On Oct. 16 of 1964, a quartet of high school boys played their first rock concert in the basement of the VFW hall in their hometown of Berwyn. Two years later, The Ides of March released a single that rocketed up the charts and was played on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
By 1970, their song, “Vehicle,” was the No. 1 song in the country and The Ides of March were touring with artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and B.B. King, and opening for legendary comedian Bob Hope.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, those four original members will perform their 55th anniversary concert at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.
“If America was run like The Ides of March, we’d probably be a lot better off,” says Jim Peterik, the band’s frontman and prolific songwriter, who went on to fame with other bands, and co-wrote and performed the iconic anthem “Eye of the Tiger” with his band, Survivor.
Even when he was touring with other groups, Peterik and his original band mates, Larry Millas, Bob Bergland and Mike Borch, always made time to play together as The Ides of March. Since 1990, they’ve been performing several dozen times a year at festivals, in countless venues across the country and on cruise ships, where an older fan once called them “The March of Dimes,” Peterik says with a laugh.
“It’s like the best bowling league ever, except we play music together,” says bass player Bergland, a CPA who lives in St. Charles and says the band’s ability to stay together throughout college and now as senior citizens with a new album, “Play On,” is simple. “It’s really all about respect.”
“We all have our roles,” says drummer Borch, who lives in Chicago and launched a career manufacturing alarm systems and automotive electronics. Millas, a guitarist who lives in Berwyn, has owned several recording studios and still produces The Ides of March music. They all bring different skills to the stage, but Peterik says the reason they still get along is they met as children, grew up together, love the music and remain a family.
As a songwriter, guitarist and lead singer, Peterik, who lives in Burr Ridge and turns 69 next month, looks like a rock star with his long purple hair that matches his boots, and his leather vest and tight pants.
“He’s got a bigger clothes budget,” quips Borch, 71, who looks at home in his basic plaid shirt.
“That’s what I do,” says Peterik, who boasts multiple Gold and Platinum records, a Grammy, a People’s Choice award, an Oscar nomination and a house filled with guitars. “And I’m a total ham.”
Borch and Millas, also 71, literally have known each other their entire lives, as their moms gave birth in the same hospital. Peterik and Bergland, 70, were both in Cub Scout Pack 64 as kids.
Bergland bought his first guitar with S & H Green Stamps collected when his mom bought groceries. Peterik still has his original guitar.
“My dad knew a guy who had an accordion shop on Wabash, and they just added guitars,” remembers Peterik, who visited with his dad and looked at a couple of guitars, including a Gibson model he loved. “That Christmas, under the tree, there it was — the one that wasn’t as good.”
Peterik’s talent overcame such obstacles. The other three recruited the young high school freshmen from his original band.
“I was in a band called The Renegades,” Peterik says. “My band was terrible.”
Peterik, Millas, Borch and Bergland originally performed as The Shon-Dels, playing for school assemblies, sock hops and at local bars, with their parents’ blessings. When Tommy James and The Shondells had a 1966 hit called “Hanky Panky,” the band needed a new name.
They played briefly as Batman and the Boy Wonders. Bergland was reading “Julius Ceasar” in his Morton West High School English literature class, saw the line “Beware the ides of March,” and the band had its new name just in time for their first 45-rpm single, “Like it or Lump It,” with “No Two Ways About It” on the B-side.
That first gig in the VFW basement earned them $20 to split among themselves. Morton West had a dress code that required short hair for boys, so the four eventually played enough paying gigs to buy wigs to look more like rock stars.
After “Vehicle” became the No. 1 song in America in 1970, the band played much better venues for much more money, but the friendship and their mutual love of music didn’t change.
“It’s still that love of music that got us through all those years. We never took it for granted,” Peterik says. “Whether we are on stage with Janis Joplin or at the J&B Lounge on Cermak Road back in 1965, we just love doing what we do.”
All four band members still get royalty checks every six months for “Vehicle,” which has been used in countless TV shows and movies, was played by the St. Charles East High School band and currently is part of an Acura commercial. Peterik’s finances are far from rocky, and he could do more than survive on his royalties for “Eye of the Tiger.”
Peterik wrote “Vehicle” after his girlfriend, Karen, dumped him. Not giving up, he chauffeured her around in his 1964 Plymouth Valiant. “All I can say is, ‘I’m your vehicle, baby,'” he told her. “I wrote that song to get her back, and it worked.” They’ve been married 47 years. All the band members settled into long marriages.
“We’re pretty grounded and we got pretty lucky,” Peterik says, remembering how they avoided all the sex and drug temptations when their career took off, even if their stages were littered with joints left by other performers or thrown by appreciative audiences.
Playing good music together with lifelong friends and additional band members Scott May, Steve Eisen, Tim Bales and Henry Salgado never gets old, they say. Neither does playing “Vehicle” thousands and thousands of times.
“We start the song and everybody stands up,” Millas says. “How could you not love that?”
• • •
The Ides of March with Mark Farner, Bo Bice & Cathy Richardson
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan; (847) 263-6300 or geneseetheatre.com