For 50 years, Jim Peterik has been a staple of the Chicago-area music scene. He first hit it big with Berwyn-based band the Ides of March and their brassy single “Vehicle,” before co-founding Survivor, best known for its anthemic “Eye of the Tiger,” which Peterik co-wrote for the “Rocky III” soundtrack.
Peterik serves as our guest editor for this issue and looks back on his life, coinciding with the release of his autobiography, “Through the Eye of the Tiger” (BenBella Books). In the book, Peterik sorts through his painful treatment in Survivor, explores his roots and celebrates the long list of songs he wrote for acts such as Sammy Hagar, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brian Wilson, Reba McEntire, Cheap Trick — and even David Hasselhoff.
The Ides of March will celebrate 50 years together with a concert with special guests Sept. 27 at College of DuPage.
Below is an excerpt of our conversation, but to hear the full interview — and some performances by Peterik — listen to “The Big Questions” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or YouTube.
Q: Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon wrote the introduction to your book, and he says songwriting is “where songwriters go to give form to our scariest feelings, to seek answers that elude us in real life.” What did you discover in writing this book?
Peterik: I realized that music has always been my shield. I would go into a cocoon. Whatever crisis I was going through. Whether it was in my marriage or in my group, I would go off and I would bury myself in the music. And it shielded a lot of the pain.
What I learned is that I had a harder life than I thought. At first, I had trepidations about writing a book because I didn’t have the train wreck career that I enjoyed reading about [in other musician biographies]. And mine didn’t have that.
Q: You were an enigma. You and the rest of your band, the Ides of March, famously walked out of a Led Zeppelin orgy.
Peterik: Well, that is a famous story — and one of my fondest memories, because it defined us. We’re this family of musicians that got together more for friendship than musicianship although we grew into being a very good band.
And our values just told us that this isn’t what we want to do. We want to make music. We don’t want to stay up all night and do substances. That’s when we went across the street to Dunkin’ Donuts and toasted with a cup of coffee. And that’s the Ides of March.
Q: You wrote this biography, in part, “to look for answers to the complex questions that I never thought to ask myself.” Please give me an example.
Peterik: Well, one thing of course, was my role in Survivor, which I was very at odds with, where I had been led to. I was the lead singer of the Ides of March, the front man — the guy who talked to the crowd. And that’s the way it started with Survivor, but then it shifted and I became the wooden Indian behind the keyboard. Writing the songs of course, but singing background. Not talking to the crowd, not singing lead. But I buried that and I buried those feelings for the better good. As I was writing the book, I was realizing that I could have stood up for myself a lot more. Now would it have been better? Would we have been as successful or more? I’ll never know. But it was very painful to be put into that category.
- Jim Peterik