The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021

Guess Who drummer still loves to perform

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

If there is anyone who knows the iconic rock band The Guess Who intimately, it’s founding member and drummer Garry Peterson. That’s because Peterson has been there for every album, every concert, every personnel change in the group’s 57-year history.

The Guess Who, with original member and drummer Garry Peterson on the left.

Peterson was a musical prodigy growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, and said he doesn’t really remember when he first picked up a pair of drumsticks.

“I’ve always played, ever since I had memory,” he noted.

Peterson’s father, who himself played drums in jazz and Big Bands, taught his son the basics when he was a toddler. He had his first professional gig when he was 4 years old and had performed with Peggy Lee in Chicago by the time he was 6.

The music he was playing was jazz at that time, like his father.

“I was actually playing his music, but I thought it was my music,” Peterson remembers.

That all changed in high school when fellow student Randy Bachman introduced himself and asked if Peterson would like to play the new music: Rock and Roll.

“I said, ‘yeah, I love it’,” Peterson said.

The band was first called Allan and the Silvertones, for lead singer Chad Allan. Later, Allan left to return to college and Burton Cummings, who had joined the group, which became The Guess Who? (the question mark was dropped later), took over as lead singer. Peterson, Cummings, Bachman, and Jim Kale were the original Guess Who members, although Peterson is the only one still playing with the group.

Moreover, Peterson said he’s enjoying performing now as much as he ever did.

“We (recently) played Altoona, Pennsylvania, and the show started and all of a sudden we were playing the last song,” he noted, adding that he was enjoying it so much that the time just flew by.

“Entertaining people and making them feel happy or sad, or whatever human emotion … is quite a drug,” Peterson said. “There’s no drug like it.”

Of course, there are things he doesn’t like about touring: flying and hotels, but he also noted that much of the music written over the years wouldn’t have been written without touring.

“A lot of the inspiration for writing songs comes from bands being on the road, and the interaction in different places, meeting different people, and being entangled in different scenarios,” Peterson explained.

He also added that The Guess Who has experienced some historic events over the years, including being in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez accident occurred, in California when a big earthquake occurred, and in Times Square when 9/11 occurred.

“As a musician, I feel, who travels and plays all over, you’re kind of a witness, and sometimes you’re a witness on an international-global scale, such as 9/11, and sometimes you’re in Youngstown or Van Wert and you’re witnessing a local, or one person’s epic event,” he said. “One is no greater than the other, except in volume.”

Peterson noted that the Canadian group’s first foray into the U.S. was memorable.

“First of all, it was a big thrill — this is where the British groups had to come to make it big, this was the heart, the birthplace of rock and roll,” he said. 

One thing he particularly remembers is having Dick Clark present the group its first gold record on “American Bandstand”.

“We had watched Dick Clark on TV (in Winnipeg) and now he was presenting us with our first gold record,” Peterson said, with awe still in his voice after half a century.

Today, with Cummings, Bachman, and other members long gone, the drummer plays with a new group of musicians, including lead singer/guitarist Derek “Dee” Sharp, lead guitarist Will Evankovich, bass legend Rudy Sarzo, and keyboard player and flutist Leonard Shaw. 

“One requirement of anyone coming into the band is they really have to be fans of the band in the first place,” Peterson said.

For example, he noted that Sarzo, who has played bass with a number of groups, including Whitesnake and other heavy metal groups, was a big fan of The Guess Who as a kid.

“He told me: ‘This is the soundtrack of my life’,” Peterson said, adding that Sarzo said he grew up listening to the group.

Peterson said audience members will hear all of The Guess Who’s greatest hits: “These Eyes”, “American Woman”, “Undun”, “No Time”, “Hand Me Down World”, “Share the Land”, “No Sugar Tonight” and “Clap for the Wolfman”.

“You’re going to see an excellent version of the songs and hear exactly how they should sound or be played,” he added.

Peterson also said the concert will include three cuts from the group’s first album in 40 years: The Future IS What It Used to Be.

He noted that the group’s new album has a vintage feel, and was recorded on analog recording equipment, while band members played old instruments on the album’s 10 songs. The album is also designed to look like one from the late 1950s or early 1960s, Peterson added.

He also talked about a couple of the album tracks, noting that the song “Playin’ on the Radio” is sort of a paean to the great rock groups of the past: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and many others.

“Most of our pop culture was delivered via radio and the printed word,” he said, adding that the song hearkens back to the days of cruising and kids listening to their favorite groups on AM radio.

Peterson said the video of another cut off the album, “Haunted”, has already won several awards in Europe, as well as a regional Emmy award in the U.S., while the album itself has garnered positive reviews.

He added, though, that albums aren’t as relevant today as they were back in the Sixties, and added that he would like to do live videos of future songs and then bundle the videos into a “collection” rather than a physical album.

Of the band’s original songs, Peterson said “Undun” is his favorite.

“I don’t know of any other band in the history of rock and roll that had a hit record with a style like that,” Peterson said, adding that the song’s jazz roots also connect with his past, when he was playing in jazz bands as a young kid.

The veteran drummer also likened The Guess Who to iconic groups such as the Beatles, because the band embraced a number of different musical styles.

Peterson said the new configuration of the group is, in his opinion, just as good as the original band. He also noted that many of the current members have been in the band longer than original band members. One example, he said, is Sharp, who has been singing in The Guess Who for 12 years, while Cummings was only in the group for nine.

“I’ve been in all the incarnations of this band and I’m so excited at this age,” the drummer said of his zest for performing at age 74. “In order to understand what I’m saying about this band you have to see it live.”

Tickets for Sunday’s performance at the NPAC can be purchased at the Box Office from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. by calling 419.238.NPAC or online anytime at www.npacvw.org

POSTED: 09/18/19 at 7:51 am. FILED UNDER: News