THE GUESS WHO – GUESS WHO’S THE DRUMMER
ORIGINAL STICKSMAN FOR CANADIAN CLASSIC ROCKERS THE GUESS WHO, GARRY PETERSON has kept the rhythm on classic rock hits such as “These Eyes”, “Laughing”, “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonight” and, of course, “American Woman”. Garry, together with the completely revamped twenty-first century iteration of The Guess Who, is currently promoting the recently released album, The Future IS What It Used To Be, out now on Cleopatra Records. Red Hot Rock Magazine had the pleasure of striking up a conversation with Mr. Peterson, the longest serving member of The Guess Who.
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: The first all-new studio album from The Guess Who in many years is called The Future IS What It Used To Be. Exactly how many years has it been and why has it taken so long?
GARRY PETERSON: Well, the last album that we produced for RCA Records was in 1975.
RHRM: But there have been some records in between.
GP: There has been. There has been an attempt, I think in the ‘80s, and then another… There may have been two in between that and this new album. They kind of were albums that were only local to Canada and really never got any further than that. So, you know, this is really the first serious album. I, who have been there the longest of anybody. This is the first serious album since 1975. So, you can say thirty years, forty years.
RHRM: Fans of The Guess Who have followed the band through many twists and turns in personnel over the many years the band has existed. With you being the only original member still in the group, have you been able to gauge whether or not fans, by and large, have accepted The Guess Who as it is today?
GP: Some have accepted and some haven’t. I think that it’s not a secret that a group like Lynyrd Skynyrd has one original member left. It’s really about the music. And I think it’s unfortunate that the original members of the band would rather have gone off in their own careers than stay in the group and perhaps keep the band together and if you really wanted to do a solo album on your own, do it. You know what I mean? I think The Rolling Stones are a prime example of a group that decided to stay together and look where they’ve gone. I mean, you can’t argue that. It’s unarguable. And even a band as big as the Eagles did solo things and then what happened? We had two reunions, one in the ‘80s and one from 2000 to 2003. Once again, neither of them worked out because the two major guys (Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings) really didn’t seem to want to keep it together and would rather have gone off and done their own thing. This is a free world. I respect their right and their ability to go and do that. However, I have been in this band and I have worked all of my life to be in this band. I’ve been in it fifty-eight years. And I kind of wanted to keep the band’s name out there and the music out there. That’s what we’ve done over all of these years. There are some people that really love this new band, if you would have it in those terms, and are followers of the band. It’s a really great band.
RHRM: The Guess Who, over the fairly short period of time that the original band was together, had so many hits.
GP: Our current lead singer (Derek Sharp) has been in the band longer than the original lead singer of the band (Chad Allan). Ha ha. I just realized that the other day. Our major hits from “Shakin’ All Over”, which was the first hit in 1965, and the winter of 1975 is when the band broke up. So, all of those records were done in a ten-year period. And we’re like fifty years beyond that now.
RHRM: And I understand that you’ve been out there playing drums since you were three years old.
GP: Two years old.
RHRM: Ha ha.
GP: I first played professionally in 1949. So, my whole life has been music, obviously. And I’m kind of the last existing member of The Guess Who. I’m kind of like the historian of the band, really, because I’m the only person that played on every record.
RHRM: You are the only original member of The Guess Who still remaining in the band, but there have been versions of the group where other drummers have been brought in to record albums under the banner of The Guess Who. Would you like to comment on those parts of the band’s history?
GP: Yeah. That’s when Jim (Kale, original bassist for The Guess Who) restarted the band and I was not playing with that band at that particular time for a short period when he did the album, one album. He did it and, you know, I don’t know… I haven’t listened to that material all that closely that I could really make a comment about what it was. There’s a couple of songs I heard that I liked. But it just didn’t seem to have the excitement of the original band. Maybe it’s because it was so close to the original band, you know what I mean, in time. But really, I’m not that familiar with that album that I wasn’t on. And I think it was called All This For A Song or something like that.
RHRM: I think that there were a few albums, but there were always shifting lineups. What I find interesting about the new album is that, to my ears, it does not sound like The Guess Who of the 1960s and 1970s, the classic rock and pop of that time, but it also doesn’t sound very much like rock, or whatever is being called rock, of today. The album has a sort of good-time 1980s hard rock vibe to it, especially Derek’s vocals and his AC/DC Brian Johnsonisms. This is a type of music with a huge fan base and which may attract people to the band that may never have listened to you before.
GP: You’re one of the people that got it. You must feel very good about that. Ha ha. I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with people in Europe who just love the album. It was designed to take people back to the magic. And I think it goes back further than the ‘80s. It is designed to sound like that golden era of rock’n’roll, the ‘70s and into the ‘80s. You will hear influences if you really listen to the album carefully of the people that were our contemporaries, that we were inspired by. In other words, people that made us want to be rock musicians like (Led) Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones, the Eagles. You’ll hear all of those influences because, let’s face it, in the world of pop music, all artists are inspired by those that go before them. So, when we created this album, we wanted to take people that grew up with The Guess Who back to that era. If you listen to songs like “Playin’ On The Radio” and what the content of it is, you’ll get what I’m saying. It talks about the way that we had a pop culture delivered to us in those years via radio and the printed word. There were no videos and digital downloads and going on YouTube and viewing bands. You waited for the latest record to come out and/or a magazine like yours to get your pop culture. And so, even when we designed the album cover, it’s made to look like a cover that could have come out of the ‘60s and the ‘70s with a live rock band playing their instruments right on the cover. And in fact, that was a still shot from one of our new videos, which was “Playin’ On The Radio”. We were actually playing in that shot. So again, it’s a trip down memory lane for people that long for that era ‘cause they grew up in it. Also, we get a lot of young people coming to us and saying, “Man, what was it like to live then, with (Jimi) Hendrix and The Doors and play shows with them and Led Zeppelin and Ten Years After and Chicago…?” and on and on and on. This is also designed for those young people to give them a glimpse back to that era. We recorded the album in analog on the same console that we did all the hits. On the Neve console. The Neve board with all of the same outboard gear that we used on a lot of The Guess Who hit records. And we even used some vintage instruments on it just to give it that flavor. When I listen to the album, I’m very proud of it. I never thought we would get a chance, or I would, to go back to do an album the same way we did it before. I had no idea at seventy-two years old that I would be doing that. So for me, it was a very cathartic experience.
RHRM: Let’s discuss a few of the tunes from The Future IS What It Used To Be. “Playin’ On The Radio” was, I believe, the first single. Elements of this tune, especially the bassline, the jangly guitar and the outro are extremely Beatlesque. Was that intentional or was that simply your influences bleeding in?
GP: Yeah. I mean, these are all the great, great bands. And I’ll even take it a step further. Not only did we, who are in this band now, listen to them. But they were the same people that inspired the original members of the band. In other words, there’s a commonality. Although the band has changed, a lot of the guys that are in the band used to come and watch the original band and liked the original band and went to shows and now they’re in the band. If you talk to Rudy Sarzo, he says, you know, The Guess Who is like the soundtrack of his life. Because although he played in many heavy metal bands, he also played all of our stuff as he was a young musician coming up. So, we have that common thread in this music. And again, it’s not only an inspiration that we’re showing there, but an homage to these great people that made us want to be rock musicians.
RHRM: I understand that “Playin’ On The Radio” was your very first music video. After being in the business for so many years, that is kind of amazing in itself.
GP: Well, yeah. Once the band broke up in ’75, there were no videos, really, in ’75. You did things like The Midnight Special and you did Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and so on. We played The Johnny Cash Show. But there were very few things. Those were our only exposures visually. The video generation was yet to come. So, The Guess Who never did a video and I was seventy-two years old when I did my first video. Who knew? Ha ha.
RHRM: There are other songs on the record where I can hear the influence of other classic rockers. “Good Girl” harnesses the vibe of The Who…
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