After 55 years together, the Ides of March ‘Play On’

“At our first rehearsal, we saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and that was our blueprint,” says frontman Jim Peterik. “We wanted to be the Berwyn Beatles.”

SHARE After 55 years together, the Ides of March ‘Play On’
The Ides of March — (front row, from left): Mike Borch, Bob Bergland, Jim Peterik, Larry Millas and Scott May. Back row (from left): Steve Eisen, Tim Bales and Henry Salgado.

The Ides of March — (front row, from left): Mike Borch, Bob Bergland, Jim Peterik, Larry Millas and Scott May. Back row (from left): Steve Eisen, Tim Bales and Henry Salgado.

Kristie Schram

Some bands have staying power, but none have the tenure to match the Ides of March.

The band began in 1964 as a creative outlet for four school-aged friends from Berwyn, Illinois. Signed to Warner Brothers Records, Ides released its 1970 debut album featuring the horn-spiked bravado of “Vehicle.” The song shot to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the company of acts like The Guess Who, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Beatles.

Frontman Jim Peterik would revisit such chart-topping status in the ‘80s, penning hits for .38 Special and co-writing the enduring anthem “Eye of the Tiger” and heart-stopping ballad “The Search is Over” during his tenure with Survivor.

Ides of March

The Ides of March

With special guests: Mark Farner, Bo Bice, Cathy Richardson

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 26

Where: Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee, Waukegan

Tickets: $35-$55

Info: ticketmaster.com

The kids from Berwyn never lost touch, however.

The original Ides of March line-up celebrates 55 years together with its new album “Play On.” Saxophonist Mindi Abair collaborated with Peterik for “Friends Like You,” a song inspired by the group’s longstanding brotherhood.

“Our band truly is a family,” says Peterik. “Bob Bergland and I were in the same Cub Scout pack. I know Larry Millas from third grade, and Mike Borch and I were in the original grade school band together. The song is ultimately about solidarity, whether it’s with family, a group of friends, or a lover.”

Title track “Play On” is a statement of intent. “That’s what we’re gonna do,” says Peterik. “We take it very seriously, but we can’t help smirking at each other onstage. We’ve been doing this forever, and we’re still absolutely loving it. The audience senses the joy that we feel, and you can’t put a price on that.”

The song’s title also connects to the band’s origin story.

“It’s from Shakespeare, which is apropos since that’s where we got our band name,” says Peterik. “We were originally called the Shon-Dels. Our first single ‘You Wouldn’t Listen’ was about to be pressed in 1966 when we heard [WCFL-AM DJ] Dick Biondi saying, ‘New from Tommy James and the Shondells, ‘Hanky Panky!’ We thought, ‘Oh, no!’ We were all in sophomore and junior lit reading Julius Caesar. Bob goes, ‘Hey, look at this – Beware the Ides of March.’”

The group aimed high from the start.

“At our first rehearsal, we saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and that was our blueprint,” says Peterik. We wanted to be the Berwyn Beatles.”

The Ides’ early music found common threads with groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Three Dog Night, and Chicago. The band’s classic sound resonates during performances today.

“We don’t try to reinvent,” says Peterik. “We just emphasize what’s best about the Ides of March. For me that’s the horns, the harmonies, and lyrics with a positive spin.”

The band will mark its anniversary at the Genesee Theatre on Saturday, playing old favorites like “Vehicle” and “L.A. Goodbye” alongside fresh fare. Friends including Mark Farner, Bo Bice, and Jefferson Starship singer Cathy Richardson will join the Ides to recreate guest appearances from “Play On.”

In addition to performing a couple of his Grand Funk Railroad hits with the Ides, Farner will perform “Swagger.” The song praises those who don’t let their limitations hold them back. One lyric grasps low-hanging fruit, claiming the ready-made rhyme with “Mick Jagger” and describing the singer’s “90 pounds of courage on a scrawny frame.”

“I actually wrote the song about Mark, because he’s a force of nature,” says Peterik, who had performed with Farner during his star-studded World Stage shows. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s a dynamo swaggering across the stage. He’s 71 years old, and the girls are going crazy over him.”

Peterik hadn’t met Bice when the latter stunned audiences with a powerhouse version of “Vehicle” during American Idol’s 2005 season. “We’ve been friends ever since,” says Peterik. The two wrote bluesy roots-rocker “Love or Something Like It” for “Play On.” “When we wrote that horn riff, I knew it was for the Ides of March. Bo will play that with us at the Genesee.”

Although Peterik remains motivated by new work, it’s clear that he values the legacy he built with his boyhood friends. He turns reflective when thinking about the span of 55 years together.

“That first gig at the VFW hall in Berwyn was on October 16, 1964,” he says. “In a way it feels like the blink of an eye, and in a way it feels like a thousand years ago. But my memory is crystal sharp. Every gig and every emotion I’ve experienced with Ides of March stays with me.”

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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