Ex-SURVIVOR Singer DAVID BICKLER Talks New Solo Record And Famous Rocky Hit “Eye Of The Tiger” - “SYLVESTER STALLONE Reached Out To Us To See If We Could Come Up With A Song”
April 17, 2019, a year ago
When you think about the greatest rock songs that served as themes for a movie, Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” has to be one of the all-time classics - it’s almost impossible to hear the tune, and not automatically think of Rocky III (the Rocky film in which Mr. Balboa takes on the rather unkind Clubber Lang, aka Mr. T). And the singer of that tune was a chap by the name of...David Bickler.
Serving as Survivor’s original singer from 1978-1983, he would subsequently come and go with the band (including stints from 1993-2000 and 2014, plus providing co-lead vocals from 2013-2014 and 2015-2016). And in 2019, the singer finally issued his first-ever solo album, Darklight, which he spoke to BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about right around its release.
BraveWords: What made you decide to issue a solo album now?
David Bickler: “It was kind of a long work in progress for me. In between being in Survivor, I worked with bands, and we did a bunch of recordings that never really got to the level of releasing records. I wanted to do it, and finally, my wife just said, ‘Would you please just finish this stuff?’ Because I had songs and all these demos. So, I decided to just get serious about it, and get to work on it. And being by myself and not having a band, I needed to find a drummer, because the heart of a rock band is the drummer. In the studio, the first thing you do is get a drum track, and then you can overdub anything on top of it. I found Ryan Hoyle, the former drummer of Collective Soul - a friend of mine told me about him out in LA. And that’s how it started - I went out there and started recording drum tracks with Ryan. So...here we are.”
BraveWords: I understand other great musicians play on it too - including original Blind Melon bassist Brad Smith. Heck...I even wrote a book book about them!
David Bickler: “Wow - that’s really great. He was really helpful to me. He spent a lot of time in the studio.”
BraveWords: “Hope” is the first single.
David Bickler: “The idea for ‘Hope’ started because I was living in New York City at the time 9/11 happened. I was in midtown - 53rd and 9th is where I lived. So, from miles away, I could see the smoke going up. It was just a terrible thing. And that’s sort of what the genesis of that song was. But it also has a broader meaning - it can be applicable to any time and place, really. Because I do believe that in spite of all things that there is hope.”
BraveWords: Let’s discuss some of the other tracks.
David Bickler: “‘Kaleidoscope,’ my wife writes down this crazy poetry all the time. She just hands me this stuff, that’s not really songs - they’re a long, poetic thing. But I saw lyrics in there, so that’s where ‘Kaleidoscope’ came from - they’re words that she gave me, and I knocked them into song form. I like that song a lot. I’m not sure what my favorite is - one day it’s one thing, and one day it’s another. But I thought ‘Hope’ is a good song to start the album - it sets the tone for the record. ‘Fear Of The Dark’ was about a dream. Do you know the movie Wanted? Danny Elfman wrote the score for it, and it’s a crazy science fiction thing - Angelina Jolie is in it. If you haven’t seen it, Google it - it’s really a cool film. Very unusual. Anyway, the music was really cool, so I feel asleep and I woke up and had a song in my head. I thought I must have nicked it from the movie, because I liked the score, and it’s a very ‘rock music’ score. But it turns out it wasn’t like anything on there. It’s kind of dark, it’s about a suicide bomber - a horrible place somebody could be to do such a thing. It fascinates me - what could drive people to do such a thing. ‘Sea of Green,’ that was when I was in my early twenties, and I drove out to Colorado, to the Rocky Mountains, and you could go up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and you get up to a certain elevation, and you go through a pass. It was in the springtime, and there was this beautiful valley, and it was just this fantastic image that stayed in my head. It’s always inspired me to be in a place like that - a beautiful place. It’s majestic, and you can see evidence of time and geological force, and all that stuff. It’s a little bit like church to me.”
BraveWords: How would you say the album compares to your work with Survivor?
David Bickler: “I would say it’s me. I’m a tenor, and it’s melodic rock. But the guy I worked with, who ended up producing and mixing the album, Steven DeAcutis, I went to his website, and I wanted my record to sound like that. He was really very creative about that, and the sound and feel of it had a lot to do with him.”
BraveWords: Were you friends with the singer who replaced you in Survivor, Jimi Jamison?
David Bickler: “I was really good friends with Jimi Jamison. I never met Jimi until, I don’t know...2009 or something like that. And obviously, he replaced me in Survivor. But we did a show in Chicago with Jim Peterik [Survivors’ founder and keyboardist], it was a soundstage production. A bunch of other artists were there. I was walking down the hallway, and somebody comes out of the room - it’s Jimi - and goes, ‘Hey, Bickler!’, and points at me. We got to know each other and we really became friends. We did a couple more of those shows, and then in 2013/2014, we went out together with Survivor. That was the only reason I really agreed to do that - was because it was going to be Jim, Jimi, and myself singing together. I couldn’t pass that up. And then, Jimi’s untimely passing at 63 [in 2014] was very sad.”
BraveWords: Were you present for the writing of “Eye Of The Tiger”?
David Bickler: “I wasn’t in the room when they were writing the song. They locked themselves away for a couple of days, and had some film from the movie - of the opening scene. So, we went to Chicago, to cut the demo. None of us had seen the movie before - they were showing it to us in the studio. We worked on the rhythm track, and then we cut it that day. It all came out in that one session.”
BraveWords: So the song was written specifically for the movie Rocky III?
David Bickler: “Yes, it was in fact written for the movie. Sylvester Stallone knew Tony Scotti - who owned Scotti Records, and were distributed by Epic - so he was actually asking him about how he wanted to have a rock song to go with that opening sequence. He played him a Premonition album, and Sylvester Stallone liked it. So, he reached out to us to see if we could come up with a song - specifically for that.”
BraveWords: I’ve heard that originally, the opening of Rocky III was going to be “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen.
David Bickler: “I believe that is true. I’ve heard conflicting things of it - he didn’t want to use it, or they wouldn’t allow to license it. I’m not sure about that. But it was what was in place.”
BraveWords: What do you recall about the filming of the video?
David Bickler: “I just remember MTV was young, and we went to San Francisco, with a video producer/director, and he had us walking about for all those shots. It’s kind of funny in a way. But it’s amazing - it’s a video that’s been watched like, a million times or something crazy. We were just walking around - it was very low production value.”
BraveWords: What made you decide to wear a beret?
David Bickler: “I don’t know. I kind of got onto that beret thing...and I couldn’t escape it. [Laughs] In fact, I have a couple of them still. One completely disintegrated, and the other one I still have, and occasionally, I will come out wear it when people ask me to.”
BraveWords: Was the reason why you left in 1983 due to voice problems, or being unhappy with what you were being paid?
David Bickler: “Uh...yes. [Laughs] No, what had happened was when I started having trouble with my voice, the way the band reacted to that wasn’t like, ‘We support you, and we’ll do anything to help you.’ It was, ‘What’s wrong with you? It’s your fault.’ And I was going to doctors and I had an operation to remove polyps from my vocal cords. It got to be kind of ugly. And the pressure of it...because I went to have the surgery, and two weeks later, I was back on the road. Which is not really a good idea, as a matter of fact. But, it was a big thing - we had to go out and promote that record, so, away I went. I was on voice rest for three months, not being able to talk at all - try it sometimes, it sucks. Especially with all those people backstage, people everywhere, and you can’t talk to anybody.”
BraveWords: So it would be that you could only sing at the show, and then you couldn’t speak at all during the day?
David Bickler: “That’s right.”
BraveWords: Will there be a tour in support of Darklight?
David Bickler: “Yeah. I’m out playing some shows. I did a short tour in the UK, and I played two songs from Darklight - ‘Hope’ and ‘Always You’ - in that set. And I hope to book some dates in the United States to support it.”
(Photo - Jeff Lange)