Wisdom and Insights From Rock Star Jim Peterik

I recently had the opportunity to go one on one with Jim Peterik as part of my Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global. Jim is the frontman of The Ides Of March, formerly of Survivor and of 38 Special Fame. He is a Grammy-winning rock star with eighteen top 10 hits to his credit, including Vehicle, Hold on Loosely and the iconic theme from Rocky lll, Eye Of The Tiger. Jim and The Ides Of March are releasing their 55th anniversary album, Play On, on August 16th. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Adam: What are the key elements to a successful song? Can you talk about the creative process, from how you find inspiration to how you develop the song to how you ultimately decide it is ready to go? 

Jim: Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to have your antenna up for it at all times. It’s there as I walk in the forest, in the eyes of my grandchildren, and in the news every day. After that seed of divine intervention, the real work begins, shaping it into a song that will touch people and perhaps let them see a little of themselves in it. “I’ve been there” moments are the most valuable asset a songwriter can offer the listener. To me, raising a goosebump of connection is my gold standard.

Adam: In your experience, beyond natural talent, what are the common qualities among those who have been able to enjoy success as performing artists? 

Jim: There are different qualities that define the success of bands. Some thrive on musical difference and the friction that seems to harden the steel. Others, like The Ides, thrive on good vibrations the lack of discord. There really is no right or wrong way. Great music defines whether your way is working.

Adam: Can you talk about your band dynamics, and in turn, what elements you believe are imperative to a great team?

Jim: The key is the bond of friendship and respect. In our band, every member has his specialty, and that talent is totally revered by the other members. Egos are checked at the door and petty squabbles that are inevitable are usually resolved in short order. Good music follows magically.

Adam: What advice do you have for those who perform on stage professionally - whether they are musicians, comedians, keynote speakers or members of the clergy? 

Jim: Be comfortable in your own skin. If you are at ease, your audience will be better able to relax and enjoy the experience. Confidence is a hard-won commodity and is usually learned over time, deepening as the years go by. Self-belief is central to putting across your message.

Adam: What are your thoughts on the state of music and rock and roll today? Who do you enjoy and admire? Which of your contemporaries did you enjoy and admire most? 

Jim: I like so many of the newer artists, Kacey Musgraves is knocking me out. I love Dawes, Hozier, Beck, Dermot Kennedy and Vampire Weekend come to mind. For me it’s still all about the song.

Adam: Tell us about the history of Vehicle and what it means to the band all these years later? 

Jim: I wrote Vehicle to try and win back my girlfriend. Soon after we broke up (I was 18 and she was 16) she started calling me for rides to modeling school in my 1964 Plymouth Valiant, but she cautioned me, “this isn’t a date!” After about the third week of limo service I started feeling resentful and said to myself, “All I am is her Vehicle!” Lightning struck and I wrote the horn riff and song of a lifetime. Soon after the song went number one across the country, guess who gave me a call- yup you guessed it. “You know maybe we should try dating again!” I let her hang on the phone for at least three seconds and I said, “Sounds good to me”. And, 47 years later, that girl Karen, is still my loving wife- and I am still her Vehicle.

Adam: How did Eye of the Tiger come together? At what point did you realize that it would be the phenomenon that is has become? 

Jim: It all started with a message left on my answering machine from Sylvester (“just call me Sly”) Stallone. I was sure someone was putting me on. But, just on the off chance, I called the 818 area code number back. He answered “YO”. He told me how much he liked my band Survivor and wanted us to write the title song for his soon to be released movie Rocky III. He said he needed an anthem that would “outlive you and me. Something with a pulse, something “for the kids”. I said “No problem, Sly!” The Beta Max Pro cassette of the rough cut came in the mail two days later. Frankie Sullivan, guitarist with Survivor, came over and we basically caught lightening in a bottle. It wasn’t really until I snuck into my local theater the week of the release and saw the crowd go nuts when our song hit that I really knew we had connected. But to be honest, if someone told me it would still be making a difference in peoples’ lives in the year 2019, I may not have believed it. The stories I hear from people this song has inspired to go the distance is my greatest gift.

Adam: Who are some of the best leaders you have been around and what have you learned from them? What do you believe makes a great leader and why?

Jim: Sammy Hagar, my dear friend and collaborator is a great band leader. He may be the boss, but he’s everyone in the band’s equal. They give him 100 percent because he doesn’t ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do. Same deli tray, same dressing room and I guarantee you, they would follow him up the mountain at all costs. I aspire to that ethic.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Jim: Neil Diamond gave it to me after the Ides opened for him at a local high school in 1968. We ended our set and I rushed over to Neil, “How did you like it?” He thought for a long three seconds and said, “Jim, next time only play your best material”. Sage wisdom indeed.

For the full interview, check out https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-top-one-on-one-with-jim-peterik/

Adam Mendler