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‘The Tiger Speaks’: Guitarist Jim Peterik Talks New Book, Ides of March and Survivor


Most rock biographies tend to follow a similar pattern. The artist’s road to redemption is paved with tales of debauchery, drug abuse, marital infidelity and a trashing hotel room or two.

Although Jim Peterik’s story doesn’t really follow that path, it's even more special.

For instance, did you know the founder of such bands as the Ides of March, Survivor and Pride Of Lions was already playing shows alongside Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin as a teen? Or that Peterik’s original role in Survivor was one of dual guitarist and lead vocalist?

Peterik’s new book, Through the Eye of the Tiger: The Rock 'N' Roll Life of Survivor's Founding Member, discusses all of that and much more in a look back at the life and career of one of rock’s best songwriters.

With the help of writer Lisa Torem, Peterik reveals stories from his almost 50 years in music. Like the time the Ides of March stole the show from Led Zeppelin or when Peterik unwillingly ceded control of Survivor and took on a diminished role in order to achieve a greater good.

There are revelations of his encounters with Hendrix, Sammy Hagar and Brian Wilson; making studio magic with the late Jimi Jamison (one of rock’s greatest voices) as well as the challenges he faced becoming a husband and father. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of a how a phone call from Sylvester Stallone turned into “Eye of The Tiger."

Through the Eye of the Tiger is more than just the memoir of a songwriting legend. It’s a classic rock and roll story that’s told through the eyes of someone who has lived through it all.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Peterik about his new book, career and his amazing guitar collection.

GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to write a book at this stage of your career?

It's a good time in my life. I'm feeling good and have a lot of stories to tell. Certainly, there are a lot more stories ahead of me and quite a few stories behind me that I wanted to get out.

Did you find it difficult having to recall certain events in your life?

Absolutely. When I planned on writing the book, I was wondering who was going to want to read it. There’s no conflict in my life. I wasn't a drug addict or had tour groupies. The whole “rise, fall and redemption” is fascinating but I didn't have any of that. But as I started writing, I soon realized that there really was a lot of conflict in my life that I had just buried. I had always lived in a cocoon of creativity. But when you strip away the shield - I went through a lot of shit. It was painful to talk about Frankie [Sullivan] and the conflicts we had and recalling the troubles in my marriage.

Were you worried about what others might think of your revelations?

You've got to take a chance. I haven't heard from any other parties and I'm not sure if any of them have read the book or not. All I know is I was honest about my feelings. This is my truth.

Most people from the Eighties generation know you as the keyboardist for Survivor, when the fact is you were always a guitarist and frontman. How difficult was if for you to make that transition?

That was the big conflict. In the Ides of March, I was the frontman who played guitar and talked to the crowd. Being relegated to keyboards (which I love) was a support position. I learned early on that there was room for only one guitar player in Survivor, and it wasn't me. It was a hard pill to swallow but there was always a greater good. No matter what my personal feelings were at the time, it was a hell of a band and we were making great music.

What are some of your best memories of working with Jimi Jamison?

I remember when we were doing the video for “The Moment of Truth” [from The Karate Kid]. We were in this park and all of these Japanese tourists started coming up to Jimi because they all thought he was Wayne Newton. We were all cracking up. The chemistry between us was so good. I remember he and I used to go on radio stations and just crack up the disc jockey. We had a lot of wonderful moments like that. He was really one of a kind.

Can you tell me about the time you met Jimi Hendrix?

When I met him, he was toward the end of his life and didn't really have the energy he had early on in his career. We both had shared a locker room and I remember shaking his huge hand and watching his show. It was a thrill to shake the hand of the master.

What's your song writing process like?

Every day I'm writing down ideas, hooks, things that cross my mind and things I hear people say into my journals and idea banks. For example, “The Search Is Over” actually started as a news event I had heard. "The search is over for the missing..." Once I heard it, I wrote down "The Search Is Over." The trick is to stockpile these ideas until the time is right to take them out of storage.

Let’s talk a little about your guitar collection. How many guitars do you have?

182. But who's counting? [laughs].

Which one is your crown jewel?

In terms of value, it's probably my '58 Flying V. There were only 93 made in the original Korina. It's a beautiful instrument. But then I have certain guitars that mean more to me than the actual value. Like my '69 Goldtop Les Paul that I played "Vehicle" on. Then there’s my '56 Telecaster, which is my go-to Tele. I also have a '54 Sunburst Strat that just rips! It's an amazing instrument. I’ve also got a '65 Candy Apple Red Strat, which is probably the best-sounding guitar I own. The treble pickup sounds like a humbucker. Sometimes Strats can be kind of thin, but this one is loud and full.

What would you say has been the biggest highlight of your career?

Believe it or not, it would probably be that Ides of March show with Led Zeppelin in Winnipeg. We proved to ourselves that night that we were the real deal. We took terrible conditions, the shittiest PA and mics, and just killed. We got standing ovations after every song. It was amazing. The headline the next day read, “The Kids From Berwyn Steal the Show." I always go back to that for inspiration.

For more about Peterik, visit jimpeterik.com.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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