THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
An Exclusive Interview with Garry Peterson
31st August, 2023 0
As with most legendary Classic Rock bands, the influence of The Guess Who can be measured by the impact their music has carried through the decades. Not unlike distant voices from past generations such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis, or even the Benny Goodman Orchestra, their contributions to popular music still resonate strong because of the way their songs weave into the fabric of our sensibilities and are carved into our collective museum of recollection, regardless of the decade in which you were born.
My own first introduction to the music of The Guess Who was their first chart-topping hit in the late 60s, These Eyes, which burst out from the speakers of a snazzy MG convertible on a sunny Spring day like a fragrant blast of musical lavender while skipping school with some friends in the fresh kiss of early May - the catchy lyrical hooks colored with jazzy flourishes of shimmering pop brilliance.
From that point forward into the early 1970s, the band hit one musical bullseye after another with an impressive catalogue of hits including No Time, Hand Me Down World, No Sugar Tonight, Laughing, and Share the Land.
With their 1970 album, American Woman, over the past 60 years The Guess Who have released a total of six Top-Ten selling albums. During the course of its career the band has released 11 studio albums, and charted 14 Top 40 hit singles, 2 of which went to number one in the United States.
The most recent and up-to-date version of the band consists of Derek Sharp (lead singer), founding member and drummer Garry Peterson, (bassist) Michael Devin, Leonard Shaw (keyboard-saxophone-flute), and Michael Staertow (guitarist).
Very few bands have managed to survive numerous member changes - let alone having smash hits with each lineup - in the manner that The Guess Who have managed to achieve. Not content to bask in the glory of past accomplishments, the group’s latest studio release, Plein D’Amour, manages to retain the core harmonic & lyrical signature of the band while furthering the vocal harmonies into fresh avenues, proving to be stunningly sophisticated, searingly emotional, and musically eclectic.
As for their recent live performances, the group has mastered a wildly entertaining romp through their early hits mixed in with current creations, while managing to take the whole experience to a new level, which you can check out for yourself when they appear at Saginaw’s historic Temple Theatre on Friday, September 22nd at 7:30 PM as part of the Field Neurosciences Institute Fundraiser.
Recently The REVIEW had an opportunity to sit down with founding member Garry Peterson to discuss not only the legacy of this remarkable musical entity, but their ability to forge forward in these uncertain times.
REVIEW: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you initially become involved with The Guess Who and what was your own musical background prior to joining the group
Peterson: I was considered a child prodigy, meaning I had my first professional gig at the age of four and by the age of six had performed with Peggy Lee at The Chicago Theater, also landing similar gigs with the likes of Lionel Hampton, The Four Lads, and The Andrews Sisters, to name a few.
By the age of sixteen, I joined this band out of Winnipeg, Canada, called Al & the Silvertones, which over the next several years would transform itself into The Guess Who. I am the only current or former member that has performed on every single album and participated in every single tour over the course of the band’s sixty-year history.
As a founding member, I’ve performed on 15 albums that have charted on the Billboard 200, 14 albums that have clocked on Billboard’s Top 40, including two #1’s and three Gold Singles, and three Gold albums.
Three quarters of the original Guess Who came from that original Silvertones line-up back in 1962, including guitarist & songwriter Randy Bachman, except Chad Allen sang on our first hit, Shakin’ All Over, back in 1965 but was replaced by vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter Burton Cummings in 1966, which by then was our 4th roster in the group’s history. Then we were known as Chad Allen & the Reflections.
What’s funny is the way the final name of the band came out. When our manager was shopping our first recordings around, he basically mortgaged his house to finance the studio time and several labels had passed on it. Finally RCA signed us, only when they were going through the recordings they didn’t know who the band was because they couldn’t find a label on the box containing the tapes, so they just wrote Guess Who? on the label.
REVIEW: Your sound was so iconic and groundbreaking, blending jazz hooks & pop sensibilities that later got more hard-edged and political with songs like ‘American Woman’ and ‘Share the Land’. At what point did you realize the band had achieved something truly special?
Peterson: How you become anything special in the music business is with experience. Once you have a hit record you travel extensively and keep writing and keep recording and before you know it all that experience accumulates and shapes the actual sound of the band.
Once we had our first hit in 1965 we were with four other record companies before we got signed to RCA in 1969, so there was a four-year gap between our first hit and our subsequent hits. We were struggling on the road because it was kind of the end of the British Invasion and all these new groups were being played on American radio, so it was difficult for a band from Winnipeg to gain any traction in the press or airwaves at that time.
It wasn’t until our producer Jack Richardson took us in 1968 to New York City to record the Wheatfield Soul album at A&R Studios, which was owned by Phil Ramone, that we got our next hit These Eyes. He had sent those tapes to all these record labels and once RCA signed us, after that pivotal song, the track record of hit albums and singles is legendary and documented.
REVIEW: When you look back at that really fertile creative period, was it a collaborative endeavor towards constructing the songs that led to their success, or was it more the songwriting abilities of Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings?
Peterson: It’s for the audience to decide. Basically, either Burton or Randy would come in with a piano or guitar part and vocals on a cassette and in those days we had blasters with condenser mics to record with a CD player built inside the blaster. Out of these group rehearsals would come the song. Once they showed the basic raw demo to us, each member of the group would add their parts, so you have to say everybody in the band basically wrote their own part to each of the songs.
When the band came together is when the magic of the song was conjured, so all the members had some part in the magic, otherwise These Eyes with just a piano and a voice would not have been a hit record, or American Woman with just a voice and acoustic guitar would not have been a hit record. It takes a band to sculpt, shape, and polish a song - just like an artisan would do with a piece of marble. That’s what a band does. We come from the era of bands where it wasn’t just a lead singer and a studio group doing an album together.
REVIEW: So why did all the original members eventually leave and how is it that you came to be the last man standing?
Peterson: Actually, during the 1968 -1975 classic era, Burton Cummings and I were the only consistent members; and were joined by five guitarists and two bassists during those years. Cummings ended the band in 1975 and embarked on a solo career and Randy formed Bachman Turner Overdrive. Original bassist Jim Kale was with us but retired and can’t stand the road anymore, but Burton and Randy are both still alive so you’d have to ask them why they still aren’t in the game.
It certainly isn’t because anybody has been keeping them from returning, but I respect and support their choices. We had two reunions in the early to mid-80s and one from 1999-2003 at which time a majority of the original members had an opportunity to keep the band together. Perhaps they wanted to be on their own solo careers and have absolute control over their music instead of working within the band, but considering we spent most of our lives traveling and sacrificing our time to make the band what it is today, why would you want to throw that away? Why not continue? At least that’s the way I felt, which is why I’ve remained committed to the band.
REVIEW: As these pivotal members left the group obviously you had to fashion some kind of group architecture together and rebuild the band, which you’ve managed to accomplish while also remaining true to your roots. What’s the biggest challenge involved with doing that?
Peterson: Getting good quality players and singers together while also getting that magic formula where the people match both musically and on a personal level. When we grew up together in the same city in the early days our tastes were very similar, and now we’re putting a band together with people from all over different places and locations, so it took a while to find the right mix.
I like to say it’s taken me 60-years to put the band together.
Our mission statement as The Guess Who is to honor and promote all the great singers, players, and songwriters that have been in this group; and now we have the capability to add more to that legacy. We’re not competing with that legacy, but we are moving it forward and adding more to it. That’s my mission with the band.
REVIEW: Are there any career highlights standing out in your memory that you would like to share?
Peterson: That’s an impossible question to answer. It’s like asking a football player what’s his best game. I could talk about playing on the lawn of The White House, which was kind of interesting. I could talk about the last concert of the original band in July 30,2003 when we played a concert in Toronto with The Rolling Stones and AC/DC in front of 500,000 people, or a radio show we did live with a live audience in the studio at Electric Ladyland in New York City, which was very cool and which you can listen to on youtube. I’ve been in this band for about 62 years now, so you can imagine I have many, many, highlights
REVIEW: How often do you tour and do you ever see yourself winding down?
Peterson: This is what I do. I average between forth to fifty dates a year and oddly enough this year that number has increased to sixty dates over the next year. For me the last two albums we recorded have proven to be great highlights, because I never thought at my age of 78 that I would be still recording and performing. Every night is a highlight for me because I’m doing something I love very dearly.
We’re already working on new material for our next album and my main goal is simply to make music that touches and entertains people. Above all we need the people, which is why one of the cuts on our new album is called People Around Me’.
We can’t wait to appear at The Temple Theatre. We do a lot of dates in Michigan and Michigan is a big music state. I’ve often thought the best crowds I’ve ever seen were in Detroit and the music that has come out of Michigan has had a major impact around the world.
Our live show is a celebration of life, being alive, and thriving in these uncertain times; and our goal is to leave our hearts on the stage at the end of every performance.
The Guess Who will be performing live as part of the Field Neurosciences Institute Gala at The Temple Theatre on Friday, September 22nd at 7:30 PM. Doors open at 6:30 PM. Tickets start at $39.50 and can be purchased by visiting templetheatre.com.
You can also join the Field Neurosciences Institute for a pre-show gala event including a Bountiful Buffet at 5:30 PM by visiting this link: https://bit.ly/fnigala2023
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)