classic voice of Survivor?

I wanted to let Robin know right away of the situation with Jimi. I didn’t want to lead him on and have him possibly miss out on any opportunities that may be coming. But I’ve always loved working with Robin. He’s a real hard worker.

gJg: I see that he’s back with Michael Schenker now doing some tour dates.

FS: Yeah, he has some dates in February and March lined up. He always has a great time and I know he’ll do his best.

gJg: I remember reading on Survivor’s website not so long ago that you had a new single coming out called “How Do You Feel”. What’s the status of that?

FS: That’s a song we recorded with Robin. I told him not too long ago that I was thinking about releasing it on our website for New Year’s because people will flip when they hear it. It’s really good. But now with Jamo back I think it might get people confused.

gJg: Were plans ever made to record an entire album with Robin?

FS: Yeah, we actually had about six songs in the can and they’re all REALLY good. Robin is a great singer and a hard worker. He’s always been. I remember thinking that while working with him on his solo record back in the 90’s. I just think the real “voice” of the band has always been Jamison to give the fans what they really want.

They (the fans) kind of made it clear that’s what they wanted and this is exactly what I needed.

****
In Part Two:

I ask Frankie how he feels about the upcoming 30th Anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger”, the theme song from Rocky III which earned the band an Academy Award nomination, among other accolades, and still ranks as one of the biggest songs of all time.

I’ll also ask him about his approach to songwriting, the sessions for Vital Signs (one of the band’s biggest albums), his thoughts on current reality based music talent shows and why he believes paying your dues as a musician is so important. Good stuff.

Article first published as Survivor 2012: A Conversation With Frankie Sullivan (Part One) on Technorati

Eye Of The Tiger: My Journey With Survivor

It was a hot summer night almost thirty years ago when my neighbors drug my brother and I to the movies to see the third installment of the Rocky Balboa franchise. Not that we went kicking and screaming mind you. Any opportunity for teenage boys to get out of the house was most welcome. No, it’s just that we would have much preferred to see “Poltergeist” or better still, sneak into see the R-rated “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”. Looking back now though I’m glad we chose to consume large quantities of popcorn and Coke with Sly Stallone instead of Jeff Spicoli.

Rocky III was the film that first introduced me to Mr. T, the mo-hawked muscle man who would go on to pity fools for the remainder of the 1980′s and beyond. But Rocky III also introduced me to something else: something even more powerful than Mr. T’s gold chains or feathered earrings. It was also the film where I first heard the now infamous guitar riff for a song from a band that would change my life: Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor.

Written by Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik and sung by Dave Bickler (who would later achieve great fame as the singer on the Real Men Of Genius Bud Lite commercials), the theme from Rocky III is still as popular as ever three decades later. Along with winning a Grammy the song was also nominated for an Academy Award, became the #1 song of 1982, has to date over 2.5 million downloads on iTunes and ranks as the #3 best song to workout to according to Men’s Health magazine.

The band would strike Rocky gold again a few years later when the song “Burning Heart” was released as part of the Rocky IV soundtrack. Although this song didn’t fare quite as well as Tiger, the music from Survivor continues to be both inspirational and motivating to me. As you’ll soon discover, the seed planted with Eye of the Tiger would not only begin my admiration for the band but would ultimately become the spark that would fuel my life and music for years to come.

When I first started playing guitar in 1984 a new Survivor album was already making its way up the charts. Vital Signs was the first album to feature new singer Jimi Jamison on vocals and was the very first record I ever purchased. (Jamison would later go on to sing the infamous theme from the television show Baywatch). Songs like “I Can’t Hold Back“, “High on You” and “The Search is Over” were getting tremendous airplay on both radio and the early days of  MTV(back when they used to play music videos). These were songs with melodies and lyrics that really spoke to me. Words of encouragement in my love less adolescent youth. Songs I wanted to learn how to play.

So while most other aspiring guitarists were locked away in lesson rooms with their guitar teachers learning Van-Halen and Def Leppard solos I was dragging my butt in with a menacing jet black Gibson Explorer asking my teacher to show me how to play “I See You In Everyone“, the final song on the Vital Signs album, note for note.

Now that I think about it I can still recall the puzzled look on my teacher’s face when I brought the album to lesson for the first time. And I can still picture him saying: “What, no RUSH?….No AC/DC?…No Bon Jovi?” and I’d just smile and think to myself, “Nope, even better!” For how could I possibly tell a man who grew up watching artists like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin that the absolute best concert I ever saw in my life was Survivor and REO Speedwagon in 1985? But it was, and quite frankly still is, true.

By 1986 my longing for a new Survivor record was finally appeased. When Seconds Count was released and immediately consumed me. Songs like “How Much Love” and “Rebel Son” inspired a then seventeen year old boy to reach higher and the ballad “Man Against The World” made me want to track down keyboardist Jim Peterik himself and make him show me how to play its beautiful melody. By this point I think most of my friends knew that my whole Eye of The Tiger/Survivor phase wasn’t just a passing fad. In fact, one of my best memories of graduating high school was the post grad party my parents held where me and a bunch of other musician friends all set up our gear and played half of the Vital Signs record.

It wasn’t long before college came calling and once again Survivor was there with me. This time with 1988′s Too Hot To Sleep. I can’t begin to tell you how many trips across the miles of campus I made with “Didn’t Know it Was Love” and “Desperate Dreams” blaring on my Sony Walkman. Although the band themselves consider this to be their best album the fact that it didn’t achieve big commercial success didn’t bother me one bit. For me, much like them, it’s always been about the music and this one delivered the goods.

Once college life was over the job of real “work” began. While playing my part in the 9-5 crowd over the years I’d keep myself busy in the musical groove by writing and performing in various bands. All the while I’d find myself writing songs that were influenced by the amazing songs from those Survivor records. Unfortunately it would be quite a while before I would hear any new music from the band other than from compilation albums. Unless of course you count that hilarious Starbucks commercial.

Finally in 2006 a brand new album, Reach was released and listening to the first song and title track was a much welcomed slap in the face. The blaring guitars and drums told me that at long last the Tiger was back. I immediately proclaimed, to myself anyway, that this song should be the one they start every show with. This record not only featured guitarist Frankie Sullivan singing lead on few tracks but also contains the song “Fire Makes Steel”, yet another inspirational anthem which, go figure, was almost and should have been included in the film “Rocky Balboa”.

As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this band. I also know that the band has gone through several line-up changes over the years. Different singers, bass players and drummers have come and gone. There’s no need for me to know all the reasons why. I can personally attest to there being drama in every band so line-up changes are not at all that surprising. But it was unfortunate that Jimi Jamison, the voice that became synonymous with Survivor for me had left the group shortly after this record was released. Robin McAuley, most known for his work with McAuley Schenker Group would take over on lead vocals for subsequent tours over the next few years.

Flash forward to 2012: A surprise announcement was made that Jimi Jamison, who had released several well received solo albums since his departure five years ago, would once again be rejoining Survivor for a new album and tour. Having suffered for years listening to robotic voices and synthesized loops in what’s being peddled as “music” these days my prayers for real new music and songwriting from my favorite band is about to come true once again! To say that I’m excited is an understatement.

Ironically enough, it all seems to have come full circle for me. This “new” Survivor is going to happen nearly thirty years to the day since I first heard that guitar riff in the darkened movie theater. The summer night that changed everything for me. And the message of the song couldn’t be more true today:

Just a band and it’s will…to survive.

Kimball-Jamison: A Melodic Rock Masterpiece

I  still remember it like it was yesterday. I was a teenage boy in 1984 perusing the twenty or so television channels and stumbled upon the then fledgling MTV. That’s when I first saw the video for “I Can’t Hold Back”. It was the first single from Survivor’s Vital Signs album and the first time I ever heard Jimi Jamison, a man I proclaim has the best voice in rock.

I begged my parents to buy me that record. The very first one I ever purchased. One I subsequently wore out and to this day now adorns a spot prominently on my office wall.

I’ve been an avid follower of Jimi’s career ever since. From Survivor to Baywatch to Empires and pretty much everything in between. Every song bringing me back to those carefree days of youth. I still remember walking to class on my college campus blasting “Desperate Dreams” and “Didn’t Know It Was Love” from Survivor’s “Too Hot To Sleep” album on my Sony Walkman, a brick compared to what’s available these days.

Similarly, Bobby Kimball’s vocals abound all over my youth. From Toto’s biggest hits including “Hold The Line” and “Rosanna”, his vocals also hold a special place in my own personal musical journey.

Combine these two forces together and you get Kimball-Jamison, a Mat Sinner produced album featuring twelve new tracks from two of the greatest vocalists in rock.

From the soaring vocals and guitars of the intro Worth Fighting For to the angelic sound of Your Photograph, this CD has everything the melodic rock fan could want.

“It’s my heart you’re breaking. It’s my soul you tear apart.” Worth Fighting For

I have to say that there’s really something special when you listen to this record. Something that I’ve found to have previously been lacking in music that’s synthetically released to the masses these days: great songwriting and musicianship. In a world where the robot voice and auto-tune has become the norm it’s refreshing to hear true vocalists do what they do best: sing great songs.

Any fan of  70′s and 80′s bands can appreciate the influences on this record. Forget Kevin Bacon. Within one degree of Kimball-Jamison you get contributions from: Ides of March, Survivor, Toto, Mister-Mister, Cobra, The Baby’s, Bad English and more.

“We won’t get far pretending in this house of cards.”
“Can’t Wait For Love

Included with the CD is a DVD containing a thirty minute “making of” documentary as well as video clips for the songs Worth Fighting For and Can’t Wait For Love.

You may not find me trolling college campuses these days but this album will surely find a place on my i-Pod. And if you’re a fan of melodic rock like I am, I suggest it be on yours as well.

Track Listing:

· Worth Fighting For
· Can’t Wait For Love
· Sail Away
· Chasing Euphoria
· Find Another Way
· Get Back In The Game
· I Did Everything Wrong
· Shadows Of Love
· Hearts Beat Again
· We Gotta Believe
· Kicking And Screaming
· Your Photograph

Musicians:

Lead & Background Vocals: Bobby Kimball & Jimi Jamison
Guitars: Alex Beyrodt
Bass Guitar: Mat Sinner
Keyboards: Jimmy Kresic
Drums & Percussion: Martin Schmidt

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