Jim Peterik Hits the ‘World Stage’ With His New Album: Exclusive Interview
As we were getting set to talk with Jim Peterik, our editor at UCR had one specific question:
“Does he realize how purple his hair is?”
Peterik, of course, had a colorful answer.
“You know I come from a long line of purple. You know, my dad was purple, his dad was purple, all the way from across the pond in Czechoslovakia. We're all purple,” he laughs. “No, I'm just kidding. I love purple, man. Yes, I know how purple I am, and it's become kind of a trademark. I kind of went from being the fat girl in Survivor to the purple guy in my next life.”
So why did he choose the color purple, specifically?
“I wanted a hook. I was trying to reinvent myself at age, well, I'm 68,” he says. “When I was 58 years old I said, ‘Fuck this boring stuff.’ I wanted to do something where people will go, ‘Oh, that's the guy with the purple hair.’ You know? It's called branding. I'm not immune to creating a brand and I brought back my nickname from high school, Jimbo. I'm having a blast!”
Somehow, it seems very appropriate that the man who wrote so many hooks would eventually go looking for a different kind of hook. He’s still searching for new ways to do something that will stick in your memory.
That school of thought extends to his new World Stage album, Winds of Change, which finds Peterik gathering a dozen of his legendary peers for a fresh collection of new collaborations.
Guests include longtime friends like Loverboy’s Mike Reno and former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung, as well as newer connections, such as Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, Tyketto’s Danny Vaughn, Work of Art’s Lars Safsund, former Chicago vocalist Jason Scheff and many others. The album also includes a special previously unreleased song featuring Peterik’s longtime Survivor bandmate, the late Jimi Jamison.
Peterik has been doing annual World Stage concerts for the past 20 years and as he reflects in the album liner notes, the concept behind the original idea was pretty simple. He wanted to "unite with some of the great musicians and friends I've made throughout my years in rock & roll." It's no surprise that when he went digging into his phone contacts to round up talent for the new album, as always, he found plenty of support.
“I can't believe how blessed I am because everyone I called said yes. And in a lot of cases they actually came into town to write,” he recalls. ”Nowadays, of course, you can send files around the world. And you can make a pretty good album like that, but [it’s better if] you can get in the same room with an artist and write a song, basically, from scratch.”
He believes it’s important to remember the roots of where you came from.
“The thing about World Stage, which is, one of my specialties, really, is trying to remind these artists of who they are and what they were in their heyday,” he says. “Most of the stars remember, but there are a few stars that have to be reminded of what made them so special in the ‘70s, or ‘80s, or ‘90s, you know?”
The songs on Winds of Change echo those past glories with an eye trained on the future, offering for instance, a preview of the new album that Peterik has been hard at work on with the members of .38 Special in Atlanta.
The songwriter has a long history with the group, going back to the big stack of hits that he co-wrote with the band, including songs like “Caught Up in You,” “Hold On Loosely,” “Rocking Into the Night” and “Fantasy Girl.” Their connection stayed intact as he wrote with them for 1997’s Resolution and 2004’s Drivetrain. The forthcoming album continues that bond.
“It's a dream come true. The hardest thing with those guys is getting them off the road long enough to make a record,” he says. “They are such road dogs.”
But, as he adds, the results proved that it was worth pushing the issue. It’s “good old Southern pop rock. We’ve got about 10 songs done and they’re all pretty spectacular.”
He suggested to vocalist Don Barnes that they should take one of the tracks that they had been working on during the sessions, “Winds of Change,” and put it on the World Stage album. Barnes agreed to let him do it.
“I took it back home and I cut a track, around the track. We [had done] a demo track in Atlanta. And so I added drums to that and added some things, but the vocals you hear Don do, that was all done in Atlanta with me in the room with them, and Danny [Chauncey] doing the engineering,” he says. “That's a real special song. It's probably why I lead off with it because I think it's really fresh. It's got echoes of .38 but it's also got kind of a Byrds thing going on.”
Peterik, Barnes and Chauncey drew their inspiration for the song from the tragic events in Parkland, Fla.
“Don and I were talking about the Parkland shootings, the tragedy of that, and the young people that were all of 16 and 17,” he shares. “The survivors [were] talking with such finesse, and wisdom, about what needs to happen in this country to stop that from happening again. I couldn't talk like that when I was 16.”
“I said to Don, ‘Don, these are the winds of change man. This is the new country. This is the new America,'” he continues. “This is what Trump better be listening to because they're going to be the voters in about four years, you know?" And that inspired the whole song.”
REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin shows up on “Just For You,” a song which first found its way out into the world in 1999 as a bonus track on a compilation that the band released at that time. The version that appears on Winds of Change goes back to the origins of the song when Peterik and Cronin first wrote it.
“We always loved the demo and he [later] went back to LA and cut [a new version]. John Kalodner put him with Peter Asher and they did this very wonderful but grandiose version of ‘Just For You.’ And Kevin says, ‘What do you think, Jim?’ I said, ‘Well, I love it but the demo really gets to the core of you and what the song is all about.’ He said, ‘Man, Peterik, I totally agree.’ So finally we had our chance to rescue that demo, remaster it and remix it, so this is the original version that we recorded.”
“I Will What I Want” is a gritty rocker featuring Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy, whom Peterik calls an “animal” drummer. “I don't know of a more animalistic drummer. He's the kind of drummer that will never play the same part twice,” he explains. “You've got your studio guys who, no offense to them, but they're like, boom, it's the same each time. Kelly is like, you get what you're getting and thank God you pressed the record button, 'cause you're never going to get it again.”
Keagy enlisted two of his Night Ranger comrades, guitarist Keri Kelli and keyboardist Eric Levy to help flesh out the track. In particular, Peterik praises Levy’s B3 work on the song. “Nobody does B3 solos anymore,” he says. “There's this killing B3 track on that song that is almost like Deep Purple or something. I love it.”
“I said, ‘Let's write a rocker,” he continues. “Let's think of ‘You Can Still Rock in America.’ Let's think of all those great [Night Ranger] rock songs like ‘Don't Tell Me You Love Me’ and let's write something with that energy. We came up with ‘I Will What I Want.’ It explodes”
In the liner notes for Winds of Change, Peterik calls the album a “recommitment to the concept of rockers helping rockers to write and perform to their highest abilities, just for the love of sharing their God given talents.”
Listening to the new album, it’s easy to hear Peterik’s ongoing commitment to his lifelong craft and how much that creative fire still burns. No matter what color his hair might be this week, he’ll keep cranking out the songs and hunting for that next hook.