It’s the Singer, Not the Song

Earlier this week, I was saddened to learn that Jimi Jamison had passed away.

Jimi was the lead singer of Survivor, one of my favorite bands from the 80s. When most people hear this, their reaction is, I love “Eye of the Tiger”! I love “Eye of the Tiger,” too. It’s long been my personal anthem through rough times. But Jimi did not sing “Eye of the Tiger.” He joined the band after that song was released, when Dave Bickler, their original lead singer, developed vocal polyps and was forced to quit the band.Vital+Signs

Well take a message from the man
Who’s not afraid to come on strong
When there’s magic in the music
It’s the singer not the song

Still, the Jamison-led version of Survivor found success with the release of 1984’s Vital Signs, an album that includes the hit songs “I Can’t Hold Back,” “The Search is Over,” and “High On You.” I still have the original vinyl LP I purchased that year, and consider it one of my favorite albums ever.

Whenever I listen to Vital Signs, I am transported back to a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in the winter of 1984-85. I was fifteen, and living on Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. I don’t remember the month…probably December or January. All I know is, the sky was overcast, the wind was blowing across the prairie with a fierceness any resident of the northern plains is familiar with, and the temperature hovered around zero. I piled onto a school bus with a ragtag group of kids my age for a weekend field trip to a pristine lake in the Black Hills to try my hand at ice fishing. It sounded like a fun way to pass a few hours, but in reality, it sucked. I have never been so cold in my entire life. The wind blowing across the frozen, exposed lake made the temperature feel like -20°F. A heavy winter coat and a makeshift shelter on the ice did nothing to ward off the intense chill. I was completely miserable the whole time, and of course, we didn’t catch a damn thing. Either the fish were too smart to leave their hiding places, or frozen solid. I did learn one important lesson that day: ice fishing was not for me. I never did it again.

When it’s comin’ from the heart
All the people sing along
It’s the man behind the music
It’s the singer not the song

Thawing out back on the bus, I slipped on my headphones and pressed PLAY on my Walkman. The cassette I was listening to? Survivor’s Vital Signs. As the bus wound its way through the otherwise-lovely Black Hills, Jimi Jamison’s voice filled my head. This is the rare album where every song is good – so good, in fact, that decades later when Tara and I first started dating, I declared in a Facebook post how “I Can’t Hold Back” perfectly summed up my burgeoning feelings for her. But it’s not just the hit songs I like. “Broken Promises,” “Popular Girl,” “Everlasting Love” – all feature catchy melodies and monumental choruses. Those songs made me a Jimi Jamison fan for life.

RIP Jimi Jamison. (Courtesy of
RIP Jimi Jamison. (Courtesy of

Which is why his death hit me hard. Survivor had just performed a concert in Morgan Hill, CA Saturday night. Sunday, Jimi suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 63. By all accounts, he was a friendly and generous man who always went out of his way to please his fans, chatting with them after shows and happily signing autographs. Too many celebrities act like celebrities. Jimi, in comparison, never let the fame go to his head. He will be missed.

Survivor may never have achieved the huge mainstream success I feel they deserved, but in my eyes, they are bigger than life.

RIP, Jimi.

8 thoughts on “It’s the Singer, Not the Song

  1. Well, that song and video sure take me back! It’s amazing how music can transport you and that you can remember listening to it on that bus ride. I often associate certain bands and songs with people in my past. Hearing certain songs on the radio always brings back fond memories.


    1. I do that all the time, too. I recently read a blog post that talked about music that changed and shaped that person’s life. I have many songs and albums that have had the same effect on me; “Vital Signs” is just the tip of the rock ‘n roll iceberg.


  2. Beautifully expressed tribute, Mark!

    He had a GREAT voice, didn’t he?

    WOW…listening to that song again brought back a flood of wonderful memories for me during the ’80’s. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing during that time. And I can remember like it was yesterday because it was an exceptionally good time in my life.

    RIP, Jimi


    1. Bitterly cold ice fishing trip aside, that was a pretty good time in my life, too. I think that’s why I have such a fondness for the music and the moment. And I agree – his voice was exceptional. Prior to joining Survivor, Jimi was in a couple of heavy metal bands (Cobra and Target) and wasn’t sure he even wanted to sing pop-oriented songs, but ended up enjoying power ballads best. Another fun fact: he also wrote (and performed) the theme song to Baywatch, “I’m Always Here.”


  3. Wow. That music video was something. And I mean something awesome. Sorry to hear he passed away.
    You would’ve loved the concert my town put on last week. Some of the musicians here did a Woodstock tribute concert. It was awesome! Everyone really did a great job and it was cool to see. I shared a couple clips on my instagram page.


    1. It’s kind of eerie how the video ends with a freeze frame of his face and then a fade to black. Oddly appropriate for this post.

      I saw your pics on Instagram and even commented on one of them. That is so awesome – exactly my type of scene!


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