Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Ides Of March - Part 3

Our Clark / Kent review of the brand new Ides Of March 50th Anniversary Box Set continues today in Forgotten Hits.    

DISC TWO:     

These tracks will likely be the ones most familiar to fans of the Warner Brothers label tracks from 1970 - 1972.  The song that made the Ides of March a band to always be remembered (by some as a "One Hit Wonder") starts this CD.  "Vehicle" (both the mono 45 and stereo LP versions can be found on this CD) continues to live on, some 45 years from it's inception.  Those energetic opening horn notes are immediately recognizable to anyone who listened to rock music in the 70's.  "Aire of Good Feeling," with its Blood, Sweat and Tears "Somethin' Comin' On" sound (both were LP cuts released in June, 1970)  was the band's choice as a follow-up single.  It was passed over for the best "Vehicle" clone anyone could ever imagine, "Superman."  Either track would have been great choices, IMO.    
-- Clark Besch    

Had "Aire Of Good Feeling" been released as the follow-up single, it may have given the band "legs" ... it was different enough (and in many ways far more sophisticated) than their runaway hit "Vehicle".  In my opinion simply releasing a "clone" hurt the band long term and didn't expose the depth and versatility of musicianship they held within their ranks.  I believe that a track like "Aire Of Good Feeling" would have placed the band right up there near the top amongst the innovative leaders of this new brass / rock sound ... putting them on an even keel with their contemporaries rather than leaving them a bit lower on the totem pole and being compared to artists like Chicago and Blood, Sweat And Tears instead.  With "Vehicle" behind them, The Ides Of March were now touring with major headliners all over the world, proving that they could hold their own with even the most elite artists out there at the time.  In hindsight I believe the decision to go with "Superman" (not only a sound-alike but a MUCH weaker track at that) did irrevocable damage to the group's chart longevity.  As a result, other really strong and solid material was overlooked.  A Top Ten Hit with "Aire Of Good Feeling" would have changed all of that ... and I believe this track was strong enough to achieve that, both on its own merits and especially on the heels of a record as big as "Vehicle".   (kk)

kk:  Unless you're a "local" (or bought the "Vehicle" album at the time), not many folks are going to be familiar with much of this material beyond the hit single "Vehicle" ... but there are some GREAT tracks on this box set.  I've always felt that tracks like "L.A. Goodbye" and "Aire Of Good Feeling" should have been GIANT hits ... certainly deserving of Top Ten Status.  (Of course I feel this way about "You Wouldn't Listen", too, which was every bit as good as ANYTHING else out on the radio at that time.)  Why do you think these were overlooked nationally?  Coming off of such a big-sized hit, I would have thought ANYTHING released by the band would have automatically been added to the radio playlists.  (In hindsight releasing such a similar sounding record like "Superman" was probably a HUGE mistake ... but it sounds like that was much more of the record label's decision than that of the band.  Weren't you guys pushing for "Aire Of Good Feeling" to be the follow-up single?) 

JP:  Yes - we felt "Aire of Good Feeling" was the best choice and we were devastated when Joe Smith at Warner Brothers said to go back to the drawing board and clone Vehicle. I actually have learned to love Superman and we play it at most shows - but it will never be Vehicle. 

Warner Brothers finally fixed one thing for the band by releasing their first album and unleashing the amazing singing and instrumental talents of a band too long suppressed.  Two long cover songs of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and the medley of CSN's "Wooden Ships and Jethro Tull's "Dharma for One" gave the instrumentalists in the band a wonderful opportunity to showcase what a tight cohesive band could sound like.  It also showcased how stereo could be made to be an integral part of a recording.  Also on this disc drummer Mike Borch would get his chance at songwriting by way of the great blues cut "Bald Medusa" (also featured on the set's 2014 DVD concert) and the previously unreleased psych solid rocker, "Reunion." 

Even in 1970, Jim Peterik was looking back with his songwriting.  There were the ballads of "Home" and "Lead Me Home Gently" as well as a mixing of brass, strings and piano on "Hymn For Her," which reminds me (again) of BS&T and their arrangement of "God Bless The Child."  Most importantly, of these "quieter" tunes, would be the band's second most memorable tune (#2 in Chicago in 1971) these days, "L.A. Goodbye."  The song's folksy CSN-like harmonies break into Jim Peterik's strong vocal and great acoustic guitar segments.  You'll find a surprising reprise of the song at the disc's end! 

The Ides' most famous "man behind the curtain" member (?) is probably Larry Millas.  Larry gets his chance to sing lead vocal again here (he also sings lead on Disc One's "I Put It Out Of My Head") and on the DVD portion of the set on "We Are Pillows."  "Freedom Suite" is an acoustic beauty ala the New York Rock Emsemble band of the time or even the Moodies, with reeds in tow. 

The rest of the CD is taken up with great, but unsuccessful singles, including the long version of "Tie-Dye Princess," which in some countries, was issued as "Hippie Princess."  There's also the "Vehicle" sounding 45s, "Melody" and "Giddy Up Ride Me."  Throw in the Pepsi commercial and you can know that "Vehicle" shows up a lot on this set even when the song title is NOT "Vehicle." 

The unmistakable "sound" of "Vehicle" may have been milked to death over the years ... but it's also the band's claim to fame.  The Ides even recorded a Christmas Carol based around this musical theme ... but it's such a strong track that it has held up very well for the past 45 years.  I still hear it at least once every single day on the radio.   Former American Idol runner-up Bo Bice (who, ironically, is now the lead singer of Blood, Sweat and Tears, favorites of The Ides back in the day) introduced the song to a whole new audience of fans a few years back.

kk:  After the initial hit of "You Wouldn't Listen" and, to a lesser degree, "Rollercoaster", The Ides seemed to disappear from the consciousness of their fans for a few years.  Sure, they were still playing clubs all over the midwest, but once the radio airplay seemed to stop, the old "out of sight, out of mind" adage seemed to creep in.  As such, it was quite a surprise to most of us when the band was suddenly "reborn" once the decision was made to add horns to the line-up.  What was the original inspiration for this move ... and how did you change direction as a songwriter for this brand new sound?  (Are you one of those songwriter / musicians who hears "the whole song" in your head, fully arranged, and then goes into the studio trying to recreate the music in your mind?)   

JP:  Yes - generally I do hear the whole song in my head before it's even rehearsed.  We added the full brass section to compete with some of our hero bands - primarily Blood Sweat & Tears. That first Al Kooper-led album changed our lives.  Then, when they changed to David Clayton Thomas, they hit us just as hard. When we arranged Vehicle we were kind of unconsciously channeling their first two albums.  

(Editor's Note:  Here's a clip from Clark Besch that you won't find on the box set ... recorded right off the radio in 1966 from Jim Stagg's WCFL afternoon program spotlighting the then new release from The Ides Of March, "Roller Coaster", their follow-up single to "You Wouldn't Listen".  - kk) 

The original demo of "Vehicle" (featured here in all its raw glory, courtesy of Clark Besch) didn't include the "call and response" feature present on the hit single.  (It also featured a much weaker, less satisfying guitar solo.)  We have talked before about how it was WLS Disc Jockey Art Roberts who suggested adding the "call and response" aspect to "Vehicle".  (Prior to receiving the track featured below from Clark, I asked Jim Peterik:) 

kk:  Does a version of the ORIGINAL "Vehicle" demo still exist?  That would have made for a nice extra on the box set.  Please run down your initial reaction to this suggestion ... was this a case of "Damn, that's EXACTLY what this song has been missing?  Or was it more a case of, "OK, we'll give it a shot"?  

JP:  It was a moment of "duh - of course!!"  Thank you, Art! We recently found a version without the call and response and the alternate lead part I did a week after we cut the master. I felt I could beat the solo I played live with the band. I couldn't!  That solo was guided by voices. I had to literally learn it note by note.  

kk:  Jim has told the story before about how, on the original studio recording of "Vehicle", there was an error made in the control both that partially erased a chunk of this track, causing him to have to redo his guitar solo.  Ironically, earlier on in a previous run-through of the track, his guitar solo was buried so far into the mix as to be indistinguishable ... so he had to do it over.  Then, when they went to record the track again, they ran into a similar obstacle. 

Here is how Jim describes it in his autobiography, "Through The Eye Of The Tiger" ... 

JP:  After we got the master vocal take, The Ides went out to get a snack at our favorite dog house, The Grand Deli.  When we returned to the studio, a look of despair was plastered on everyone's face. 
"Did they stretch the tape like they had all those years ago at MBS?"  "Even worse," said Bob Destocki.  "Rich, our second engineer, pressed the wrong button and erased thirteen seconds from the master take of 'Vehicle'."  Where once was sound was now the sound of silence. 
Suddenly our future ground to a halt.  We were stunned.  After stumbling about the studio for a while, I actually went outside to fill my lungs with some needed oxygen.  When I finally returned about two hours later, the mood had swung back. 
"Check this out!" shouted Rich.  With those words, the master take came roaring through the speakers - with the thirteen seconds seamlessly restored.  We shook our heads and shouted like a miracle had just taken place.  "I spliced that thirteen seconds from take one into the gap.  I didn't think it had a prayer of working but you guys were so consistent in your meter, it worked!" 
I can still hear the spliced section to this day.  It starts with the "Great God In Heaven" line in the second verse ... and goes all the way up to the very first note of my guitar solo ... we almost lost that solo twice!  

kk:  Once again The Ides Of March proved to be WELL ahead of their time ... 18 1/2 minutes of Nixon's Watergate tapes wouldn't be erased for another four years!!!   

DIJDAKNOW? - Prior to recording "Vehicle" themselves, Peterik offered the track to Blood, Sweat and Tears, thinking it was something that was right up their alley.  Ironically, the band never bothered to listen to Jim's cassette tape.  Great God In Heaven, history could have been written TOTALLY differently if they had!!!  (kk) 

DISC TWO:  This is the Ides Of March material I'm most familiar with it as I really grew up with the band during the "Vehicle" years.  In an effort to remain as unprejudicial as possible, let me just say that a good chunk of this music holds up very well today ... although, despite my personal familiarity with these tunes, this is NOT my favorite disc in the box set.  (For that you have to get to Disc Four, a collection of much more recent material recorded by the band over the past fifteen years.)  When I say The Ides sound today better than ever, THIS is what I mean ... although these most recent tracks have been denied hit status across the boards, the new material holds us as well as anything the band has ever recorded ... and, live in concert, even the older material sounds better because of the way the band has "aged" along the way. 

That being said, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for our Disc Four review ... today we're concentrating on Discs Two and Three ... and to that extent, you get both the mono single version and the stereo album version of "Vehicle" on this second disc.  (Sadly, the original demo version is missing but, thanks to Clark Besch, we are able to share a version of this with you here today ... see above.)  Jim tells us that they did discover a copy of the original tape ... unfortunately just not in time to include on the box set ... so it may still see the light of day at some later date via some other compilation cd. 

Disc Two certainly shows the maturity of the band ... clearly their confidence level had been boosted ... and as a result of their #2 Hit "Vehicle", they were soon touring behind some of the biggest names in rock and roll.  (The Ides Of March opened for Led Zeppelin in Winnipeg, Canada, and reportedly stole the show.  Guitarist Randy Bachman (of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame), who was at the show that night, has gone on record as telling the band, "Listen, I was there ... and you blew them away!")  The story of The Ides being invited back to the hotel room by Led Zep ... and the debauchery that later ensued ... makes for a VERY interesting (and hysterical) chapter in Jim Peterik's book "Through The Eye Of The Tiger", available here:  

Highlights from Disc Two include the previously mentioned "Aire Of Good Feeling", the "hit single" that just wasn't meant to be, as well as their other Chicagoland smash "L.A. Goodbye".  (#2 locally ... but only #72 nationally.)  It was the world's loss ... this is a GREAT track that still holds up incredibly well today ... and, when weighed against the sounds of '71, is every bit as deserving of recognition as anything put out by the similar sounding Crosby, Still, Nash and Young at the time.  

Other stand out tracks include "Bald Medusa", the beautiful ballad "Home" (although I will NEVER get past the line "if your sink needs a plumber" ... just NOT the imagery that Jim Peterik would come up with today ... in fact, I cannot help but wonder if he cringes every time he hears it, too!), the "Vehicle" follow-up single "Superman" (where "Great Caesar's Ghost" replaced "Great God In Heaven"), lengthy, heavy versions of "Symphony For Eleanor - Eleanor Rigby", a ten minute CTA / Vanilla Fudge-type treatment of the classic Beatles ballad and "Wooden Ships" by the aforementioned Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, drawn out here to a seven minute jam when combined with "Dharma For One" ... and "Lead Me Home Gently", which has kind of a Blood, Sweat and Tears feel to it, idols of the band at that time.  

Other failed Warner Brothers Ides singles are also included like "Giddy Up Ride Me" and "Melody" as are the popular album tracks "Tie Dye Princess" and "Hymn For Her".  You'll also find a "Vehicle" treatment Pepsi Commercial ... as well as an "L.A. Goodbye"-type rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner".  All-in-all, a VERY listenable disc, well worth the price of the box set once one considers that four additional discs are packaged right along with it!  (kk)  



Most of these songs are making their very first CD appearances despite being over 40 years old.  There are three tracks here presented from a 1972 live concert.  Each could easily have been groomed for a third Warner Brothers album, but the band was dropped from the label.  

Despite the bad news, you still will hear the blazing brass with "Gotta Share" using an arrangement not unlike those of Chicago.  "American Express" is a fast paced train ride of superb solos.  "Vagabond Lady" is a great mix of Booket T. sounding keyboard work and solos by the brass, guitars, organ and drums (Mike Borch belts a great one) that take Larry Millas' lead vocal on a journey Chase would have been proud of in the day. 

By 1973, the Ides had marched on to RCA Records, where they would step back some from the heavy brass sounds of the past.  None of the songs from their two LPs for the label have ever been on CD before now.  These songs present even more instruments into the song mixes. 

The first four tracks on this CD have NO horns at all, proving that the sound was a little different now.  Beginning with the first RCA single, "Mother America," it showcases a bit of the 70's disco era sound BEFORE there was a disco era sound!  Synthesizer, cowbells, keyboards take lead where horns had once been the choice.  "All Join Hands" had the gospel sound that was popular in the early 70's with a somewhat Three Dog Night sounding vocal.  "Colorado Morrow" has a lyric that could have made it the followup to "L.A. Goodbye," with a John Denver "rocky mountain" feel.  "Diamond Fire" would seem to be a beautiful ballad about Peterik's grandmother, with nice keyboard work. 

With "Flipside," Millas gives tribute to 45 "B" sides as well as tying into the conflict on the other side of the world.  "Children" has a Sugarloaf or even early Deep Purple keyboard sound at times, with a pretty Peterik vocal performance.  "Hot Water" was the 45 from the band's second LP for RCA.  This song, with a very bluesy fee, could have been recorded at Muscle Shoals by the sound of it, combining Lynyrd Skynyrd with Loggins & Messina's "Nobody But You" to make a great original sound. 

"Lay Back" is possibly one of the best unknown nuggets of this disc.  With Poco originator, Rusty Young, playing steel guitar on this track, his band mate and future Eagles member, Randy Meisner, must have been listening.  This song almost surely must have been the blue print for Meisner's signature Eagles track, "Take It To The Limit," released two years after this Ides song!  The Poco sound continues with "Quicksilver."  "Road Odie" has a styling like the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise" (also from 1973), but gives the band roadie his props, long before Jackson Browne did "The Load Out."  

With that, the group disbanded in 1973, but the end was to lead to new beginnings on Disc Four.  Meanwhile, disc three closes with four live tracks from the reformed Ides' 1999-2008 era.  You'll find lots of gospel in "Love's Got the Power" while their extended cover of the Spoonful's "Summer in the City" gives Bob Bergland's bass guitar a chance to shine, soloing in another great reading of a cover hit.  Peterik's voice is a natural for this one.  "Don't Fight the Feeling" allows a glimpse of his solo career at the end of the Ides' 70's band run.  Lastly comes the Ides' Chicago Cubs ode in which they try to pump life into the Club, circa 1999.
-- Clark Besch 

Disc Three:  There were no hit singles released during the RCA years ... so finally having all of this material available on CD for the very first time is a real prize.  (One that SHOULD have been a hit was "Hot Water", which sounded a lot like much of the other music out at the time.  Once again, I feel as though their record label steered them down the wrong path when it came to picking the "hit single" material.  Tracks like "All Join Hands" or "Colorado Morrow" sound FAR more contemporary circa 1972 / 1973 than the selected first single choice, "Mother America".  These others have a very early-'70's / Doobie Brothers / Loggins and Messina feel to them ... and other RCA cuts also benefited (as Clark mentions above) from the likes of Rusty Young of Poco helping them out in the studio.  Another personal favorite, "Flipside", a great Larry Millas track, honors both our Forgotten Hits oft-mentioned B-Side tracks as well as takes a bit of a political stance regarding what was going on in other parts of the world at the time.  One track in particular ... "Lay Back" ... sounds like a Joe Walsh / Eagles outtake, right down to the subtle vocal Joe uses on some of his slower material.  I couldn't help but wonder what it was like for Jim to go through all these tapes again after all this time and assemble the definitive Ides Of March Box Set, commemorating their entire career.    

The Ides took a bit of a risk here, too, by releasing a series of live tracks (six in all) that are NOT familiar to their core audience.  However, this just proves that the band was constantly evolving ... and not afraid to experiment by playing new material for their audiences in concert. 

The best of the bunch (for me anyway) has got to be "Love's Got The Power" which (minus the "Amazing Grace" interlude) could have been a hit single in its own right.  Peterik also has that perfect "dirty and gritty" voice, which lends itself well to the Lovin' Spoonful / John Sebastian classic "Summer In The City", misidentified on the box as "Summer In The Center" for some crazy, unknown reason!!!  "Don't Fight The Feeling" is another exceptionally strong track and, were it not for my life-long hatred of The Chicago Cubs, I might even recommend "Finally Next Year" if you caught me in the right mood at the right time!  (lol) 

kk:  After being dropped by Warner Brothers (despite several potential hit singles ignored by the label), The Ides moved on to RCA Records.  Did you view this as an opportunity to broaden the band's horizons at this point?  There had to be an underlying feeling that what The Ides were currently doing wasn't working ... at least from the label's perspective.  How did you approach this new opportunity with RCA? 

JP:  After two albums and a couple of singles (namely "One Woman Man", "Giddy Up Ride Me" and "Melody", Warner Brothers decided to give us our rocking papers.  
Rather than being devastated, our managers Bob Destocki and Frank Rand kept our spirits up by putting the word out that the Ides were free agents.  
The best offer came from David Kershenbaum of RCA Records.  He was already a noted producer - "My Maria" by B.W. Stevenson and many more to come.  
We were thrilled to have run of both magnificent RCA studios ... one on Wacker Drive in Chicago ... and one on the Sunset Strip.  It was in that studio, while cutting "Midnight Oil" with the great Brian Christian (Poco, Guess Who), that we were rubbing elbows and playing ping pong with our label mates ... including the guys in Poco (Rusty Young guested on Layback and Roadie Ode), David Bowie and some guy from Memphis named Elvis something or other.   
These were great times ... drinking Boones Farm Apple Wine and living the dream.  
I loved those sessions and to hear the restored masters we obtained for the box set was a revelation.  
This is a great chapter in Ides history. 

kk:  I have to believe that you have invested a fair amount of your own money to allow this box set to see the light of day.  What's the ultimate goal here?  Are you looking for new fans to discover some of these tracks?  Or is this more of a career retrospective gathering up all of the chapters into one nice, neat, concise package?  It had to be nice, even for you, to finally have everything buttoned up neatly and all accessible in one place. 

JP:  Its all those things - it secures our legacy in a neat, well designed box (Thanks Mark Alano!) and sounds fantastic.  We hope it also makes the new fan aware of what we have done though our 50 year career. So far so good! 

kk:  The Ides changed musical directions numerous times over the years.  Was this typically just a way to try and capture another niche style-wise ... or were you consciously exploring other types of music to see just where you might fit within those confines? 

JP:  I always say that we started so young that the public got to see our development.  When you are just 15, you are really just a blotter for all the music entering your synapses.  Funny thing is though, when I listen to the box set - even through all of the genre changes - it still sounds like the same band somehow. 

kk:  The box set features SO many tracks unavailable for many years, several appearing on CD for the very first time.  How did you go about narrowing down the song list and licensing the tracks?  Some of the RCA stuff has NEVER been available on CD before, has it?  And is there more stuff "in the can" that still hasn't seen the light of day?  

JP:  It was not an easy task - there is sooo much stuff.  The RCA stuff is being made available here for the very first time. The master tapes had to be baked in a special oven to make the ire on oxides adhere to the backing after being stored for so many years. Hearing the digital trans feed was a revelation ... the tracks sounded just like they did at playback when we cut them at RCA studios back in 1972 and 73.  

kk:  When The Ides Of March finally threw in the towel the first time, a farewell concert was held (naturally!) at Morton West High School, the same place where it all began so many years before.  I was there for that concert, of course, and it was nothing short of amazing.  After The Ides Of March officially disbanded, you pursued a solo career, sat in on occasion with Chase and even contemplated a new musical career under the name Chalmers Garseny.  (Don't ask!!!  Or, better yet, read the book!)  Even the band that ultimately became Survivor was originally launched with the intention of being The Jim Peterik Band.  (Hiring a new lead singer kind of killed THAT option!)  Meanwhile, several of the other guys got together with members of The Cryan' Shames and formed The Ides - Shames Union.  Was this something you approved of at the time or did you feel that each band's legacy should have been allowed to stand on its own? 

JP:  I was fine with it - in fact, I guested with them on "Vehicle" when they played B'Ginnings. 

The venture was short-lived ... but we covered it here in Forgotten Hits back in 2009!

We'll wrap things up tomorrow in Forgotten Hits. 

Meanwhile, you can order your own copy of this great Ides Of March 50th Anniversary Box Set here ...