We had hope. I always felt so long as you have hope, and there is a good reason to go on, you go on.
That is the philosophy of Frankie Sullivan, 27, of the Chicago-based quintet Survivor. No wonder he found a kindred spirit in Sylvester Stallone when the actor was searching for a theme song for his blockbuster movie Rocky III. The result is Survivor’s punchy Eye of the Tiger, which has topped the charts for five weeks. The group, like Rocky Balboa, has its own up-from-the-canvas saga. Formed in 1978, a year ago it was just another Midwestern ensemble. Then Stallone, in need of a theme, heard Poor Man’s Son, a 1981 Survivor tune, and contacted the group. Reports Sullivan: “He wanted something teenagers could relate to.” Adds keyboardist Jim Peterik, 31: “He wanted to show the pulse of the city, the pulse of training.”
Peterik and Sullivan got a videocassette rough cut of Rocky III and came up with a title and mood from a phrase repeated by Rocky’s trainer, Apollo Creed: “Gotta keep the eye of the tiger.” When Stallone heard what the pair had written, his only suggestion was to beef up the ending. “He wanted that finality of achieving,” says Peterik. “Our first version left it striving-for-but-never-achieving.”
Back in 1970, while studying psychology at the University of Illinois, Peterik was a member of the Ides of March, which had a No. 2 hit with his tune Vehicle. Soon after, Peterik tried a solo career (Tommy Shaw and
James Young, later of Styx, were among his sidemen) but ended up writing advertising jingles. In 1976 he encountered Sullivan playing in a Chicago bar. They linked up—and struggled. They did write the Top 40 hits Hold On Loosely and Rockin’ Into the Night for the Southern boogie band .38 Special. They also co-wrote that band’s current Caught Up in You, which Survivor has TKOed on the charts with Tiger.
All the Survivor musicians live in Chicago. Lead singer Dave Bickler, 29, is a local product. Drummer Marc Droubay, 30, and bassist Stephan Ellis, 30, are Californians. They haven’t seen much of the Windy City lately, thanks to a tour with REO Speedwagon. Nobody’s complaining. “We had our sights set firmly on what we wanted to do,” says Peterik. “You don’t get that big break overnight, but we knew we could be as good as the best.”