Interview: Garry Peterson (The Guess Who)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: August 2018. We had the great to honour to talk with an amazing drummer: Garry Peterson. He is best known as a founding member of the legendary The Guess Who. The Canadian band had many hit singles in the USA, including “American Woman”, “These Eyes” and “Undun”. On 14 September they will release their latest studio album, “The Future IS What It Used To Be”. Read below the very interesting things Garry told us:


Can you please tell us a few words about the recording process of your latest album, “The Future IS What It Used To Be”?

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This was a wonderful experience for me to be able to go back and record on the same equipment that we did all our hit songs in the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s. We went into Blackbird Studio in Nashville and we recorded this album. It was for me like stepping back in time to those days when we were younger and when we were recording like that. I never thought I would be able to experience this again and I was grateful that I had the opportunity to do this album, which I love very much.


Was it an interesting experience to work with director Nigel Dick (Guns N’ Roses, Oasis, Britney Spears) for the music video of “Playin’ On The Radio”?

Yes, Nigel Dick is not only a wonderful person but he is an amazing, inspirational artist in his own video world. When we did that all-day shoot with him in the Las Vegas desert, it was like 100°F and he worked harder than anybody I’ve seen work at their job and he got some great results. He was an inspiration to us.


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How did it happen to get Tommy Shaw (Styx- vocals) to participate in the new album?

Tommy has been a friend of the band for a long time and our guitar player, Will Evankovich, produced and wrote the new Styx album, “The Mission”, with Tommy Shaw. I think Tommy listened to the material and it was a little bit different in what Styx does and I think he was happy to just be able to come and have some fun with our band.


Why are you so happy with the current line-up of the band?

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I would say that it’s difficult to have 5 members in the band. It’s like having 5 wives and 5 husbands to be with all the time and I think that this particular line up of The Guess Who -and I’ve been in all of the incarnations of the band- is extremely and perhaps the most talented musically. Also, as people I think this is the best we have ever gotten along, on a personal level. So, I would have to say that having those qualities in this band is maybe a pleasure to go on to try to create a new legacy to add to the past legacy of the band The Guess Who.


How exciting was it to play the hits of the week on “Let’s Go” TV program in 1967?

It was for us a training ground where we got to play songs by all of our heroes. At the same time we were writing the songs that would become our own hits. So, it was like we were in a job that was training us for what would come to us. We had a lot of fun because we were able to play these songs and also do videos for the television show kind of like The Monkees did.


Did you expect the huge commercial success of the song “American Woman” (1969)?

I don’t think we ever expected success of any of our songs. Usually, when you are in a band and you record an album, I think the band would pick the wrong song that would become popular. I think because you are involved in the creation of the album or the piece of music, you sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. But “American Woman” kind of hit a nerve because of the political times that were going on in America at the time and it was one of those songs that people just clung to them. It’s still incredible popular to this day after 50 years.


I love the song “Undun” (1969). Do you remember any interesting story regarding this great song?

Well, it’s incredible that you imagined that. My background in music goes back to jazz. When I was started playing drums, there was no rock ‘n’ roll. So, “Undun” is probably my favourite song the band has ever done, ever, to date. That song was actually recorded twice: The first time we recorded it was at the old RCA Studios on the East Side of New York City. In that studio they recorded Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and all the great big bands, so they had a lot of older recording equipment and the guys running it weren’t with the new rock ‘n’ roll scene. So, we didn’t like how it turned out, so one night after we played a concert at Madison Square Garden, at around midnight, we went in to A & R Studios, which was Phil Ramone’s studio in New York City and we re-cut “Undun” and “Laughing” and “Laughing” was the A-side of the 45 record and “Undun” was the B-side. Both of those songs gave The Guess Who its very first double-sided hit record in the United States.


What memories do you have of your performance at the White House in 1970?

It was kind of a surreal experience to be on the soft lawn of the White House and to play there at that time. Eventually I would become an American citizen, as I am today, so that I am citizen of both Canada and the United States of America. I can say in my heart, these two countries have been like a mother and father to me: Canada gave me all my basic values in life and in the United States I have most of my success in my career. So, I looked it as Canada, as my mother and United States as my father. As I look back, it was a great honour to be there and Pat Nixon (ed: the First Lady) asked us not to play “American Woman” because she understood it was a political comment and we said: “Fine, we are here to entertain people, not to cause a problem. So, if you don’t want us to play our biggest hit record, we ‘ll just play the rest of the hit records and that is fine”. But it was an honour to be there and a very unique experience. Not too many other people could say that they have done that: To play at the White House.


How important was the role of the producer Jack Richardson to the career of The Guess Who?

Jack Richardson was to The Guess Who as George Martin was to The Beatles. He bridged the gap from a basic rock ‘n’ roll band to a band that wanted to do different things in the studio. We would tell him what we wanted to do and he would know how to get it done in the studio. He was a very-very integral part of the sound of The Guess Who and the direction in which The Guess Who went. In actuality, when he died a little while ago I had a pair of drums put in his coffin, because he was a very-very dear friend to me.


Did you enjoy the reunion of the classic line-up in the early 2000’s?

Yes, I did. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t continue but as you know in this world, God has a plan for us and we just go on. I particularly enjoyed doing that reunion and it’s too bad that we couldn’t continue. But, you know, certain members of the band really wanted solo careers, I believe, and that’s their right to be able to do that.


What was it like to play at Toronto Rocks festival in 2003 with the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Rush?

(Laughs) Well, you can imagine that to play in front of 460.000 people, was something you can remember for the rest of your life. It was an incredible experience and it’s amazing how they staged it and got the people to come in. It was actually at an old World War II Air Force site, that was abandoned and they didn’t use it anymore. In fact, I think when the Pope John Paul II came to Canada, that’s where people had to go. But, again when I said in a previous question that God has a plan and we all have to adapt, that particular night that we played at the SARS Concert, I was introduced to the singer that we have now (ed: Derek Sharp), who was scheduled to be in this band and sing on this new album, “The Future IS What It Used To Be”. So, it shows you what I’m saying, is true.


What was your reaction when you watched Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the film “Almost Famous” saying: “Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic”.

He called us one of the greatest underrated bands in history, which probably, in some sense, it’s true. I don’t think people have realized the volume of music that it’s on our albums, other than the hit records. There is a great deal of music that a lot of people have not listened to. In a sense, we were kind of like The Beatles, because they were huge heroes of ours and we really did try to pattern ourselves after them, in a sense that we would play pop music that had blood from every other genre of music in the world. If you listen to some of The Guess Who albums, not the songs that everybody is familiar with, but the deep cuts, there are some very interesting things that we recorded. We weren’t afraid to experiment.

But I think having lived all our career in Winnipeg, which is not a mainstream city, it’s not New York, LA or Chicago, I don’t think people realize or ever put together the volume of work that we did. We did 14 albums for RCA Records and that was in a short time, from 1969 to 1975. It’s a lot of volume of work. I’m just glad today that RCA never put all of our albums in any medium like box set or anything and it’s only now that with the advent of digital download that people can get all of the albums. RCA tended to re-package the “Best Of” hits over and over again and I’m glad to see that people now have access to some of more interesting music that we created.


Are you proud of being a member of the biggest Canadian band of all time?

I’m very proud to have been in what you say the greatest Canadian band. We were the pioneers for music in Canada and I think I’m proud, but I’m more honoured to have been a part of creating all of this music. To be a part of all of that, was an honour that I could never dreamt of when I was a young boy in Winnipeg. I’m very proud of the legacy of the band and I’m humbled by the experience that we ‘ve got. I hope that this new record that people will listen to it, maybe it can help to further the legacy of this band.


Why The Guess Who have never done a European tour?

I have no answer for that question. People say: “Why have you never come to Europe?” Well, in order for us to come somewhere, someone asked to book us. So, when they book us, we will come. I believe if we come now, the people will listen to this band and they will be more than happy with this group of people, because it’s a great band and the band has a very close connection with the fans in the audience. I can only hope that we can do it someday.


Is it a bit weird that Madonna is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but The Guess Who are not?

That’s a big question that is always asked to us. My answer has to be that in my own mind and my own heart, I know what our success was and I know what our success was not. We are not The Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. You have to understand what your position is. It would be wonderful to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because so many of our heroes that we grew up with, that influenced us to create our music, they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It would be an incredible experience, but I have to say that if we don’t ever go in, it won’t be the end of the world for me, because I know what we accomplished and I’m satisfied with what we are doing. I’m more interested in trying to create more of that, rather than worry by what someone can honour me for.


Who are your influences as a drummer?

That’s a hard question for me to answer. I personally have so many influences in the world from Ringo Starr all the way up to Dave Garibaldi from Tower of Power. There are so many great drummers and also from the past, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, all these people I grew up with and I grew up listening to. Sometime in my playing, it’s gonna be something that I learned from one of the people that I love how they play drums. My father started me playing drums when I was 2 years old, so for me it’s like walking. No person on earth remembers the day they started to walk. For me it’s the same playing drums as walking. I don’t remember ever, not playing drums as long as I have memory. It’s a part of my body.


Do you believe that popular music which was written in the ‘60s and ‘70s is much better than today’s music?

I suppose that is subjective but I would have to say “Yes”, because music today is formula music. It is made to be successful and make money, whereas I think we have a little bit a boom: We wanted to make money and have hit records, but if music could be allowed to have no boundaries like when we were recording, I think you would find that we would have incredible music, because I believe that the musicians of today have a greater knowledge of music and have more access to become better at their craft. But I think the boundaries of styles of music are so rigid, that you have to stay within that boundary to become successful. I think for us, we did anything. When we put out a song like “These Eyes” and “American Woman” and “Undun”, those were from different worlds, all together. And that’s what I mean by ask being allowed to do whatever style we wanted to do. You couldn’t give us a style because we played like classical or like jazz or like country. I think that what is lacking in today’s music, is the experimentation with music.


Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about the music of The Guess Who?

Absolutely. As I said before, a person who is 18 years old that might know “American Woman” and go: “I like that song”, then they go on the Internet and they go: “There are 14 albums here! What is this all about?” Then they can explore to see whether they like it or not. Before the only place you could get that music was at record collector shows. Now, to answer your question, the social media and the digital world is extremely important to us, because it gets us out there, in front of the public of all ages.


Do you have any musical ambitions left?

No. To me the greatest drug in the world is performing and making people feel happy or feel some emotions, whatever they might be. Because playing live in front of people is a reward that you can’t describe. Recording in the studio is another part of that, because although you have no audience, you are creating the music that allows you to go out on stage. So, all are important parts of being a musical artist and that for me is the essence of what we do. As far musical aspirations, I said the bottom line is making people feel good when you play and if they are happy when they go home after the show, we are happy.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Garry Peterson for his time and to Gary James for his valuable help.

Pre-order the CD version of “The Future IS What It Used To Be” here:

Official The Guess Who website:

Official The Guess Who Facebook page:

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