‘Play On’: Jim Peterik Discusses New Ides of March Album, Career Highlights
It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than fifty-five years since Jim Peterik and The Ides of March first started rehearsing in the basement of guitarist Larry Millas’ home in Berwyn, Illinois. The band, which today still features original members Peterik (vocals, guitar) and Millas, along with Bob Bergland (bass, saxophone, and vocals) and Mike Borch (drums and vocals), now boasts as the longest-existing Top-10 charting band. The Ides of March, which are as timeless as their music, also includes Scott May (Hammond organ and vocals), Steve Eisen (woodwinds and percussion), Tim Bales (trumpet and Flugelhorn), and Henry Salgado (trombone).
Although the band’s sound has matured and evolved over the last half-century one thing remains constant. The friendship and family of this band of brothers is equal only to the joy their music continues to bring.
In celebration of their huge milestone, The Ides of March recently released a new album, Play On. A compilation of fourteen brand new songs as well as a re-release of their monster hit, “Vehicle.” To make things even more exciting, The Ides are joined on the album by other notable music heavyweights, including David Pack (formerly of Ambrosia) on “Song About Mary,” saxophone queen Mindi Abair on “Friends Like You,” Mark Farner (a founding member of Grand Funk Railroad) on “Swagger,” guitar icon Joe Bonamassa on “The Cover Up,” and legendary band leader, producer Paul Shaffer on the track, “Rule of Three.”
I recently spoke with Jim Peterik about Play On and more in this exclusive new interview.
When you look back at these last 55 years of The Ides of March, what goes through your mind?
Jim Peterik: Sometimes it seems impossible that it’s been fifty-five years and other times it seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye. I still remember our very first show in 1964. It was at a VFW a block away from Larry’s house, where we used to rehearse. We were doing covers like “I’ve Had It” by The Bell Notes and “Money” by Barrett Strong. We got paid $20 and immediately drove over to an ice cream place and blew it all on hot fudge sundaes. Fast forward fifty-five years and I can still remember how that sundae tasted. It was the best in the world. When I look back I think about all the ups and downs, the jobs, trying to make it, and everything that came in between.
After that first gig did you have any idea of what was to come for the group?
JP: It wasn’t like a destiny moment because we were just trying to remember the chords to the songs [laughs]. At that time, we weren’t thinking about anything except whether the girls in the front row were digging us and whether the greasers in the audience liked it.
How would you describe the new album, Play On, and how it relates to some of The Ides’ previous work?
JP: The Ides went through so many musical phases and, for this album, what we tried to do is combine the best elements of everything we’ve ever done. Brass is really featured strongly but there’s also a few songs like “Too Far To Turn Around” and “Song About Mary” where we hearken back to the “L.A. Goodbye” sound.
Can you tell me more about how the band’s sound has evolved over the years?
JP: Before changing our name to The Ides of March, we started out as a British invasion-wannabe band called The Shondells. Back then, we wanted to be something that was like The Kinks meet the Beatles meet The Zombies. We were all kids at the time; playing on the road in Florida with the Allman Brothers (then called The Allman Joys). At that time, Duane and Gregg were already super musicians and we learned a lot from them. Their influence is what helped us get a little more bluesy and soulful. That’s when we decided to get some brass into the group. Then after we heard the first album by Blood Sweat & Tears we decided to add a whole section. Later, we became more Crosby, Stills and Nash influenced and even more countrified.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album, starting with the title track, “Play On.”
JP: That’s the mission statement of the band. In one song we capsulized all of the things that make The Ides special: harmony, brass, major chords and positive outlet. We’re still playing on. Passing the baton to keep going.
How about the track, “Friends Like You,” which features Mindi Abair on sax.
JP: Mindi did such an amazing job on that track. The message is really about the band. It’s the thread of friendship and family The Ides of March has had for the last fifty-five years.
“Swagger” with Mark Farner.
JP: For this record our producer, Fred Mollin, encouraged collaboration. Mark is such a great singer, songwriter and performer who has so much energy. The Ides toured with Grand Funk Railroad back when Vehicle was #1 and Mark always brought the audience to their feet. The title was originally inspired by the confidence Mark had whenever he walked on stage. We wrote the song in a day and a half and recorded it all live.
Earlier you mentioned musical phases. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the first Survivor album. What was the original musical direction you had in mind for the band?
JP: I really wanted it to be mainstream AOR rock. At the time, I was really influenced by bands like Journey, Cheap Trick and early Toto. When Frankie [Sullivan] came on board, he emphasized everything I wanted to do, times ten. It was always designed to be like that and we wrote songs and toured with bands like Kansas, Zebra, Triumph and REO Speedwagon. If I ever wrote a song that was out of the genre, it went to someone else.
The song, “Rockin’ Into the Night,” was a breakthrough hit for 38 Special but was originally intended to be on Survivor’s first album. Can you give me the backstory on it?
JP: Before we’d even cut the first album we played a lot of the songs in our club set, including “Somewhere in America,” and “Love Has Got Me.” Every time we played “Rockin’ Into The Night” the crowd went absolutely nuts. For some reason our producer, Ron Nevison, didn’t think the song was “us” and decided not to include it on that first album. At the time, 38 Special was looking for a breakthrough hit and, unbeknownst to us, the A&R person from the label passed the song along to their management. They loved it so much that they immediately cut it. After it became a hit, I got a call asking to write one on one with 38 Special. That started the whole process, and the first time we sat down at the table together we wrote “Hold On Loosely.”
Can you tell me the inspiration behind the song “Somewhere in America?”
JP: That’s a song I wrote on my own with the Jim Peterik Band. I wrote it based on an influence from Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick. We once played a small club with them. We opened the show and then they came on and blew the doors off. I was so blown away by Rick. That’s where the song came from. It was the first real rock song I wrote that started the direction for what would become Survivor.