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Jim Peterik tells all in new book on Ides of March, Survivor

They’re the pride of Berwyn, Illinois.; a slice of Chicago’s rich music culture.

A really big slice.

And unlike many of their ’60s and ’70s counterparts, they survived and thrived. Fifty years later, the regrouped Ides of March are still entertaining fans of Chicago-cultivated rock.

For founding member/lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Jim Peterik, it’s been one hell of a ride — a ride devoid of many of the usual debauched trappings of rock band life, he says. Peterik’s recently released book, Through the Eye of the Tiger: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Life of Survivor’s Founding Member (BenBella Books) takes us on his journey from Chicago garage band to Grammy-winning chart-topper; from exploding on the national music scene with the Ides’ “Vehicle” to making an iconic film splash in “Rocky III” with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

The 64-year-old Peterik recently talked about the book and the life journey it celebrates.

Q. Why did you decide the time was right to write this book?

A. I just thought it was the right time. I couldn’t have written this 20 years ago because I was in the thick of it. At age 40 you don’t have the perspective you have at age 64. You look back and say this was good, this was bad, I really got screwed here. I couldn’t see that when it was happening.

JIM PETERIK

Book Signing

When: 2 p.m Dec. 6

Where: Barnes & Noble, DePaul Center, 1 E. Jackson

JIM PETERIK & THE IDES OF MARCH CHRISTMAS SHOW

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 13

Where: Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St Charles

Tickets: $39-$49

Info: (630) 962-7000; Oshows.com

Q. What was the writing process like?

A. When I decided to write the book I asked myself does this have enough tension? I read every rock autobiography I could — Keith Richards’, Mick Jagger’s —, and a lot of them really were train wrecks with groupies, drug use, alcohol abuse. I was relatively kind of normal. [Laughs] Then when I was writing it I discovered I had a lot more s— going on than I thought. I was writing the book and I was crying at times realizing I was away from my family for all of the ’80s! I’ve been married 42 years, but let’s subtract those 10.

Q. What was the biggest difference between your years with Survivor (whose members over the years included Frankie Sullivan, Dave Bickler, Jimi Jamison, Gary Smith, among others) and being with the Ides (whose members include Larry Millas, Bob Bergland, Mike Borch, Dave Stahlberg, Scott May, Tim Bales and Steve Eisen)?

A. I was lonely a lot with Survivor. I didn’t have the camaraderie I had with the Ides; I mean, we were family. Survivor was very much all business. I didn’t have the compadres to hang with, to commiserate with. It got lonely on the road.

Q. You write about the highs and the lows of your career. What was the lowest low and the highest high?

A. One of the high points was “Vehicle” being No. 1 on the charts. Suddenly I’m 19 and on the road with the Ides and opening for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. And definitely that one archetypal concert where we opened for Led Zeppelin in Winnipeg. That was another truly high point. It was the Youngbloods, us, Iron Butterfly and then Zeppelin. We walk out there and there’s like 25,000 people and we KILLED it. I’d been waiting for that moment since 1964. Zeppelin couldn’t follow us. They were great that night but we were better. The newspaper headlines the next day said the Ides of March stole the show. And we did.

The lowest of the low? It may not seem like much, but for me it was the moment when Survivor got nominated for a Grammy for “Eye of the Tiger.” I mean that was THE moment for me in terms of our work. The problem was they only sent us two tickets, one for me and one for Frankie [Sullivan] because we wrote the song. So Frankie said if we can’t get tickets for the whole band we’re not going. I knew if I went alone there would be hell to pay. So I didn’t go. There I was on [Grammy night] sitting in my kitchen in LaGrange, Illinois, watching the Grammys and hearing: “Best pop performance by duo or group: Eye of the Tiger, Survivor.” I still get enraged when I think about it. But I got a Grammy!

Q. For the novices out there, can you explain how the Ides got their name?

A. We were gonna be called The Shon-Dels, because there was a guy called Troy Shondell who had a hit record called “This Time” in the early 60s. I just thought the name was kinda cool. We were just getting ready to release our first record on Parrot when we heard on the radio: “And now a new song from Tommy James and the Shondells!” So we called our manager who called the record company to literally stop the presses. At the time [bassist] Bob [Bergland] was reading “Julius Caesar” in school and he remembered the line, “Beware the Ides of March.” And every one of us said, yes, that’s the name!

Q. Pretty much everyone thought you guys were a black group when your music hit the airwaves.

A. That’s absolutely true. The ultimate example? We were hired to play the Carter [Barron] Amphitheatre in Washington, D.C., with B.B. King and the Five Stairsteps. The promoter thought we were black. When we walked out on that stage there was an audible gasp. But then we started playing and the audience totally got into it.

Q. There was a lot of confusion in the industry, especially the radio stations, over just who this band from Chicago was.

A. [Singing] “Great God in Heaven…” Everybody thought that [song] was Blood, Sweat and Tears when it came out! Obviously we were influenced by Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, because we were all cutting our teeth in the business at the same time. But talk about coming full circle! Bo Bice sang “Vehicle” on “American Idol” and the song charted again. Then he became the new lead singer for Blood, Sweat and Tears and now BST is doing “Vehicle” in their shows.

Q. In your book you write about your Nine Life Lessons, including the “Golden rule of rock n roll.” Can you explain it and give me an example of when that lesson came in to play for real?

A. It turned out to be one of the lowest points of our career, but there is no success without failure. We were booked to open for Neil Diamond; it was the first time a group of potential managers came to see our show. So we were totally psyched. So I get this idea that our [set list] isn’t good enough. I mean we had a great set but now I’m saying let’s learn all new songs. So we’re rehearsing and rehearsing. I mean I just wouldn’t listen to anybody. So we added all these ridiculous songs like “Those Were the Days.” But we hadn’t played them live anywhere until that night. After the show I still thought we did good, but I was totally delusional. I went up to Neil Diamond and asked how he liked our set. And he looks at me and says, “Next time Jim, play only your best material.” So there ya go, life lesson Number 1. [“Never try out new material for the first time at an important gig.”]

Q. Tell me about the Chicago club scene back in the day when Ides of March were up-and-coming.

A. That was the day of the teen clubs. They were all over Chicago. You’d pay $2 or $3 at the Blue Village in Westmont, where we cut our teeth. The Green Gorilla. the Pink Sink. The Cellar… It was the ’60s and early ’70s. We’d go see a different band every night just to see what everybody else was doing. There was friendly competition between all the bands. If the Buckinghams were at No. 1 with “Kind of a Drag,” we were like, “we have to beat them!”

Our favorites by far were the Cryan Shames [from Hinsdale, Ill.]. They had “Sugar and Spice,” “Could be We’re In Love,” “I Wanna Meet You.” They were so tight, their harmonies so rich. Their leader was Jim Fairs. He was the Brian Wilson of Chicago. We studied their harmonies like crazy. Our goal was to be as good as the Cryan Shames. We ended up eclipsing them in terms of success.

Q. You write about how difficult and, for the most part, unhappy, your years were with Survivor. If you could go back and change one thing about that period, what would it be?

A. I would have fought harder for my lead vocals and guitar playing. With Ides of March I was the frontman, I was the lead singer. I was the lead guitarist. And I prided myself as a showman. I was the guy with the 100-foot cord going out into the audience. When survivor came, Frankie had a different vision for the band. He respected what I did with Ides but there was room for only one lead guitarist and that was Frankie. So I moved over to keyboards. There was room for only one singer, and that was Frankie, so I stepped aside. When I left Survivor in 1996 and put the Ides back together, I mean all the original guys came back; I felt like I was home.

Q. There’s a picture in the book of your roomful of guitars. Do you really still own all those guitars, and which is the ultimate?

A. Sure do. 182 guitars. I don’t do drugs, I don’t chase women. [Laughs] You gotta have something! The “Holy Grail” is a 1958 Gibson Flying V; it’s one of only 93 made and it’s priceless. Emotionally, my ’68 Les Paul Gold Top would be it. I played “Vehicle” on that one when I toured with the Ides.

Q. What kept you grounded through all of it for 50 years?

A. When you see a bunch of idiots, all the infighting, getting high and partying all night every night on the road, and I don’t mean our band, but that whole decadent scene. Instead of saying, “Cool! I wanna be like that!,” I’d go back to my hotel room and sleep. The next morning they didn’t feel good. The next morning I was tapping my toes. I always had a respect for my gift. I don’t mean to be lofty. But we all have a gift. Mine is music, ever since I was four years old. That’s sacred to me. If you can protect the gift you’re given, whatever it is, and share it with the world, that’s the best you can do.

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