Setting the World Stage
Jim Peterik cuts a stark figure in the February twilight.
Clad in black jeans and a black jacket in the middle of a white room in his Burr Ridge home, he pounds out the chords to "Diamonds For Stones" on the same piano where he once wrote "Eye of the Tiger." If he could hook up with a Disney property, this big ballad could have the same kind of success as that past soundtrack smash.
Taken from his just-released new solo project, the self-produced Jim Peterik and World Stage, "Diamonds For Stones" is the kind of heart-wrenching "true love always carries on" anthem that usually has names like Elton John or Celine Dion attached to it. On World Stage, Peterik sings it with longtime friend and local artist Cathy Richardson. Today, he stumbles over a couple words, and grins sheepishly as he turns back to the interview at hand.
"Glad I went over that; Cathy and I are supposed to play that on Ď190 Northí [WLS-TV] this week."
Peterik has already been on the program a few weeks before to duet with Styxís Dennis DeYoung, also in promotion of World Stage. Peterik is wildly enthusiastic about his latest project, which has him sharing the microphone with longtime pals Don Barnes of .38 Special, Johnny Van Zandt of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Henry Paul of Blackhawk, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger and Tom Keifer of Cinderella, as well as with Richardson, DeYoung and many of his other favorite musicians from the Chicago rock scene. Itís a gathering of "family" for Peterik, who has co-written songs and/or shared the stage with many of these artists over his three decades in the music business. During and after his tenure with Survivor, Peterik made friends all over the music business thanks to his writing prowess. He holds songwriting credit with Sammy Hagar on "Heavy Metal" and on .38 Specialís hits "Rocking Into The Night," "Hold On Loosely," "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys," "Caught Up In You," and "Fantasy Girl," and his work has turned up on albums by Reba McIntyre, The Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Blackhawk, REO Speedwagon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brian Wilson, VanZant and many more.
World Stage though, is his first full album since cutting the last strings with Survivor in 1996, and the first to feature Peterik at the microphone since his first (and last) solo album, 1976ís Donít Fight The Feeling. Peterik was the voice and guitarist for Chicagoís turn-of-the-Ď70s hitmakers The Ides of March (which he revived for the concert trail in the Ď90s) and scored his first big hit with "Vehicle" back in 1970. But with Survivor he was better known as the keyboardist who co-wrote hits like "Eye of the Tiger," "High On You," "The Search Is Over," "Burning Heart," "I Canít Hold Back," and "Is This Love." Returning as a solo artist had the veteran rocker feeling back at ground zero Ė with a lot to prove. He even went and took some voice lessons to make sure he could rise to the occasion.
"I didnít get much of a chance to sing with Survivor, but I love to sing," he says. "My confidence had really slipped since I hadnít done it in so long. When I started singing for this record, I had a lot of work to do. It was like starting over. I like my voice a lot better than ever now. Iím not saying itís a great voice, but at its best, it can get a lyric across. I can hide behind the Ides as a vocalist, because itís a great band. But when it came to World Stage...I had to raise the bar a little. I took a few voice lessons which taught me how to breathe better and to sing without shredding your vocal chords."
The World Stage project really began about three years ago when Peterik was helping to write the .38 Special album Resolution.
"We were demoing ĎChanged By Loveí in Danny Chauncyís bedroom studio. It was really late and we were all tired, but there was something about the demo that was special. Don Barnes was there and he said Ďyou should sing it.í I said Ďno,í but they all pushed me, so I did. They eventually recut the song and it came out very different than the demo. When I got the idea to do World Stage, I called up Don and said, Ďremember the time we recorded that demo in Dannyís studio? Do you still have that?í So I got the original tapes from that session and asked Don to come and sing the duet. We really kept most of the original instruments from that 1997 demo session, even my vocal.
"That was the first song for World Stage. The second was "Canít Say It Loud Enough," a song Iíd written with Donnie and Johnny Van Zandt. I always heard it a little differently than the way they recorded it. So I went down to Nashville in 1998 and cut four tracks in one day ó "Canít Say It Loud Enough," "Fade to Blue," (which appeared on .38 Specialís Resolution disc) "Long Road Home" and "Diamonds For Stones.í That was a good day...it just came together."
Over the next two years, Peterik pulled together a number of other friends and new acquaintances to pen and record the World Stage project. And many of them challenged him to do his best work.
"Dennis DeYoung really pushed me to sing my best in the studio. He told me Ďyouíve got to be an actor to sell the song.í And when I heard Buddy Guy sing on ĎVehicleí ó I had to go back and redo my vocals."
Peterikís friends also pushed him to do his best writing, as well as performing.
"When I sent a couple songs for Cheap Trick to consider working with me on, Rick Nielsen called me up and asked Ďdo you got anything else?í"
Chastened, Peterik went back to the drawing board with a riff and a concept heíd been toying with but hadnít finished. The result was the writing of the albumís most hard rockiní number, "Zig Zag," about how life takes you down roads unconsidered ó never the easy path. The song was recorded with Nielsen and Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos along with Cinderella singer Tom Keifer, who Peterik is currently working with on a Cinderella comeback CD.
To promote his project, as Peterik was finishing the final touches, he staged a January World Stage concert in St. Charles with guest vocalists Cronin, Richardson, Barnes and more. Heíll repeat the show ó which mixes hits from the guest singers in between World Stage originals ó on May 13 at the Star Plaza in Merrillville, IN. Playing to enthusiastic crowds with the Ides and now World Stage has been a shot in the arm for Peterik who admits "we all have crises of confidence." But playing nostalgia festivals in 1-3,000 seaters is not the only goal of World Stage.
"Radio would be the icing on the cake," he admits, noting that itís difficult for artists of his "age" to get into rotation on todayís playlists. "Iím considered a heritage artist," he laughs. "But I would like to go on radio stations and tell the story of how this album came together. Is a song from this record going to be added to playlists out of the box? No. But if I said I didnít have high expectations, Iíd be lying. We all do. We still all have those memories of driving in the car and hearing your song come on for the first time. But I donít have any illusions, either. I think if this record is going to get anywhere itís going to be by word-of-mouth and radio stations that take a chance."
While the project involves various members of The Ides of March, longtime Peterik fans will notice a dearth of Survivor friends on the record. Peterik says that after 18 Top 100 hits with his former band, that chapter of his musical life is closed.
"I left Survivor in 1996," he says. "It was a hard move to make."
That band was, by then, without a recording contract and is currently more than a decade separated from its last hit. "It was time to try some different things," he says. "As far as animosity, there isnít any. I have only good things to say. I cherish those years. It was a special era, and when Frankie (Sullivan) and I got together, we wrote a special kind of song. I did some of my best work with Survivor ó and that work lives on. But Iím more excited and committed to World Stage than anything Iíve done in years."
But if his Survivor period is over, why re-record "Eye of the Tiger," which appears on World Stage with duet partner Jeff Boyle?
"Good question." Peterik smiles and considers. "Why do you climb a mountain?"he asks. "I saw it as a challenge. You canít improve on a classic, you can only try to reinvent it and let people hear it in a new light."
The sound of "Eye" isnít terribly different from its original arrangement (it has a more throbbing riff) but like everything on World Stage, its recording was a labor of love. The romantic and spiritual aspects of love dominate the record, from the "purifying" theme of "Changed By Love" (written after the death of his sister) to the "donít trade away our precious love" theme of "Diamonds to Stones" to the "on the road temptation of lust" tale of "Between Two Fires," sung with Cronin. Richardson also turns up on a spiritual "love from beyond the grave" song called "From Here to Hereafter," which had the vocalist in tears by the time the recording was complete.
"She came out of there a mess," he smiles. "The song really connected with her.
Peterik hopes that World Stage will allow him to once again connect with the hearts of many people, as he did with Survivor songs like "Is This Love" and "The Search Is Over."
"Either way," he says, "this record is already a success. I did what I set out to do."
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