Survivor is an American rock band formed in the late 1970s in Chicago by core members Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik. The album-oriented rock group was one of the greatest rock band in the 80s music era, and is best known for 1982 hit “Eye of the Tiger,” which was used as a theme song for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky III movie.
Their sophisticated, melodic, classic rock style has scored them hit singles like “Burning Heart,” “The Search Is Over,” “High on You” and “Is This Love.”
Jim Peterik was a former lead vocalist and guitarist for The Ides of March, and wrote for the jazz-rock band Chase in the early 1970s. He formed the Jim Peterik Band in the mid-1970s, with Chase’s Gary Smith and Dennis Keith Johnson on drums and bass, respectively. When the group broke up in 1978, Peterik was later introduced to guitarist Frankie Sullivan by his tour manager. Within that hour of the first meeting, Survivor was born. He brought in Smith and Johnson, as well as singer Dave Bickler, who worked with him on commercial jingles sessions.
Survivor started landing gigs at schools and small clubs. While playing at one pizza joint in Chicago where they were a regular, they were discovered by Atlantic Records A&R executive John Kalodner and had them sign a contract.
As a band, Sullivan (guitar/vocals), Peterik (rhythm guitar/keyboard/vocals), Bickler (lead vocals/keyboard), Smith (drums) and Johnson (bass), released their eponymous first album Survivor under Atlantic subsidiary Scotti Bros. in 1980. Not one of their songs hit the Billboard’s Top 40 singles.
In 1981, Smith and Johnson were replaced by Marc Droubay (drums) and Stephan Ellis (bass) due to conflicts in schedules. That same year, Survivor’s second album Premonition, was launched and got to chart higher than their first album. The band got its first Top 40 single, “Poor Man’s Son.”
The “Poor Man’s Son” caught Sylvester Stallone’s attention. In 1982, when the actor-filmmaker was turned down by Queen to use “Another One Bites the Dust” as a theme song in his film Rocky III, he turned to Survivor and asked them for a song similar to the “Poor Man’s Son.” The band agreed and came up with the phenomenal “Eye of the Tiger.” The popularity of the single, of course, has led it to be used in several boxing matches.
The song gained tremendous MTV and radio airplay. It charted #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks, and stayed in the top 40 for 18 weeks. It earned the band a 1982 Grammy Award for “Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group With Vocal” at the 25th Annual Grammy Awards.
The band also released an album of the same title, Eye of the Tiger, which contained another chart-topping hit “American Heartbeat” (#17 US) in 1982.
The following year, the band released another album Caught In the Game, but turned out to be unsuccessful. Dave Bickler suffered from vocal problems and was eventually fired from the band. In 1984, he was replaced by Jimi Jamison, who was from disbanded groups Target and Cobra.
With Jamison as the band’s new front man, Survivor gained a kick-start with “The Search is Over” (#17 US), “High on You” (#8 US), and “I Can’t Hold Back” (#13 US) – all from its 1984 album Vital Signs. Jamison also sung the vocals on “The Moment of Truth” (#63 US), the theme song of the 1984 box office hit The Karate Kid, and “Burning Heart” (#2 US, #5 UK) from the 1986 Rocky IV soundtrack.
Survivor’s sixth album When Seconds Count was released in 1986 with the hit “Is This Love” (#9 US). The band’s music was shifting to pop, and Droubay wasn’t happy about it, so he let go of the group. Meanwhile, Ellis was forced to leave the band because of health issues. The two were eventually replaced by Mickey Curry (drums) and Bill Syniar (bass).
Late 1980s to 90s
In 1988, Survivor produced an album Too Hot to Sleep to reintroduce their brand as a rock band, but it failed to hit the top charts. After that, Peterik and Sullivan decided to put the band in an indefinite hiatus.
Jamison, however, decided to work solo using the band’s name, which led Peterik and Sullivan to file a lawsuit against him. He toured and launched solo albums under the name “Survivor” or “Jimi Jamison’s Survivor.”
Original lead singer Dave Bickler reunited with Peterik and Sullivan in 1993, and released a Greatest Hits album, with Syniar and Kye Woodring (drums). The band also recorded around 20 demos for a new alum from 1993 to 1996, but failed to win a record deal because of ongoing legal issues with Jamison. Also in 1996, Sullivan attempted to bring the band into blues, so Peterik decided to leave the band. Peterik was replaced by Chris Grove (keyboards/vocals).
The band went on tours during the 90s, and had different sets of members because of decisions to rejoin and to leave, except for Sullivan and Bickler.
Sullivan, after bringing another lawsuit against Jamison, won ownership of the name “Survivor” in 1999.
2000s to present
At the turn of the new millennium, Bickler was fired, and Sullivan re-established his partnership with Jamison. In 2006, the band released a new album entitled Reach. That same year, Jamison left, and was replaced by Robin McAuley who spent several years with Survivor.
By 2011, Jamison returned to the band – and together with Sullivan (guitar), Droubay (drums), Billy Ozello (bass) and Walter Tolentino (keyboards/guitar) – and announced that they were recording for a new album. In 2013, Bickler was back in the game, and Survivor had both him and Jamison for vocals. However, no new album has so far been released.
In 2014, Jamison passed away at the age of 63 due to hemorrhagic brain stroke.
In 2015, the band announced having its 22-year-old vocalist Cameron Barton as its new vocalist to sing alongside Bickler. But last year, Bickler was fired again, leaving Barton as the front man for the band.
With the band’s new lineup of musicians and vocals, Survivor is still going on tours and giving rock oldies music a fresh twist and energy.