Survivor is an American rock band formed when its core members Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan first joined forces in 1977. The band achieved its greatest success in the 1980s with its album-oriented rock, which garnered many charting singles, especially in the United States. The band is best known for its 1982 hit “Eye of the Tiger”, the theme song for the motion picture Rocky III (US #1). Singles like “Burning Heart” (US #2), “The Search Is Over” (#4 US), “High on You” (#8 US) and the ephemeral “I Can’t Hold Back (US #13) continued to chart in the mid-1980s.
The band tweaked its musical direction in 1988 with the release of the slightly heavier Too Hot to Sleep, but due to changes in the music industry and shift of popularity onto bands like Motley Crue and Poison, the album barely reached the Billboard 200 in the United States. Because of this, the band split, but singer Jimi Jamison would later tour as “Survivor” in the mid-1990s to the rest of the band’s chagrin. Jamison re-united with the band’s other members in 2000 and the band released Reach in 2006, but Jamison left the band after its release and was replaced by Robin McAuley. The band has continued to tour with McAuley into 2008.
The Survivor members, Jim Peterik, Frankie Sullivan, Dave Bickler, Gary Smith and Dennis Keith Johnson , first came together in 1977 initially as The Jim Peterik Band. But Peterik liked the idea of a band identity better, so the Survivor name was adopted by 1978. Peterik was previously the lead vocalist/guitarist for the band Ides of March. After playing in small clubs for several years, Survivor released its first album, the self-titled Survivor, in 1979, but the album did not achieve the level of success that the band had hoped for, producing no Top 40 singles. In 1981 Johnson and Smith had schedule conflicts with their other projects, so they were replaced by Stephan Ellis and Marc Droubay in time for the band’s follow-up album, Premonition, charted higher, achieving popularity with American audiences and giving the band its first Top 40 single, “Poor Man’s Son”.
In 1982, Survivor’s breakthrough arrived when actor Sylvester Stallone asked it to provide the theme song for his movie Rocky III. Stallone had heard their single “Poor Man’s Son” and wanted a song similar to it. The band agreed to write him a song and soon released “Eye of the Tiger”. It had an enormous impact on the Billboard charts, peaking at Number One and remaining there for a total of six weeks. It also topped the British Billboard charts. It was in the Top 40 for a total of 18 weeks and was Australia’s Number One single for four weeks. The song won the band a Grammy Award, was voted “Best New Song” by the People’s Choice Awards, and also received an Academy Award nomination. The album of the same title, Eye of the Tiger, was released by the band later in 1982 and contained another Top 40 hit in the United States, “American Heartbeat” (#17 US). The album went on to chart at Number Two in the US.
In 1983, Survivor tried to duplicate the success of Eye of the Tiger by releasing Caught in the Game. The album turned out to be a commercial disappointment, stalling at #82 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. The album’s only single and title track, peaked at #77. The band suffered another setback before a tour in late 1983, when lead singer Dave Bickler suffered voice problems and had to be replaced by Jimi Jamison of the bands Target and Cobra.
In 1984, singer/comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic wrote and recorded a parody of “Eye of the Tiger” called “The Rye or the Kaiser” (Theme from Rocky XIII). It appears in his album “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D, as well as in Yankovic’s compilation, The Food Album.
After recording “The Moment of Truth” (#63 US), the theme song of the box office smash hit The Karate Kid (1984), the band recorded its first album with Jamison. Vital Signs gave the band a massive comeback, peaking at #16 on the Billboard Album Chart with the hits “I Can’t Hold Back” (#13 US), “High on You” (#8 US), and “The Search Is Over” (#4 US).
In 1985, the band had another hit with “Burning Heart,” a song from the Rocky IV soundtrack, when it peaked at Number Two on Billboard’s Hot 100.
When Seconds Count was released in 1986 and included the hit “Is This Love” (#9 US). On the Billboard album chart, the album peaked at #49 but still managed to sell over 500,000 copies and reached certified gold status.
During pre-production of their seventh album, Too Hot to Sleep (1988), Ellis and Droubay were replaced by studio session vets Mickey Curry (drums) and Bill Syniar (bass). Sullivan produced the effort with Frank Fillipetti. Though the album presented a harder-rocking Survivor, similar to the sound in the band’s early days, Too Hot to Sleep failed to make a dent on the charts (#187 US). There were, reportedly, a few live dates done by the band during this period that included Syniar on bass and Kyle Woodring on drums.
After the disappointing sales of Too Hot to Sleep, Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan decided to put the band on hiatus indefinitely. Jamison decided to continue touring and playing Survivor songs with local musicians. He subsequently recorded a solo album in 1991. Jamison continued to tour, now billing his band as ‘Survivor’ or ‘Jimi Jamison’s Survivor’. After some success overseas touring in 1992, Sullivan contacted Jamison’s management and asked to be included on the tour; he performed on eight to ten dates before leaving the group.
Soon after, in late 1992-early 1993, Survivor was tapped to do a new and more extensive hits package with two new songs. For a short time Peterik, Sullivan, and Jamison were reunited in the studio to record new material for the new package and forthcoming world tour. After broken contract talks, Jamison quit and went back on the road again as ‘Jimi Jamison’s Survivor’.
In Spring 1993, Peterik and Sullivan re-teamed with original lead singer Dave Bickler, released a new Greatest Hits album with two new songs (“Hungry Years” co-written by Bickler and “You Know Who You Are”), and embarked on a world tour with Bill Syniar and Kyle Woodring returning on bass and drums. Klem Hayes took over on bass in 1993 after Syniar departed. As Jamison was also touring under the Survivor banner, Peterik and Sullivan filed a lawsuit against their former colleague for using the name.
From 1993 to 1996, the trio (Peterik, Sullivan, and Bickler) recorded about 20 demos for a new album (the songs can be heard on the Fire Makes Steel bootleg) with session musicians. Unfortunately, they failed to secure a record deal due to the ongoing litigation and trademark issues. During this period, Hayes departed and the bass chair was filled by Randy Riley then Billy Ozello.
When the band tried to move in a blues direction, Peterik decided to leave the band, playing his last show with Survivor on July 3, 1996, at ‘The Eye in the Sky’ fest in Lisle, Illinois. Survivor replaced Peterik with composer/keyboardist Chris Grove. Peterik returned to recording and touring with the Ides of March and also formed the group Pride of Lions.
In the fall of 1996, bassist Stephan Ellis and drummer Marc Droubay rejoined Survivor. But Ellis quit again by early 1999 and was replaced by the returning Billy Ozello.
Survivor then went on to record more demos for a record deal, including “Rebel Girl ‘98” and the Frankie Sullivan solo album cut, “Lies”.
In 1999, Jimi Jamison released the album Empires under the name “Jimi Jamison’s Survivor” (later re-released under his own name). In late September 1999, Sullivan won ownership of the name “Survivor,” thereby ending the ongoing trademark battle.
In early 2000, Bickler was fired, severing the then Sullivan/Bickler Survivor and resulting in Sullivan’s reestablishment of a partnership with Jamison. The band then began recording material for a new album. The Peterik/Sullivan-penned track “Velocitized” was set for inclusion on the Soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone film Driven. However, it did not make the cut.
In 2000, the band threatened to sue CBS for using the name “Survivor” as the title of their hit reality show Survivor.
In 2003 Randy Riley returned to replace Billy Ozello.
In 2004, a Starbucks television commercial debuted for their Double Shot espresso beverage. It featured the band following a man named Glen, singing a modified version of “Eye of the Tiger” while he did his day-to-day tasks. This commercial has gained a number of fans and was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Meanwhile, original Survivor vocalist David Bickler began collaborating on the successful Bud Light Real Men of Genius radio ads in the late 1990s and 2000s. The “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light ads are widely popular and include TV spots aired on the 2006 Super Bowl, among others. A CD package containing many of the popular commercials was recorded with Bickler selling over 100,000 copies in its first month of release.
Survivor emerged into popular culture once again on the soundtrack album to the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2005). Burgundy states that he believes Survivor is “the best that ever was” and that “everyone else is an imitator” including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bach, and Beethoven. He then goes on to point out that Survivor won’t return his calls, which he understands because “They’re Survivor and I’m not.” He then introduces Who’s That Lady by The Isley Brothers with the line “It’s not Survivor, but it’ll have to do.”
Barry Dunaway took over bass chores for the band on the road in 2005. But by early 2006 Billy Ozello was back again.
On April 21, 2006, Survivor released a new album called Reach. Consisting of mostly new songs, it also includes some re-recordings from the “Fire Makes Steel” sessions.
Two of the album’s songs, “Reach” and “Fire Makes Steel”, had been considered for inclusion in the 2006 Rocky sequel Rocky Balboa but were not included, nor did they appear on the 2006 album Rocky Balboa: The Best of Rocky.
Six of the album’s twelve songs were written and recorded in the 1990s with Dave Bickler on lead vocals (except “Never the Less” and “Talkin’ 'Bout Love”).
On July 14, 2006, it was announced that Jamison was leaving the band and that Robin McAuley would replace him on lead vocals.
According to Sullivan, the band is said to be going back into the studio to record brand-new material for a new Survivor record (featuring McAuley on lead vocals) for a 2008 release.
The current lineup is a mix of old and new members - newcomer Robin McAuley (vocals), original member/songwriter Frankie Sullivan (guitar/vocals), longtime member Marc Droubay (drums), and veteran members Billy Ozello (bass) and Chris Grove (keyboards/guitar).
Grove, a classically trained pianist, has been with the group for more than ten years since he replaced Peterik in July 1996. He joined the band after release from prison in Chino, after serving time for killing a homeless man. Randy Riley and Barry Dunaway both briefly filled in on bass after Ozello’s departure. Dunaway departed shortly after recording Reach. Ozello, who recorded an album with the band Blind for a Day in 1998, recently returned to the lineup.