A Downtown Chat with Garry Peterson of The Guess Who Band.
Interview and photos by Sandy Hopkins
Photo: Sandy Hopkins
The Chevrolet Rockin' on the Riverfront's free concert series is bringing classic rock bands to Detroit's Riverfront all summer long. I will be covering some of these fantastic and legendary bands for MOTORCITYBLOG.
The first show was July 11, and featured the legendary Guess Who Band. I met with Gary Peterson the original cofounder of the legendary rock band. Being a huge fan of Rock and Roll all through my childhood I once again jumped at the chance to meet the legendary drummer.
I thought back to my silly antics
when I first found out that I would grow up and play music.
I worked on my angry rocker faces in the mirror to Guess Who's American Woman.
And practiced my moves by jumping off the bed with my hairbrush in hand while my mom was pounding on my door for me to stop. Oh rock and roll the most innocent yet guiltiest of pleasures. I was so excited and nervous about the interview I stayed up all night brainstorming questions to ask this rock and roll lifer. To my surprise when we met up, I barely had to look at my notes. He made me very comfortable, a real pro. He was honest, jovial and full of information about his band, career, views on life, and what it's like being Garry Peterson, one of the most famous drummers in the world.
Photo: Sandy Hopkins-Garry signing the American Woman LP for persistent fan
Garry Peterson started playing drums at the age of two, he was taught by his father and was a pro by the age of 4. In 1949, when he was 6 years old he played drums for Peggy Lee at the Chicago Theatre. By 9 he was a member of the American Federation of Musicians. Garry says that he has no memory of actually learning how to play the drums, it was like being taught to walk. It is who he was, who he is, and will always be.
So we Begin
Garry: Is Harpo's still open? I saw someone get shot there when we toured through here in the 1980's. It was a bouncer and he got shot in the ass.
I asked if he deserved it, and he laughed.
So far so good, I made myself comfortable on a low concrete wall a few feet away from the stage, he and his band of 40 years would be playing it later that night.
Photos: Sandy Hopkins
I asked him about the Guess Who band, and how long it took for them to hit the big time.
Gary: We never really counted down the days, we kept working at it and working at it and then one day we came up with These Eyes, and the rest is history. It's funny because These Eyes did not happen over night; we had many singles by then, that is the one that blew up in the United States.
We worked very hard and I can remember all of us hocking (pawning) our amps so that we could pay to record one of our albums. Back then it was so much different than it is now. We didn't have the power to push our music via the Internet. We had to be out there and play and hope that we would be discovered by a record label. The upside however, was that there wasn't as much competition back then like there is now. So eventually you would be heard by the right people. The real cincher happened when we were recording an album for Coca Cola and met a producer by the name of Jack Richardson, he dug our sound so much that he became our producer and mortgaged his house so that we could afford to recorded with Septor records. Sceptor records was a mostly black label at the time owned by Florence Greenburg who was Jewish, I always thought that was interesting. It was an honor to a part of that label. They, represented The Shirelles, Dionne Warwick, Chuck Jackson, The Kingsmen, B.J. Thomas, Joey Dee, Maxine Brown, The Esquires, Tommy Hunt, The Guess Who, Tammi Terrell, and The Independents. This all took place from 1965-1969.
Photos: Sandy Hopkins original bass player and song writer of the Guess Who, Jim Kale
I asked him what it was like hearing a song of theirs on the radio for the first time.
Gary: (smiling) It was a very strange and surreal feeling. The song was "Shaking all Over" and it was in 1965. I still love that song.
Where were you?
We were on tour with the Crystals at the time, they were an all black woman band with an amazing guitarist. Initially they were kind of cold towards us, and we didn't understand why. We didn't realize the racial tensions that existed here in the Unites States, where we lived in Winnipeg, Canada there was no such thing as racism. We didn't understand it all. It just didn't make sense to us. By the end of the show we had a great big party and they told all of us that we were all really cool. That made me very happy.
How would you describe your music to new Fans?
Garry: I would tell them to go to Itunes, they have all of our records there. Seriously though, they should. One cannot truly put a finger on the overall sound of the Guess Who Band. I even study our music when I am tour; I enjoy listening to how we have grown and changed, and how that it is a constant thing. If you listen, you will soon realize that the material is completely different and indescribable, we have albums where you would never even know it is us. Every musician old and new brings a sound and soul to the table. And we love it. And if you want to hear even more, listen to my old band Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Photo: Sandy Hopkins-Lead singer and guitarist Derek Sharp, this guy tears it up: also pictured: Leonard Shaw on the Sax
I didn't really ask him about the line up because I was a bit nervous to do so. Luckily, Garry volunteered information without me even having to ask. Whew.
Garry: People think that us switching up line-ups is a new thing. No way, we are called the Guess Who band for a reason. Guess Who's in the line up this time? (he snickers) It doesn't matter who is on that stage, it is about the songs and the fans of those songs. A band is about teamwork. We cannot survive without one another. One person should never take away glory from his band mates. It's like football. The center throws the football between his legs to the quarter back. The quarter back gets all the glory. If the center hadn't have thrown that ball to him between his legs, he would never have had it in his hands to throw to get the touchdown. Even painters and poets, when they make art, are inspired by those around them. Essentially we all need one another to be inspired and to exist. We are inspired by all the musicians we work with.
I asked him about Canada.
Garry: I grew up in Winnipeg and now live in South Carolina. I have dual citizenship between the two for decades. I consider Canada my mother; it is where I learned my morals, and values. I found my musical success and later here in the United States. The United States is like my father. I love them both very much. The United States has always taken really good care of my band mates and I and now my family as well.
Photo: Sandy Hopkins-the band getting their rock on.
What do you want people to walk away with after one of your shows
Garry: Happiness of course. No two people will ever walk away with the same feeling from art or music. The Same goes for our songs. It is meant to affect people in their own unique ways and never dictate to them how to feel. The Beatles once said, people always think we have some hidden meaning. Very rarely do we. We are just writing songs. We mean what we say.
Have a good time and enjoy yourselves because that is what it's all about.
He then adds
Do you know how to write a good album?
When i was a kid i watched American Bandstand. With Dick Clark. And he would play three songs at a show, and have the kids dance to it. Then he would have a slow number for couples to come out and slow dance. Then afterwards he would ask them to rate the songs from 1-100. Some songs would get a 50, some a 90. When Dick Clark asked why the kids gave the higher scores to one song and not the other they said it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. That's how you write a good record. And watching people enjoy it, there is nothing better in the world.
I said, they don't make music like they used to do they.
Garry: Oh I disagree; I love some of the new music out there today. Great catchy tunes you can dance to, bands like Fun. I think it's cool hearing all the new sounds.
Photos: Sandy Hopkins-Garry and Jim rocking for fans of all ages.
One of your biggest fans is Detroit Punk rock drummer Chris Connely. You have been his inspiration since he was a kid and he mentioned to me that you were a child prodigy drummer. He wants to know what kind of music you would be playing if The Guess Who band would never have existed. He also wants to know if you have ever taught drums in your spare time.
Garry: I have always been a fan of Jazz and Big Band; I really don't know what kind of music I would have played. But my influences were people like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
I taught drums for a little while and realized it wasn't for me. Playing drums is not for everyone. A guitarist can be amazing but not know how to play the drums. It takes all four of your limbs. It is not a two handed thing. I wasn't a very good teacher because I would get frustrated easily and tell kids to pick up another instrument. That doesn't always get you asked to come back. I live to play live. That is my life.
Are you still annoyed with American Women?
Gary (laughing) Is that what you think that we were talking about? woman? Noo..I even married an American woman. All you have to do is listen to the words.
American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-knockin' around my door
Don't wanna see your shadow no more
Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, I said get away
American woman, listen what I say, hey!
The song is a personification of the United States. What do people see when they first come here? The Statue of Liberty in all her glory, majestic and beautiful. On our end, The Guess Who band was touring here during the protests against Vietnam, during the race riots, and later we were even in New York when the towers fell. It was the way we looked at America when were boys and didn't have any other way to describe it. I am 70 years old now, I see things differently than I used to, and the fact of the matter is, people come here from all over the world for freedom, and to escape poverty and persecution, that in it self should tell all of us something. Ooops, looks like I have to go do sound check now. You are coming out to the show tonight yes?
YES! I wouldn't miss it for the world! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. Many Thanks from MCB and Detroiters everywhere, we love you!
I gave him a big ol bear hug before I left. A man walks up and asks for an autograph. Garry said "I will be doing that later," then says, "yeah ok why not, let me see what you have." They guy pulls out 5 albums for him to sign. Without hesitation he begins signing them for a very happy fan. Garry Peterson, one heck of a guy.
Time to Rock
I went to the show that night and got my socks rocked off with thousands of other die-hard fans, the young and seasoned alike. The line up that night included the Original songwriter and bass player Jim Kale, long time multi-instrumentalist and tour manager Leonard Shaw, lead singer/guitarist Derek Sharp, and a go for it all new addition, lead guitarist Will Evankovich. The Guess Who Band was One of the tightest bands I have ever seen perform live. They hold tight the passion and energy that only the timelessness of rock and roll can breed. We were all pumping our fists and singing along to songs that will be ingrained forever in Earth's Discography. Cheers to Garry Peterson and the The Guess Who Band, please don't ever stop making us Shake all Over.
Visit them online at the OFFICIAL "THE GUESS WHO" site.
The Chevrolet Rockin' on the Riverfront is THE free concert series bringing classic rock bands to Detroit's Riverfront every Friday night until the middle of August for updates about upcoming acts visit.