When Jim Peterik and Sammy Hagar met up for the first time to do some songwriting, they needed to find the right spark. Peterik had flown to San Francisco where Hagar picked him up in a red Ferrari Daytona convertible and drove him back to his Mill Valley home overlooking acres of redwood trees. The pair sat down, and Hagar shared some news.
“My manager, Eddie Leffler, says there’s an animated movie called Heavy Metal
coming out, and if we write something, it could be the title cut,” Hagar said to Peterik.
“Okay, now we’ve got a target,” Peterik told Hagar.
There was only one problem, he thought. They weren’t really heavy metal artists.
But he had an idea — they could write the song from the perspective of someone in the audience before a heavy metal concert.
“I don’t know about you, but for me, the most exciting part of a concert is the anticipation,” Peterik says now during a recent phone coversation. “It’s sitting in the audience, waiting for that great music, the lights going down and bam, the lights hit and there’s the band. We tried to harness that vibe, and we wrote the song in about 45 minutes and demoed it, and it made the title cut of the movie.”
The two will reunite on Sunday at MGM Northfield Park Center Stage
, where Peterik will share the bill with Hagar. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.
“Of course, that night, we won't do ‘Heavy Metal,’ because we usually do [it], but I'm hoping that Sammy will invite me on stage to do it.”
“I’ll kill him if he doesn’t ask me,” Peterik jokes.
Now in his sixth decade of making music professionally, Peterik has played Cleveland many times across the years, particularly in the ‘80s as a member of Survivor, touring on the back of hit single after hit single, songs like “The Search Is Over,” “I Can’t Hold Back,” and of course, a pair of Rocky-inspired hits, “Burning Heart” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
The singer-songwriter co-wrote all of those songs and many more, including hits for .38 Special (“Caught Up In You” and “Hold On Loosely,” to name two).
Fans will enjoy a special treat for the Northfield show as he brings his rock band, the Ides of March, back to the Cleveland area for the first time in decades. It’s a rare thing to see the group, which still features the “Core Four since 1964” from their initial lineup, Peterik on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, guitarist and vocalist Larry Millas, Bob Bergland on bass, sax and vocals, and drummer/percussionist Mike Borch, outside of their Illinois home base. He promises that those in attendance will get the full Ides experience.
“We've been together now for 55 years. I took 17 years off and did Survivor, but we always played every year,” Peterik says. “So we've been one of the oldest running bands in the world, really, with the original four members. But yeah, it's that format, an eight-piece band with a big ass horn section. Of course, we end the whole thing with ‘Vehicle’ and encore with ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ but we roll in Ides of March arrangements of most of the hits that I've been responsible for.”
“Vehicle” was the title track of the band’s debut album for Warner Brothers in 1970 and soared all of the way to number two on the Billboard charts. The song has been Peterik’s lifelong calling card and one that continues to have an incredible life. Blues legend Buddy Guy cut a version of it (“He’s my hero,” Peterik says) and it’s seen frequent placement in horror movies, including 2006's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
“You know, for some reason it's attractive to horror movies,” Peterik laughs. “Maybe it's that friendly stranger thing, you know?”
Oh yes, “I’m a friendly stranger in the black sedan/Won’t you hop in my car/I’ve got pictures and candy.” Just from those lyrics, you can see how things could take a dark turn, even if Peterik himself didn’t envision that twist of fate back in 1970.
Ever humble, Peterik figured that it was likely that blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa probably wouldn’t be familiar with the Ides. “What?,” the guitar player said. “Bah da bop da bah,” he hummed the famous horn part from “Vehicle” and Peterik smiled.
Bonamassa is one of many guests on the band’s brand new album, Play On
, which is tentatively set for a July release. The guitarist plays “his ass off” on “The Cover-Up,” which Peterik describes as a “stompin’ blues song.”
Keyboardist and bandleader Paul Shaffer pops up playing the Wurlitzer electric piano on “Rule of Three,” a catchy horn-driven number that finds Peterik telling his beloved, “I could survive three minutes without air/ Three days without water/ Three weeks without shelter or food/ But not a single solitary moment without you.”
The album has a feeling that you might just be sitting out in a theater listening to Peterik and the Ides play through the tracks, and with good reason.
“We cut it all live, which is much different then the way a lot of albums are cut now, but my son has a studio called the Jam Lab, which is 4,000 square feet,” he explains. It kind of hearkens back to the old days where studios were big. You could have total eye contact. That's the way we cut this record. All the tracks were cut live and I did scratch vocals live. It reminds me of when Ron Nevison [Led Zeppelin, Bad Company] cut the first Survivor album at the Record Plant. [Survivor vocalist] Dave [Bickler] was set up in a vocal booth but we were all playing live and catching that vibe. It sounds like ‘20/20’ and ‘Somewhere In America’ [from that album]. That's the way it sounded cutting this record.”
Former Grand Funk songwriter and vocalist Mark Farner also guests on Play On
, co-writing with Peterik on “Swagger,” a song which instrumentally recalls the vibe of those old Grand Funk rhythms. Farner has also been writing separately with Peterik for a forthcoming project.
“We wrote ‘Swagger’ together, and he came in and just ripped it. We were actually face to face on doing these duet vocals,” he says. “I mean, he was another hero. When the Ides of March were touring on ‘Vehicle,’ they were selling out Shea Stadium. You forget how huge Grand Funk Railroad really was. And Farner was always this long haired hippie that played and sang his ass off.”
features additional contributions from Jefferson Starship’s Cathy Richardson, former American Idol contestant and Blood, Sweat and Tears vocalist Bo Bice, David Pack of Ambrosia fame and Grammy-nominated saxophonist Mindi Abair.
The album title came straight from William Shakespeare, and as Peterik writes in the liner notes, it’s the culmination of 55 years of adventures spread across a variety of venues, including rehearsals, seedy bars, road trips and greasy spoons. But above all, he notes, it was the “camaraderie of four grade school pals from Berwyn, Illinois, who were determined to give the Beatles a run for their money.”
In terms of record sales, even if the Ides themselves didn’t quite scale those heights, Peterik himself has notched quite a few impressive accomplishments and there’s no end in sight. He’ll be busy, both on the concert stage and in the studio for the rest of the year, playing gigs, while also producing and working on songs for upcoming releases from .38 Special and former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung.
Music is definitely his food of love, and, clearly, he intends to play on.
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