"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview"
Jazz Monthly: All right, it is my wonderful pleasure to welcome to JazzMonthly.com for the very first time an incredible singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player, a lover of music, and he’s feeling his life force today. He has a great new record. It is called Lifeforce, to be released very soon. You have got to check this cat out. You know him from some fantastic music of the past. He’s a Grammy Award winning artist and let me tell ya, he feels it every time out and he knows how to bend the strings. Please welcome the incredible and amazing Mr. Jim Peterik. Jim, how you doing, my friend?
Jim Peterik (JP): Smitty, I have never gotten an intro quite that good.
JM: (Laughs.) Come on, man!
JP: Now really I wanna hear me. Man, I wanna hear that guy. Shoot!
JM: Oh yeah, man.
JP: No, no, no, that’s very kind, man, but you’re right. I mean, I’m passionate about what I do. I’m a lifer with music. That’s all I know how to do. Might as well do it, right?
JM: Absolutely, and when we find what we love, run with it, baby.
JP: It’s an old adage. If you find out what you love to do, you don’t have to work a day in your life.
JM: A very good old adage.
JP: And that’s what happens. This Lifeforce record, after it was all finished, I’m listening to it in the car with my wife and I’m going “How did I do that?” It seemed effortless while I was doing it and yet it was so much work. It didn’t seem like work, though. Yeah, you know what I’m saying.
JM: Yeah, that the effort was there but yet when you listen to it, there’s the old adage of time flies when you’re having fun. So even though you put a lot of effort in it, you were having fun and when you’re having fun, some of those things go by so quickly that when you can listen back to it, it’s like “Wow, I did that.”
JP: Yeah, you’re in the moment and that’s where it needs to be and for me, smooth jazz or whatever categories—I’m not into that—but smoother music, which is what I’m making as opposed to rock music, which was my stock in trade, and I still like rock, but the smooth jazz genre is like flexing a different muscle. I mean, this music—Karen and I have been married for 36 years.
JP: When we relax at the end of the day, I mean, ever since we were married, and pour ourselves a little chardonnay or whatever it is, we’re listening to smooth jazz. We’re not listening to Aerosmith, you know? Or no offense to REO Speedwagon, but we’re not listening to that. We’re listening to Acoustic Alchemy, Keiko Matsui, SFX, Dave Grusin, Burt Bacharach, David Benoit, on and on. I mean, that’s it. And finally Karen said “You know, this is what we love. When you’re fiddling around on the piano, you’re playing that kind of music. Why don’t you do that genre?” I’m sitting there, you know, “Nobody will accept me, man. Everyone thinks ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ man, rock guy,” and she said “Come on.” I said “Well, what the heck” and started this project timidly and actually the first thing I recorded was a thing called “Secret Of The Away,” which is No. 8 on this record. Karen has a weakness with it so she put it on her Web site like music to surf her Website on, you know?
JP: And people are freaking out. “Man, where can I get this?” So a little bit of confidence under my belt. “Okay, maybe I can do this.” And I cut another one and another one, and then I said “Well, I’m gonna remake a couple of my hits. Maybe it’s a sell-out, maybe it’s not. I’m gonna reinvent ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ Is that too crazy?” She goes “No.” I want to reinvent “Vehicle,” I want to try a new take on “The Search is Over” and I did it, man, and I go “This is kinda cool.” So flash forward and I’ve been going to these jazz fests, which to me was more fun. I mean, it’s like Disneyland for adults. You know about those.
You go there, you’ve got every kind of wine in the world, you’ve got duck sandwiches and all this chi-chi food and you just stand there or sit there all afternoon and hear one great act after another, and I’m talking about like Jazz on the Vine, talking about like Kettle Moraine, stuff like that, and you have these autograph tables, right? Well, I usually don’t go to autograph tables when I’m a member of the audience because usually I’m on the other side of an autograph table. So, my friend said “Go ahead. Go to the autograph table and meet Nick Colionne,” so I did that and he couldn’t have been nicer, and suddenly I’m writing with Nick, suddenly he’s guesting on this record, and now the next event, Smitty, is Nick’s jazz cruise and I’m gonna be on board. I think you are too.
JM: Yeah, I’ll be there, man. The Smooth Music Cruise Jan 31st –Feb 5th 2009. We’re gonna have a funky good time.
JP: Yeah, we’re gonna maybe have such a good time we won’t even remember it.
JM: Those are the best times.
JP: Those are, yeah. If you remember the day after the cruise, you weren’t there, right? But anyway, I’m gonna be on the jazz cruise and I’m just gonna try to jam with him on those jam nights and we’re gonna have a great time. But anyway, this album comes out February 3rd. I’m really excited about it.
JM: Yeah, you should be because there are some great tracks on here, man. This is a fantastic album. When I listen to the album, I say to myself “I have a connection with this cat because he was a rocker” and growing up I was a rocker in the ghetto and people didn’t quite understand that. Growing up, I did listen to R&B. I come from a family of 10 children so everybody had their own taste in music.
JM: So when I grew up, I listened to Nectar and Yes and Chi Coultrane, Rare Earth and all those great bands, The Doors, Ozark Moutain Daredevils, Ray Manzarek. I mean, how can you miss that guy, you know?
JM: And Santana, but then at the same time, I was listening to R&B because some of my brothers and sisters loved that, so I was listening to whatever they had so I just sort of morphed into some other tastes of music and here we are, but when I listen to you, I’m saying to myself “I can feel the rock and roll vibe but this cat has really found his spot, his pocket, with smooth jazz” because, man, it’s like you’ve always been doing this with this record.
JP: Well, that is such a huge compliment. You know, Smitty, I’ve always been a theorizing person. Songs are king, man. I don’t care what genre it is, you gotta have a strong melody and you gotta have a great rhythm.
JM: You are so right.
JP: And that being said, you can reinvent a song any number of different ways.
JM: Oh yeah.
JP: And the melody, to me, is something that I value very much and smooth jazz is just a great vehicle, no pun intended, for getting those melodies across. I just heard an instrumental version of—and I don’t know what saxophone player it was—all I can tell you it was kickin’ my you know what. I’m talking “Broken Wings.” It was a really good sax player doing that Mr. Mister tune, right?
JM: Ah, yeah.
JP: It was really, really cool. And I said “You know what? I’m on the right track here.” Because there’s a song that was big in the 80s and you’re doing the instrumental version but you’re singing along with it going “Take these broken wings,” you know?
JP: And that’s really, really hip when you can do that.
JM: Absolutely, man. Well, you did that. In fact, I just gotta talk about “Eye of the Tiger.” I know you mentioned it earlier, but that’s the theme from the Rocky III movie. Now, talk to me about how this song came about because I’m very curious. I’ve heard this song many, many times and it’s always a song that if you hear the first two notes, the rest of the song will be in your head the rest of the day. It’s that kind of song.
JM: Was that something that you purposely did for that or was that something that was adopted?
JP: Well, no, and we got commissioned by Mr. Stallone and I came home one day in 1982, early ’82, and I had a message on my answering machine and I pressed “play” and I hear “Yo, Jim. Hey, this is Sylvester Stallone. Give me a call.” He left a number, right, and I thought someone was putting me on, right? I thought it was my buddy Frankie, who is in Survivor with me, I thought he got some impersonator to put me on. Well, I called Frankie. I said “Hey, man, I just got a call from Stallone. That was you, right?” He goes “No, man. I just got the same message.” So he comes over to my house, we call the number and ring the phone, and you hear “Yo, this is Sylvester. Who is this?” I go “It’s Jim from Survivor.” “Yo, call me Sly,” you know? “Okay, Sly. All right, cool.”
Yeah, he says “I got this movie called Rocky III. I don’t wanna use that ‘Gonna Fly Now’ song. I want something for the kids, something with a pulse.” And he sends us the rough cut of the movie and this is kind of an interesting track thing, but they have what they call temporary music. It’s music that isn’t necessarily designed to be used in the movie, but it’s like you’ll tell a writer to write something like this or something on the order of this. And that’s how the song ended up being—it was “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen.
And I look at Frankie, we’re watching the thing, I said “Man, how can you beat Queen doing ‘Another One Bites the Dust’?” And the people are going “Bam, bum, bum, bum, another one bites the dust” and we go “Man, that’s cool.” Really, the opportunity of a lifetime, so we’re watching it and suddenly I just go “dicka-dicka-dicka-dicka-tricka-dicka-dicka-dicka, bam, bop-bop-bop” and we had the “bop-bops” just trying to match the punches. And hey, man, we wrote that song in about an hour and a half, man.
JP: So anyway, we sent it to Stallone. He goes “You know, you guys did good. You did all right. You’re doing all right.” And he said “Just write me a third verse. You got a little lazy there.” So we wrote him a third verse and the rest is history. I’m not that surprised that it went No. 1 and stayed there for seven weeks in ’82, but what surprises me more, Smitty, is that this song is still around.
JM: It’s that kind of iconic song.
JP: Every generation rediscovers it. I played for these pep rallies for eighth grade and football games and everybody knows the song. And then Lifeforce comes around. I said “How can I make this smooth?” And one of my keyboard players, Scotty, he’s going “Da, da-da-da” and I said “No, twist it more.” He goes “da, dad a da.” “No, more. Weirder. Twist it more.” Finally he comes up with this insane jazz chord. I said “That’s it” and that’s pretty fun.
JM: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a beautiful thing when you can stretch it like that.
JP: I do too.
JM: Because it’s such a new discovery and it’s a cool thing.
JM: So tell me: how did the title of the song “Eye of the Tiger” come about?
JP: Yeah, well, I wish I could take credit for it, but like I said, we had the movie before we wrote the song. The script was written.
JP: And so we’re watching the movie and the dialogue, the trainer, Burgess Meredith, says “Rocky, you’re losing the eye of the tiger. You gotta keep the eye of the tiger.” I said “Frankie, if we don’t call this thing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ we’re really stupid.” And he agreed so we just fashioned that chorus around that hook and to his credit, I gotta tell ya, Stallone never asked for publishing credits, which, I mean, he could’ve. I mean, here he’s giving us this huge opportunity and I don’t consider that songwriting, but somebody that’s less scrupulous might’ve asked for a piece and that’s really kinda cool.
JM: Yeah, well, I hear he’s a very cool cat.
JP: He is.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I can feel your music to a great degree and I can see why you have such a great passion for music, with Survivor and “Vehicle.” I mean, how do you top “Vehicle,” man? And what a song!
JP: There’s a term, Smitty, “catching lightning in a bottle.” That’s what we did. I mean, I was 19 years old when I wrote and sang “Vehicle,” wrote it for a girl, girl dumped me, all of a sudden I got the cool car, she starts calling me for rides. Honest to God. I mean, she didn’t wanna date me. She just wanted me to be her chauffeur. And one day I said “Karen, all I am is your vehicle, baby.” I said “You know, that’s a pretty good hook. So I wrote the song, showed it to my band, wrote the lick “Da-da-ba-ba-da.” I don’t know where I came up with that. Just the heavens gave it to me, I think. And all of a sudden Warner Brothers signs us, it goes to No. 1, suddenly we’re on tour with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix. This is the spring of 1970. What a great time to have a No. 1 record. In fact, the Allman Brothers, we were on the road with Poco, pop festivals with Rhinoceros and Youngbloods, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Who did “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”?
JM: Iron Butterfly.
JP: Thank you. Wow, see? Yeah, I mean, you’re good.
JM: I don’t know. Well, that was a time when I listened to a lot of that—and I have to thank my oldest brother for that because he introduced me to music that I never would’ve discovered, but he was an Iron Butterfly fan.
JP: Yeah, well, I picked a good band because we played with them. It was Youngbloods, Iron Butterfly, Ides of March, and Led Zeppelin all in one evening.
JM: That must have been some evening.
JP: Not a bad bill. Must’ve been in Winnipeg, Canada.
JM: Not a bad bill, yeah.
JP: So we’ll never forget that show.
JM: Yeah, so on Lifeforce, I don’t want to forget this. Please tell Larry [Millas] that he is one bad boy because the engineering on this record is just amazing.
JP: Oh, man, you know what, Smitty? He is in the next room. When we finish this interview, I’m gonna go in there. It’s gonna make his day. I’m tellin’ ya, you know? I mean, we put such pride into this thing. I’ve worked with Larry—he was in the Ides of March and still is. Aside from Lifeforce—I’m not with Survivor anymore, left them in ’96—but I put together the Ides of March again. We do about 35 shows a year and Larry’s the rhythm guitar player and always has been. We met in third grade in grade school.
JM: How cool.
JP: Yeah, and we’re still best friends and he’s always been more interested in the engineering part. I was more the music/songwriting thing. But we’ve got two studios right in the home, one above the garage and one in the basement, and we cut the whole Lifeforce record above in Studio A, ProTools, state of the art everything and, I mean, tunes are only as good as the engineer and he is just amazing. Thank you for noticing that.
JM: Yes indeed, man. It’s hard not to notice. It’s tight like right.
JM: And he really just put some, I mean, as the Imani Winds would say, he put the stank on it?” (Both laugh.)
JP: That’s a good one.
JM: Yeah, so tell Larry he put the stank on this record.
JP: All right, I will do it. You know, there’s a lot of different terms for that. That’s a good one. I always say, “Man, you added the pixie dust to that one, man.”
JP: But I like yours better anyway.
Jazz Monthly: It’s beautiful. And speaking of beautiful, talk to me about Lisa McClowry. What a voice.
JP: She’s one of the most talented gals I’ve ever worked with. No secret she’s gorgeous, no secret she’s a great singer.
JM: I second that.
JP: But she’s a great person and a great performer. We did Kettle Moraine a few months ago and we did a number of concerts locally here. She gets up there and commands the stage. She wears a not too bad of a short blue dress sometimes and all the guys are like going crazy, but I mean it’s more than that. Her voice is just amazing and her pitch is great, she puts across a lyric. I’m very, very lucky to have her as a part of Lifeforce and we’re actually doing a spinoff record with her. It’s gonna be called Lisa McClowry and that should be coming up the second quarter of ’09. We’re launching Lifeforce and a hard release to be in the stores by February 3rd and then probably around springtime Lisa McClowry will have her debut record.
JM: Very nice.
JP: Love it. It’s also gonna be smooth jazz but with a little more touch of R&B than even this album has.
JM: Sweet, yeah. Well, please tell her that I surrendered on the track “Unconditional Surrender.” Tell her I just surrendered.
JP: I will tell her. I mean, actually, that’s one of my favorite tracks.
JM Yeah, very nice.
JP: She just sings that so well. It’s a nice song for her to sing. It’s got a sensuality about it.
JM: Right, and you mentioned something about breaking down resistance. I mean, I had no resistance left.
JP: I’ll tell her that too.
JM: Yeah, she has a commanding voice that has so much control, but yet she has a ceiling very high that she can reach whenever she wants to.
JP: You know, she can do any note I specify. She goes into Ann Wilson Land, to use a rock reference, but she also goes into Mariah Carey Land, she goes into—remember “Loving You”? The woman that died.
JM: Minnie Riperton.
JP: Minnie Riperton.
JM: Yeah, man.
JP: Anyway, she could even do that dog hearing thing.
JP: Yeah, I didn’t use the dog hearing thing on this record, but she can do it. So it’s pretty fun.
JM: Yeah, she’s great. And I know we talked about “Eye of the Tiger,” but what you did with that track, you know, the smooth jazz version, is totally slick. It’s really a fantastic composition.
JP: Well, thanks. Mike Acquino takes the, I would say, Wes Montgomery kind of take on the lead guitar. That’s not me. On this record I do some of the guitar lead work. Nick [Colionne] does, of course, some.
JP: And then Mike does some. We kinda split it up. And live, by the way, this is the exact live band on stage. Nick and Mike on guitar, Ed Breckenfeld drums, Klem Hayes on bass, Jeff Lance keyboards, and Steve Eisen. Gotta give a shoutout there. Our flute and sax man, he’s—I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Steve Eisen.
JM: Yes, I have.
JP: Have you? Okay. He’s a Chicago classic.
JP: Been around forever as a part of the Jazz Philharmonic with Orbert Davis, who’s just, you know, Orbert is amazing. I use him, actually, on Lisa’s new record. So lucky to have Steve and he does all the live shows as well. What a resource.
JM: Yeah, he’s got some juice, man. He’s got some juice, yeah. And Christian Cullen, man.
JP: Christian is amazing. So I’m very blessed to have this group of people, very versatile. And the whole thing, Lifeforce, it’s about life force. It’s about waking up every morning and using the power that we have within us and it’s not a religious thing, it’s a spiritual thing. It’s taking everything you’ve got and put it into the positive energy of the day. That’s what I want the music to convey.
JM: Absolutely. Well, I’ve gotta say that this is a fantastic record. It speaks of your talent on all levels and the people that you surround yourself with, there’s a definite synergy here of doing music the way it should be and it all comes out in the wash of this great record, and I just want to say thank you for doing the record and congratulations on it, and I can’t wait for the release, my friend, because I think you’re gonna really create some serious, serious attention with it.
JP: Well, I really appreciate that comment and I need help even exposing it. You know, it’s a weird market and it’s almost like back to the basics. You gotta get out there and pound it. No one’s gonna do the work for you. You gotta get out there.
JM: True that, my friend.
JP: You gotta play live and you gotta talk to people like yourself and go to the colleges and spread the word. No one’s gonna put a million dollars behind you and make you the next superstar. You gotta do it.
JM: I think there is—again, it’s all perspective—and of course the business is not what it used to be, but I think it creates a whole new ballpark for how we do it and I think it’s how we approach it. We can approach it negatively or we can approach it positively and say “Hey, let’s have some fun with it” because now it creates a whole new arena of creativity to not only make the music but now to get it out there. So to me it’s a fun thing if we can just see it that way because when you’re in the creative mode, it is such a cool thing.
JM: So we can be creative not only making the music, but we can be creative getting it out there, and that is sort of like the culmination of the whole experience, the whole adventure. Now it’s out there. What a beautiful time when you release a record, you get it out there, and then you use those creative avenues to get it to people, and then to hear the response. I think it’s a beautiful thing, man. I mean, it’s like going back to the old school of doing something.
JP: You know, I know exactly what you mean. I wish more people saw it the way you did. You remember, I mean, we’re old school in a way, but we’re new school, I mean, because it used to be you put a little licorice record out called a 45, right?
JM: Absolutely. I have some.
JP: I do too. I have a juke box.
JP: Anyway, one side was the first side. Flipside, hey, one piggyback on there.
JP: And you didn’t get an album until one of those caught fire.
JP: And now you have downloads and they’re like singles. They’re no different.
JM: Good point!
JP: One of those catches on and then you do the whole shooting match. It’s almost back to the basics.
JM: And I would say, Jim, you’ve had a lot of fun, the band has had a lot of fun making this record, there are some sweet memories that come with this great project. You can continue to build on those beautiful adventures and memories as you put this record out. And when we think in those terms, and I’ve heard this before, if you don’t sell one, you had fun making it, but I just don’t think you’re gonna say that. I think you’re gonna really have a lot of fun getting this record to a lot of people because it’s one that I highly recommend and I think people are gonna really embrace what you’ve done with this great record and what you’ve done in the past as well.
JP: Well, that means a lot coming from you, but you’re right. I don’t look at any of the music as something kind of project, demographic thing. I think of it as, man, I’m having the time of my life. And if someone loves it, even better.
JM: Yeah, Jim, every artist on the planet, every artist, has an audience, they really do.
JP: You’re right, you’re right.
JM: And the more music you make, the more great music you make, the wider the audience. It’s that simple. Yeah.
JP: You’re right and I’ll take it one step, not further, but sideways. The more people you touch in a positive way, the more—I hate to use the word “grace” because it sounds like I’m thumping on a bible and I’m not—but the more grace you seem to get.
JM: I know what you mean.and you’re spot on.
JP: That’s what I believe.
JM: Jim, I think you have a wonderful approach to making music, getting it out there, man. Keep doing your thing, keep making great music, and I wish you all the best with this fantastic record, and please pass along my congratulations to J.B., to Larry, Lisa, to the band, and to Karen—everybody involved—and old crazy Nick as well.
JP: I learned a lot from Nick and I’m gonna call him next, dude.
JM: All right, very cool. We’ve been talking with the incredible Jim Peterik. His wonderful new record is called Lifeforce. Look for it February 3rd in stores and on the Internet. Jim, thanks so much, my friend, and all the best in 2009 and I will see you in a few weeks, my friend.
JP: I will see you on board The Smooth Music Cruise.