Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ides Of March - Part 2

When's the last time you saw a Clark / Kent byline on a story???   

But we've got a SUPER story to tell. 

Over the next few days we'll treat you to a review of the brand new Ides Of March 50th Anniversary Box Set, along with several tracks that did (and didn't!) make the cut ... some cool photos ... and an exclusive interview with Jim Peterik, the driving force behind the band.  

[I would first like to point out that Clark and I each wrote our box set reviews independenty of one another ... meaning I didn't see his until I edited it into this special week-long piece ... and he is seeing mine for the very first time today as it hits the website.  That being said, it's incredible how many time we agree on many of the same points ... and single out quite a few of the same tracks as being box set highlights.  The real icing on the cake came when Jim Peterik decided to join us to talk about the history of the band.  That pushed us over the top ... and makes this quite likely the most in-depth review you're ever going to see on this 50th Anniversary release.  For clarity purposes ... you'll find Clark Besch's Box Set Review in Blue ... My Comments, Review and Interview Questions in Black ... and Jim Peterik's answers and Comments in GreenWe will continue to use this format throughout this very special four-part piece.]  

So, if you're ready, why don'tcha hop inside my car ... and we'll get this vehicle on the road!  (kk)   


It seems that one of the best kept secrets of the year might be the new "Ides of March: Last Band Standing -- The Definitive 50 Year Anniversary Collection" five disc set released in April on a limited run basis.  It's possible that you know the Ides only for their everlasting hit, "Vehicle" from 45 years ago.  Maybe you are a fan of their 60's era and their first hit "You Wouldn't Listen" from 1966.  If so, you might have the band's great 60's Sundazed Music retrospective, "Ideology (1965 - 1968)."  Maybe you love the horn rock they produced throughout the early 1970's and have the great Rhino Handmade 2-disc set of their 1969 - 1973 tracks, "Friendly Strangers:  The Warner Brothers Recordings."  Maybe you think you don't need any more Ides music because you "have it all."  

I'm here to tell you that you are wrong!   

This new mega-set is what YOU need to buy so you can hear what this incredible band has produced over 50 years!  This is not just the 60's and 70's, but has recordings (several are previously unreleased) from EVERY decade of Ides music as well as their leader, Jim Peterik's, amazing career during this period.  

Let's start with the music.  Why not?  That's the key to this band: their amazing music and all of the musicianship and vocals that these four ALL ORIGINAL members have made in 50 years.  Jim Peterik, Larry Millas, Bob Bergland and Mike Borch all have writer credits on this set and ALL four have been the basis for the band from its inception in 1965 through today and into the future.  15 talented individuals have passed through the band in 50 years (all listed in the booklet in chronological order of joining the band), but these four have had the magic for the entire trip.  

The set contains four CDs and one great video DVD in an incredibly impressive box with three jewel cases to hold the discs.  There is a beautiful 18 page glossy booklet containing current band member mini auto-biographies and photos.  You will learn the secret of the "Ides Cure."  As to all the work put into the set, the list of credits is thorough and awesome.  Forgotten Hits (web site listed!) and yours truly are among them.  There are thank you's to about 30 area DJ's who helped the band over the years.  I loved that part.  FH's Michael Thom has assisted the Ides lately, as well. 
(Editor's Note:  For whatever it's worth, the Forgotten Hits website is incorrectly listed in the booklet as ... we won't get any new visitors through THIS link!!!  [I actually thought about buying that web address to use as a forwarding device to the correct website since it appears to be available ... but nobody ever got back to me.]  That's OK ... maybe they can fix it on the next printing of the booklet.  (Oh wait ... that's right ... this is a limited edition release!)  Curses ... foiled again!!! - kk) 

Between the overall box booklet and the individual CD booklets, you'll get both vintage photos through the years, as well as the current band photos.  Each CD / DVD booklet has separate notes on the details (release dates, lead singers, writer / producer credits, etc.) of each of the discs' tracks.  There are shots of many LP and CD covers, sheet music, performance photos and record labels. Baker and Taylor really did things right with this limited release.  Lots of care and money went into this compilation, as it deserves.  If this hasn't sold you on the set, let's get into the music you may or may not know in this set.  

Growing up in Berwyn, The Ides Of March were always a huge presence in my life.  Reading Jim Peterik's biography, "Through The Eye Of The Tiger", was like a walk down memory lane as we both frequented so many of the same haunts.  Even though we never knew each other (Jim was a few years ahead of me in school), I always felt a connection to the band, who regularly played at Morton West High School when I was there.  Flash forward 40-plus years and The Ides Of March are still playing ... and I'm writing about them in Forgotten Hits!  (We have probably given The Ides more coverage over the past 16 years than any other publication in the world.)  Yes, even after all this time, I'm still a fan first!  

I asked Jim about the the origins of The Ides Of March ...  At first they called themselves The Shon-Dels, reportedly because Jim Peterik thought it would be a really cool name for a band after hearing Troy Shondell's name when he hit #1 here in Chicago with "This Time".  Apparently he wasn't the only one inspired by the name ... and, in 1966 ... when Tommy James and the Shondells hit the charts in a very big way with their #1 Hit "Hanky Panky", a name change was immediately in order.  From there, we all know that they took their name for Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", which they just happened to be reading in High School.  (In hindsight, I guess this means they could have just as easily called themselves "Et Tu, Brute?")  Thank the Great God in Heaven that common sense prevailed!!! 

But The Ides' roots go deeper than this high school epiphany ...  

Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits (kk):  Did you guys all first meet in Grade School? Junior High?  High School?  Who approached who?  What previous musical background did the members have before coming up with the core line-up that has lasted now for over 50 years?  And who and what were some of the original inspirations that caused you all to pick up instruments in the first place?    

Jim Peterik (JP):  I was in Cub Scouts with Bob Bergland and then Boy Scouts. We would go to summer camp with the scouts out in White Pines State Park every summer ... and then later, band camp.  We did our first performance together in 7th grade when we played "Stewball (Was A Racehorse)" for an assembly in the Piper school gym.  Larry was this mysterious guy in grade school that wore pink tinted glasses in 3rd grade!  I thought there must have been something wrong with his eyes but he told me recently it was for style only - waaaay before his time. He played percussion in the District 100 Band along with Mike Borch, so we were all buddies before The Shondels (later the Ides of March) came to be.  Larry and Bob showed up at the Berwyn Fourth of July celebration in 1963 and watched my band, the Renegades, play in the stands for 500 people.  They thought little of the band but liked my guitar prowess (I knew barre chords!) and my singing.  Larry pestered me by coming to my house twice ... I finally buckled and carried my amp two miles to rehearse with them the first time.  

kk:  So if I'm doing the math right, little Jimmy Peterik was already playing guitar in a band in 7th grade ... that would make you around 13 years old in 1963 ... a year BEFORE anybody in America had a clue who The Beatles were.  Certainly The British Invasion had a HUGE impact on every kid who has ever picked up a guitar post-1964 ... but who were your early influences that made you want to sing and play PRE-Beatles?  (My first guess would be The Ventures ... because they, too, inspired SO many kids to learn a rock and roll instrument ... but who else?)  

JP:  Pre-Beatles it was a potpourri of influence.  Here's the short list:  The Beach Boys, The Ventures,
The Shadows' Hank Marvin, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Dionne Warwick (and the music of Bacharach - David), The Coasters ... and anything written by Goffin - King (such as Will You Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles). 
(Editor's Note:  Here's something I just learned the other day while working on another project.  It seems like EVERY kid who ever picked up a guitar or a drum kit in the early '60's was influenced by The Ventures ... we ALL wanted to play like these guys.  In fact, one of the biggest, most inspiring albums The Ventures ever made was called "Learn To Play Like The Ventures" ... like I said, they inspired SO many kids to pick up an instrument ... and yet incredibly The Ventures did not play a single note on that album!  The entire LP was recorded by The Wrecking Crew because The Ventures were too busy out on the road touring ... because that's how they made their money!  Every guitar lick you heard on that album was laid down by Tommy Tedesco, father of Denny Tedesco, who put together the incredible documentary FINALLY available for home video release, "The Wrecking Crew."  Can you believe it? - kk)  

kk:  Did you start writing your own tunes immediately?  Back in the early days of afternoon sock-hops, the typical play list consisted of as many of the hits of the day as a band could plow their way through, hoping to sound at least a LITTLE bit like the record here and there.   

JP:  Yes.  I had a song already in my cannon, "Hully Gully Bay", that I wrote in 7th grade.  The Shondels never performed that but very early on I wrote "Like It Or Lump It" and "No Two Ways About It" with the help of the band and we started sneaking those into our set between covers by the Ventures, the Beatles, the Hondells, the Beach Boys, the Strangeloves and Cannibal and the Headhunters.  We also had a couple of boss instrumentals like "Corruption" and our break song "Quits."  

kk:  On numerous occasions you have referred to The Ides of March as "The Berwyn Beatles" ... I imagine it had to feel that way sometimes.  What was that like, knowing that you had a record playing on the radio that ALL of your classmates were listening to on the big pop stations WLS and WCFL?   

JP:  It was a pretty awesome feeling but we truly never let it go to our heads - we carried it silently -yet deep down it made us feel really special. The head of the hall guards, Mr Magro (Little Al), kept us down to earth by insisting on weekly check ups to monitor the length of our hair. We would grease it back and tuck the back into our shirts - worked every time.


This disc begins with three very recent songs, with each focusing on both Jim Peterik's and the Ides' career.  The first two have that familiar blasting brass sound the band is known for today.  "Last Band Standing" is the set's namesake, but also a great retrospective of the career or the Ides.  "Who Am I" is a retrospective of Jim's life, IMO.  "Too Far to Turn Around" is, musically, a departure from the first two, and tells us that the future is still a bright one for the Ides.   

From there, we go back in time to the beginnings and the 1965 - 1969 era of the Ides, or the mostly pre-horn era of the band.  It is my fave CD of the set.  You get their very earliest two 45 sides (when they were known as the "Shon Dels Unlimited") showing clear influences from the Kinks to the Kingsmen.  The guitar solos get a bit buried in these early productions, but one thing ALL of the songs on this CD have, which is not always the case with most 60's garage bands, is that the lyrics are always heard clearly.  That is a true blessing of the Ides, especially when there are more lead singers than just Peterik on these tracks and the soaring harmonies are often amazing and quite unique when moving from song to song.  In fact, the lyrics always stand out on all of the discs here.   

Following the initial rare 45, comes the nugget, "You Wouldn't Listen," that launched their career into the elite of Chicago bands of the time.  This record was originally released as by Batt Mann and the Boy Wonders on a local Ginny Records label.  Thankfully, the band changed their name to the Ides of March and were sometimes promoted to be an English band.  "You Wouldn't Listen" was first released on the local label Harlequin Records and then, nationally on Parrot Records in early 1966.  Despite the label's misspelling of the band name on the record ("I'des of March") it quickly climbed Chicago's radio station charts and then the national charts, creating a top 40 hit for the band.  Dick Clark featured it on his American Bandstand weekly dance show (entire clip is on the DVD "Bonus" footage!).  
(Editor's Note:  For the record, it just missed The National Top 40 ... "You Wouldn't Listen" officially peaked at #41 on the national charts in Record World ... but was a #7 Hit here in Chicago on The WLS Silver Dollar Survey.  -kk)

Also included is the 45's "B" side, "I'll Keep Searching," which was good enough to be an "A" side or the follow-up single.  They opted for the raucous "Roller Coaster," which was a hit in both Chicago and New York, but failed to make inroads to the national charts.  The flipside and somewhat bubblegummy (this was two years before the word was popular for pop music), yet melodic, "Things Aren't Always What They Seem," is next in line.  Mike Borch's drumming could remind one of the Chicago area hit "Scratchy" by Travis Wamamack from a couple of years earlier. 

Besides these superb Parrot label 45s, there are original songs recorded at the time that were previously unreleased until the fabulous Sundazed "Ideology" CD and the bootleg album "We're Gonna Shine" came to be in the last two decades.  Ballads ("Don't Cry To Me"), rockers ("I'll Take You Back,"), harmony pop songs ("Please Don't Tell Me Lies") and occasional cover versions ("Train of Love," "You Tell Me Why," "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," "Sha La La  La Lee") infused with the sounds familiar in songs by the Byrds, the Turtles, the Beau Brummels, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Small Faces show through on the thirteen songs here that were recorded in 1966.  "I Put It Out Of My Head" reminds me of a Cryan' Shames / Association conglomerate that is priceless.  It makes one wonder "How could Parrot have NOT put out an LP of these tracks?"  There's garage tracks and pop tracks that really DO "shine" throughout.    

kk:  Over a period of a few years you recorded enough tracks for Parrot Records to have filled an album.  Why do you think no album was ever released?  Was there ever talk of putting together an entire LP?  And where were these tracks actually recorded?   

JP:  In those days (and now it seems) unless you developed enough momentum (say two major hits or more) the labels were reticent to release a full LP.  You Wouldn't Listen qualified as a hit - Roller Coaster came close but the others failed to catch fire.  So The Ides never recorded an album for Parrot. 
The earliest tracks were done at Sound Studios on Michigan Avenue with the great Stu Black. He did most of the cool early Chicago-based records - hits by the Cryan' Shames, the New Colony Six and more. (Our first sides before signing with Parrot were done at MBS ... Midwest Broadcasting Service ... on Wabash.   After that we moved to Chess at 2120 S Michigan Ave with the awesome Ron Malo (who recorded Muddy, the Stones and many more) and then to their new location a few blocks south.  

Finally, with 1967's "My Foolish Pride," we get the first taste of the layered horn sound to become the band trademark in a few short years.  For the time, it gave the band a totally different sound.  The 45's "B" Side, "Give Your Mind Wings" is probably the best song that Saturday's Children never recorded, but should have.  "Hole In My Soul" could have been a followup hit for the Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me."  It's also very American Breed-ish.  It even has touches of "My Mind Goes Traveling"  by the great Exceptions.  I have mentioned MANY Chicago acts of that time period, but they DO come to mind when I listen to these.  The Monkees could have struck more pay dirt, had they covered "Girls Don't Grow on Trees."  Outside of the hit "You Wouldn't Listen," the best song on the CD (IMO) is "I'm Gonna Say My Prayers."  How did this pop masterpiece remain unreleased, until Bob Irwin enlightened us with it on his Sundazed 45 release in 1999?  "You Need Love" compares favorably with all of those productions coming from sunny California in that era. 
(Editors Note:  Next to "You Wouldn't Listen", "My Foolish Pride" is my all-time favorite Parrot track by The Ides Of March ... yet I don't recall EVER hearing it on the radio and, as such, it died a quiet death, completely unnoticed.  As Clark mentioned, today in hindsight it acts as the perfect precursor to their horn period to come in 1970. In fact, from this point forward you'll find horns featured on nearly every Ides Of March track.  If only given a chance, this one absolutely should have been a hit. -kk)

kk:  The Ides hinted at a brassy sound with "My Foolish Pride" which is, next to "You Wouldn't Listen", my all-time favorite Ides Of March track from the Parrot era.  Tell us a little bit about how that track came to be ... and how that sound was developed.     

JP:  My Foolish Pride was very Rubber Soul inspired (reference Girl). I wrote it on this cheap little Performachord organ that Larry had sitting around and in fact that sound made it on to the record and contributed to its unique character. Steve Daniels had just joined the band on trumpet and I wrote a cool line for him to play.  We joked around by changing the title to My Polish Bride.  

kk:  It is, without question, one of my all-time favorite Ides Of March tracks.  This song should have been a monster hit.  Was this an attempt to take the band in another direction?

JP:  To an extent, since this was really the first use of horns on an Ides record.   

kk:  Honestly in hindsight it sounds a little Tijuana Brassy ... but it has SUCH a great feel to it ... there isn't another Ides record that I can think of that captures so many different moods in under three minutes!  

JP:  It's a really bittersweet ode.  Many moods as you say.  And that cheesy Performachord organ really makes it. Yes, Tijuana Brassy for sure.  The Lonely Berwyn Bull.

kk:  Speaking of horns, The Buckinghams had been having hits for years with horns added to their records ... yet, incredibly, they never toured with a horn section.  (Hard to believe ... I have NO idea how they captured their sound in a live show, circa 1967!)  Then The Mauds came along with brass ... and then, of course, CTA / Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears hit at right around the same time.  Shortly thereafter Chicago had Chase (who you sometimes performed with).  Was this just a feeling at the time that this was where music was heading?  Yet we also had the soft-rock, singer / songwriter '70's going on (and "LA Goodbye" fit perfectly into THAT mold).  Did you ever go through a "what do I want to be when I grow up?" musical phase during all of this?   

JP:  We were a reflection of our musical heroes at any given time.  We were always fans first!  

The tracks from 1968 see Parrot dropping the band and a "record label roulette" ensuing.  The Ides would add Chuck Soumar and John Larson on trumpets as well as a new added vocalist, Ray Herr.  For Kapp Records, "Nobody Loves Me" gave Ray and Jim a chance to harmonize. Along with the new brass sound, the song rivaled then current Cryan Shames' hit, "Up On The Roof."  The 45's flip would have the first psychedelic side for the Ides, complete with extensive use of studio effects.  The record failed, but the band was no doubt gaining recording experience necessary to eventually make it in the business.    

Later in the year, their new label, Warner Brothers Records, released a totally different sound from the band.  "One Woman Man" was extremely close to the brass / strings pop sound of the Association (another Warner Brothers act) with the Ides own unique vocal harmonies being a major difference.  The B side, "High on a Hillside,"  is the one I play the most these days, since the set came out.  Like the single's "A" side, it is so wonderfully harmony-ladened that you want the false ending to continue over and over. Disc one still plays almost daily in my car.  
-- Clark Besch  

DISC ONE gives you the full scope of the progression made by The Ides Of March over the past fifty years.  Before we all step into The Way-Back Machine, we are first treated to three brand new tracks, including the box set title track "Last Band Standing".  This is another Jim Peterik anthem, tracing the history of the band and many of their adventures.  As an added bonus, we even get the great, legendary Steve Cropper on guitar!  This is followed by "Who I Am" and "Too Far To Turn Around", another very catchy track I'm sure you'll all enjoy.  (If given the chance, I'm convinced "Too Far To Turn Around" could be a HUGE comeback hit for The Marshall Tucker Band!)

We then flash back to the very beginning ... with the first Ides Of March single (then released as The Shon Dels on their own Epitome label) "Like It Or Lump It" / "No Two Ways About It".  It's a pretty primitive recording and, quite honestly, doesn't even hint at what was to come.  

All the more amazing when one considers their next commercial release was the hit "You Wouldn't Listen", as good as ANY song on the charts in 1966.  (They certainly came a long, long way in a very brief period of time ... not only as songwriters but as musicians and singers as well.  This is a VERY sophisticated piece of material for some 15 and 16 year old kids still in High School!!!)

(Seriously??!?!?  Batt Mann and the Boy Wonders?!?!?  That's about as corny as Clark / Kent writing this article!!!) 

Don'tcha just love how Peterik's name is misspelled on both of these releases???  Ah, show-biz!  

Jim Peterik has told the story many times over the years of how they blended the soulful, gospel sounds of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions with the latest trends coming out of The British Invasion.  Listen to the opening riff on "You Wouldn't Listen" and you'll feel an immediate connection to "Tired Of Waiting For You" by The Kinks.  But it was the merger of BOTH of these distinct sounds that allowed them to come up with their very own, original sound, making "You Wouldn't Listen" a track that still holds up incredibly well today. (Scroll up to play this track again with these thoughts in mind ... and you'll see that the band PERFECTLY captured their inspiration and intent!) 

At various times, The Ides Of March sound like a British band, a soft-rock / Association type band, The Cryan' Shames (Jim has always admitted a fondness for the beautiful harmonies of Chicago's own Cryan' Shames), The American Breed, The Monkees, The Byrds and, on "Give Your Mind Wings", The Dave Clark Five.  The common denominator here is the fact that they always sounded contemporary, regardless of which direction they may have been headed at the time.  

Several other previously unreleased tracks follow before we hit their follow-up single "Roller Coaster", a minor hit (#92 nationally, #19 here in Chicago).  In hindsight I don't think this song holds up as well as two over-looked gems also released as singles ... the previously mentioned "My Foolish Pride" and "You Need Love".  (Larry Millas took the lead vocal on "You Need Love" ... and in addition to the Tijuana Brass sound of "My Foolish Pride", check out that opening note pattern ... listening to it again, I am now convinced that Jimi Hendrix took that very same patten and was inspired to create an all-time rock classic with "Purple Haze" a year later ... seriously ... just listen to this intro ... and you'll find that The Ides did it first!!!  Yep ... I think I nailed it ... and you'll have to convince me otherwise from this point forward! Again, scroll up and give it another listen ... and you'll see that I'm right!  Sorta!)  

Neither of these singles managed to chart ... which is a real shame as they were certainly deserving of some recognition.  Without another hit, The Ides were unceremoniously dropped by Parrot Records.  (Once they added horns to "My Foolish Pride", this sound seemed to continue through all of their subsequent releases.  Some great overlooked tracks, including a few others never officially released, reaped the benefit of this new sound.) 

The Ides Of March next landed at Kapp Records in 1968 where they recorded the hauntingly beautiful "Nobody Loves Me", another track that deserved a better fate than it got ... this time featuring shared vocals by Larry Millas and the recently departed Ray Herr.  This is a beautiful track and gives the band a completely different sound with the absence of the trademark Jim Peterik growl.

While I'm not quite as enamored as Clark is with some of these earlier tracks ... let's put it this way ... The Ides' versions of "You Tell Me Why" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" aren't likely to make anyone forget the hit single versions of these tracks recorded by The Beau Brummels and The Walker Brothers ... I will admit that several of these "vintage" tracks blew me away, including (besides those previously mentioned above) "Train Of Love", "I Pt It Out Of My Head", "Sha La La La Lee", "One Woman Man" and "High On A Hillside", a track that would best define their new sound once they were signed by Warner Brothers Records.   

That still makes better than HALF these tracks "keepers" in my book ... not bad for a bunch of high school kids just starting out on the bumpy road to rock-and-roll stardom.  How some of these tracks slipped through the cracks is beyond me ... but you now have the chance to rediscover them thanks to this great new box set.  And, because of the way the box is assembled, you get to track the complete evolution of the band as it happened.    

I had mixed emotions about how much music to feature in this special series ... too much might make the potential buyer think "What do I need to buy the box set for?  I've already heard the best stuff."  (Not true ... there are all kinds of great tracks to be found here that we didn't feature simply due to time and space limitations ... you won't go wrong, building some familiarity with the band!)  

Too little doesn't do justice to the versatility of the band who, for many, may be unfamiliar to those folks who grew up outside the Chicagoland area.  So I tried to go with just enough music to whet your appetites, give you a feel of all that The Ides were in to ... and leave you feeling, "I've got to add this box to my collection."  That (plus the fact that Clark Besch was able to supply us with some tracks that didn't make it on to the final cut of the box) will hopefully do the trick.  (kk)  

Order the box set here:   

Order Jim Peterik's biography here: