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”.
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.
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.
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.
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