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The Search For Stephan Ellis

My Vital Signs album only needs Stephan Ellis’ signature to make it complete!

I’m looking for someone, and I hope you can help me find him. He’s the last piece of the puzzle I need to complete my musical journey.

Back in 1984, I purchased my very first record album; Survivor’s “Vital Signs”. You know, the one the that has “I Can’t Hold Back”, “High On You” and “The Search if Over” on it, among other great songs.

By now, you all should know about my love of this particular album but if not, you can read about it here.

The music of Jimi Jamison, Frankie Sullivan, Jim Peterik, Stephan Ellis and Marc Droubay quickly became the soundtrack of my life.

Over years of repeated listenings, the album eventually wore out and soon found itself a new home (along with other items of reckless teenage abandon) in a box in the farthest reaches of my basement. Hell, by that time I had already moved on to having a copy of Vital Signs on cassette tape and CD anyway. (I have it on iTunes now, for those keeping score).

When I finally built my own music room/office area seven years ago, I decided to take the album out of the darkness, put it in a nice frame and hang it on a wall. It would become a beacon of youth; a reminder of all of the good times and great music I enjoyed in high school. Nail soon met wall and before I knew it, the music of my teenage years was on full display.

As I stood back to admire my new wall decor, it quickly became apparent that something was missing; and that’s when the idea hit me. I thought, what if I could take the album that meant so much to me nearly thirty years ago and try to get the entire band to autograph it? The only caveat was, five signatures were needed and only two of the guys from the album were still touring with Survivor. It was no small challenge, but one that I was up for.

The search began.

Guitarist Frankie Sullivan and drummer Marc Droubay signed it for me after a Survivor concert at Hershey Park in 2009.

Two Down… Three To Go

In March of this year, singer Jimi Jamison, who was performing with another group, made an appearance at a venue near my home and signed it for me.

Three Down…two to go!

A few weeks ago, after doing an interview with Jim Peterik for Guitar World, I made arrangements to send the album out to Chicago for a signature. An album that had not been out of my possession since 1984 was gone and left in the hands of fate. Yesterday, I received the album back in the mail, signed by Jim.

Four down… ONE to go.

The call now goes out to you, oh faithful reader! If anyone can help me locate and connect with bassist Stephan Ellis, please let me know. Because when Stephan signs Vital Signs…. (as the song says)… the search is over!

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.

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