MUSIC SHOULD LIFT US UP. No one understands this better than The Ides of March, the soul-rock band whose buoyant new record Play On was released Aug. 16.
Led by singer, songwriter, guitar player and keyboardist Jim Peterik and his longtime bandmates Larry Millas (guitar and vocals), Bob Bergland (bass guitar, saxophone and vocals) and Mike Borch (drums, percussion and vocals), The Ides of March play a life-affirming blend of rock, soul, rhythm and blues, and folk music. Brass instruments, rather than guitars, usually provide the melodic hooks. Play On gives us 14 new songs.
“I love this record,” Peterik tells Moresby Press, seated comfortably in his home studio in the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge, surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous electric guitars, wearing a purple Beatle jacket that matches his long purple hair and diamond-shaped purple eyeglasses. “I’m really excited about it,” he says. A big, colorful painting of a Gibson electric guitar hangs on the wall behind him.
The album opens with the title track, urging us to “Play on, let the rhythm of it lift you up,” while setting the record’s tone of endurance, determination and optimism. The song begins with Peterik’s piano and voice before the drums, bass and horns kick in, building to a crescendo of confidence and hope. The second song, “This Miracle,” continues the theme as Peterik sings: “Take your shot, make your mark … What’cha gonna do with this miracle called life?”
On “Blue Storm Rising,” a Buddy Guy-style blues burner, Peterik sings a duet with Cathy Richardson of Jefferson Starship. The tone shifts for “Song About Mary,” an Everly Brothers-inspired ditty on which Peterik duets with Ambrosia singer David Pack. The tune “name-checks all the great songs that include the iconic female name Mary,” Peterik says, “and how they all seem to share a bittersweet mood, like ‘Along Comes Mary,’ ‘The Wind Cries Mary,’ ‘Mary in the Morning’ and ‘Mary’s Prayer,’ or ‘Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.’ They’re all just wonderful songs. There’s something about the name Mary that brings out a certain emotion.”
“Swagger,” the record’s first single and video, is a stomping, cowbell rocker that Peterik co-wrote with guest singer and guitarist Mark Farner, of Grand Funk Railroad fame. It depicts a tough, determined man who’s down but not out: “He might be starving but he ain’t letting on … ’Cause he’s got something more … He’s got swagger—that’s all it takes.”
The next song, the ebullient “Friends Like You,” could put the antidepressant industry out of business. Spirits soar as Peterik sings: “Through any weather, we fly together … I’ll come to your rescue, all for friends like you.” Mindi Abair, who has a band called the Boneshakers and whom Peterik calls a “sexy, phenomenal alto-sax player,” co-wrote and performs on the song, arousing smiles and the urge to dance as she belts out uplifting solos to a swinging beat. “Friends Like You” will be the record’s second single and video, Peterik says.
‘Take your shot, make your mark … What’cha gonna do with this miracle called life?’
Another highlight of Play On is “Cornerstone,” a Van Morrison-esque song that Ides of March keyboard player Scott May co-wrote with Peterik. Tom Doody of the Cryan’ Shames sings duet: “We’ll never have to face the night alone … This love will be our cornerstone.”
Paul Shaffer plays Wurlitzer electric piano on “Rule of Three,” a recording experience that Peterik calls “a big thrill.” With its horns and wah-wah electric guitar, the song recalls early work by the band Chicago as Peterik sings: “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.”
Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa guests on “The Cover-Up” (Is Worse than the Crime), a lament for a cheating lover in which Peterik snarls: “The devil’s in the details, and in the whites of your lies.”
Bo Bice from American Idol duets on a track he wrote with Peterik called “Love or Something Like It.” A brass-booming R&B number reminiscent of early Tina Turner, the song continues the record’s motif of undaunted perseverance by declaring: “Sometimes you get lucky, other times you don’t … You gotta let it roll.”
The boogie-woogie “First Day of Your Life” snaps to a walking bass line while extending the album’s theme of defiant resolve: “You got those naysayers saying your time is over,” but “This could be the first day of your life.” On the galloping “Too Far to Turn Around,” Peterik channels Simon & Garfunkel as the band sings, “I’m on the road to where I’ve never been, beyond the borders of imagining.”
The song “She,” which Ides drummer Mike Borch co-wrote with Peterik, evokes Steely Dan via saxophone and Fender Rhodes electric piano as Peterik sings: “She likes to see who she can make … She loves to see who she can break.” For the closing track “All the Way Home,” Peterik—a self-described homebody who’s been married to his wife Karen for 47 years—sings, “Run with me, come to me, follow the sun with me, all the way home.”
Fifty-five years after The Ides of March formed in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, Ill., in 1964—and 49 years after their hit single “Vehicle” roared over the radio when Peterik was just 19 years old—the band is reasserting itself with Play On. The new album “takes off from the ‘Vehicle’ era, which was our big moment: 1970, number-one on Billboard and Cash Box,” says Peterik. “That was our biggest hit.”
In the ’80s Peterik co-founded the power-pop band Survivor, co-writing a series of chart-toppers that included “High on You,” “I Can’t Hold Back,” “The Search Is Over,” and “Eye of the Tiger,” the Grammy-winning song from the movie Rocky III. He left Survivor in 1996 and later formed the rock bands Pride of Lions and World Stage (in April, the latter released an excellent album called Winds of Change).
A formidable talent with a tireless work ethic and a big heart, Peterik is an encouraging force for his peers. He has written and co-written thousands of songs—including the 38 Special hits “Rocking into the Night,” “Hold on Loosely,” “Caught Up In You,” “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” and “Fantasy Girl.” With Sammy Hagar he co-wrote the theme song for the 1981 movie Heavy Metal.
In 1990, The Ides of March reformed with all four original members, who remain in the band today. For the last 30 years the Ides have also included May on Hammond organ, keyboards and vocals. Rounding out the current lineup are Steve Eisen on saxophone and percussion, Tim Bales on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Henry Salgado on trombone.
Peterik’s musical tastes and projects range from melodic rock to country, but “with The Ides of March, I get the chance to flex those soul, funkier brass arrangements, but still with the big choruses, great vocals and harmonies,” he says.
Play On is also available as a double vinyl record. The first three sides comprise the 14 tracks on the album, while the fourth assembles reissues of original masters of the classic Ides songs “Vehicle,” “Superman,” “L.A. Goodbye,” “One Woman Man,” “Rollercoaster,” and “You Wouldn’t Listen.”
In a throwback to the era when vinyl was king, the record sleeves have “great photos and lyrics that you can actually read without using a loupe,” Peterik says. For The Ides of March, he says, playing on is “a labor of love.”