It seems like The Guess Who have been around forever, and for fans of classic rock and roll, we couldn’t be happier. I was lucky enough to talk to one of their founding members, drummer Garry Peterson about the band’s longevity, life on the road, and Wisconsin.
Michael: You not only drum, but keep the books for the band.
Garry: I’m what you call the managing partner. It’s me and the other original member, bass player Jim Kale. As we speak I’m paying off bills because we’re just back from Virginia and a gig with the Doobies.
M: You’ve been drumming a while.
G: My tenure with the band is about 52 years. I was originally with Randy Bachman (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) in a band called Allan and the Silvertones…it was an amalgam of the two top bands in Winnipeg that went on to become The Guess Who. I’ve been playing drums professionally since 1949 having had a career way before The Guess Who, in fact when I was four years old. Really!
M: You’ve had different incarnations, and band members over the years. What’s the audition process like to get in?
G: I don’t think we’ve ever really had an audition to be honest. Never sat anyone down and said, ‘play American Woman and These Eyes…’ we have always had kind of a pool of guys from Winnipeg who we knew, knowing they grew up with the band and knowing the material of The Guess Who.
M: Your lead vocalist now is from Thunder Bay.
G: Derek Sharp, yes…he’s been with us for nine years. We’ve had different variations over the years. Our keyboardist, flute and horn player Leonard Shaw, he’s been with us over twenty years.
M: What about guitarist Will Evanovich?
G: Right now he’s producing a new album that Styx is working on. He had been with us for ten years.
M: How do keep it going after all this time, from family, kids, and all that goes with it?
G: I’m on my second wife (laugh). It is rather difficult. My first marriage lasted 26 years, and now I just celebrated my 22nd anniversary with my second wife. It isn’t easy, because your family and friends have to share you with the world. And on important occasions, births, deaths, graduations and on and on, we’re sometimes not there. People only see you on stage, and that’s an idealistic situation. I don’t think family and friends get enough credit for what they have to put up with from people in bands.
M: I saw The Guess Who recently, and you still bring it!
G: This band has more energy than the original (laugh). The original stood and played. That was the style of the time; ‘we’re stoned and we’re cool’ (laugh). Now the guys run five miles a day, drinking homemade juices, and have all the energy in the world. No smoking. No drugs, and very little drinking. Look at Aerosmith…they’re the same way…it’s the way it is today.
M: And no end in sight as a band?
G: Well, I just turned 70, and I’ve often said that maybe I’ll expire falling face down on my tom-tom, and that’ll be the end. And that wouldn’t be all bad (laugh). This is something we love to do. I think when you’re an entertainer, the real drug is making people feel good and happy. Music in this world is associated with very special moments in people’s lives…first kiss, first love and on and on. Music marks special times in our lives. It’s interesting and gratifying to see what some of our songs mean to individuals we meet on the road of life.
M: Can you feel it from the crowd when you hit familiar opening chords to your huge hits?
G: Oh yes! There’s a simpatic energy that passes between the band and the audience, and without the emotional vibes of the crowd, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Taking their energy makes a much better experience for both the band and the audience. We and the crowd become like partners on any given evening, we become one. They bought the records…I mean, we come from an era when it was all about radio, records and press…and the record company. Without any one of those parts of the equation…you and I are not talking here today.
M: You like coming back to Wisconsin?
G: We love it. As you get older, you lose track of some of the venues, until you get there and say to yourself, ‘oh yeah…I know this place.’ Wisconsin is one of the most beautiful places created by God. It’s the farm fields, the pristine feel to everything. Wisconsin oozes richness from the land. It’ll be great to come back.
The Guess Who will be at the Dodge County Fair Friday night, August 21st.