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Jimi Jamison Tag

We continue our DbPB salute to Jim Peterik with the most un-Survivor-like of Survivor songs.  Gather ’round the campfire, kiddies, as Creepy Camp Counselor Rob tells the tale of “You Know Who You Are.”

Once upon a time, back in 1988, Survivor put out one of their best records—an album called Too Hot to Sleep.  It was a cornucopia—nay, a veritable harvest—of melodic hard rock goodness, at a time when melodic hard rock was, as you kids say, tha shizznitFrankie Sullivan, the band’s resident hotshot guitar player, grew his blond locks out to lengths only the bassist in Cinderella could match, donned his finest leather outerwear, plugged into a couple Marshall stacks, and showed the hairspray-and-spandex crowd he could fingertap and whammy bar and WEE-diddle-diddle with the best of ’em.  Half the songs on the record are among the best singer Jimi Jamison ever lent his voice to, and he grew out his hair and donned the leather for the occasion also.  Jim Peterik was there, too, co-writing everything on the record, but looking rather uncomfortable on the album sleeve; he’s the only one not wearing leather.

Sounds great, huh, kiddies?  A sure-fire hit—the guys who brought you “I Can’t Hold Back” and “Is This Love,” not to mention “Eye of the Freakin’ Tiger” turn up their amps and take on the Bon Jovi wannabes, by going undercover as, well, Bon Jovi wannabes.  But it didn’t work.  For during this period, bands like Motley Crue and Poison stalked the earth, raping arenas and pillaging groupies, and they brought along a ton of lesser bands like Pretty Boy Floyd, Britny Fox, and Bang Tango to mop up what they left behind.  Listeners ignored Too Hot to Sleep in droves.

The next few DbPB installments will feature the work of a man who, to these ears, has contributed as much as if not more than any other artist to the power ballad arts and the melodic rock genre in general”Jim Peterik.  Many know him as the voice and driving force (no pun intended.  Okay, maybe I intended it) behind “Vehicle,” the great 1970 single by Ides of March.  Many more know him as the bespectacled keyboard player and chief songwriter (along with Frankie Sullivan ) in Survivor.  Yeah, that guy.  “Eye of the Tiger.”  “I Can™t Hold Back.” “High on You.” “The Search Is Over.”

Ah, “The Search Is Over.”  How many makeout sessions/couple skates/lonely nights of the soul in ’84-’85 had that one as their soundtrack?  Survivor contributed many other fine, powerful ballads”“Man Against the World,” “Everlasting,” “Ever Since the World Began” (read about my personal relationship with that song here)”but none had all the weapons that made “Search” such a killer”the developing tension, the underlying power chords, the dramatic chorus and bridge, plea for redemption, the key change at the end.  The voice.

The voice is so important.  Peterik co-wrote a Survivor track called “It’s the Singer Not the Song””a sentiment I do not share”in part to focus attention on the band’s new singer at that time, Jimi Jamison.  While Survivor’s first vocalist, Dave Bickler, possessed a monster of an instrument”akin to a Paul Rodgers or a Steve Marriott”Jamison’s baritone was tailor-made for the commercial rock for which Survivor was best known in the mid-’80s.  He had strength to spare and could tackle a rough-hewn rock song, but was also versatile enough to lighten up when the music slowed down.  The Peterik/Sullivan ballads on Vital Signs, When Seconds Count, and Too Hot to Sleep were the perfect canvases on which Jamison could apply all the colors of his voice.

When last we left Michael Schenker, he was totally shredding through the last 40 seconds of UFO’s majestic power ballad, “Try Me.” Mikey hung around the band for another year or so before leaving in 1978 to rejoin brother Rudy in the Scorpions. That, too, lasted a year or so before he left again, this time to form his own band, the imaginatively named Michael Schenker Group, the moniker under which he would rape, pillage, and drink his way through arena tours here and abroad for a number of years. Three decent studio records and a very cool live album brought Schenker some middling chart success in the very early 80s, but nothing could touch the power and finesse of the peak UFO material.

By the end of the decade, Schenker’s desire for chart success could be measured in the length of the hair extensions he wore, apparently to keep up with new vocalist Robin McAuley, whose semi-artificial mane was prominently featured on the cover of the first album released under the name McAuley Schenker Group, 1987’s Perfect Timing. McAuley had been in a band called Grand Prix, as well as the evil Frank Farian-produced hydra known as the Far Corporation (who had the stones to cover “Stairway to Heaven”—poorly—as their first single). How he hooked up with Schenker is a closely kept secret (probably involving an international banking conspiracy and at least one case of Johnny Walker Black), but those who appreciate the power ballad arts remain thankful.

The band’s 1989 follow-up record, Save Yourself, yielded an actual quasi-hit single (#69 Hot 100, #5 Mainstream Rock) in “Anytime,” a plea for reconciliation, understanding, and maybe even graphic bondage, wrapped in a warm blanket of melodic rock production.