JIM PETERIK IS ON A ROLL. The prolific songwriter, singer, guitarist, keyboard player and producer has released two powerhouse records in the last four months. Winds of Change, the melodic-rock album from his band World Stage, appeared in April. And Play On, the new record from his soul-rock band The Ides of March, hit shelves Aug. 16.
For fans of guitar-based rock ’n’ roll with pop hooks, Winds of Change is a hot record with cool musicians. Its 12 tracks assemble an all-star roster of Peterik’s past collaborators—including Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey of 38 Special; Mike Reno of Loverboy; Dennis DeYoung of Styx; Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon; Jason Scheff of Chicago; Kelly Keagy and Keri Kelli of Night Ranger; Kevin Chalfant of The Storm; Lars Säfsund and Robert Sall of Work of Art; Toby Hitchcock of Pride of Lions; Danny Vaughn of Tyketto; Gunnar Nelson and Matthew Nelson; and in a poignant posthumous release, the late Jimi Jamison of Survivor.
On Aug. 15, I sat down with Jim Peterik in his home studio—a guitar-filled, underground Xanadu that he calls “the ultimate man cave”—to talk about his new World Stage album.
GB: Winds of Change is a great record, full of catchy rock tunes that all sound like radio hits. Over what period of time were the songs written and recorded?
Jim Peterik: We recorded the entire album from June till September of 2018. I’d been collecting some of the songs for about a year before that. But I earmarked the people I wanted for this record. I was very flattered that they all said, “Yeah, man, if you’re doing it, I want to be in on it.” That’s a great feeling, when you have the confidence of your peers. And so many of them came into town to co-write the songs, and to do the vocals live.
I had gone to Atlanta to write with Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey of 38 Special for their next album. We wrote about eight songs, but there was one called “Winds of Change” that I begged them to let me use on my World Stage record. The song was inspired by the reaction of the students to the Parkland shootings [on Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.].
It was such a numbing tragedy. But seeing the way that the teenagers, 16, 17 years old, stood up and spoke about gun violence and the changes that need to happen, I said to myself: “These are the winds of change.” And if the politicians don’t get smart, they’re gonna lose the next election, because these kids are talking the truth, and they’re talking for all of us. It’s such a powerful song. It became the title track.
ROCKER ON A ROLL: Jim Peterik with one of his many Les Paul guitars.
(Photo: Kristie Schram)
Whenever I could, I got together with the other musicians to write and record the songs for the Winds of Change album in person. Mike Reno had come to Chicago to do a World Stage show, and I said, “Stay an extra five days. Let’s write a song and record it. Pretend you’re 24 again, on the road, and Survivor and Loverboy are on the same bill. You’re wearing your tight, red-leather jeans and your red bandana, you’re playing ‘Working for the Weekend,’ and the girls in the front row are going crazy. I want to capture that magic.”
I had a title, “Without a Bullet Being Fired,” which led to the line: “You took my heart without a bullet being fired.” And then we just started going, with that image of the audience going crazy in 1981. We tried to tap into that spirit.
GB: That song is one of my favorites on the record. It’s so full of energy. And Mike Aquino’s guitar playing really rocks. He has a smokin’ solo on “Home Fires,” too. Part of what makes the songs on this record so good is their structure of verses/chorus/bridge, so they’re not repetitive and the listener never gets bored. Winds of Change has driving rockers like the title track and “Without a Bullet Being Fired,” and big, majestic choruses like on “Proof of Heaven.” And then we get to some of these bridges—like on “Sometimes You Just Want More” and “Where Eagles Dare”—and they’re things of beauty.
Jim Peterik: “Where Eagles Dare” is one of my favorite songs on the record. I wrote that on my own. But sometimes you channel who you’re writing for. I love Work of Art—they’re a brilliant, melodic-rock band out of Sweden, with Lars Säfsund, the lead singer, and Robert Sall, the guitar player.
‘I can seldom get through “Love You All Over The World” without tearing up,’ Jim Peterik said.
For “The Hand I Was Dealt,” Danny Vaughn and I wrote via Skype, or FaceTime. I love that song, too. It was my title, and we started talking on the phone about what it might mean. And he said, “To me, it means you’re born with what you’ve got—you might be born poor, or you might be born rich. Here’s the hand you were dealt, now how are you going to play it?”
Kevin Chalfant, who was with the band The Storm in the early ’90s and had a great solo career after that, did the song “Sometimes You Just Want More” for the Winds of Change record. I love that song. It’s a sleeper.
GB: I love that one, too. Great chorus, great guitar solo, and I love the bridge on that song.
Jim Peterik: Well, Kevin loves it. And he put in these background parts that are very Beatle-esque. So there was all this magic stuff happening. But the idea for that song is really good: You’re always searching. What are you searching for?
For the song “Avalanche,” the Nelson twins came in, and they started playing this very Stones-y lick. I looked through my notebook and found the line: “You got me falling like an avalanche.” Bingo. And we were off to the races. We wrote it all that night. The next day we recorded it. That’s the way this record happened.
GB: You’re constantly writing lyrics in spiral-bound notebooks, so I’m surprised that you mostly wrote this album from scratch, rather than using what you already had. Do you find that writing that way gives the songs more spontaneity or energy, versus pulling out something you’ve had in the can for a long time?
Jim Peterik: I call those notebooks my “parts bin.” Many of the songs in those notebooks are ones that I started but never finished. There might have been just one lyrical phrase that was magical, but I couldn’t quite put the pieces together. Or I needed more maturity or more years of wisdom to be able to finish the lyric. When I write new material, I go to my parts bin sometimes, and find things that I couldn’t finish at the time. So to say a song is “brand new” is semi-true, but I’ll often use an inspiration from the past. It’s like collaborating with your younger self.
HOME FIRES: Peterik rocks a Minarik guitar. (Photo: Kristie Schram)
GB: Tell me about your collaboration with Kelly Keagy on “I Will What I Want.”
Jim Peterik: “I Will What I Want” is a rockin’ track, man. Kelly Keagy was here and we cut that live with him on drums. He’s a monster drummer. And then in Nashville he got members of Night Ranger on keyboards and lead guitar. But the whole basic track was cut here, with me and him just lookin’ at each other.
GB: The Winds of Change record concludes on an emotional note, with Jimi Jamison singing “Love You All Over The World.”
Jim Peterik: It’s one of my favorite tracks on Winds of Change, and I can seldom get through it without tearing up. I wrote the music and the melody on my own, but then I collaborated with a gal in Nashville named Lisa Carver, a wonderful lyric writer. She was the perfect person to write “Love You All Over The World.”
I had cut the song with Jimi Jamison in 2008. [Jamison, Survivor’s lead singer from 1984 to 1989, sang many of the band’s biggest hits, including “High On You,” “I Can’t Hold Back” and “The Search Is Over.” He died Sept. 1, 2014.]
Jimi wanted to do a country album. He didn’t have a record deal, but he came up to Chicago and we cut eight songs. I wanted to do it for Jimi. One of the songs was called “Love You All Over The World.” It was in quite a different form than how you hear it on the Winds of Change album. It had mandolin, Dobro, acoustic guitars, background vocals, and almost no drums at all. It was like new country. And it was wonderful.
But we never released it, because no sooner did we finish those eight songs than Serafino Perugino, head of Frontiers Records, called and said: “We need a melodic rock record from Jimi Jamison. Can you produce it?” And I said, “Man, I’ve been waiting for that invitation since I left Survivor.”
So we shelved the country record, and I produced Crossroads Moment, which became this huge album in 2008. It was just an iconic record for Jimi, and really brought him back to the forefront. I’m still very proud of that record.
But when it came time to find songs for World Stage, I kept going back to that one song “Love You All Over The World.” I played it for Larry Millas, my engineer and cohort in The Ides of March, and I said, “What if we redo this song in a rock fashion by taking Jimi’s voice and isolating it, and then creating the World Stage band around him?” And Larry said, “Man, I think that would be amazing.”
So I called in the troops—guitarist Mike Aquino; bassist Klem Hayes; and my son Colin Peterik, who played drums on the song. And when we isolated that vocal in my studio, and we heard Jimi’s magical voice filling the room, we all teared up. We barely could get a take together. It was that emotional.
But we created a rock track as if it was Survivor. We wanted to create that sound—and by and large, I think we did it. And the song became the ending track for the Winds of Change record. All of Jimi’s fans just love that song. I’m really proud that we rescued it. His family gave us their blessing. It was great.
GB: In the chorus for “Love You All Over The World,” you used the device of going from a note—in this case, F—to its octave, like on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Starman” by David Bowie. It gives the vocal an uplifting, soaring quality, especially considering the poignant nature of the song.
Jim Peterik: Well, thank you. And we’re working on a video for that song, where the lyrics will pass by and there will be images of Jimi all over the world. It’s going to be beautiful.
GB: With the changes to radio formats in the U.S., is Winds of Change getting airplay?
Jim Peterik: Yes, it is. We have a great publicity staff that Frontiers hired. And one gal, her specialty is classic-rock radio that still plays new songs by classic artists. The magazine Classic Rock has a top-50 chart of new songs by classic artists. “Proof of Heaven,” my collaboration with Dennis DeYoung that I’m very proud of, made it all the way to number 21. And that’s a tough chart, with lots of big artists on it. So it was a great accomplishment.
GB: Are you more appreciated in Europe than you are here in your own country?
Jim Peterik: Jim Peterik is, yeah. I’m more of a household name there than I am here.
GB: Do you have any idea how many songs you’ve written?
Jim Peterik: Probably about 15,000. About 5,000 are actually published and copyrighted.
GB: Wow. You are unbelievably prolific.
Jim Peterik: I love doing it, man.
WHERE ROCKERS DARE: Jim Peterik in his home studio, ‘the ultimate man cave.’
(Photo: Moresby Press)
Jim Peterik’s ‘World Stage’ Concept
GB: “World Stage” involves you working with your past and present collaborators, and “rockers helping rockers to write and perform to their highest abilities.” What was the genesis of this idea for you, and how does it work, exactly?
Jim Peterik: When I left Survivor in 1996, I came up with the concept of a stage for musicians all around the world, getting together, making music. Ninety-nine was the first World Stage show, at the Penny Road Pub in the Chicago suburbs. It was a very small scale, maybe 150 people. But I had a lot of great stars. Don Barnes came out for it, and Kelly Keagy. The response was overwhelming, so I started mounting huge shows for many thousands of people. Finally in 2000 I put out the first World Stage album, with Dennis DeYoung, Kevin Cronin, Kelly Keagy, Buddy Guy, Henry Paul—all the people I had worked with in the past.
GB: When it comes to “rockers helping rockers to write and perform to their highest abilities,” how do you do that, and why did you think it was necessary?
Jim Peterik: Many stars who were big in the ’70s, the ’80s or even the early ’90s forget what it was that they were doing back then. They lose their edge. They start coasting on, “Well, that was the past and I can never be as good again. Why even bother? I’m just going to recycle the hits.” So I’ve got to nurture these stars to remind them that they still have a gift they need to share through new music.
GB: By making their own records?
Jim Peterik: Right.
GB: But you also wanted them to be involved with your Winds of Change album.
Jim Peterik: Well, sure, but the bigger picture is reviving their careers in a modern sense.
GB: So, the “World Stage” concept is not limited to just the two World Stage albums. It also applies to the records of these musicians with their own projects.
Jim Peterik: Correct. And how I can be involved with that. Instead of trying to change them, I try to nurture their sound and add something to it. I try to be the catalyst and make what they already have just a bit more commercial.
‘I’ve got to nurture these stars to remind them that they still have a gift to share through new music.’
GB: Which is a practical way to think about it, because everybody has to make a living.
Jim Peterik: It’s more than that, though. “Commercial” can be a dirty word, but to me it’s really not about making a living—although that can be the end result. It’s about touching people, so they say, “I can relate to that.” And then they want to buy it, because they want to own that emotion. That’s commercial to me.
GB: With these guys who were big stars in the late ’70s or early ’80s, or as you said, even into the ’90s, do you find that they have lost their self-confidence in some cases?
Jim Peterik: Yeah, I really do. When they go onstage and they’re in their comfort zone, they’re bigger than life. But offstage, they don’t know if they can [write new material] again. That’s where I step in and go, “Let’s hear what you got.” And they’ll say, “Well, I’ve got this little part….” And then I go, “That’s great! C’mon, let’s write it.” They need that.
GB: They’re fortunate to have you as that influence in their careers.
Jim Peterik: Well, it cuts both ways. Like with 38 Special: They’ve been my emissary. No offense to them, but I don’t feel like going across the country like they do, playing 175 dates a year. I was never a road dog. They are. They love it. So they’re out there broadcasting the songs that I’ve co-written, stoking my catalog, stoking my reputation.
GB: Do you push other guitar players to play better?
Jim Peterik: Yeah. But I respect those guitar players, too. For instance, Danny Chauncey: I don’t tell him anything except “go.” If you hear his lead on the song “Winds of Change,” I didn’t touch it. People don’t lose their musical chops as much as they do their writing chops, I’ve found.
GB: They get comfortable just playing the old hits over and over. They think they don’t have it in them to write new material.
Jim Peterik: That’s right. And they see the audience’s response to the hits. But I tell them: “Sneak in a few new ones.” That’s what The Ides of March are doing. Our new album has 14 great new songs. [In concert] we were a little tentative working in the new material around all these hits that we play, but people give us an amazing response. It really buoys us up.
GB: Do some of the other artists that you work with think their fans don’t want to hear new material?
Jim Peterik: They think that all the time. And I keep telling them, “If it’s great, the audience will want to hear it.”