Lions, Tigers and Guitars: A Conversation With Jim Peterik

Guitarist Jim Peterik still has the Eye of The Tiger. Whether it’s performing, songwriting, mentoring and developing new talent or holding his annual World Stage events, the man who penned the #1 anthem from Rocky III continues to deliver the goods.

Peterik’s resume and collaboration reads like a veritable who’s who of the music industry. His bands have included The Ides Of March, Survivor, Pride of Lions and Lifeforce. He’s written and/or produced songs for artists like 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, Jimi Jamison, Lisa McClowry, Mindi Abair, and his son, Sijay among others. His musical journey knows no boundaries; having ventured into melodic rock, jazz, pop, inspirational and country genres.

Peterik’s latest endeavor is a reunion with vocalist Toby Hitchcock for the new Pride of Lions album, Immortal. Containing the best elements of 80′s melodic rock combined with Peterik’s signature songs and modern-day production, Immortal is an album sure to satisfy.

I spoke with Jim and got his thoughts not only on Immortal, but also on his days with Survivor and the music; including the iconic song he co-wrote thirty years ago that continues to inspire generations of fans all over the world.

goJimmygo (gJg): What made you decide to do another Pride of Lions album?

Jim Peterik (JP): I wanted one and Frontiers Records are such great boosters of the whole 80′s crowd. They actually wanted me to make a new record a few years ago, but I wasn’t ready at the time. I had just completed the “Crossroads Moment” album with Jimi Jamison and my juices were just gone for that direction. I got into doing Lifeforce (my smooth jazz project) just as sort of a respite from melodic rock. Their (Frontiers) initial plan was to have me release a record and then they were going to do a Toby (Hitchcock) album. I asked them to do it the other way around and by that time I’d be ready. That’s what happened.

I was playing on the road with a group called The Fabulous Armadillos. They’re the best players in the St Cloud/Minneapolis area. Every year, they host shows for two weeks where they feature a guest and last year, it was me. That was where I wrote “Coin of The Realm”. I was back in the green room with Pamela McNeil, one of the backup singers and a very good songwriter in her own right. I was jamming a thing in the green room and she started chipping in with some lyrics. Coin of the Realm really started the whole ball rolling. From there, the floodgates just opened. Delusional, Are You The Same Girl and on and on.

gJg: Where do you come up with ideas for your songs?

JP: Everywhere. “Delusional” is a song from the new album that comes from my personal life.  I see too many kids these days being over medicated with Ritalin just to calm them down. It does that but it also makes them walk around almost in a zombie like state. I had that hook in my mind: “Let the boy dream. Let him be different. Let him be delusional.” Even Einstein probably would have been diagnosed ADD if he were alive today. Things like that get me going.

gJg: You’ve also got a song called “Vital Signs” on the Pride of Lions album.

JP: That was actually a song I was trying to finish back in ’84 when we were cutting the record [Survivor: Vital Signs]. A lot of times the songs that were written became the title of the album. Like “Caught in The Game”, “When Seconds Count” and “Too Hot To Sleep”. At the time, I couldn’t quite get that song to work and we ran out of time so I never cut it. Fast forward to now: I was getting material together for the new record, “Immortal”,  found the old tape and said to myself: “I think I know how to finish this now!” [laughs].

gJg:Toby Hitchcock’s voice is so pure on Immortal. At times he sounds like Jimi Jamison and at other times, Dennis DeYoung.

JP: It’s a great voice. One of the best out there right now. I think the vocals on Immortal are his best yet. There’s more depth and dimension to his voice.

gJg: Do you have plans to take it on tour?

JP: We just recently had a great show where we opened up for Styx. At the time, I made a conscious decision that we weren’t going to do any Survivor material, no Ides of March and no 38 Special. We were going to either make or break it. We did five new songs from Immortal plus the cream of the crop: Sound of Home, Unbreakable, Gone and the people loved it. We even had the heroine of our video for Delusional (Maggie) come up on stage with us at the end and sing the last chorus and it was just killer.

gJg: A lot of people know you from primarily being the keyboardist in Survivor. But the truth is, you’re main love is guitar.

JP: Guitar is my passion. Survivor originally started as a twin lead band. You hear a lot of double leads on the demos for the first album. I love keyboards but my heart’s really in guitar. At last count, I think I own 178 and every one of them has a story. And it’s not like they’re in cases. My wife is a saint. They’re all on stands at various parts of the house. I have a wall three racks deep and I use them all. But I don’t begrudge it (playing keyboards in Survivor). Hell, I had two of the best singers in the business (Dave Bickler and Jimi Jamison).

gJg: How must that be for you to write songs with those voices in mind?

JP: My singers inspire me to do my best work. I write different for each singer. I wrote more grittier for Dave because that’s the kind of voice he had. Then Jimi came along and he had this beautiful pop voice. I remember the first thing I showed him when we met was the song ‘Broken Promises’.  He sang it back to me right next to my ear. It was a magic voice! Especially the purity of his upper range.

Jim Talks Survivor

gJg: This year marks the 30th Anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger”.  What’s the origin of that song?

JP: I came home from shopping one day and heard a message on the answering machine from Sylvester Stallone. At first, I thought it was a joke, but I called the number and sure enough, Stallone answered. He told me that he loved the band and had heard “Poor Man’s Son” and “Take You On A Saturday” from our “Premonition” album and wanted that same kind of “street” sound for his new movie, Rocky III.

He sent us a video montage of the movie and Frankie (Sullivan) and I watched it together. There were scenes of Rocky getting a little “soft” (doing the Visa card commercials) and Mr. T “rising up” with his Mohawk. It was electric. The temp music they used to accompany the montage was “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen. I remember asking Stallone why he just didn’t use that song for the movie and he said it was because they couldn’t get the publishing rights for it.

At that point I just said, “Thank You, Queen!” [laughs]

I had my Les Paul and a small amp that we had set up in the kitchen. I turned down the sound and just started playing the little intro [mimics the intro], just feeling that pulse. Then I added to it when I saw the punches being thrown, trying to score the chords in time with the punches. We couldn’t get any farther because we didn’t have the whole movie. Fortunately, we were able to get a copy of the finished movie with the promise that we’d send it right back the next day. At that point, we had become totally enamored in the movie and when I heard that phrase: “Hey Rocky, you’re losing the eye of the tiger” I remember turning to Frankie and saying, “Well, there’s the name of our song!” Once we had the title, the challenge became telling the story.

I have to give Frankie the credit for coming up with the seed lines. He said, “How bout this: Back on the street, doing time. taking chances?” I said, “Yeah that feels good. How about: Risin’ Up, back on the streets. Did my time, took my chances?” Before we knew it, we had the first verse.

Four days later we gathered the troops, went into the Chicago Recording Company and recorded it. Frankie and I both wanted that big “John Bonham” type of drum sound and I’ll never forget the feeling and the way our drummer, Marc Droubay captured it. As soon as he hit that beat I said, “Oh SHIT – this is going to be HUGE!” And there was the sound of Survivor. It was just magic!

I Can’t Hold Back

JP: One of my favorites. That song and Search is Over are my two favorite Survivor songs (of course, Eye of The Tiger is in a whole different league). We had tracked all of the songs for Vital Signs with Ron Nevison (producer) and were just about ready to pack up the equipment for the day when Frankie started playing that arpeggiated guitar lick. I was in my piano booth when I heard it and said, “Hey, stop! Hold on! what is THAT?” He said “Eh, I don’t know. I was just messing around.”

I started doing the chord changes and it fit so well with that lick. I had already had the pre-chorus part (I can feel you tremble when we touch) and Frankie had the line “There’s a story in my eyes, turn the pages of desire.”

By the time Ron came over and asked us what we were doing, we already had some of the song. He said “Guys, stop the presses! We’ve got to cut this tomorrow. The next day, we came back in and cut it. It was the only thing we did that day and on the fourth take we nailed it and knew we had something really special. Frankie was a perfectionist when it came to overdubs and then Jimi came in and did the final vocal. Ron helped us so much with the arrangement of the song, that’s why it’s stood the test of time.

Here’s my favorite story: The record had just come out but wasn’t really on the radio yet. Jimi (Jamison) and I were in San Diego and I was coming out of my hotel when I noticed someone riding by on a Harley. It was this guy with a really hot chick on the back. They were whizzing by and their radio was blasting and I hear “I can feel you  tremble when we touch…”  [laughs]. To hear it from a Harley going down the street was the shit. That was the last song  we recorded for the record and the first one you hear.

gJg: What’s your greatest memory of your days with Survivor?

JP: There were so many, but I think I’d have to say Japan. When you realize that you’ve made it all the way over there and people are going crazy. We were they’re in ’85 and ’88 and each time the people were screaming our names. All of a sudden, it just hit me that we were worldwide. Both of those tours were great.

Some of the more subtle moments are my favorites as well. When “Eye of the Tiger” was first starting to zoom up the charts, we were out on the road with REO Speedwagon. I remember it was late in the afternoon and I went into a restaurant to get something to eat. While I was there, somebody played Eye Of The Tiger on the jukebox. There was a little girl there with her family. She must have been around four years old or so. When the song started playing, she immediately got up from her family, started spinning around and said, “Mommy! Daddy! That’s MY song! They’re playing MY song! Out of the mouth of babes. You can’t fool them and you can’t hide from them. They either love it or they don’t, and they loved it.

gJg: Have you ever thought about writing a biography?

JP: It’s almost done and should be out by April. It’s called, “Through The Eye of The Tiger: A Survivor’s Tale”.  I’ve been working on it for the better part of a year. I’m really excited about it.

gJg: What other projects are you working on now?

JP: The Ides of March are still very active. We do a Christmas show every year and this year, it’ s on the 8th. 

Lisa McClowry has a song charting on inspirational radio called “Brand New Hallelujah” from the album, “Lisa McClowry Sings Acoustic Alchemy”. Acoustic Alchemy is one of my favorite bands. All instrumental, from Britain. To me, they are the ultimate New Age/Smooth Jazz group.  I’ve always wanted to write lyrics to their music and they told me to have a go at it. I took one song they had called “Overnight Sleeper” and turned it into Sleepless Nights and had Lisa sing it. They fell in love with it and we ended up doing a whole album. It was a labor of love.

Gearing up for World Stage the 19th of January. We’re just putting the line-up together now.

I’m working with Mindy Abair (who is fresh off the Aerosmith tour) on her new album. This time around, Mindi’s going to sing about half of the record.

I’m working with my son Sijay, whose new self-composed album Detroit Club just hit iTunes.

Lisa McClowry and I finished a video for the troops called “Before the Tree Comes Down” . It’s a song about a little boy wishing his father comes home for Christmas before they take the tree down. The reaction for it has been overwhelming.

I’m also working with a young country artist Andrew Salgado, a 23-year-old singer who I’ve been producing. He has a very unique voice.

And, if that’s not enough, [laughs] I’m also working with the kids group Ariel & Zoey & Eli, Too. They have a pop variety show on theCoolTV network. They needed a song about bullying. It was something that was near and dear to my heart so I wrote a song called “Hey Bully”. The video for it went viral.

As a songwriter, I love putting different hats on. It’s an interesting thing.

2 thoughts on “Lions, Tigers and Guitars: A Conversation With Jim Peterik”

  1. I’ve had this bookmarked for days and finally had the chance to read it. How fun. Thanks for sharing all the extras, lovin’ that Harley story.

    Have you even stopped smiling over this?


    1. Still hard to believe i was able to speak with him. I could have talked to him for hours about where he got the ideas for the songs. Love hearing about how they came to be. And that Harley story was the best.

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