In his time with Survivor and Ides of March, Jim Peterik wrote some of the classic songs in American rock. Add his work with .38 Special and Sammy Hagar, among others, and he is truly one of the great songwriters of a generation. Never content to rest on past success, Jim has released a new record with Pride of Lions called Dream Higher and took some time to talk about it.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Jim Peterik –
On how he first met Pride of Lions partner Toby Hitchcock – Well, first the Toby connection, the Ides of March played the Popcorn Fest in what turned out to be his hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana at the time. I saw this kid, he’s probably about 24, 23 in the front row and is watching every move, and he comes up to me afterward and said, “My name’s Toby Hitchcock”. I said, “Oh, great. So?” He said, “I sing. In fact, I just auditioned with your niece Kelly for a Dick Clark Show”, which never aired as Dick Clark died. So I said, “Well, that’s fantastic, I’d love to hear you sing”, and I called my niece Kelly, and she said “Yeah, Uncle Jimmy, you gotta hear the singer, Toby Hitchcock”, I said, “If you say so”. So I said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you two come over to my studio on Monday? Why don’t you come over and I got a son that is just begging for a duet”, and she goes, “That’s great”.
She called Toby, he drives in from Valpo and there they are in my studio. Well, Toby’s such a joker, he comes in with these false teeth, these buck teeth, and I didn’t know. I’m thinking to myself, “Poor gut, I didn’t notice that in Indiana”. He goes, “I’m joking”, takes them out. Anyway, that broke the ice and they go into the booth, which is right over there, by the way, Jeff, and they nailed the song. I heard the blend of the two vocals. Of course, I knew my niece Kelly was a great singer, but Toby really shone. I heard those different elements in his voice, I heard a little bit of Dennis DeYoung, by the way, I just talked to (Dennis) with Larry, because we’re doing a song together for a new album which I’ll tell you about., but it’s a different album. I heard that blend and I go, “Oh my God”, Toby was just soaring.
So I called up Serafino (Perugino) and Mario (de Riso) at Frontiers, I said, “I’ve got the guy for my next project”, we didn’t know what we’re gonna do. I left Survivor in 96 and was just kind of figuring out what to do and of course, the Ides of March were playing as we still are, but I called Serafino, I said, “I got this great singer, Toby Hitchcock”. They flew in from Napoli just to hear Toby and rented a studio in Nashville because that was kind of a midway point, and they see Toby and Serafino goes, “he’s a baby”, because he was so young and so green, but we sang for them live, and they flipped at our blend and signed me up to do the first Pride of Lions album, which came out in 03. :57
On if he writes differently for Pride of Lions than other projects – Well, that’s a great question, and really, every project or group that I write for, I’m in a different mindset. If it’s .38 Special, I’m tilting a little more towards Southern rock meets good old-fashioned Midwest rock. When I was writing with Sammy Hagar, I channeled his strengths as a rocker, and we sat down and wrote “Heavy Metal”. So I’m kind of like musical tofu, I absorb the flavors around me and this is no different. When I write for Pride of Lions, I’m thinking of Toby’s voice, his range. I’m thinking in my range, Here’s me, here’s him, and it’s a great blend because I can’t sing as high as Toby, never will, and he doesn’t have the mid-range power that I have, so it’s just a wonderful combination. When I’m writing for this album, Dream Higher, all those things are going into my mind, who’s gonna sing what melodies? Pride of Lions is a very melodic band, maybe even more melodic than Survivor was. Survivor, especially the (Dave) Bickler years are more (rock), then Jimi (Jameson) came along and I started soaring with things like “The Search is Over” and “I Can’t Hold Back”. Toby gives me that range, that Jimi Jameson had, plus other nuances in his voice that inspire me. 5:35
On always finding a positive spin in his songs – Well, that’s the way I live each day. I’m a very positive person. In fact, to be honest, Jeff, the only sad song on this, of course, is “Everything To Live For”. Which I almost didn’t put on the record because it’s so unlike everything else, but I think everybody can relate to losing someone who, on the surface, had a great life and had everything to live for, and she or he, in this case, it was a woman that I knew who took her on life, and people around here were going, “What happened? You had everything to live for”. But you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head. So that’s really an anomaly for my writing, and it’s only positive because, in the song, there’s always hope at the end of all my songs. But you’re right, most of my songs are about positivity through it all, “Driving and Dreaming”, just a fun song. Driving home, I think in the song, and thinking of your loved ones and thinking about everything that’s wonderful back home, being a little lonely on the road and driving and dreaming of you, you know, you’re right, that’s kind of my wheelhouse. 8:00
On what pushes him to keep evolving and working – I don’t know, but I hope it stays. I really don’t know. I wake up in the morning, a lot of times I’ll dream a song, and sometimes I’ll be able to shake myself out of sleep long enough to grab that iPhone, which is my new recorder, I used to have a cassette in there now it’s an iPhone. The next morning, I’ll get up and, “What was that?” And I’m trying to make some sense of it. A lot of times, dreams will produce songs. Other times it’s a title. “Another Life”, there’s another life in me, this is a co-write, a friend of mine named David Fink, who used to own a club called The Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan, and we became friends. He started sending me lyrical ideas, and he had this idea of “there’s another life in me somewhere, beyond, the one that I can see somewhere”. I said, David, “I like that”, and I wrote the song. So he’s a co-writer on that but from a lyrical point of view. The other song is “Driving and Dreaming” which I wrote with Steve Salzman. I remember he hired the Ides of March, he was head of the student council in a small town in Illinois. His band called Jon Blond opened up for us and we became fast friends after that. Salzman has always been sending me poems and verses and this and that, and “Driving & Dreaming” started as a verse really about “driving and dreaming of you”. He always comes up with these great hooks, so I have to give Steve, who I’m sure I’ll be watching this podcast, kudos on that one. 9:54
On his writing influences – So many people. The Beatles loomed large in my life, but I love The Beach Boys. One of the greatest honors of my life was with Larry Millas, who you met briefly, who I’ve known since third grade, he’s my producer and one of my best friends. Well, we’ve worked with Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas to write, “That’s Why God Made The Radio”. Larry initiated the song “Isn’t It Time” on the same album. We went on to write “Sail Away” for the No Pier Pressure album. It was a dream come true, collaborating with Brian Wilson, my hero from The Beach Boys 18:10
On if he ever considered a Broadway musical – Every day, everybody suggests it. I just haven’t had time to assemble it. I have to find the right people that could nurture that and believe in a Jim Peterik musical tied around the songs have written and create a story just like Abba in Mamma Mia!. It takes that liaison, the right liaison. So if it’s you, that’s fine, we’ll do it. You never know. 15:23
On if Pride of Lions will play live – We’ve been always talking about it. I’m a little sad because we’re supposed to go to Italy in October for what was called Frontiers Fest, but it got postponed. It will happen. But once we get there next year, 24, we’ll probably build shows around that show around Italy, England, Greece, I just came back from Greece. We have a big fan base there as well. (The USA,) that’s another story, we’ll try. Well, actually, we are doing a World Stage show that’ll be like in maybe February of next year, and that’ll be a part of World Stage, of course. 16:02
On the possibility of a Survivor reunion – Well, I’ve learned to say, never say never. You never know how fate may take us. I’m not sure. If it makes sense, you never know. Unfortunately, we can’t bring Jimi back. I wish we could. He was a dear friend and an amazing singer as is, Dave. So that’s my answer. 17:24
On his next record Roots & Shoots – Yeah, this is a world premier exclusive for you, Jeff. There’s gonna be a new album that I have to turn in by September 15th to Frontiers, and it’s gonna be called Roots and Shoots. It’s gonna be half classic rockers like Dennis Young, who I’m working with on a song right now, Kevin Cronin and Don Barnes, Kelly Keagy, all the old guard, Jim Peterick, and more. Then the Shoots are gonna be all my new discoveries, young artists or undiscovered artists that I’m writing songs with and for. Roots and Shoots. I don’t know what it’s coming out exactly, but I know it’s due September 15th, and then I have to talk to Serafino and Mario to find out what they wanna do. 18:04
On working with undiscovered talent – Well, it’s a pleasure to work with a new artist that is still kind of a blank sheet of paper in a way. They have the talent, but you need to build from there. He or she may have this amazing voice but is not really a songwriter and is still doing cover material, and that’s when I come in and try to tailor a song that’s just right for him or her. 19:20