“The Search is Over!” Spotlight on The Ides of March’s Jim Peterik
Jim Peterik is a musician, singer, and songwriter who struck gold as a teen with his #1 hit with The Ides of March, “Vehicle.” He also created songs including “Eye of the Tiger” and “The Search is Over” for Survivor, and has written material for such well-known artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, Sammy Hagar, REO Speedwagon, and many more.
Spotlight Central recently caught up with Peterik and asked him about his musical childhood, his rise to fame with The Ides of March, his work with Survivor, in addition to what he’s been up to lately.
Spotlight Central: You’re from Berwyn, Illinois. We’re not sure about your mom, but wasn’t your dad a musician?
Jim Peterik: I think whatever musical talent I got, I got from my dad. He was a natural. He was one of those guys with a perfect ear. He couldn’t read a note of music — it was all by instinct; all by ear. He’s the kind of guy who could hear a song and immediately play it back on the saxophone. I remember after our first Ides of March single, “You Wouldn’t Listen,” was released, he learned it. I was just blown away that he could do it so quickly! And having a good ear was such an asset for me because I was another guy who couldn’t read music. I kind of proved to myself, however, that reading music is not the most important part of being successful. Having a good ear is what really counts. I mean, in a way, I wish I could read music, but it hasn’t hurt my chances as a musician so far!
Spotlight Central: As a child, we understand your older sisters loved to listen to Johnny Cash. What kind of music did you like listening to growing up?
Jim Peterik: My sisters were ten and twelve years older than me; I was the baby in the family. When I was five years old, they were teenagers, so I would listen to whatever they would bring home. They brought home these 45s, [laughs] which are the small records with a big hole in the middle. We had an RCA Victor stacker, and we used to stack that thing really high until the records were falling off the spindle! But I would be listening to everything that they loved.
And they had great taste in music. As you just said, Johnny Cash loomed big in terms of their taste, as did Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers. Oh, my God, I loved The Everly Brothers and that harmony! When The Beatles came out, you could tell they were influenced by The Everly Brothers. And I also loved Chuck Berry — songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
It’s just amazing! I can hear these songs today and suddenly I’m transported to a place in time when I was five or six years old and just absorbing all that great music from the ’50s. I have to say I feel really blessed to have grown up in that very fertile time of rock and roll.
Spotlight Central: As a youngster, you played a number of instruments, didn’t you?
Jim Peterik: I did. You know, my dad never pushed me, but I used to go with him to these — as he called them — “jobs.” His band, The Hi-Hatters, would play Bar Mitzvahs and all these men’s clubs like the Tigers Club — [laughs] now that’s something weird, because the tiger went on to loom very large in my future! But they would play the VFW and all these, sort of, men’s fraternities. They would play weddings, too, of course.
When I was old enough, I would steal away and travel with my dad and sneak behind the bandstand and harmonize with my dad. He was so proud of me, and I was just beaming with pride playing with the “big boys.” At the end of the night, the band and I would go to White Castle, which was the only place that was open that late, and we’d eat sliders. To this day, I love those White Castle hamburgers. Maybe that comes mainly from the idea of being with the “big boys,” but I just love those memories.
Spotlight Central: We heard that the first guitar you ever got was made out of plastic. At some point as a kid, however, you had your eye on a Gibson Sunburst, but your dad bought you something else?
Jim Peterik: [Laughs] Unfortunately, yes. My dad was wonderful, and he knew a good deal when he saw one but, unfortunately, a good deal doesn’t always mean a great guitar. When I was ten years old, I saw a case underneath the Christmas tree. It was a really odd-shaped case. On Christmas morning, I opened it up and, no, it wasn’t the Gibson Les Paul Junior that I really wanted. It was an oddball looking guitar. It looked like a bad coffee table! It was bizarre looking. It was called a Wandre. My dad said, “Look! It’s got an aluminum neck. It’ll never warp!” and I said, “Well, that’s good, Dad, but it also sucks.” God bless him, but I still have that Wandre. I’m so glad I never sold it. Now, I really appreciate what that was all about and the memories involved — and wouldn’t you know it, right now, it’s a collector’s item? So thanks, Dad, wherever you are in the universe!
Spotlight Central: We read that you wrote your first song when you were in seventh grade?
Jim Peterik: Yeah, I was in seventh grade and I was trying to impress Laura Strama. She was my fantasy girl, so to speak; I was just obsessed with her. And I remember playing that first song I ever wrote in front of the class. It was called “Hully Gully Bay.” It was about a new dance craze I made up. I can still hear the applause after I finished, and the sound bouncing off the hard walls of my grade school. I just soaked in that applause. Suddenly, I felt validated! The applause was like an elixir washing over me and I got hooked on the spotlight right then and there.
Spotlight Central: In eighth grade, you started your first band, The Renegades, but then you joined a better band, the Shy-Lads, which you renamed The Shondells. What kind of music did you guys play?
Jim Peterik: Good question. When I first joined The Shy-Lads — which was a horrible name — I knew we had to change it, so we became The Shondells. I came up with the name based on Troy Shondell, who had the song, “This Time” [sings] “This time we’re really breaking up…” And this was basically pre-Beatles — the Beatles were just starting to come on the scene — so we were into The Ventures and The Beach Boys. We learned songs like “Walk Don’t Run” and “Perfidia” by The Ventures and “Fun Fun Fun” and “Little Deuce Coupe” by The Beach Boys.
Eventually, when The Beatles took over, it was The Beatles that really became our biggest influence, and we immediately learned songs by all the English bands including The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Zombies — like “Time of the Season.” We loved the British Invasion and we kind of wanted to be British. I mean, who didn’t, at the time?
In 1966, our band recorded its first single, “You Wouldn’t Listen,” and we were signed to the Parrot record label, which was really cool because there were a lot of British musicians on Parrot like The Zombies, Engelbert Humperdinck, and others. The song came out and, all of a sudden, it was leaping up the charts. It was #2 in Chicago for a number of weeks and it almost cracked the American Top 40 on the Billboard chart where it went all the way to #42 in ’66.
Spotlight Central: And you were only 15 years old when you wrote it, weren’t you?
Jim Peterik: That’s correct.
Spotlight Central: So what inspired a 15-year-old Jim Peterik to write “You Wouldn’t Listen?”
Jim Peterik: There were so many things! Number one, I loved music; music was just so important to my life. But I also loved to impress the girls — so that became sort of a double thread. And, of course, I also wanted to impress the other guys in the band and present new songs to them. I was very motivated to say, “You know, guys, it’s one thing to be a ‘copy band’ — although we didn’t call it a ‘copy band’ at the time; we were just learning songs from the Top 40 — but I said, “we really need to do our own songs or we’ll never make it.”
And right before “You Wouldn’t Listen” came out, we had to change our name. I was listening to the radio and I heard, “New from Tommy James and the Shondells, ‘Hanky Panky,’” and I went, “Oh, shit. We gotta change our name!” Literally, the records were almost pressed up, but we caught it just in time.
So we were scrambling for a new name. At the time, we were all in high school and reading Julius Caesar when Bob Bergland, our bass player, said, “Look at this, guys: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’” He said, “That sounds kind of sinister; I love it!” and we said, “Yeah, sinister is cool — that’s it!” And from that point on, we were The Ides of March.
Spotlight Central: It must have been amazing to hear “You Wouldn’t Listen” on the radio for the very first time. Is it true that the feelings that experience evoked helped to inspire the song you wrote with Brian Wilson, “That’s Why God Made the Radio?”
Jim Peterik: Yeah. You know there’s something about your first love affair, but it’s also something the first time you hear your song on the radio — the experiences are very similar. I remember going down I-55 and hearing Dick Biondi on the radio going, “New from The Ides of March, ‘You Wouldn’t Listen’ [sings instrumental into]. Ding-ding-ding-ding/Ding-ding-ding-ding…,” and I immediately went,“Holy shit!”
I floored that thing, and suddenly I’m going like 90 miles an hour. I opened the windows and it was just like a scene out of that Tom Hanks movie, That Thing You Do. I’m going, “That’s us! That’s us!” and everybody’s looking at me like I’m crazy! And I still remember those times — I’m 70 years old, but I still remember the feeling that first time hearing our band on the radio.
Spotlight Central: “You Wouldn’t Listen” was also featured on TV on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. You were still a student at Morton West High School when this took place, and soon, all sorts of other great things started happening. You did a TV variety show with a six-year-old Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, and you also shared the stage with one of our favorite Chicago groups, The Buckinghams, whose song “Kind of a Drag” would become a #1 smash. All of this must have felt pretty surreal for a high school kid!
Jim Peterik: Oh, my God, yeah! They were “pinch-me” moments. I must say that when we played with the Jackson 5, however, Michael was just a little kid, and he was not yet famous. I can even remember being disappointed that the Jackson 5 weren’t The Five Stairsteps. At the time, I thought The Five Stairsteps were better but, of course, they kind of faded away and the Jackson 5 took over.
And I loved sharing the stage with all sorts of different bands. We were on tour with The Allman Brothers, who were called The Allman Joys at the time. We learned an important lesson from them: we really weren’t as good as we thought we were. When we heard The Allman Joys, they were incredible, doing three-part harmony on songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “I’ve Been Trying,” and we said, “We need to woodshed here, guys!” We also played with R. Dean Taylor, who did “Indiana Wants Me.”
Spotlight Central: We remember that song; it was a big hit!
Jim Peterik: Not too many people remember it, but it was a pretty cool song.
Spotlight Central: Speaking of cool songs, in 1970, you wrote one of our all-time favorites, “Vehicle,” in an hour and a half. What was the inspiration for “Vehicle,” and how did you come up with those awesome horn lines?
Jim Peterik: “Vehicle” is one of those songs where I just caught lightning in a bottle. Again, it was a female that pulled all of that out of me. I was dating a girl and suddenly she dumped me and I was totally broken-hearted. I remember doing shows with The Ides of March at the time. I was really dejected and saying, “Guys, let’s just play some blues” — that’s how depressed I was. Instead of playing “up” songs, we were doing eight-bar blues, but the guys were saying, “We gotta get out of this blues thing. Snap out of it!”
And then I started getting phone calls from this girl. I said, “Karen, how ya doin’?” She said, “Well, you’ve got that cool car — that Plymouth Valiant — and I need a ride to modeling school.” I said, “OK.” She said, “But it’s not a date; don’t think it’s a date,” and I said, “Sure, no problem,” but I was thinking, “Well, at least I could be next to her and smell her perfume and, who knows, I might get lucky?”
So about three weeks in a row she called me and, one day, I just felt very taken-advantage-of. I said, “Karen, all I am is your vehicle!” And I realized I liked the sound of that word. I was in class where my lab partner was a stoner and he brought to school this anti-drug pamphlet about marijuana and the perils of dope. It had a little cartoon with a caption that said, “The Friendly Stranger,” and it showed this black sedan and this guy who looked very ominous. I looked at it and said, “I love that! The friendly stranger in the black sedan. Won’t you hop inside my car?” And I thought, “Well, there’s the rhythm I need for the beginning of that song.” [Recites in rhythm] “I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan/Won’t you hop inside my car?” If you think about it, it’s kind of like a rap meter, you know? Maybe even a little bit ahead of it’s time?
Spotlight Central: Yeah, great syncopation!
Jim Peterik: Yeah, the syncopation! And when that song came out, it just zoomed up the charts!
Spotlight Central: And what about the horn line? Is that something you thought of right away or is that something you came up with later?
Jim Peterik: No, that was integral to the writing of the song. It was as much a part of the songwriting as were the chords and the lyrics. I don’t know where it came from, but thank God it came to my mind. And it became a kind of call-to-arms signature horn part that became famous in its own right.
Spotlight Central: It’s such a great horn part, and it’s hard to believe you were only 19 years old when you came up with it! Can you tell us more about the horn “shake”?
Jim Peterik: Well, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The horn “shake” [sings] “Dada-dada-dada-dada/Da da dah da-dah” was really the doing of the horn section. The late John Larson, who was really a great horn player, I believe, came up with the shake, and I’ll never forget him for that.
Spotlight Central: A lot of people don’t know this, but isn’t it true that thirteen seconds of “Vehicle” got erased in the studio?
Jim Peterik: You know, we are so fortunate: history would have been forever changed! We thought we had the magical take, and we were kind of celebrating; we didn’t actually drink, but we were sort of toasting with Coca Cola. And suddenly the engineer came into the room and he was white with panic. He said, “I pressed the wrong button and erased 13 seconds of your song.” Now he was the assistant engineer. The main engineer was a union guy, so at six o-clock he was on his way home after turning things over to his assistant, who was a bit inexperienced. After the assistant engineer told us he had erased 13 seconds of our song, we just went, “Oh, shit.”
Right after that, I remember walking the street with the guys, but our guitarist, Larry Millas, stayed around because he was very interested in the technical end of recording. So he stayed there with the assistant engineer, and by the time I got back with our bassist, Bob Bergland, and our drummer, Mike Borch, those guys had big smiles on their faces. I said, “Something changed here,” and the assistant engineer said, “Well, we had Take 1, but we erased 13 seconds of Take 2. We’re very fortunate, but we did an edit where we pulled 13 seconds from Take 1 and slipped it into Take 2 and it fit perfectly!” Now, at the time, we didn’t even have a click track to work with, so it would have been very unlikely that the two pieces would ever match up, but he played back the edit and, oh my God, it was perfect!
So history was restored. All I had to do was sing over that 13 seconds. It went all the way to the downbeat of the solo, and then the better version took over. I’m so glad that the lead solo was intact because I could never have done that lead part again that way, instinctually. In fact, when I listened to it, I didn’t even know how to play that solo, but I thought, “I gotta learn it, you know?” It’s one of those things where some higher power took over, so I learned it and to this day I do it exactly like the record.
Spotlight Central: That song not only went to #1, but it was the fastest-selling record in Warner Brothers history. You guys also did “Superman,” which went Top 20, and the group started playing 200 shows a year. After releasing your album, Midnight Oil, however, The Ides of March disbanded for 23 years and you started doing other things, didn’t you?
Jim Peterik: Yeah, our last album was Midnight Oil. It was a good record but it didn’t do anything, so I decided, “I’m gonna try my hand at being a solo artist,” and the band kind of splintered at that point. It was really a sad moment doing our last concert at our high school, Morton West. I remember our manager, Bob Destocki, kind of breaking into tears on stage saying, “And now, for the last time ever, The Ides of March.” I choke up just thinking of that moment because everybody was so sad that this band from Berwyn was breaking up. It was very emotional, but I guess that’s the way things go.
After that, in ’76, I put out Jim Peterik: Don’t Fight the Feeling, which is on Epic Records, and started touring with the group, Heart, and with the group, Boston, and I basically started a new career. It was in 1978, though, when I decided, “Well, I kind of miss being in a band,” and that’s when I put together the group that became Survivor.
Spotlight Central: With Survivor, you recorded a demo and were signed by Atlantic Records. Sylvester Stallone heard your release, “Poor Man’s Son,” and asked you to create a song for his movie, Rocky III. In 1982, “Eye of the Tiger” went to #1, was nominated for Academy Award, and won the People’s Choice Award for “Most Popular Song.” What was the specific inspiration for “Eye of the Tiger”?
Jim Peterik: When I analyze it, it’s kind of similar to what I said earlier — it was capturing lightning in a bottle. When I got that call from Stallone, I thought somebody was putting me on. The phone message said [imitates Sylvester Stallone] “Yo, Jim! That’s a nice answering machine you got there. Give me a call. Sylvester Stallone.” I was home sorting mail listening to this and saying, “Somebody’s putting me on here!” and my wife said, “You know, if I were you, I’d call him back on the off chance that’s really Sylvester Stallone and not some prankster.”
So I called him back and Stallone said [in Stallone voice], “Hey, Jimbo! Call me Sly. That’s a nice answering machine you got there.”
Spotlight Central: Did he actually call you “Jimbo?”
Jim Peterik: Absolutely! I think that’s when I got that nickname — from that moment on. And he said [imitates Stallone] “You know, I got this movie, Rocky III. I don’t wanna do that ‘Gonna Fly Now’ song again. It’s a nice song, but I want something for the kids — something with a pulse! Can you help me out?” And me being the comic I am, I said, “Is the Pope Catholic?” And he laughed, saying [in Stallone voice], “That’s a good joke,” and said he’d send me a rough cut of the movie to watch.
Two days later it arrived. I rented a Betamax, put it on the kitchen table, and invited Frankie Sullivan over to watch it, but they only sent us the first three minutes of the film because, apparently, for security reasons, they didn’t want to send us the whole movie. We really couldn’t get the story from the short clip, so we begged Stallone to send us the whole movie, and finally he said [in Stallone voice], “OK, but you gotta send it right back!”
The next day, we got the whole movie, and that’s when it all made sense. There’s this part in the dialog where Rocky’s trainer is going, “Rocky is losing the eye of the tiger. You gotta keep the eye of the tiger!” And I scribbled down “Eye of the tiger,” and said, “Frankie, if we don’t call this song ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ we’re a couple of dummies.”
And the rest is history. At the time, I don’t think I realized just how timeless the song would become. I mean, I knew it was gonna be a hit. We had a $50 million dollar movie to go with the song, but what I didn’t realize was how iconic it would become. If you would have told me back in 1982 that this thing would have legs all the way to 2021, I would have said, “Get out of town!” If I was told that every generation would rediscover the song and make it their own, I would have been blown away. But I’m so fortunate that I’m a part of this history; it’s just been a real blessing.
Spotlight Central: In 1984, you and Survivor recorded the Vital Signs album which contained three Top 10 singles including “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High on You,” and one of our favorite songs of yours, “The Search is Over,” which rocketed to #1. We understand that one of our favorite composers, Burt Bacharach, was a fan of that song and even told you so. Was that a gratifying experience for you?
Jim Peterik: Oh, yeah! I don’t remember the exact year, but it was probably around 1989. We were doing a show for a musical organization — a songwriters’ group like ASCAP — and I had just done a medley of my hits with an orchestra. After I did the medley and everybody was congratulating each other on stage, Burt Bacharach — one of my all-time heroes — came up to me and said, “‘The Search is Over.’ What a song!” and I said, “I can’t believe you’re telling me this because you’re my hero.” And it was true. When I was growing up, for me, there were the “Three Bs” — The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Burt Bacharach, in no particular order — and we started chatting and what a moment that was for me!
Spotlight Central: In the 1990s you ended up reuniting with The Ides of March for a concert in your hometown of Berwyn. We’re told 25,000 fans showed up. That must have made for a memorable experience!
Jim Peterik: We had no idea! I mean, when you look back on it, it makes sense, because we hadn’t done a show in ten years and in 1990, we regrouped with the original lineup. I remember rehearsing for three months — “getting rid of the rust” — and trying to relearn the songs. We actually had a record player in the rehearsal room and would drop the needle in order to learn the songs all over again, so were kind of like a copy band — except we were learning our own stuff — which is pretty funny.
And the popularity of that concert was so unexpected! We thought we might get 5,000 people, but there were people as far as I could see. We were in the parking lot of the Cermak Plaza — which has this huge parking lot — and ultimately 25,000 showed up. It was just a major, major event.
Spotlight Central: In 2010, you were honored in your hometown when they rechristened the street in front of Morton West High School “Ides of March Way.” Today, the group is still going strong. After all these years, do you still enjoy performing with the same band you played with as a teen?
Jim Peterik: You know, The Ides of March is timeless. The original four — we kind of call ourselves “The Berwyn Beatles”: Mike Borch, Larry Millas, Bob Bergland, and myself — we look at each other when we’re rehearsing and go, “Oh my God! We’re still doing it with the original four, and we’re so proud of that fact. We’ve still got the vibe. We’ve still got the enthusiasm!” We’ve been working for the past three months getting ready to play shows this summer.
We actually did a great show a few weeks ago at an outdoor venue in Decatur, Illinois. Mark Farner of Grand Funk was our special guest, and it was very cool. We learned his catalog — the biggest hits Mark had with Grand Funk Railroad, like “American Band” — and he also joined us on one of our Ides of March songs called “Swagger.” Mark Farner is just another one of those guys who is such a force of nature — we love Mark, and we actually have some more shows coming up with him.
Spotlight Central: Have you been doing any recording lately?
Jim Peterik: Actually, right now, I’m working on a demo. I’m writing a song with Robert Lamm for a new Chicago album which will probably come out later this year. Joe Thomas is the producer. It’s been really great working with Chicago because working with your heroes is always a good gig! As The Ides of March, we were cutting our teeth when Chicago was recording and we were chasing “Make Me Smile” up the charts with “Vehicle.” Now I’m working with them, and what a thrill it is!
Also, The Ides of March did a new album which came out during the pandemic, [laughs] but it really didn’t get a “shot” due to obvious reasons. It’s called Play On, and it’s a killer record! We’re re-releasing it now, and we’re also doing a video with a great videographer for the title track, “Play On.” That’s going to be coming out in the Fall, and we’re very excited about it!
Spotlight Central: Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything you would like say to all of the fans who have supported you, many of them since the early days of the Ides of March?
Jim Peterik: Yes, I would love to say something to our fans. They keep us going; they inspire us. The fans are the reason we’re still doing this! The memories we have of them are precious. When we play a show, people still come out and they still love our music. It might be they have grandchildren on their shoulders, but they’ve passed the baton to the new generation and now the kids are all singing “Vehicle” and “Eye of the Tiger” and we’re saying, “Oh my God! This is really a blessing!”
To learn more about Jim Peterik, please go to jimpeterik.com.