August 31, 2014 – Jimi Jamison (Survivor) was born in rural Durant, Mississippi, but moved with his mother to Memphis, Tennessee, the day after his birth.
In his teens, he taught himself to play the guitar and piano while honing his vocal abilities. By middle school (Messick Jr. High, Memphis), he was playing in a band called The Debuts, who recorded what became a local hit song (“If I Cry” (1968) on the Scudder label. He also was part of the band D-Beaver, who released one album (Combinations, 1971).
By late 1970, Jamison was fronting the local Memphis band, Target. Jamison and the group released a pair of albums, Target (1976) and Captured (1977), on A&M Records, plus a live concert at the High Cotton school (which marked the beginning of a contract with the record company) and opened concerts for Black Sabbath, Boston, and KISS.
In 1982, Jamison teamed up with Memphis-based Swiss expatriates, guitarist Mandy Meyer (ex-Krokus) and bassist Tommy Keiser, in their new band, eventually named Cobra. Rounded out by guitarist/keyboardist Jack Holder (ex-Black Oak Arkansas) and drummer Jeff Klaven and managed by Butch Stone, who had also handled Jamison’s old band Target as well as Krokus and Black Oak Arkansas, the band became a fixture on the local scene and managed to score a record deal with Epic Records. The group issued their lone album, the Tom Allom-produced First Strike, in 1983. It was also during this time that Jamison began providing background vocals for bands such as ZZ Top (with ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons even referring to Jimi as the “fourth member” of the group). Meanwhile, First Strike was only a moderate commercial success, and Cobra went their separate ways in 1984, with members going on to join Asia, Krokus, and, in Jamison’s case, he was invited to join Survivor and had been the only constant member of the band since.
Although he was initially not keen on fronting what he considered more of a “pop rock” band, which would contrast significantly with the heavier stylings of Cobra to which he had become accustomed, Jamison acquiesced to the band and its agents, ultimately joining and becoming Survivor’s new frontman, in the footsteps of Dave Bickler, who’s vocal problems seemed to cause the wane Survivor was experiencing after their number one hit “Eye of the Tiger”.
Although Jamison originally joined Survivor in 1983/84, the charismatic performer would leave and return many times over the next few decades. Often sueing each other, enforced by management groups, fact remains that when there was harmony between the bandmates, the music shined.
Jamison’s first Survivor release was “The Moment of Truth,” a song that didn’t fare well on the radio but became the theme for the hit movie ‘The Karate Kid.” His debut album with the band was much more successful, catapulting them back to superstardom; “Vital Signs” (1984) went platinum and spun off several hits, including the rock ballads “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You” and “The Search Is Over.”
“I’m stronger on ballads,” Jamison told The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “I like to sing them more than anything else but I didn’t get much of a chance before. I wanted to sing more ballads. Being in this group is just right for me.”
Survivor’s biggest hit, “Eye of the Tiger” — which sold over 2.5 million copies, topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became an athletic anthem as part of the soundtrack for “Rocky III” — was released two years before Jamison joined the band. Over the next 30 years, however, he would perform the soaring tune countless times in concert, much to the joy of fans. He also recorded the vocals for “Burning Heart,” a song that appeared on the “Rocky IV” soundtrack.
In 1988, Survivor released what would be their final studio album of the 1980s, Too Hot to Sleep. Jamison composed several songs on this album, including “Rhythm of the City” and the album’s title track. While Jamison and his bandmates believed it to be one of their best works to date (with Jamison citing it retrospectively as his favorite Survivor album), Too Hot to Sleep suffered from a lack of promotion from the record label, and while two singles (“Across the Miles” and “Didn’t Know It Was Love”) charted, it was not as successful as previous Survivor albums. The band then released a greatest hits album to close out the decade and went on hiatus until 1993.
In 1989, Jamison contributed his own version of “Ever Since the World Began,” a song Survivor had initially recorded prior to his tenure in the band, to the film Lock Up. That same year, he was asked to be the lead vocal replacement for Deep Purple, who had just fired Ian Gillan. Said Purple organist Jon Lord of Jamison in a 1993 interview, “He was an enormous Deep Purple fan and he would happily have taken over the job. But at the time he was afraid of his managers. They didn’t want him to leave [Survivor] and he didn’t dare to get into a fight with them.” In fact, Lord’s record label was preparing to release Jamison’s new album, When Love Comes Down (which eventually surfaced in 1991), and they wanted him to stay and promote the record instead of joining Deep Purple.
Jon Lord Deep Purple On replacing Ian Gillan in 1989 :
I myself was against Joe Lynn Turner from the beginning. He just wasn’t the singer I imagined. It’s funny because in fact none of us wanted him, but he was the only one that was left. The guy we actually wanted, if we *had* to work with a replacement for Gillan, was the singer of Survivor [Jimi Jamison], a very nice, very quiet and very pleasant guy. He was an enormous Deep Purple fan and he would happily have taken over the job. But at the time he was afraid of his managers. They were Italo-Americans; that says enough. Yes, they have connections with a certain “family”. They didn’t want him to leave the band and he didn’t dare to get into a fight with them. After a long period, during which we though he’d accept the job, he turned it down. We were very disappointed and had to do auditions.
After Survivor disbanded in 1989, Jamison decided to focus on a solo career. He released two albums, “When Love Comes Down” (1991) and “Empires” (1999), and cowrote and sang “I’m Always Here,” which became the theme for the the TV show “Baywatch.”
In 1992, Jamison began touring, billing his band as “Survivor” or “Jimi Jamison’s Survivor.” After Jamison’s success touring overseas that year, original Survivor guitarist and founding member Frankie 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 greatest 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. But after contract talks broke down, Jamison quit and went back on the road again as “Jimi Jamison’s Survivor.”
At this point, Sullivan, along with fellow Survivor cofounder Jim Peterik filed a lawsuit against their former colleague for using the name but ultimately failed (at the time) in their bid to stop Jamison from touring under the “Survivor” banner. However, in late September 1999, Sullivan, who had brought forth another lawsuit against Jamison, won ownership of the name “Survivor,” thereby ending the ongoing trademark battle.
Survivor reunited in 1993, with former lead singer Dave Bickler back on the mic. But Jamison reunited with the band in 2000, played and recorded for six years, left for five and then returned again in 2011.
Between 2006 and 2011 he worked with Whitney Wolanin for the theme, “It Takes Two” in 2005.
In 2008, Jamison teamed up with his former Survivor bandmate, Jim Peterik and released a solo album called Crossroads Moment in Europe. The album was produced by Peterik and released in the United States in 2009 with one more song, “Streets of Heaven”. Then, in 2010, an album titled Extra Moments surfaced, featuring songs from the Jamison/Peterik collaboration that didn’t appear on Jamison’s previous album and some songs sung by Peterik.
In 2009 and 2010, he performed to a sold out crowd at Firefest, the yearly Melodic Rock Festival in Nottingham, England. This performance included Survivor songs such as “It’s the Singer, Not the Song”, “Caught in the Game”, “Didn’t Know It was Love”, “I See You in Everyone”, “Is This Love”; the Cobra song “Blood on your Money”; as well as solo material such as “A Dream Too Far “, “Crossroads Moments”, and “I’m Always Here.” He ended with “Burning Heart” and “Eye of The Tiger”. He also performed at the Melodic Rock Fest in 2010 and 2013.
2010 saw the release of a pair of new singles, “Wouldn’t It Feel Like Christmas” and “House That Love Built,” the latter of which benefited the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis. He also performed at the annual concert and event When Rock Meets Classic in Germany, singing the songs “Burning Heart”, “I Can’t Hold Back”, and “The Search is Over”.
In October 2011, he released an album with Bobby Kimball (former lead singer of Toto) titled Kimball/Jamison. That same year, he joined the band One Man’s Trash with Fred Zahl, and they released the album History.
On November 15, 2011, Jamison announced his return to Survivor following a five-year absence from the group.
While still a member of Survivor, Jamison again joined with Peterik to release a country-flavored album titled Unreleased Music. That same year, he released a new solo album, Never Too Late, which was more in the melodic hard rock vein. He continued to tour with Survivor until his death. His last show was on August 30, 2014 in Morgan Hill, California at the CANcert benefit event during the ARTTEC Summer Concert Series.
Survivor’s 58 minute set consisted of “Feels Like Love”, “Broken Promises”, “Take You On A Saturday”, “High On You”, “Rockin’ into the Night”, “The Search is Over”, “Rebel Girl”, “I Can’t Hold Back”, “Burning Heart”, “Poor Man’s Son”, “It’s The Singer Not The Song” and ended with “Eye Of The Tiger”.
The next evening on August 31, 2014, Jimi died from a methamphetamine induced brain stroke at his house in Memphis. He was 63 and scheduled to go on tour again 12 days later.