Sometimes you love a particular record by a band more than you love the band itself. For me, one of those records is ‘Vital Signs’ by Survivor. I heard the records hit singles on FM Radio: “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High on You,” and “The Search Is Over.” Every song made me feel good, made me want to sing along. ‘Vital Signs’ was among one of the first two dozen vinyl LPs I ever purchased with my own money. (I saved my allowance to buy LPs.)
‘Vital Signs’ was the first album Survivor recorded and released with Jimi Jamison as the singer. It was Jamison’s voice that drew me in to the album. And I loved the whole album, not just the singles.
It was a weird album for me to love. My taste in music – even in 1984, when ‘Vital Signs’ was released – was trending to dark and quirky. ‘Vital Signs’ is neither dark nor quirky. It’s straightforward. Its pop sensibility is straightforward. Its rock beats are straightforward. But I loved the record anyway. It made me intensely happy every time I listened to it.
My love for ‘Vital Signs’ was a pure adolescent music-listening experience. Pure, in that I never developed a fascination with the band’s image. I never had a crush on any of the band members. ‘Vital Signs’ was my happy record, my shot in the arm of romance, heart, and good feelings, whenever I might need it.
I did not follow Survivor past ‘Vital Signs’ nor did I buy any more Survivor albums. I heard a few more singles I liked: “Is This Love” and “Burning Heart,” the theme from “Rocky IV.” (Yes, I know Survivor also did the original “Rocky” theme, “Eye of the Tiger,” and that they had a different singer, Dave Bickler, at the time.)
Early this year, I was experiencing an intense craving for one of the songs from ‘Vital Signs.’ The song I wanted to hear was “It’s the Singer not the Song.” I’d been dying to hear real singers, singers who sing with passion. Singers who sing without Auto-Tune. The songs on ‘Vital Signs,’ I remembered, were sung like that. So I listened to “It’s the Singer Not the Song” numerous times. I got my fix. “That,” I said to myself, headphones on my ears, pointing my finger at the computer screen, “is some damn fine singing.”
Curious, I started looking up Survivor on the internet. Where were they now? And that’s when I found out that Jimi Jamison, the kick ass singer on ‘Vital Signs’ (and on every other Survivor song I had ever loved except for ‘Eye of the Tiger’) had died on August 31, 2014.
At some point, I’m going to need to develop a dark sense of humor about people dying. Why? I’m getting older. The older you are, the less remarkable death becomes. But still. When you discover that a person who has touched your soul is gone, it’s a loss. Jimi Jamison had touched my soul with his singing. Jamison was a perfect example of the passionate sort of singer I had been craving.
Down the internet rabbit hole I went. I found out things I had never bothered to know before. For instance, I did not know Jimi Jamison was born on August 23, 1951, in Mississippi, and that he was raised in Memphis, Tennessee. The first interview I found with Jamison, I was surprised and delighted to hear he spoke with a sweet, slow southern accent. I’d always thought he was from Chicago. (Probably because the video for “I Can’t Hold Back” was filmed in Chicago.)
Jamison lived in Memphis most of his life, surrounded by his family. As a young man, he was the singer for a Memphis based 70’s-style rock band, Target. After Target, Jamison fronted a metal band, Cobra. When Survivor lost their singer, Dave Bickler, to vocal polyps, the band began auditioning for a new singer. Jamison auditioned, and as the story goes, he showed up sporting a pair of cowboy boots. Though Jamison’s previous bands had been more bluesy and rock-heavy than Survivor’s straightforward brand of pop rock, he eventually joined Survivor.
In the rabbit hole, I found a great number of people who gushed about what a sweet, down-to-earth human being Jimi Jamison was. In the rabbit hole, I discovered I loved pretty much any song with Jimi Jamison singing on it. Absence of Auto-Tune: check. Fantastic singing technique: check. Belting from the gut and the heart: check. That certain extra something that escapes definition: check.
I never saw Jamison play live with Survivor, or with any of his other bands, which is a shame, because I know Jimi Jamison is the sort of person I would have loved to see perform live.
At Firefest in Nottingham, England on October 31, 2010, Jimi Jamison played a full set with a professional backing band (not Survivor). He was fifty-nine years old at the time. It’s worth the effort to track down the video, if you were even a passing fan of Jamison’s, or of Survivor. (Or a fan of Target, or of Cobra.) At Halloween Firefest 2010, Jamison owned the stage and the crowd. And when he stopped to speak to the audience, you could hear Memphis in his voice.
So no. Jimi Jamison was not from Chicago. And now, when I watch the video for “I Can’t Hold Back,” I can’t help but notice Jamison’s shoes in one of the last scenes. When he leaves his friends behind and turns around to run after the girl of his dreams: I’m not 100% certain, but it sure looks like he’s wearing cowboy boots.