Exclusive: Survivor Part Ways With Singer Dave Bickler
Survivor have been in a state of transition since August 2014 when Jimi Jamison, who handled lead vocals for the band beginning in the mid-’80s, passed away suddenly. He had been out on the road playing shows with the group, sharing the stage with original Survivor lead vocalist Dave Bickler.
In October of 2015, the band put out a press release to announce the addition of 21 year old vocalist Cameron Barton (pictured on the left in the above photo) to the lineup, revealing plans to tour and release a new album in 2016. At that time, the band (or their social media managers) assured fans that Bickler’s status in the group was secure, with the comment, “Dave isn’t being replaced.” (Bickler can be seen top right in the photo above.)
Unfortunately on Wednesday evening, Bickler, known for his vocals on the band’s classic hit “Eye Of The Tiger,” announced on Facebook that he was no longer with the group.
“To all my dear fans, Bitter sweet news that I am no longer a member of Survivor,” he wrote. “Just wanted to share that with you. There is no longer a place for me in the band. So I'll be moving on and direct all my energies to my solo project. And thank you for all your support. Peace. Dave”
While there has been no official statement from the group (and there was no reply from their publicist, Webster PR, when we asked for a comment for this story), Bickler spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock on early Thursday afternoon to expand on his initial statement and reflect on the circumstances that brought him back to the band in early 2013.
“We were having a pretty good time there, you know, me and Jimi Jamison singing together,” he remembers. Bickler, who was originally with the group from its 1978 formation until 1983 (and was replaced by Jamison the following year), reunited with Sullivan in 1993 and lasted another seven years. Bickler then says he learned via the internet that he had been replaced again by Jamison, who was returning to the band as a result of legal action that had been wrapped up.
“It was pretty bad. [Survivor guitarist Frankie Sullivan] never told me [that] he was going to bring Jimi back in. It’s a long story, [regarding] legal stuff and the reasons why with the trademark and stuff. But it’s because there were two Survivors [at that time]. There was our version with me in it and then there was Jimi out [also] playing as Survivor. Once Frank got the trademark, then he stopped Jimi and so I figured he’d come back, because Jimi’s got all of those hits, you know? But he never called me up and told me. I found out from [reading it on] MelodicRock.com.
Many years later, Sullivan had an idea that softened Bickler’s stance on returning to the band.
“He called me up [in 2013] and said, ‘You and Jimi could sing together.’ [I liked that,] because I always thought that would be a good idea. Because we were friends – Jimi and I were really good friends. We went out and played and we did the shows and it was a blast. He was such a great guy. But of course, when Jim died, it was like, then what, you know? Because it was a unique thing, the two singer thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in a band where two original singers of different periods went together to sing together. I’m not sure if it’s ever happened. But we got along so well and it was so much fun. So when he died, it was like, 'Well, now what?'
"Frankie, you know, he owns Survivor," Bickler continues. "We were talking about it and he said, 'Well, we can’t do anything now. We’re going to wait out of respect for Jim.' Months later, he started looking around for somebody. He said he was going to get a replacement for Jimi, if there is such a thing and so he found somebody. He didn’t tell me much about it, but this is not unusual for Frankie. He’s a highly secretive person and doesn’t tell you much. He did finally talk to me a little bit about it. I think it was September of 2015, he said that there was a showcase that we needed to do and it was for the [talent] buyers down in Nashville. We went down to Nashville to the Country Music Hall of Fame and we rehearsed before that. The first day of rehearsal, it was just bizarre, the way Frankie was acting. After that first rehearsal, I went back to my hotel and the next morning, I called him up and I said, ‘I’m going home.’ He talked real hard at me to not do that and I decided it was a bad idea. We did the showcase and it was okay.
"It’s weird, I never met the guy, Cameron Barton, the new lead singer in Survivor [prior to that]. I’d met him just at that first rehearsal. I didn’t know him at all. You know, it went off fine, but I got the feeling then that what he said, I didn’t think it was true. I didn’t think he really meant to go on with two singers. To be perfectly honest with you, I think he wanted to just use me to sort of bring it [the new lineup] into the world. Things got worse from there and then we finally had a conversation just a couple of days ago. He said, 'Well then, you should just quit.' But you know what, I didn’t. I didn’t want to let him do it, because I felt that he was being completely dishonest with me. I said 'I consider myself fired' and he hung up on me. That was that. After 35 years, that’s what I got, knowing the guy.”
The veteran vocalist is taking the latest developments and looking at the positive side of things.
“You know, I am working on a solo project. I’m real happy about it, because Survivor’s fun, right? But it is just going out and playing the same old songs and I like to do new stuff," he says. "We certainly weren’t doing anything new. Back in the ‘90s, we did quite a bit of recording then, but never really released anything. But we did work on a lot of stuff. There’s nothing new going on in Survivor, you know?”
Bickler says that he tried to work on new music with Sullivan, but despite conversations, it didn’t come to pass.
“Frankie is a very creative guy, he plays stuff on his guitar [at soundchecks] and I’d say, ‘Frankie, that’s really cool, man. We should do something with that.’ I’d always record it and take it back and try to work with him, but he resisted. He just didn’t follow through on that stuff. I’m not here to make it a character assassination of Frank, but I didn’t know why and I still don’t know why he didn’t want to do that. I don’t know. I wanted to -- I really wanted to. We talked about it, but it just never happened. He talked about coming out to New York, because you know, he’s in Chicago. He said, ‘I’ll stop by, we’ll get together and we’ll write.’ His friend, [engineer/producer] Frank Filipetti is over in Nyack, you know, we’ll go over there to his studio [he told me], but it just never happened. I mean, I’d find out that he was in New York and never called me. That’s what it was. And it’s like, okay, so I just got on with my own thing.”
He hopes to have his new solo music ready to release by late spring or early summer. He currently has 15 songs that he’s worked on and is preparing to begin mixing some of the tracks. “I don’t think I want 15 on the record -- I think that’s too many. I think they put too many songs on records these days,” he laughs. “That’s just me. I want maybe 10 or 11 finished tracks.”
“It’s rock music and it’s different from Survivor,” he says. “Some of it might be a little like early Survivor. Other stuff, I don’t know, it’s just what I do. But I like rock music, I really do. I like loud guitars and all of that stuff and a lot of energy. It’s definitely that. It’s definitely in my wheelhouse.”
As Bickler puts a wrap on what seems like it will be his final tour of duty with Survivor, he’s happy that he got a chance to share the stage with Jamison.
“We had a great time. We really did. I had just infinite respect for Jimi. Of course when I first left the band, I hated him then,” he says with a chuckle. “But once I got to know him, I found out what a sweet man he was and he was just a great artist and just an incredible musician. It really was special. I will take those two years that we got to do that together, I’ll take it for what it was and cherish it. Because it was really something. It was really cool.”
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