The damper on Labor Day had nothing to do with the thunderstorms plaguing the region, but it was the sad news of 63-year-old Survivor vocalist Jimi Jamison suffering a fatal heart attack. One of rock music’s greatest voices had been silenced.
"Jimi’s sense of humor and down-home charm never failed to warm up any room. As soon as I started taking life (or myself) too seriously, Jimi would be the first one to bring me down to earth," recalled his good friend and former band mate Jim Peterik on his Facebook page. "He always had plenty of time for his fans and even more for his friends. And his fundraising for St. Jude and other causes is exemplary."
Jimi grew up and lived in Memphis, but Chicago and its people became very special to him after becoming frontman/vocalist of Survivor in 1984 with the album “Vital Signs,” helping revitalize the Windy City band’s chart and radio success on songs like “The Search is Over” (#4), “High On You” (#8), “I Can’t Hold Back” (#13), and “Is This Love” (#10).
Although Survivor’s original vocalist Dave Bickler sang the group’s biggest hit, “Eye of the Tiger” (#1), Jamison went on to enjoy a Sly Stallone anthem of his own with “Burning Heart” (#2) from the “Rocky IV” film soundtrack.
Prior to Survivor, Jamison fronted the groups Target and Cobra. The latter had enough success to get the young Southern singer invited to sing on sessions by ZZ Top, Joe Walsh and others.
Jamison also enjoyed solo success with a smattering of strong releases under his own name. Of those, I recommend seeking out his excellent 2009 CD, “Crossroads Moment,” produced by Survivor co-founder Jim Peterik. There was also an impressive 2011 pairing up of Jimi and former Toto lead singer Bobby Kimball on “Kimball/Jamison.” Of course, I would be remiss to not note that Jamison co-wrote and sang the hit single, “I’m Always Here,” the theme song of TV’s “Baywatch.”
My favorite personal memory of Jimi is when we were doing a late night live radio interview to promote “Crossroads Moment.” His voice was clear and strong over the phone, but had a curious echo. I said he sounded a bit like fellow Memphian Elvis Presley doing “Heartbreak Hotel” which made Jimi laugh. Like most everyone in Memphis, Jimi loved Presley and actually bumped into Elvis at a local store when he was just 10 years old. The echo, Jimi went on to explain, was because he was at a night club checking out a band and had ducked into the men’s room for our phone interview, to get away from the crowd noise.
Through his recordings the world discovered Jimi to be a gifted singer and songwriter. Through his actions the world discovered Jimi was also a compassionate human being who used his celebrity to support charities like The Make-A-Wish Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. His family has requested that fans and friends wishing to remember and memorialize Jimi do so with donations in his name to St. Jude’s.
Jamison had last performed with Survivor on Aug. 30 in California and there were plans to resume touring on Sept. 12. Along with his band, friends and fans, Jimi Jamison leaves behind three children, Amy L. Jamison, James Michael Jamison and Lacy E. Jamison, and one grandchild.
As I write this week’s ”Local Scene” column, the lyrics of my favorite Survivor song - “Burning Heart” - come to mind and seem to serve as an epitaph. Always passionate about making music, Jimi had “the burning heart and the unmistakable fire” he so often sang about - a fire that will continue to burn brightly through the bounty of recordings he left us. Those will keep his incredible voice and his memory alive long after the rest of us are gone.
Heaven’s choir just got better with Jimi’s amazing tenor added to the mix.
• Tickets now on sale! Renowned Chicago singer/songwriter/guitarist Bonnie Koloc will perform a 6:30 p.m. benefit concert for The Humane Society of Northwest Indiana on Oct. 11 at Memorial Opera House (104 Indiana St.) in Valparaiso. Special guest: Bad Cadillac. Tickets: $25. More: memorialoperahouse.com/events.
Koloc rose to fame during the Chicago Old Town folk music revival of the late 1960s along with John Prine and Steve Goodman at legendary haunts like Orphans, Holstein’s and The Earl Of Old Town. More: bonniekoloc.com.
• “Chicago Bob” Mandarino has hosted blues jam nights for over a decade at various region clubs and now roosts Wednesday nights at Back Court Bar & Grill (932 S. Court Street) in Crown Point. His 6-11 p.m. blues jam features a rotating cast of top Chicago blues talents as guest hosts. More: (219) 310-8398 or facebook.com/bob.mandarino.