Interview: Ides Of March, Survior Frontman Jim Peterik

The ides of March cofounder speaks about the band's 50th anniversary box set.
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Blinded by Sound had a chance to speak with Ides of March founding member, Jim Peterik, about the band's new 50th anniversary collection, as well as his career writing for other artists and his time with the group Survivor. He's had a long and varied musical career to say the least. Here's what he had to say.

How did the box set come about? What was your involvement? Was it difficult to get all the tracks from the different labels?

It's definitely home grown. We're our own record company and we found a distributor. It starts out in 1964 with "Like It Or Lump It." We tried to clean those masters up off old 45s. The biggest problem we had was expense. The RCA stuff had never been transferred to digital and we had to pay for ovens to bake the tapes. It worked out great. The digital transfer was done really well. We tried to make it sound like it did back in the day.

How did the band start out?

We had a semi-hit single in '66 on Parrot, which was a subsidiary of London. Then we finally signed to Warner Brothers, thank God. We had one flop single and we cut four songs and the last song was a song called "Vehicle," which was the fastest charting single at that point.

And then it became a hit again when Bo Bice covered it.

We had no clue Bo Bice was going to sing it on American Idol. I was in Nashville and my drummer called and said there's this guy on TV who looks like Jesus Christ who's singing the crap out of the song.

It's interesting to hear your sound evolve on the box set from a British Invasion type to a jangly Byrds sound to horn-driven tracks such as vehicle to melodic hard rock with songs such as "Eye of the Tiger" when you were with Survivor. Was this a conscious decision or did it happen naturally?

We started out like a British Invasion wannabe band. We loved the Zombies, the Kinks, the Beatles of course and the Byrds. I was 14 when "You Wouldn't Listen" hit in '66. We were musical amoebas, so when the Beatles hit, that's who we wanted to be, when the horns hit, that's who we wanted to be. No matter what we did, it sounds like The Ides of March though.

Along those lines, you've written with a number of different artists in very different styles. Is it hard to change styles when writing for 38 Special as opposed to Sammy Hagar or Brian Wilson? Do you have to put on different hats?

You do have to be able to put on a different hat to be a cowriter. 38 Special was really special because I was able to bring my pop sensibilities to their southern thing, which really hadn't been done. With Brian, it's a different thing. You have to catch lightning in a bottle when he's doodling on the piano. I co-wrote "That's Why God Made The Radio" and "Isn't It Time" on my little ukulele I've had since age four.

Is there anyone you haven't written with that you'd like to write with?

So many, but some of my biggest heroes wouldn't be good co-writing situations. I love Elton John, but no one does Elton John better than Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Paul McCartney? Sure. Mick Jagger? Sure. Burt Bacharach is kind of retired, but I'd love to work with him. I love 50s and 60s music. My SiriusXM is almost always on the 50s and 60s channels. Carole King is one of my heroes, but she doesn't need me.

What is your proudest moment as a songwriter?

I guess it would be "Eye of the Tiger." We knew we were doing something special in '82 and that fact it is still around in 2015 is pretty amazing.

Back to the box. The song "Last Band Standing" mentions hanging with Led Zeppelin, among others. What was that like?

We opened for Zeppelin in Winnipeg. The opening act was the Youngbloods, then iron Butterfly, then Ides of March, then came Zeppelin. There were 30,000 people and believe it or not Zeppelin couldn't follow us. "Vehicle" was number one, we received standing ovations and the newspaper said we could do no wrong. After the show, Robert Plant invited us up to their penthouse suite. It was not a party, but an orgy with all the naked groupies and the drugs (laughs). After like five minutes, we left and had donuts across the street (laughs). That wasn't really our scene.

Steve Cropper plays on the track. How did that come about? Was the Stax sound an influence on your own sound?

We had already laid down the tracks and it was just him and his telecaster and we did three takes. He was great. The reason we got the horns back in '68 was for "Sweet Soul Music." We graduated to the Blood Sweat and Tears/Chicago sound, but we started with the Memphis thing.

What's Next For Jim Peterik/Ides of March?

Obviously supporting the box set, doing shows. The festival scene has dried up. We're doing a lot of corporate arts centers and casinos. We did an unplugged set on Record Store Day. We're trying to get back to independent stores, the brick and mortar stores that got us there before Amazon and Spotify. I'm doing Pride of Lions with a great singer named Toby Hitchcock. We're doing a big show in Chicago/Rosemont. I also wanted to give a plug out to a group out of Ann Arbor, MI, Ariel, Zoey and Eli. They have a show called Steal The Show on Cozi. It's hosted by me. It's a different side of my writing, more tween pop stuff. Don't expect Sammy Hagar!