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Jim Peterik's Pride of Lions Dreams Higher
Survivor founder and Ides of March front man releases seventh album with Pride of Lions project.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. This week I had the pleasure of interviewing legendary songwriter and musician Jim Peterik.
If you don’t recognize the name, you probably know a lot of his songs. Peterik has written and co-written some of the great songs in rock history. The Ides of March vocalist/guitarist and Survivor founder is a Grammy Award winner and Oscar nominee, whose song “Vehicle” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 when he was just 19 years old.
He was the co-writer of Survivor’s iconic “Eye of the Tiger,” and all of that band’s other hit songs, like “The Search is Over,” “I Can’t Hold Back,” and “High on You.” He co-wrote “Heavy Metal” with Sammy Hagar, several of 38 Special’s biggest hits (“Rockin’ Into the Night”, “Hold on Loosely,” “Caught Up in You,” etc.), and he’s worked with Dennis DeYoung from Styx, the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Cheap Trick, and REO Speedwagon, among others.
At age 72, Peterik is still active, and I spoke with him about his new album with his Pride of Lions project, which also features standout vocalist Toby Hitchcock. He also gives back to the musical community as a mentor to young talent, such as Leslie Hunt, who I spoke with for this newsletter back in November of 2021.
Jim Peterik has a gift and he’s not afraid to use it. The 72-year-old Berwyn, Illinois native has been writing catchy songs that have made it onto records for more than half a century. From The Ides of March, to Chase, to the Jim Peterik Band, to Survivor, to World Stage, to Pride of Lions and beyond, Peterik’s knack for finding infectious hooks and dreaming up relatable lyrics has served him well over the course of a fascinating career. While he may not be a household name to some, his songs are well known and beloved by millions. And, perhaps more importantly, he’s recognized by his peers in the music industry for being one of the great songwriters in rock history.
Pride of Lions released Dream Higher on June 16 on Frontiers Music, giving Peterik seven albums with the project to match the seven studio albums he released with Survivor — the band he founded in 1978 with the rhythm section of Chase (drummer Gary Smith and bassist Dennis Keith Johnson), hotshot guitarist Frankie Sullivan (ex-Mariah), and vocalist Dave Bickler, who Peterik knew from his time singing and producing advertising jingles in Chicago. Survivor’s story is well known, told through the years through album and singles charts, music videos, and record sales.
But Survivor quickly morphed into a different band than Peterik had originally envisioned. With Sullivan steering the ship — sometimes in inflexible and headstrong ways — Peterik’s idea of the band having multiple lead singers quickly faded away, and eventually Peterik was rarely picking up a guitar, instead playing keyboards.
Pride of Lions, which released its self-titled debut album in 2003, provides Peterik with the opportunity to reboot his Survivor vision.
“This (project) is Survivor reincarnated — the original concept,” he said. “You know, if you listen to the very first Survivor album, I do quite a bit of singing on that and duets, like ‘Whatever it Takes’ Dave and I are trading off. And then I just kind of got pushed back to the keyboards, and very happy as a songwriter, because really, that’s you know, the bread and butter for me.”
Peterik is free to play whatever instruments he likes and lend his voice to his own songs, joining Pride of Lions vocalist Toby Hitchcock. Peterik met Hitchcock at a popcorn festival.
“The Ides of March were doing the popcorn festival in Valparaiso, Indiana. And there’s this young guy in the front row, who is really watching,” Peterik said. “And I didn’t think much about it. But he came up to me afterwards and said, ‘My name is Toby Hitchcock. I'm a singer.’ I go, ‘Well, good for you.’ (laughs) I said, ‘Well, that’s great,’ you know, and we just made small talk. And then my niece Kelly calls me and said, ‘You know that geeky guy you talked to at the popcorn festival? Well, I just did a Dick Clark audition for a show (that never aired) and I met Toby Hitchcock, and Uncle Jimmy, you’ve got to hear this guy.”
Peterik trusted his niece’s ear and had Hitchcock come to the studio to sing a song and see what he could do. For a laugh, Hitchcock showed up wearing a false pair of buck teeth as a prank. The two had a good laugh and Hitchcock sang “No Long Goodbyes” for Peterik, who was so impressed he called Serafino Perugino at Frontiers Music in Italy and had him fly in to listen to him sing in Nashville.
“We auditioned live as a duet and they signed us immediately,” Peterik said.
Pride of Lions have released six albums since that 2003 self-titled debut, with the most recent prior to Dream Higher being 2020’s Lion Heart. All of them feature great melodies and catchy hooks.
The style of the band, to my ears, shares plenty of musical DNA with Survivor, but there are also some subtleties that remind me at times of Toto or Journey. Perhaps that’s simply part and parcel of all melodic rock.
Here’s the album’s musical lineup:
Jim Peterik — Lead and background vocals, keyboards, and guitar.
Toby Hitchcock — Lead and background vocals.
Ed Breckenfeld — Drums and percussion.
Mike Aquino — Lead and power guitar.
Bob Lizik — Bass.
Christian Cullen — Keyboards and orchestration.
Breckenfeld and Aquino have been working with Peterik and Hitchcock on Pride of Lions ever since the first album. Cullen, as far as I can tell, is credited on all of the albums except Immortal (2012). Lizik played on Immortal and the new Dream Higher.
If Cullen’s name seems familiar, dear MRC reader, it might be because he produced the Leslie Hunt EPs Ascend and Descend that I previously wrote about in this newsletter.
What the music of Pride of Lions is all about is evident right off the bat on Dream Higher, with the opening track — uptempo melodic rocker “Blind to Reason.” It’s music that is uplifting, inspiring, and just makes you feel good. Hitchcock sings the majority of the vocals but Peterik sings some lines as well and the trading off of vocals is a feature I think more bands should use. It just seems to give a song a different energy.
The title track is my favorite song on the album. Hitchcock and Peterik trade verses to start this midtempo number. It’s got a killer chorus and displays Peterik’s uplifting writing style and outlook. The part of the chorus with Peterik’s insistent “You gotta dream higher!” answering Hitchcock’s vocal is one of my favorite moments on the record, and Aquino’s solo is tasteful and suits the song perfectly.
“Well, it usually starts with one song that kind of sets the bar and the template and that’s ‘Dream Higher,’ which became the title track,” Peterik said of how one of his albums gets written. “It’s very much my kind of lifeforce. It’s dream higher, dream bigger, keep going, and always try to top yourself.
“And so, with that as a template, all the songs except for one song are very, very positive. It’s very thematic.”
“My Destiny” is a soaring ballad that sounds like it walked in out of a Broadway musical the way Hitchcock sings it. The end reprises the lyrics from the opening of the song and I love the way that ties it together. There’s some lyrical connectivity to one of Peterik’s biggest hit songs, “The Search is Over” by Survivor. Love is a common topic in his writing.
Hitchcock and Peterik return to more shared vocal duties on “Find Somebody to Love,” a song that returns the album to more uptempo rhythms. There are great harmonies between the two singers but also some cool moments where Peterik is echoing Hitchcock. It gives the song more depth and keeps things interesting. The song features one of the better soaring guitar solos, as well as a scorching guitar outro.
“Another Life” is a good, midtempo number with excellent backing vocals. That one had a cowriter.
“I wrote (‘Another Life’) with a gentleman named David Fink, who owned a club called The Acorn,” Peterik said. “The Acorn is still there, but he sold it. It’s in Three Oaks, Michigan. And he sent me this poem. ‘There is another life in me somewhere beyond the one that you can see.’ He was just out of a relationship and he knew that there was something out there for him — another love — and that’s what inspired this song.”
“Renegade Heart” is one of the album’s most rocking numbers and perhaps the most overtly Survivor-ish track on the record. “Driving and Dreaming” is a fun love song that sounds like it would be a great selection to put on a road trip playlist. Peterik said that part of the inspiration for the song came from driving, but the overall concept came from a friend.
“I got the title and concept from Steve Salzman, who I’ve collaborated with through the years,” Peterik said. “He was in a band called John Blonde when he was like 18. The Ides of March played his high school, and we became friends, and he would always be the guy sending me poems that were titles, and he sent me this one title, ‘Driving and Dreaming of You.’ And boom, I wrote the song and that’s why his name is next to mine on that song.”
To my ears, “Through It All” sounds like a song Toto might have come up with. I can think of fewer compliments as big that I could give a melodic rock song. It has a nice groove and great guitar work.
The lone song that isn’t uplifting or upbeat on the album is “Everything to Live For.” It’s a song that nearly didn’t make it onto Dream Higher.
“The exception to (the album’s positive overall theme) is ‘Everything to Live For,’ which is one of the few melancholy songs I've written in a long, long time — maybe ever,” Peterik said. “It was about a suicide of — not a friend, but an acquaintance, who took her life. And I’m going, ‘What the hell?’ Someone apparently happy, with everything to live for, said the last goodbye. I almost left it off the album, but it turns out that a lot of people could really relate to it or knew someone in this condition.”
The album closes with “Generational,” one of the album’s highlights for me. Peterik’s voice is the first one you hear on it and he sings lead, which is a turnabout from the rest of the record, in which he mainly provides harmonic support for Hitchcock, sings some verses here and there, or adds a call-and-answer bit.
Many of these songs could be hits if there was a bigger modern audience for melodic rock or if music was trending in that direction. As it is, there is a large following of melodic rock fans who are content to find the worthwhile music out there instead of merely gobbling up what is being fed to them in pop culture. This is the perfect album for them.
Dream Higher is a strong album and it’s one that Peterik and Hitchcock should be proud of. If there’s one thing that Peterik would like listeners to take away from listening to Dream Higher, it’s hope.
“I tend to be very positive person,” he said. “You know, the cup is always half full. And I'd like (listeners) to take home hope, really. If you’re looking for love, you’ll find it. You know, there’s always hope around the corner. And if you have goals, you can achieve them. It sounds very naive, but I truly believe that, and that’s what I'd like them to take home.”
To find out more about Jim Peterik’s various projects, check out his website at www.jimpeterik.com.
Blind to Reason
Find Somebody to Love
Driving and Dreaming
Through It All
Everything to Live For
To catch my full interview with Jim Peterik check out the video below or stream/download Episode 111 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. Other topics we discussed include Jim’s first favorite record, some key moments from his autobiography (Through the Eye of the Tiger: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Life of Survivor’s Founding Member), his collaborations to write hits for 38 Special, my personal (unorthodox) favorite Survivor album, and more.
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