The Ides of March and Led Zeppelin shared the stage on a couple of different bills, but a 1970 appearance at Winnepeg's Man-Pop Festival ended up being especially memorable. Jim Peterik's group was the “surprise” hit of the day, a member of one of the supporting bands later argued – while Led Zeppelin reportedly underwhelmed.

Peterik says playing with Led Zeppelin that day in Canada was “pretty overwhelming. We had the night of our life and they had the worst night of their life. They hated the PA, and they were out of tune,” he tells UCR. “They had a bad night and we had the best night in the world. The next day, the headline says the 'Ides of March Steal the Show' from Led Zeppelin. I still have that headline.”

Peterik and the Ides of March found themselves at a party after the show in the early morning hours with the members of Zeppelin. “We saw stuff that we’ve never seen before. I mean, I’m 19 years old, and the drugs, the booze, the girls – it was a lot of stuff that we’d never even imagined,” he says, laughing. “I went into the bathroom and [John] "Bonzo" [Bonham] is in the bathroom and there’s a young lady urinating on him. That was supposed to be fun, I guess! Anyway, it’s just crazy things [like that]. Pretty soon, we politely excused ourselves and said, ‘Robert [Plant], we’re going to go, but thank you!’ We went across the street to Dunkin’ Donuts and we got back in our comfort zone.”

That’s just one choice moment on the highlight reel for the Ides of March, who are still rolling 55 years after they first emerged in 1964. Peterik and three others from the original lineup, the “Core Four since 1964,” continue to push forward, celebrating their latest milestone with a brand-new studio project.

Appropriately titled Play On, the album features a flurry of special guests, including longtime David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer, former Grand Funk Railroad singer and songwriter Mark Farner (who is working on songs with Peterik for an album of his own), blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa and former American Idol standout Bo Bice, just to name a few.

The experience of assembling 2015's massive five-disc Last Band Standing collection, which pulled together five decades worth of recorded highlights, ultimately gave the band some valuable perspective as it began working on new material.

Watch the Ides of March Perform 'Swagger' With Mark Farner

Like many other artists of the era, the Ides of March were inspired by the Beatles, before Stax/Volt and James Brown records eventually pushed them in a different direction. The arrival of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears inspired the Ides of March to add horns into their mix. When it appeared that horns might have fallen out of fashion, they ventured in more of a Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired direction.

This evolution was in full view as Last Band Standing unfolded.

“It was valuable intel to make this record. Putting that box set together made us look at all of those different phases – realizing, yeah, we were a different band every four years, but there’s still something common about it,” says Peterik, who later formed Survivor. “It’s still the band. It’s still the personality of the band, as diverse as it might be, and that was good to realize.”

The stories of how many guests found their way into the studio for Play On can also be connected to history. For instance, Peterik originally bumped into Shaffer, who lends his talents to the hook-loaded “Rule of Three,” during a Letterman appearance. But Shaffer was familiar with his work long before that: The pair conversed at Farm Aid “a long time ago,” where Shaffer revealed that he once caught their show in his earliest days as a music fan.

“It turns out he was in the audience in Thunder Bay when the Ides of March played there promoting Vehicle in 1970,” Peterik says. “Of course, I didn’t know he was in the audience. But later, when I met him at Farm Aid, we were sitting in the green room with all of these superstars. He said, ‘You know, John Mellencamp is cool, but you’re cooler, because I was in the audience when you played ‘Vehicle’ in Thunder Bay.’ I said, ‘No shit!’ You never know who is going to be in the audience.”

Listen to the Ides of March's 'Rule of Three'

The Ides of March recorded Play On live in the studio as a full unit, which added extra energy to the sounds that were captured. The guests often were also able to come to town to work with the group, rather than send their parts remotely. Collaborating in real time, ideas often emerged quickly.

“Swagger,” featuring Farner, is one example; musically, it's also a nod to his days with Grand Funk Railroad.

“We wrote it and he sang it two days later – because the song was actually inspired by him,” Peterik says. “I had been having him [as a guest performer] on shows, where he’d come up and bring the house down. He had this swagger about him. He’s not really tall, but you never realize that he’s not a tall guy, because he gets up there and he’s 10 feet tall. He’s a force of nature. I really wrote the song about him, so it was poetry that he helped me finish it.”

The liner notes describe Play On as a “culmination of 55 years of rehearsals, seedy bars, teen clubs, recording sessions, road trips, greasy spoons, tours, pop festivals, major concerts.” Above all, the camaraderie of four grade-school pals from Berwyn, Ill., helped hold it all together. Listening to the record, it’s easy to hear those brotherly connections remain intact. When the Ides of March get in a room, there’s a special blend that still generates a magical feeling.

“It’s like the Rolling Stones, not that we’re in the same league of popularity – but something does happen,” Peterik says. "It’s like another member of the band that enters when we all play together. It’s not like we’re all the greatest players in the world. It’s not about that. It’s about a family playing together and a certain groove that we have.”

 

 

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