'80s - Survivor (2006)
'The Rocky Road To Survival'
Survivor is a rock band formed in 1978 by Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan. Dave Bickler, Gary Smith and Dennis Johnson were the other members until Smith and Johnson were replaced with Stephan Ellis and Marc Droubay. Before setting up Survivor, Peterik was lead vocalist of the band Ides of March.
The group's AOR (Album Oriented Rock) was very popular in the 1980s, especially in their native United States, where they charted several hit singles. They are best known for their hit "Eye of the Tiger", the theme song for the motion picture Rocky III in 1982.
After recording "The Moment Of Truth" (# 63 US), the theme song of the box office smash hit "The Karate Kid" (1984), the band recorded their first album with Jimi Jamison. "Vital Signs" gave the band a massive comeback, peaking at # 16 on the Billboard Album Chart with the hits "I Can't Hold Back" (#13 US), "High On You" (#8 US) and "The Search Is Over" (#4 US). Due to its powerful songwriting and the emotional voice of new singer Jamison, "Vital Signs" is still praised by fans and critics alike as one of the best AOR albums of all time.
In 1985, the band had another hit with "Burning Heart", the theme song of Rocky IV, when it peaked at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100. "When Seconds Count" was released in 1986 and included the hit "Is This Love" (#9 US).
After the disappointing sales of '88s "Too Hot To Sleep", Petrik and Sullivan had no further plans with their band and Jamison a solo album, "When Love Comes Down" and continued to tour as Survivor.
In 1993 Peterik and Sullivan re-teamed with former lead singer Dave Bickler, released a new 'Greatest Hits' album with two new songs ("Hungry Years" and "You Know Who You Are") and toured extensively. Due to the knowledge of Jamison also touring under the Survivor banner, Peterik and Sullivan filed a lawsuit against their former colleague for using their name. After years of processing, Jamison was granted the right to (also) use the name 'Survivor'.
In 1999, Jimi Jamison released the album "Empires" under the name Jimi Jamison's Survivor (later re-released under his own name). It is heralded by many fans as a masterpiece of AOR.
In 2006, Survivor released a new album called "Reach". Consisting of mostly new songs, it also includes some re-recordings from the "Fire Makes Steel" sessions. Two of the album's songs, "Reach" and "Fire Makes Steel", have been considered to appear in the upcoming Rocky sequel Rocky Balboa.
On July 14, 2006, it was announced that Jimi Jamison was leaving the band and Robin McAuley would replace him on lead vocals. The current lineup is a mix of old and new members: Robin McAuley is on lead vocals, Frankie Sullivan is on guitar, Marc Droubay is on drums, and newcomers Chris Grove are on guitar/keyboards and Barry Dunaway is on bass.
Chatting recently with one of the original lead singers, Jimi Jamison, I first paid mention to the story that as a young boy he had met Elvis whilst out shopping! Was this true?! "Yeah, as a matter of fact I did. Now I think back to it, it was pretty funny. I was about 10 or 11 and went with my parents and my cousin; who was a couple of years older than me; to this weird place. It was a drug store that was like a small Wal-Mart back in those days – and my cousin walked around to another aisle … and then quickly came back around and said something to my mother. She told her that there was a guy around the corner who looked just like Elvis and so my mother walks around and says, ‘It IS Elvis’ out loud. And I mean LOUD. I was so embarrassed. The whole store heard her and from that point on everyone was just following him around the store. But they also had this jungle-looking area where they sold exotic animals like baby lion cubs. And I’m sure Elvis only went down there to get away from the people, but he was there looking at one of these lion cubs. So, I was standing there next to him and he started to just lean on my shoulder! He then asked me if he should get this cub and so I said he should.”
No cheap Funsaver camera to whip out back then, I guess?! ”Oh no, we didn’t even own a camera back then,” he laughs. ”I didn’t even get an autograph, although my cousin did. I thought if I moved that Elvis would fall over ‘cause he was leaning on my shoulder for so long!”
”Then later on in the early ‘70s I was playing with a band called Target and a friend of mine that I’d known since high school, she went out and became a really good friend of Elvis and even went on tour with him. Well, she comes down to the club we’re playing that night and says, ‘Jimi, Elvis wants to meet you. You gotta come to the house with me right now.’ I said no way, and she asked why. ‘Because that’s Elvis, man’ is all I could reply with … and so I DIDN’T go, like a fool! And so this other guy went. I kinda thought she was lying at first, but I came to find out it was for real!”
Wow, based on the drug store and the failed meet and greet stories, you have one weird ‘history’ with The King! ”Yeah, don’t remind me of it. I could kick my butt for not doing it, you know.”
Having been a member of Target and Cobra, when you joined Survivor it seemed to take off instantly. What were the missing elements in those bands that Survivor obviously possessed for you? ”Target toured constantly and it should really have taken off more than it did. I don’t think we had as good of songs as we did with Survivor. That’s one thing as we were pretty young back then. I also don’t think that the Cobra and Target stuff was as acceptable to radio as much as the Survivor stuff was. I think that was the real reason.”
Did it feel at the time that your success in Survivor was instant or did it kick in over time? ”It took longer to kick in. I really didn’t think that it was gonna kick in when we did the Vital Signs album. I’d just come out of a heavy metal band into a pop band! But, next thing you know they’re playing the songs on the radio every five minutes.”
Did you join Survivor at its conception or sometime after ”I joined the band in around ’83 and they’d already been around for three or four years before that. They’d already had a couple of albums under their belts.”
‘Eye of the Tiger’ for Rocky III is one of the best-known rock anthems, but were you told what lyrics to sing by the filmmakers or did you create the song from scratch yourself? ”As a matter of fact they sent a clip of the movie to Frank and Jim Peterik and they heard the phrase ‘eye of the tiger’ in it. And that’s pretty much where the idea came from. So the song was written from the movie itself. So it was a movie song actually written for the movie.”
Are you still amazed today to the popularity levels that this one song has achieved all these years later?! ”It’s really unbelievable and it’s still the number one downloaded tunes at iTunes. That’s crazy.”
If only some of your solo singles could have done that! ”No kiddin’,”he laughs.
Have you ever been to a wedding reception where the band has played it live and with nobody in the room knowing who you were, did you actually dance to it?! ”No, I’ve never danced to ‘Eye Of The Tiger’,” he laughs. ”They have played ‘Search Is Over’ in that scenario, but I still didn’t dance to it.”
You also did a TV advert for Starbucks where you sang a ‘new’ version of ‘Eye Of The Tiger.’ Was this solely your choice as a band to do or was it a contractual gig? ”No, we got an offer for the whole band to do that. They gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse and we didn’t really have to bastardize the song. We just wrote different lyrics and just did a parody of it. And if you weren’t paying attention you really couldn’t tell if it was ‘Eye of The Tiger’ or not. It was a funny commercial … and we were nominated for an Emmy for that! We didn’t get it, but we came really close.”
Please tell us more about your affiliation with Whitney Wolanin ”Oh man, I love Whitney. She’s gonna be a big star one day. Her writing is probably her main point, you know right now. We had a song that did really well, ‘It Takes Two’ which is a remake. It’s a lot of fun working with her and watching her develop and help in any way I can.”
Is it true that you recently resigned from Survivor over creative, contractual and long term simmering business differences with Frank Sullivan? ”Well, yes it is but also it’s because I’ve been doing this for so long and we had so many hit records, and yet we never made the money that we should have made. And somewhere along the line I think I got forgotten about. And I’m not really too sure who’s fault it is and I really can’t do anything about it now either. So I just separated myself from it and decided to go my own way.”
Will Survivor regroup perhaps down the line once the dust has settled? ”It’s possible, yeah. Jim Peterik also did the same thing that I did and quit. He’s got his own thing going now too.”
Please reveal an interesting fact about yourself that perhaps even your fans aren’t aware of! ”I was once gonna join Deep Purple,” he laughs. ”I was actually in Deep Purple for a week back in early 1990 in which we also wrote a song. But my record company at the time, Scotti Bros. brought me into their offices and said, ‘Hey, don’t even think about it!’ And so with Scotti Bros. kinda being like an Italian-type label at the time famous for breaking people’s legs I decided to call Ritchie Blackmore! So, I called Ritchie and his manager and told them I couldn’t do it.”
So why were they so adamant that you couldn’t join Purple? ”I had just finished my solo album and they had invested their money in it and so that’s why they didn’t want me to do the Deep Purple thing. So yeah, I was in Purple for a week and it broke my heart when I had to leave.”
Any more stories of short-lived bands that you were in?! ”Well, funny you should ask but about a month later Skunk Baxter, John Entwistle and myself put a band together and we were together for two weeks. We didn’t have a name but we did rehearse for two weeks. But then the same record label decided not to put money into it for some strange reason. So, we just disbanded and went home.”
So, as you’ve done two solo albums, I’m wondering why neither of them were commercial successes? ”Promotion. They weren’t promoted properly. They did OK in Europe because I think the people over there are not quite as quick to jump on any bandwagons that may have started over here.”
What’s it like to be continually rated by Kasey Kaseem as one of the greatest Rock Vocalists of All-Time? ”Yeah, I know he said it but I’m starting to get a little weirded by everyone repeating his name. It’s very flattering though, but I’m starting to feel a little strange about it these days, you know.”
But do you agree with it? ”Oh no, of course not,” he laughs. ”There are so many singers out there that I wouldn’t even put myself in the top ten!”
OK so who would be your top 3 vocalists? ”As far as rock music, Lou Gramm - in his hey day - and of course Steve Perry … and Mickey Thomas from Starship.”
What are your plans for your Vocal Legends project and will we see it soon, perhaps? "Yes, I’m gonna give that a shot as we’ve got some very interesting ideas going around. Nothing’s nailed down in stone yet. We’re trying to get the top vocalists that we possibly can to join forces and do something from these other bands. I think I was part of one of the very first conglomerations in what was called ‘The Voices of Classic Rock’ which was great, but we had too many voices. We were like a family of guitar players that weren’t really known for their voices. So, we’re trying to do something a little different here and trying to get the very best vocalists we can get on the stage at one time.”
What does the future hold for you and in particular will there be a new recording from you? "Yes, I’m thinking about going back into the studio to record another album. And I might not even write the songs on this new album. I might just try and get the songs from the greatest songwriters that I can possibly get. People like Diane Warren, David Pack and Michael McDonald, who’s already sent me a couple of songs that are really good. ‘Cause you never know, this might be my last shot.”
It seems like you’re stepping away from the rock/pop euphoria of your past with these names? ”Well, it depends on the song. The Michael McDonald stuff can be pretty rocky. It might be time to do that though. I need to broaden myself a little bit, you know. I always wanted to be heavier. Every album I did outside of Survivor I always wanted to be heavier. I wanted more guitar. So, that didn’t work so I’m gonna try it this way now,” he laughs.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'When Love Comes Down' - Jimi Jamison CD Purchase Link
'Empires' - Jimi Jamison CD Purchase Link