Up Close With Jim Peterik
Lead Singer And Guitarist For The Ides Of March
Interviewer’s note: October 1964 was when the Ides of March came to be. Made up of lead singer and guitarist Jim Peterik, rhythm guitarist Larry Millas, bassist Bob Bergland and drummer Mike Borch, the Berwyn, Illinois, band went on to deliver a string of stirring singles over the course of the next few years that acquired an impressive amount of recognition in and around their vicinity.
What mainly separated the Ides of March from their peers was the fact they penned their own material rather than just rely on cover songs to fill their sets. Such tunes were so cleverly crafted that they belied their young ages.
Owing a nod to the heavenly harmony practices of The Hollies and The Zombies, cuts like "You Wouldn't Listen," "Things Aren't Always What They Seem," "Roller Coaster" and "I'll Keep Searching" smacked of high quality pop persuasions carved of detailed arrangements, catchy hooks and tasty instrumentation. When the music styles changed, so did The Ides of March.
Their repertoire soon entailed a mercurial mix of blue-eyed soul ballads, brass workouts, progressive pop tidings and driving rock and roll. Spring 1970 saw the band finally strike gold on a far-reaching scale with "Vehicle," a blistering blast of hard and heavy horn rock that peaked at the number two position on the national charts.
Toward the end of 1973, The Ides of March splintered. Jim Peterik then embarked on a variety of ventures that brought him much commercial success. To begin with, there was Survivor, a band that scored a batch of power rock winners in the early eighties, including "Poor Man's Son," "Eye of the Tiger" and "American Heartbeat." Jim also moved behind the boards in the production department and has written top sellers for 38 Special and Sammy Hagar. And what's more is that nearly twenty years after throwing in the towel, The Ides of March reunited and are still going strong today.
[Beverly Paterson] What was the first band you played in?
Jim Peterik The Shondels, but we were actually the same band that became The Ides of March later on. We formed when I was a freshman in high school and the other guys were sophomores. But we all knew each other since grade school, having been in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts together.
[Beverly Paterson] Why did you change your name to The Ides of March?
Jim Peterik When we got signed to Parrot Records, we found out there was another band that had our name: Tommy James and The Shondells. But we had no clue they even existed. This was right before they became well known and started getting played on the radio. I got the name from Troy Shondell, who had a hit single in the early sixties called "This Time." I thought his name was pretty cool and would be a good name for a band. Bob Bergland suggested The Ides of March because we were all reading "Julius Caesar" in high school.
[Beverly Paterson] Where was your first rehearsal held?
Jim Peterik At Larry's house. He was the rhythm guitar player of the band. This was when the British Invasion was happening and the first song we played together was "Tell Me Why" by The Beatles. We had no idea what we were doing.
We never thought we would make records or make a career out of playing music. It seems like these days, a lot of bands take themselves way too seriously. They're concerned with demographics and tailoring their image to fit a certain way; but that's not how it was with us. We were just having fun making music. But we kept at it and eventually became the house band at Morton West High School.
[Beverly Paterson] The Shondels did wind up recording a single after all.
Jim Peterik That's right. We pressed up copies on a label we formed ourselves, Epitome Records, and sold them at gigs. "Like It or Lump It" was the A side of the single, which was written by Larry and me. The flipside of the single, "No Two Ways About It," was also written by Larry and me.
Early on, I had an inclination to write my own songs instead of always doing other people's material. I never wanted to go for a Rolling Stones approach. I mean, I love The Rolling Stones, but that's not me. I come from more of a suburban perspective and wanted to put a message into the music I wrote. The Ides of March were never what you would call a down-and-dirty, rock-and-roll band.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you remember the first time hearing your music on the radio?
Jim Peterik I sure do, and the feeling was absolutely electric! We were coming back from playing a sock hop at Morton West High School and were getting ready to turn into Larry's driveway. All of a sudden, the DJ on WLS announced, "Here's ‘You Wouldn't Listen,’ the new single by The Ides of March." Then the record started playing. Well, that really took us by surprise and we rolled down the windows and screamed, "Hey, that's us on the radio!"
It was a pretty exciting moment, especially for fifteen, sixteen year old kids. "You Wouldn't Listen" was the first single we recorded as The Ides of March and it became a huge hit in Chicago. It went to number ten in different pockets around the country and even made number forty-two on the Billboard charts. We couldn't believe this was happening to us. We felt like we had made the big time!
[Beverly Paterson] Did having a hit single change your status at school? And how did you manage to juggle schoolwork with playing music?
Jim Peterik You know, having a hit single really did change things for us. For some reason, you weren't considered cool if you weren't into sports. The athletes were the popular guys at school. But once "You Wouldn't Listen" took off, the cheerleaders and pompom girls suddenly started to take notice of us.
Keeping up with schoolwork was not a problem for -anyone in the band. We remained straight-A students all the way through high school. That's just how we were brought up — to do good in school. I remember going on tour, taking textbooks along with me so I could study backstage.
[Beverly Paterson] The band's next single, "Roller Coaster," was another fantastic effort. It's a classic garage pop song with just the right amount of rough edges, the choruses are infectiously exuberant and there's lots of jangling guitars. The Beau Brummels meet The McCoys or something to that effect is how I would describe "Roller Coaster." What inspired you to write this great song?
Jim Peterik The ups and downs of love. When you're a kid, dating can be tough. One minute the girl likes you, then all of a sudden she ignores you. When that happens, you feel like you're on a roller coaster ride! I've also always been a big fan of roller coasters. There was an amusement park in Chicago called Riverview, and one day while I was walking through there by the roller coaster ride the idea came to me about putting roller coasters into a song about love.
[Beverly Paterson] The first time I heard "Roller Coaster" was about twenty years ago on a Pebbles compilation album. I was shocked to discover the song was by the same band that recorded "Vehicle" because it didn't have the sound with which I tended to identify The Ides of March. I then investigated more of your music and realized how experimental the band was.
Jim Peterik Being experimental, which is a nice way of putting it, was both a blessing and a curse. Part of the reason why we experimented so much was because we were trying to find out who we were and so were the record companies. We were also so darn young. Most bands are able to hone their sound in private before being thrust in front of a live audience, but we did all our changes in public as we developed our sound along the way.
[Beverly Paterson] Why didn't The Ides of March record a full-length album for the Parrot label? You certainly had enough good material to complete an album.
Jim Peterik In those days, record companies wouldn't let bands record albums until a single broke through. By all rights, we should have recorded an album after "You Wouldn't Listen" came out because it was a big hit. But the label wanted a bigger hit, one that made the top ten charts all over the country. So we kept releasing singles, hoping one would hit the jackpot.
As it turned out, "You Wouldn't Listen" was the biggest hit of them all; it sold the most copies, so we were never given the opportunity to record an album; that is, until "Vehicle" came out a few years later. But by then we were recording for Warner Brothers.
[Beverly Paterson] In 2000, the Sundazed label issued Ideology, which not only collects the singles distributed by Parrot Records, but also some previously unreleased tracks. So in a sense, this disc can be thought of as the long lost Ides of March album from the sixties. How did Ideology come about?
Jim Peterik The rock community is very fortunate to have Bob Irwin in our midst. He's the president of Sundazed Records and a huge fan of sixties rock. One day, out of the blue, he contacted me, saying he was interested in releasing an album of our music from the sixties. I was blown away! But I told him I didn't know if that would be possible because I didn't know where the masters to the songs were. Bob said that was ok, he had found the masters.
Parrot was a subsidiary of London Records, and as I recall, they were bought out by Polygram. Bob was searching through the Polygram basement and that's where he came across the masters. He also asked me if I had any rare things — something that had never been released before. One of the things I found was a copy of "I'm Gonna Say My Prayers," and when Bob heard that song he couldn't believe it had never seen the light of day before. I told him I couldn't believe it either. I always loved that song, but when we turned it into the record label, they just yawned. So I was really glad to see "I'm Gonna Say My Prayers" get released.
[Beverly Paterson] Another cut on Ideology that sat in the vaults all these years was "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." It's a beautiful version and as good as the original recording! Did The Ides of March play this song on a regular basis at your live shows?
Jim Peterik I was a big Walker Brothers fan and everybody in the band just loved that song. It became a highlight of our shows; it was very dramatic and would always bring the house down. In the beginning, we played songs by other bands as a way to establish our own sound. We'd play stuff by The Beatles, of course, along with songs by The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Hollies, The Association and The Mamas and Papas. We also did a dynamic version of "Tobacco Road" and later on we recorded "Eleanor Rigby" that was included on the "Vehicle" album.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you know if any of The Beatles ever heard your cover of "Eleanor Rigby"?
Jim Peterik Someone told me that Paul McCartney said it was one of his favorite versions of the song, but I really can't authenticate the story because it was a friend of a friend who told me this. But we were thrilled the rumor even existed!
[Beverly Paterson] The Ides of March were part of a thriving music scene in the sixties. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs produced dozens upon dozens of great bands back then. What bands were you especially fond of?
Jim Peterik Although they weren't that well known outside the area, The Cryan' Shames were our favorite band. They put on an incredible live show and talk about amazing harmonies! We also enjoyed the brass sounds of bands like The Buckinghams and The American Breed. They were definitely big influences, and the first time we attempted to do something like that, to put a piece of brass into our music, was on "My Foolish Pride." But "Hole In My Soul" was actually the first song we did that featured horns in a rock setting. We felt comfortable playing this style of music and found it fit right into our repertoire.
[Beverly Paterson] Speaking of horn rock songs, were you surprised when "Vehicle" became such a massive hit? After several years of trying to break through to the greater masses, The Ides of March were suddenly right up there with world renowned bands.
Jim Peterik I was very surprised "Vehicle" took off the way it did because it was not a song I would have chosen to be released on record. We had certain distinctions for songs. Like some songs were good to play live, while others songs were good to record. "Vehicle" was one of the songs we felt was better accepted in a live situation. Download “Vehicle”
The first time we played the song, the audience went wild so we kept playing it at our shows. Every time that horn riff hit, the dance floor would fill up and people would be hooting and hollering. But we never had any plans to record "Vehicle," and I think that's maybe because the first single we recorded for Warner Brothers, "One Woman Man," didn't happen and we were pretty disappointed about that.
[Beverly Paterson] So how did you end up recording "Vehicle?"
Jim Peterik Even though "One Woman Man" didn't take off, Warner Brothers was still interested in The Ides of March and they asked us to come up with some other songs. So we recorded a four-song demo tape with "Vehicle" being the last song on the tape. After our manager turned the tape into Warner Brothers, the head of the A&R Department calls us, saying the first three songs are okay, but "Vehicle" is the song that's going to be the smash hit.
Our manager then takes a copy of "Vehicle" to Art Roberts, who was a dear DJ friend of ours, and he agrees the song is a smash hit. But he suggested we add a shout and response chorus to the lead vocals. So we dutifully went back into the studio, added the chorus and sent a copy of the song to Warner Brothers. "Vehicle" became the fastest breaking record in the history of the label at the time, which made us understand that yes, this is a great song!
[Beverly Paterson] How did you arrive at writing "Vehicle?"
Jim Peterik I had been dating a girl and one day she told me she wanted to go out with other guys. Well, that just broke my heart! So we stopped going out with each other, but she kept calling me, always asking me if I could give her a ride somewhere. Since I still liked her, I would pick her up and take her wherever she wanted to go. That's where the line, "I'm your vehicle, baby," comes in. What happened was we started dating each other again, got married and have been together ever since. So there's a story with a happy ending!
[Beverly Paterson] What did you pursue after The Ides of March disbanded? Did you do any recording between then and when Survivor was formed?
Jim Peterik I recorded a solo album in 1976 called Don't Fight The Feeling. Although the album didn't set the world on fire, I was very proud of it and I still am very proud of it. About a year after the album was released, I was sitting in the hospital, recovering from pneumonia and plotting my next project. That's when I decided I missed the band format. But at this time, I wasn't considering putting The Ides of March back together because we had all gone our separate ways. What I wanted to do was put together a super group and it was the winter of 1977 when Survivor formed.
[Beverly Paterson] How did you go about picking the musicians to be included in Survivor?
Jim Peterik I had been looking around town, noticing musicians that were exceptional. That's when I called Gary Smith and Dennis Johnson. They played in Chase, an amazing horn-rock band that I was associated with. I had done some singing and writing for Chase and was blown away by their rhythm section.
I also spent some time singing jingles around Chicago and noticed the singer across the mic from me singing about Budweiser or whatever. That's Dave Bickler I'm talking about. So I called him up, along with Frankie Sullivan, who is a great showman. That's how Survivor formed. I heard a special sound from the band right away. We were powerful and unique.
[Beverly Paterson] Though Survivor experienced some chart action prior to "Eye of the Tiger," which held steady at the number one spot for six weeks in 1982, it's that song that put the band on the map. "Eye of the Tiger" was featured in "Rocky III," giving the tune even more exposure. Did you write the song specifically for the movie?
Jim Peterik Sylvester Stallone heard the band and called us personally, asking if we could write a song for his new movie. Well, we thought we had died and gone to heaven! So a rough cut of the movie was sent to us, which included what they call temp music, meaning temporary music, until they found the right songs to feature. Apparently, they tried to get publishing rights for Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," but that didn't work out so they went looking for another song.
The energy of the movie was just amazing and everyone in the band really got into it, with all those punches being thrown and the underdog rising up. While watching the rough cut of the movie, Frankie and I kept hearing the phrase, "eye of the tiger." It's like, "You've got to keep the eye of the tiger, Rocky, you're losing it!" So Frankie and I got together and wrote the song in three days.
"Rocky III" was a great story to work with and our goal was to put it into a musical format. Actually, it was kind of the story of our life. When you're in the music business, you're always the underdog when you're first starting out. You're trying to get ahead and beat the odds.
[Beverly Paterson] Aside from writing and performing, you're also involved in production. What artists are you currently working with?
Jim Peterik I've been working with Cathy Richardson. She's a great talent and right on the verge of making a breakthrough. I've also been working with Lisa McClowry, who's an amazing jazz pop singer.
I don't have any boundaries. I enjoy anything that's inspirational. Rock is my favorite style of music, but I also love jazz, pop, rhythm and blues and some country. It takes an enormous amount of patience to see a project through when producing records. But it's fun to pass the baton and develop new talent. I like nurturing artists and providing them with the best songs possible.
[Beverly Paterson] What are The Ides of March up to these days?
Jim Peterik We have a new album out that can be ordered through our website at www.theidesofmarch.com , and in a couple of weeks we'll be going to Las Vegas to play some shows with Rare Earth. We play around thirty-five dates a year. We play clubs, colleges and corporate events. So yes, The Ides of March are still out there and it's the same four original guys, which is really unusual. Most bands that get back together don't have the same members they started out with. But we do and we're having just as much fun as we did in the sixties and seventies.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you prefer performing live or recording?
Jim Peterik There's something special about going into a studio, setting up the equipment and then hearing yourself played back on record. But performing live . . . wow! There's something special about that, too. I don't mean to get too deep, but when I was a kid I worried about everything: tornadoes, thunderstorms, you name it! One teacher told me that once I found myself, all my anxieties would cease. Well, I discovered guitar and that became my passion.
The first time I played in front of a live audience was at Teen Search, a contest in Berwyn. I played Wilbur Harrison's "Kansas City" and when I heard the applause from the audience it went over me like a wave. Right then, all my anxieties disappeared and I realized this is what I was meant to do. This is my mission.
[Beverly Paterson] What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
Jim Peterik The money an artist makes from a song is what keeps them going financially, but it's the stories you hear from people that are more inspirational and rewarding. People in wheelchairs have told us our songs have gotten them through and sports figures have told us they train to our songs. That's what makes doing music worthwhile for me.
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