Interview: Guitarist Jim Peterik Talks 'Tiger' and the New Pride of Lions Album, 'Immortal'

Guitarist Jim Peterik still has the "Eye of The Tiger." Whether it’s performing, songwriting, mentoring and developing new talent or hosting his annual World Stage events, the man who penned the No. 1 anthem from Rocky III continues to deliver the goods.

Peterik’s resume and collaboration reads like a veritable who’s who of the music industry. His bands have included The Ides Of March, Survivor, Pride of Lions and Lifeforce. He’s written and/or produced songs for artists such as 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, Jimi Jamison, Lisa McClowry, Mindi Abair and his son, Sijay, among others.

His musical journey knows no boundaries; he's ventured into melodic rock, jazz, pop, inspirational and country.

Peterik’s latest endeavor is a reunion with vocalist Toby Hitchcock for the new Pride of Lions album, Immortal. Containing the best elements of '80s melodic rock combined with Peterik’s signature songs and modern-day production, Immortal is an album sure to satisfy.

I spoke with Peterik and got his thoughts not only on Immortal, but also the iconic song he co-wrote 30 years ago. It's a song that continues to inspire generations of fans all over the world.

GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to do another Pride of Lions album?

I wanted one, and Frontiers Records are such great boosters of the whole '80s crowd. They actually wanted me to make a new record a few years ago, but I wasn’t ready at the time. I had just completed the Crossroads Moment album with Jimi Jamison, and my juices were just gone for that direction. I got into doing Lifeforce (my smooth jazz project) just as sort of a respite from melodic rock.

Frontiers' initial plan was to have me release a record and then they were going to do a Toby [Hitchcock] album. I asked them to do it the other way around and by that time I’d be ready. That’s what happened.

Where do you come up with ideas for your songs?

Everywhere. “Delusional” is a song from the new album that comes from my personal life. I see too many kids these days being over-medicated with Ritalin just to calm them down. It does that, but it also makes them walk around almost in a zombie-like state. I had that hook in my mind: “Let the boy dream. Let him be different. Let him be delusional.” Even Einstein probably would have been diagnosed ADD if he were alive today. Things like that get me going.

Toby Hitchcock’s voice is so pure on Immortal. At times he sounds like Jimi Jamison and at other times, Dennis DeYoung.

It’s a great voice. One of the best out there right now. I think the vocals on Immortal are his best yet. There's more depth and dimension to his voice.

A lot of people know you from primarily being the keyboardist in Survivor. But the truth is your main love is guitar.

Guitar is my passion. Survivor originally started as a twin-lead band. You hear a lot of double leads on the demos for the first album. I love keyboards, but my heart’s really in guitar. At last count, I think I own 178, and every one of them has a story. I use them all.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of “Eye of The Tiger." What’s the origin of that song?

I came home from shopping one day and heard a message on the answering machine from Sylvester Stallone. At first, I thought it was a joke, but I called the number and sure enough, Stallone answered. He told me that he loved the band and had heard “Poor Man’s Son” and “Take You On A Saturday” from our Premonition album and wanted that same kind of “street” sound for his new movie, Rocky III.

He sent us a video montage of the movie and Frankie (Sullivan) and I watched it together. There were scenes of Rocky getting a little “soft” (doing the Visa card commercials) and Mr. T “rising up” with his Mohawk. It was electric. The temp music they used to accompany the montage was “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen. I remember asking Stallone why he just didn’t use that song for the movie and he said it was because they couldn’t get the publishing rights for it. At that point I just said, “Thank you, Queen!” [laughs]

I had my Les Paul and a small amp that we had set up in the kitchen. I turned down the sound and just started playing the little intro [mimics the intro], just feeling that pulse. Then I added to it when I saw the punches being thrown, trying to score the chords in time with the punches. We couldn’t get any farther because we didn’t have the whole movie.

Fortunately, we were able to get a copy of the finished movie with the promise that we’d send it right back the next day. At that point, we had become totally enamored in the movie and when I heard that phrase: “Hey Rocky, you’re losing the eye of the tiger” I remember turning to Frankie and saying, “Well, there’s the name of our song!” Once we had the title, the challenge became telling the story.

Four days later we gathered the troops, went into the Chicago Recording Company and recorded it. Frankie and I both wanted that big John Bonham type of drum sound and I’ll never forget the feeling and the way our drummer, Marc Droubay, captured it. As soon as he hit that beat I said, “Oh shit, this is going to be HUGE!” And there was the sound of Survivor. It was just magic!

What’s your greatest memory of your days with Survivor?

Some of the more subtle moments are my favorites. When “Eye of the Tiger” was first starting to zoom up the charts, we were out on the road with REO Speedwagon. I remember it was late in the afternoon and I went into a restaurant to get something to eat. While I was there, somebody played "Eye Of The Tiger" on the jukebox. There was a little girl there with her family. She must have been around 4 years old or so. When the song started playing, she immediately got up from her family, started spinning around and said, “Mommy! Daddy! That’s MY song! They’re playing MY song! Out of the mouth of babes. You can’t fool them and you can’t hide from them. They either love it or they don’t, and they loved it.

Have you ever thought about writing a biography?

It’s almost done and should be out by April. It’s called Through The Eye of The Tiger: A Survivor’s Tale. I’ve been working on it for the better part of a year. I’m really excited about it.

Keep up with Peterik at his official website and the official Pride Of Lions website.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.