It’s been 27 years, 2 months and 15 days. But who’s counting?
Nearly 10,000 days. That’s the duration of time between when I first saw the band Survivor perform at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA and the day I took my daughter Jillian to see them for the very first time this past Sunday at Penns Peak.
Oh sure, we went to Hershey Park a few summers ago when the band was there but let’s be honest: when you put an 8-year-old girl in an amusement park surrounded by chocolate it’s damn near impossible to get her to sit still for an audio assault of classic rock.
So, while Mom and child made their way around the park Dad took one for the team. I know, it’s a tough job.
But Sunday night was the ideal night. It had been almost seven years since Jimi Jamison fronted the band and it would be Jillian’s first time to see and hear the band her Dad’s been clamoring about since she first wondered what that “Vital Signs” album was doing hanging on the wall in his office.
If you are a classic rock, hair-metal or country music lover Penns Peak is the absolute best place to see a show. It reminds me so much of the intimacy that Stabler Arena had. A venue that when you first walk in you can literally read the band’s name on the drum header without the need of binoculars. As far as I’m concerned a concert isn’t just a band playing for you. You need to be part of the experience. A concert is when the band is playing WITH you.
As Jillian and I stood in the second row the band ran through a gambit of hits and even a few surprises as well. Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard them sound this good. And this was only their fourth show together with this new line-up. A sign of good things to come!
We were extremely fortunate to get back stage passes for a quick meet and greet with the band after the show.
Jillian, an aspiring singer herself, asked Jimi (one of the greatest male rock vocalists of all time) if he had any advice for her. This is what he said:
Persistence. Just keep singing. The more you do it, the better you get. That’s the best advice I can give you!
My mind is a bit faded since that Survivor concert two dozen years ago and for the longest time it was hard for me to try to put into words how I felt the night I saw them for the very first time.
That was until a friend showed me a picture she had taken of Jillian and me after the show was over. Then I figured it out.
After the band said goodbye and got into the van to take them back to the hotel Jillian and i stood there for a minute basking in the glow. It was at this point that a simple song lyric came to mind:
We will remember this first night together. After all the songs fade away and the stage fades to gray.
As we were making our way out a stage hand from the band came over and asked Jillian if she had gotten an “official” Survivor Frankie Sullivan guitar pick.
After she told him that she didn’t he took one that he had gotten from the stage and handed it to her as if it might mean something.
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
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.
A few weeks ago I was perusing iTunes looking for songs to buy on a gift card I received. I chose a few Foo Fighters songs from their most recent album (I didn’t really care for the previews I had heard of the whole thing) and the Bon Jovi anthem “It’s My Life”. I’m not even sure which record that track was on. My guess is it’s probably on several of them but I just wanted the song for when I do cardio at the gym so it didn’t really matter.
I mean, you can’t play Eye of The Tiger consecutively for thirty minutes straight while on the treadmill. Well, I suppose you can but I like to mix it up a bit.
Speaking of Bon Jovi, I read an article not too long ago from Jon Bon Jovi himself. He made the outrageous claim that Steve Jobs and iTunes had single-handedly ruined the music business. This coming from a guy whose band has made millions of dollars off of it. Including quite a bit of it from me over the years I might add and more than enough money for him to one day become part owner of a billion dollar NFL team. A guy who still continues to sell his music on iTunes and profit off of it. Just who is he trying to kid anyway?
But the more I thought about it and looked at the receipt for my downloaded songs the more I realized….he’s right. The entire “experience” of getting and listening to new music is gone.
Back in “the day” if you heard a cool song on the radio from a band you loved you had three choices…
One: Call the radio station 24/7 and beg them to play it.
Two: Try and find the 45″ single of it somewhere.
Three: Buy the album, which was always readily available.
In my case, the choice was easy. I would always buy the album because I LOVED the experience (ok, and also because I didn’t want to sound like a sissy calling the request line).
When you first heard the new “hit” from the band on the radio and the brouhaha that followed you knew the countdown to the new album was officially on. It was almost like Christmas was coming.
There was nothing quite like getting that new album (or CD) and taking it home for the first time. Especially if you’ve waited the habitual two years since your favorite group’s last record. A literal lifetime when you are growing up.
My ritual was this: I would get the album, lock myself in my bedroom, tear open the shrink-wrap and put new vinyl on the turntable. Always first song, first side (or first track on a CD – I’m not THAT OLD). I knew the “hit” was always about the third song in and I didn’t want to just skip to it. I wanted the build up.
As the first notes of the record started I knew ‘the boys were back’ and I’d begin to immerse myself in the liner notes. The smell of new ink would invade my senses and the troubles of the day would soon fade away.
Even though the guys in the band had absolutely no idea who I was (at best just a little dot in the 23rd row at their last concert) it felt like a reunion with old friends. Friends that had inspired me, comforted me and consoled me with their music.
“Boys, where have you been? What’s new?”
I’d read all about the musicians and where the album was recorded and who any “special guest” musicians that had played on the album were. The thank-you notes would always include references to God and family and as a musician myself I’d always think that maybe some day I’d have the opportunity to make these same decisions for my own album.
But most important of all, I read the lyrics.
I loved reading about the pain, heartache and reckless abandon the band felt when creating this record. I tried to relate what I was going through in my own life with what I read and listened to. By the time the “hit” started playing I was already in some distant utopia. (which coincidentally, was the name of the store in downtown Easton where I bought a lot of my records).
When the record was over it was almost like you had just gotten off an amusement park ride. Sure, some of the songs weren’t as good as I had hoped but there were always some gems on there. I liked to guess which song would be the next one released to radio and I’d start wondering just how long it would be before these guys came to town and I could go see them again. The whole thing was indeed an experience.
Now, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had the whole music experience. I too find myself falling into the same routine that everyone else does. Getting the quick-fix by downloading the one “hit” song. Quite frankly, I even believe most artists these days are perfectly happy with just getting the 99 cents for that one song and ignoring the “album”. But taking Jon’s advice, I decided to pass the digital quick fix and try the album experience again. I chose to buy a physical album from a favorite band whose records spent many months on my turn table growing up and one who coincidentally had just released a brand new album: Night Ranger’s “Somewhere in California”.
I sat there in my office, put the CD into the computer, fired up the media player and started playback on the first track. It was so easy to fall back into the groove, read the liner notes and get lost in thought. And although there were some really great songs on there I know that in today’s music business not a single track on this album will ever get airplay. But the experience of listening to an album from start to finish was as wonderful as I had remembered it to be.
So Mr. Bon Jovi was right in a way. I guess iTunes has changed the game. And sure, I’ll probably take the Night Ranger album and throw it on my mp3 player to take with me. Will I listen to it day and night? Probably not. But favorite songs aren’t meant to be just some digital file on an iPod.
They’re meant to stay with you for a lifetime.
Extra: Be sure to check out my other Night Ranger blog article here
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.