A linear correlation between spectroscopic and thermodynamic properties of systems is rarely encountered. In triplet state ODMR studies of various DNA complexes of echinomycin, a quinoxaline-containing cyclic depsipeptide bis-intercalating antibiotic, and its biosynthesized quinoline analogs, such correlations are observed. The zero field splitting D-parameter of the intercalated quinoxaline or quinoline residue varies linearly with the free energy of drug-DNA complexing. From previous work, the DNA sequence specificity of echinomycin analogs is known to be influenced by the identity of the intercalating residue (e.g., quinoxaline vs. quinoline). The present results strongly suggest that the DNA sequence-specificity of these drugs is controlled largely by the intercalated residue, and that the energetics of the peptide- DNA interaction, although considerable, are relatively sequence independent. These conclusions run counter to the generally accepted idea that DNA recognition by sequence- seeking proteins is controlled by specific hydrogen bonding interactions. The high degree of N-methylation of the echinomycin peptide portion severely restricts these interactions, however. A simple theoretical model is presented to support the experimentally observed linear correlation between (Delta) D and (Delta) G.