Jim Peterik – it’s gonna take a fresh face to bring back the classic rock sound

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Jim Peterik is a rock n’ roll survivor. He is an artist who has seen almost everything in the music business and rightfully is considered by fans and press alike as a true, living legend! His songs are not only classics but wholeheartedly embraced by every generation as “Eye of the Tiger”, “Burning Heart”, “Vehicle”, “Hold On Loosely” etc. still captivate the minds and souls of music fans around the world. Last year Peterik released with Pride of Lions the amazing “Lion Heart” album and we wouldn’t miss the chance to do a video interview with him…an interview that had a short yet great surprise at its very end. Interview: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: Jim, let me start by congratulating you on the new Pride of Lions record (“Lion Heart”). I was absolutely blown away by it. I can’t stop listening to it…

Jim Peterik: That’s really a compliment…we had so much fun making it. I mean I love all the Pride of Lions albums but I think we hit a high note with this one. You know…I can’t stop listening to it, too. And that’s weird because I don’t usually listen to my stuff (laughs). I spend so much time listening to the songs while I am recording them and then when they’re finished that by the time they’re out, I don’t wanna hear them no more. But this one…I still listen to it. I put it in the car…you know, Toby Htchcock is so amazing. I can’t stop listening to his voice.

Rockpages.gr: But you know what’s so special about “Lion Heart”…? It’s like the debut record. More straight forward, more AOR…less pompous. I don’t know if you agree…it’s closer to the 80s sound.

Jim Peterik: I totally know what you mean. It was kinda of a conscious effort to get away from the complexity of some of the Pride of Lions albums. If I listen now to “The Destiny Stone”, I go: “wow”! It’s complex but it’s good. But I wanted to do something more straight ahead, something more in the mid-era of Survivor. Songs like “I Can’t Hold Back”, “High On You”, “How Much Love”…a little more straight ahead. 

Rockpages.gr: What’s the feedback so far for the new album? Are you happy from the overall response towards the album?

Jim Peterik: I am…I really am. I haven’t anything bad so far. I am waiting for the first bad review (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: You won’t see any.

Jim Peterik: I hope not. Great response…probably the best response since the very first album which was simply called “Pride of Lions”. That one was so well-received. But, Sakis, you have to realize that I had so many years to build up those songs (on the first album). I left Survivor in 1996 and right then I started writing… I didn’t know why I was writing those songs because back then I didn’t know what I’d do. Then one day I got a call from Serafino (Perugino, Frontiers Records) who is such a legend in the AOR world and he says: “Maestro, you must make a new album. We need your music”. I said: “That’s great, Serafino, but I don’t have a singer and I can’t hit those high notes”. He insisted that I should find a singer…I was thinking of various names like Joe Lynn (Turner) who were already famous in their own field. Fate would have it, during a show that I did in a place not too far away from Chicago I was watching a guy in the front row watching us. He was really into it…not an unattractive person but really into it (laughs). And afterwards he walked up to me and said: “I loved your set. My name is Toby Hitchcock”. That’s great, I said (laughs). He continues: “I am a singer”. Again…that’s great (laughs). You have to realize that I hear those things all the time and I didn’t know if this guy was a joker or really great. He gave me his phone number and he said that he just auditioned for a TV show and that he had met my niece, Kelly. I was kinda surprised and when I returned home I got a call from Kelly who said: “Uncle Jimmy, you gotta hear this singer…Toby Hitchcock. He’s amazing”. Ok, I got the seal of approval (laughs). So, I invited her and him in my studio. I had written a song that they could do a duet on…that song didn’t make the album but it was a great song to check his voice. Well, first of all, Toby is a goofball; a joker. He came over (the studio) with false teeth (laughs). He looked like a moron and I felt sorry for this guy…“nice to meet you, Toby, but those teeth…” (laughs). Then he takes the false teeth off (laughs) and I am going: “Oh, thank God…that’s not your teeth”! He’s still a joker…he’s got a weird sense of humor. Anyway when I heard him singing in the studio where I am talking to you right now, I noticed shades of all my favorite singers in his voice. I heard some Dennis DeYoung, some Tommy Shaw, some Jimi Jamison…all in one voice. Almost immediately, I said: “Dude, you’re my new singer”. But I still needed the permission from Serafino. So they flew in from Italy just to hear Toby Hitchcock. We rented a studio in Nashville and we played live for Serafino and Mario (De Riso, Frontiers Records). And they were blown away…Serafino kept telling: “Toby, you are just a baby. You are so young”. We signed a contract and that’s our seventh album with Pride of Lions.

Rockpages.gr: Can you believe that this happened 18 whole years ago? I mean did you think, back then, that it would last so long?

Jim Peterik: Oh man, you never can plan those things. I knew that it would be more than one album but I was thinking…maybe, three…you know. Three albums would be great. It’s just kept building and we really started getting a following for Pride of Lions and Toby and I were so well together plus I have a band that has not changed all those years. But apart from a few special guests, I have a steady line up with Ed Breckenfeld on drums, Mike Aquino on guitar, Klem Hayes on bass, Christian Cullen on keyboards…you know, Sakis, I have right beside me Larry. I know him since third grade. He’s my right hand…

Rockpages.gr: Is Larry Millas there?

Jim Peterik: Yes, he is.

Rockpages.gr: (Larry shows up on camera). Hello, Larry. Congratulations on your excellent engineering work on the album. I loved the overall sound of the record.

Larry Millas: Thank you. It’s just a combination of the right elements. The musicians and the songs. When they play their instruments, they have a particular sound each one of them. I was always a fanatic of high fidelity and we worked really close with Jim. We were really happy with how it came out.

Rockpages.gr: You totally nailed it. It could have been a flat production but it’s organic; almost an analogue sound. Like it was the 80s.

Jim Peterik: That was our goal. We hit the target. Back in the 80s, like with “Eye Of The Tiger” we had two 24-track machines linked up and synched up because we needed something extra. So we were recording on a 48-track even back in 1982! So we had some of the greatest engineers there like Phil Bonanno and of course Mike Clink who went on to work with Guns N’ Roses. And of course Frankie Sullivan was great behind the board, too. But yes, the new album sound very analogue, very natural. I am glad you like it.

Rockpages.gr: Getting back to the album…Jim, I was always fascinated by your lyrics. I don’t know if you get asked about them but I love the way that you describe your feelings or telling a story…for instance, the song “We Play For Free” on the new album. You describe exactly the feelings of a touring band: how everything almost sucks for 22 hours and then everything counts for two hours. 

Jim Peterik: That’s exactly it! “We Play For Free”…you know, there are other things that we get paid for (apart from the show). The long bus drives, the long delays on the airports, the bad hotels…I mean, we’ve seen it all. Even with Survivor, we were riding high for a while and we stayed in good hotels but before and after that (success), we went back to those crummy hotels…the worst thing, of course, when you are on tour is being away from your family and the loneliness that there is. So, this song…like you said…you got it. It’s 22 hours of boredom, pain, crap, bullshit and then everything counts for the next two hours with people screaming and singing along. Makes it all worthwhile.

Rockpages.gr: Do you miss those touring days, I mean with the whole pandemic situation?

Jim Peterik: Hell yeah! It has been more than a year since the pandemic and the quarantine. I miss playing live but I am staying extremely busy in the studio working with some of my biggest heroes. The second part of Dennis De Young’s “26 East” album comes out in a couple of months. On the first part, I had collaborated with him on 6 songs and now we are working together on 5 songs. What’s really ironic is that he grew up on the south side of Chicago but almost 10 years ago he visited me and he liked my neighborhood which is more like in the north side of the suburbs. And he asked me if I like it here and I said that I love it. So, we started working together; he would drive to my studio and started working on songs. It’s been a real blessing for me. I am also working with the group Chicago which is another dream come true because I always loved Chicago. We got almost 10 songs written for the new album that it’s coming out…I guess in December. As long as I stay busy musically, it kinda takes up for the fact that we are not playing live. I am also writing with Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys.

Rockpages.gr: Jim, you are one of the most prolific songwriters. You have a great legacy not only with Survivor or Pride of Lions but with so many legendary artists like Dennis DeYoung, Sammy Hagar, 38 Special…you name it!

Jim Peterik: Thank you. It comes down to the fact of being a fan of so many different kinds of music. For instance The Ides of March…this band was always trying to find its own sound. I would always showed up with a different sound and a different song. No one really knew who The Ides of March was! Were we the “Vehicle” band with the horns? Were we the folky, Crosby, Stills and Young kinda band of “L.A. Goodbye”? But it became a positive when I started writing with other people because I was able to fit their style. When I started writing with 38 Special, I got into their mindsets…they had that southern kinda vibe in their guitar sound like Skynyrd. But what was different about them was that they had my style of writing which was more pop and melodic. The first song that we wrote together was “Hold On Loosely”. We wrote that in 3-4 hours. And I remember we sent the demo from a crummy tape recorder to their manager and he was absolutely excited. We kept writing, all these songs were flowing and we never looked back.

Rockpages.gr: Jim, you are a rock n’ roll survivor. You have seen it all…the rock n’roll explosion, the British invasion, the Beatles-mania, classic rock in the early 70s, punk revolution, the 80s hard rock heyday…even the 90s grunge era. We have Gene Simmons saying that rock is dead and Alice Cooper thinking otherwise. What’s your opinion…is rock n’ roll alive and healthy?

Jim Peterik: It is. I am working with a young artist right now –I am not gonna mention her name- who has a band and she’s gonna be big. I am gonna tell you all about her in three months or so. Anyway, she’s an 80s freak and she’s 21 years old. People are coming back to that music. Since she was 7 years old, all that her dad was playing was classic rock. And that’s happening more and more. And there’s a video clip of her when she was 7 years old…this is getting even more mysterious…and she’s with the school band playing guitar and doing “Eye Of The Tiger”. There’s a fresh face, beautiful girl, marketing classic rock. That’s what it’s gonna take it… a fresh face to bring back that sound.

Rockpages.gr: But what about record sales?

Jim Peterik: It’s all virtual right now. It’s all digital and downloads. It’s a fact of life. I miss CDs…I still have my CDs…hell, I miss albums. I have so many vinyl albums, you can’t believe it. But you have to surrender to the now. Now it’s all about digital and files. I miss the days where you would pick up an album and read the credits, the lyrics and the back stories. You have to go online to see those details. I can’t lie…I really miss the old days.

Rockpages.gr: Me too, Jim. But we still buy the physical product…the CDs, the albums. Anyway, Jim I see behind you the double platinum, triple platinum award of “Eye Of The Tiger”. I am sure everybody asks you what’s your favorite “Rocky” film is and you are giving them the same answer…it’s “Rocky III”, right?

Jim Peterik: Well, yeah…it’s “Rocky III”. But, there’s also the dark horse…“Rocky IV”. There are people who prefer “Burning Heart” but “Eye Of The Tiger” really made the mark. “Burning Heart” is a really good song and Jimi Jamison sang the shit out of it but there are certain people who prefer it over “Eye of the Tiger”. I don’t take sides. This is a funny story…when Stallone asked us to write for “Rocky III”, we wrote two songs…Frankie and I did. The first was of course “Eye Of The Tiger” and the other one was a ballad called “Ever Since The World Began”. I liked that song so much…this is kind of a bittersweet story…the last time I saw my father before he passed away from a heart attack back in 1982, he said to me: “what are you doing, Jimmy”? I said to him that I was writing songs for “Rocky III”. I played him “Ever Since The World Began” and he loved it. I told him that I had written another one –“Eye Of The Tiger”- but I would play it later for him. In the meantime he passed away and he didn’t get to hear “Eye Of The Tiger”. I still kick myself for not playing it to him.

Rockpages.gr: I know what you mean…personally, I prefer “Burning Heart” because I love Jimi Jamison’s voice and I really miss him. He left us way too early…

Jim Peterik: Well, me too…best singer I ever worked with. Toby comes close but nobody was like Jimi. I remember the first time that we heard him. We were auditioning people cause Dave (Bickler) had left the band. A great singer came along….his name is Kevin Chalfant and we almost got him in the band. We were just about ready to tell him that “you’re in!” when a couple of days later a real gentleman came to Chicago on recommendation of a friend of ours. This friend told us that there is a guy who’s in a band that it’s about to break up and that I should listen to his voice. He sent me the album of the group (ed. note: Jim is referring to the band Cobra)…the songs were not great but I heard something magical in the voice. That was Jimi Jamison. He flew into town…Frankie and I had just finished two songs: “The Search Is Over” and “Broken Promises”. When Jimi came into the studio, he was such a gentleman…so polite, so wonderful. I asked him: “Are you real?” (laughs)…first song that we did was “Broken Promises”… I tell you…goosebumps just thinking of that moment when Jimi started singing! So he learned “Broken Promises” and we had this crappy PA on this carpet warehouse where we used to rehearse but he sounded amazing! And we thought that the PA sucked (laughs). We then asked him to sing “The Search Is Over” and he learned the song quickly…Jimi was a quick learner but when he got to those high notes, his voice cracked and I said to Frankie that we should lower this half step. When Jimi heard that he said: “wait a minute…give half a man a chance”! That was his line…give half a man a chance. Next time, he hit that note so strong that he proved to the band that he was a winner. After the rehearsal, I said: “you are in, Jimi”! It was a great day and the Scotti Brothers (Record Label) saw that they had a smash singer on their roster.

Rockpages.gr: Jim, last question…if we take aside “Eye Of The Tiger”…everybody knows “Eye Of The Tiger”…if you had to pick just one song from your entire recording career for the generations to come, like a time capsule, which one would that be?

Jim Peterik: Well, that’s a great question. It’s like trying to pick your favorite child. You know…you give them all life and you can’t diminish them….hmm…probably “Man Against The World”. When I am down, I listen to that song…it’s all about the struggle and it’s all about triumph. Both things. I have to say that this is my favorite song of all time. It’s not that it was a big hit. It was an album cut. But here’s the good news. Stallone contacted me and said that they are doing a director’s cut of “Rocky IV” that’s gonna come out in about three weeks. He wanted my permission to use “Man Against The World” as the music at the end titles. “Are you kidding?”, I said…finally, this song has its day. So, wait for the director’s cut of “Rocky IV” and you’ll hear my favorite song ever.