Interview – Garry Peterson of The Guess Who

The Guess Who was perhaps one of the most successful bands during the late ’60s into the early ’70s. Out of Winnipeg, Canada, the band charted fourteen Top 40 singles in the United States and more than thirty in Canada during this period. Featuring a lineup of Burton Cummings (vocals), Randy Bachman (guitars), Garry Peterson (drums), and Jim Kale (bass), The Guess Who made a massive impact on Rock-n-Roll history that still remains today. 

Since that time there have been a few reunions, several different lineups, but the one constant through each era of The Guess Who has been Garry Peterson. A passionate drummer who has a Jazz background, Peterson has been behind the kit for the band for decades and continues to keep the legacy alive in 2023.

Recently putting out the album Plein D’Amour with a lineup featuring Leonard Shaw (keyboards,), Derek Sharp (vocals), Michael Staertow (guitar), and Michael Devin (bass)… it may not be the original cast… but that does not mean it is not good. An album filled with good vibes, a hopeful message, and well composed Rock-n-Roll songs, fans of the classic band will certainly enjoy what it has to offer. 

Excited about the new music and for a chance to keep touring, Garry Peterson recently took time to discuss the wild ride of The Guess Who, his undying love for music, working with the current lineup of the band, plus more.  

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in Rock-n-Roll for many decades now. The Guess Who would become one of the most successful Rock bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s era. How would you describe this incredible musical journey?

Garry Peterson – You used the word – incredible. I mean I’m a little guy from Winnipeg who started playing drums in 1949, when I was four years old, I didn’t think I would be talking to you today and all the places in between. I’ve been very blessed. I’ve met some really great people and played with great musicians. I’ve seen and been in a place that most people only dream of… it’s really been an incredible journey.

Cryptic Rock – You have sustained it for a very long time. The Guess Who’s music has stood the test of time. Creating some of the best Rock-n-Roll songs ever, what was it like when the band started to get recognition all those years ago?

Garry Peterson – It was our dream. Don’t forget we were sitting in Winnipeg listening at night to all the great DJs. People like Wolfman Jack, and all these guys who were beaming in Winnipeg on the radio. They were playing this great music which we tried to play and started to learn how to play Rock-n-Roll. It was a dream of ours to get on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, and all of the things we were seeing via the media. Did we ever think we would get there? I don’t think so… but it happened. It happened because we just kept doing; we kept playing and creating. It is like the Roadrunner cartoons where the Willie Coyote had to keep back to the drawing board all the time and keep working… that’s what we did. Then one day we woke up and there was Dick Clarke handing us a gold record on American Bandstand. Who knew! I didn’t for sure; you would have to ask the rest of the guys what they think. It was like a dream come true.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it is. Yes, who can predict such success.

Garry Peterson – This is the way the band still is today; we love playing and creating music. More than anything, when we create this music, we love playing it for other people to give something to their lives. There is nothing like a live performance… there really isn’t. With a live performance you have instant feedback from the crowd. They like it, they are enjoying it, and that’s a great feeling.

The Guess Who – Wheatfield Soul / RCA Records (1969)
The Guess Who – Canned Wheat / RCA Records (1969)

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. One of the most unique aspects of The Guess Who was the band’s sound which was a mix of heavier Rock, Blues, and Soul. That made for a very interesting sound. All The Guess Who’s albums and singles were diverse and did not sound the same.

Garry Peterson – No, because we were listening to all different kinds of music. I came from a Jazz background. When I started playing drums there was no Rock at the time. Then I transitioned to the music of my age. I wasn’t going to stay in Jazz when my teen life was going to be dominated by the music I grew up with.

Everybody in the band was influenced by Classical, Jazz, Country, and by all the art forms of music. I think that is what’s evident in the writing of the band. When you take a song like “These Eyes,” which is a ballad, “American Woman,” which is a heavy tune, and “Undun,” which is like a Jazz tune. There you go, those are three different types of genres evident in our music. If you listen to Guess Who albums, beyond the hits, you will hear a Country and Jazz tune on almost every album.

I went back and listened and thought – wow, did we do that on purpose? No, it was just us emulating. It’s still true of this band… we’re emulating the people we grew up admiring and listening to. The Beatles had a heavy influence on the original band; and it still does today on the current band. We listen to all the music that is out there and take from what we like.

Cryptic Rock – That is the great thing about influences. You listen, and you create something on your own.

Garry Peterson – Yes, we’re not creating anything that is earth shattering or new, but we are just playing music inspired by the people that we have been listening to for years. Also, sometimes newer bands we are listening to.

Cryptic Rock – Right. You mentioned the newest lineup of The Guess Who. Some of the current members have been a part of the band for a long time now; some are newer members. What has it been like working with this mix of players?

Garry Peterson – Well, I say it took me sixty years to get to this band and the great guys who are in this band. In some ways it’s similar to the old band because of the love of music, listening, playing, writing, and recording. It kind of has the same feel to the old band. The talent level in this band is extremely high. I’m so happy at this time in my life to still be able to record.

When I go on stage, at my age, I wonder in the back of my mind while I’m enjoying playing – could this be the last show? You never know, something might happen, and you wouldn’t know it was the last show you would play while you are playing it.

This band has great talent. Derek Sharp has been with us for fifteen years. Leonard Shaw has been with the band for almost thirty years. There are some members who have been with the band for quite a long time, and we have been developing based on the past band. People will say, “It doesn’t sound like The Guess Who of old.”  Well of course not! If the four members, who are still alive, were still recording records together today, they wouldn’t sound like that did in 1969. You have to progress in your field; you don’t stay locked in a time. The argument that this doesn’t sound like The Guess Who…. yea, it doesn’t sound like it fifty years ago… but who knows what that fifty-year-old band would sound like today. That band might sound like this!

We’re creating music for people and out of the kind of music we like and what we’re influenced by. That music is to be added to that great legacy of the band. For all the talented writers, musicians, and singers who have passed through this band… this is merely an extension of it in our minds.

Cryptic Rock – Understandable. Speaking of, you recently released a new album entitled Plein D’Amour. This is a very enjoyable listen. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?

Garry Peterson – Again, it’s hard when you have one guy living in Los Angeles, two in Winnipeg, one in Toronto, one in Florida, and one in Nashville. It’s harder to get together; so we have to kind of piece it together. What we did do on this particular record, which is very similar to the band in the past, is we all went to one place. We went to a recording studio just north of Toronto called Villa Sound. We were there for about eight days and we immersed ourselves in the studio in an old house with a backyard. Actually, “The King” video was shot right in that back yard in between cuts while we were recording! Derek’s wife and her daughter prepared meals for us so we can take a break to have dinner and go back to work.

It was kind of more like us living together in a way and living the album while we were recording it. It was a very nostalgic step back to years from the past to record this album. It was an incredible experience for me, because I never thought I would get to do something like this at my age now.

Derek has many more songs; and hopefully we can capture them the same way as we did this album. The Beatles said, “All You Need Is Love,” and Plein D’Amour means full of love. I think what people are feeling when they listen to the album is, “Wow, this is something that has been missing for a while.” Our lives are so contentious in the world with this person against that person. We need more civility and love between peoples. That’s the theme of the album.

The Guess Who – Plein D’Amour / Deko Entertainment (2023)

Cryptic Rock – You can feel that in the music. Music has always been meant to bring us together… so it’s nice to hear music that unifies. There is so much division in the world at this point.

Garry Peterson – Yes, and I think it’s something that maybe needed right now. If that’s other than the fact that it’s music, if it has a message for people that is positive. I look back at some of our stuff, and it’s “No Time,” No Sugar Tonight”… in a way that’s negative… I never thought about it before. (Laughs) This is a different feeling. I think you will get in the album the feeling of playing music that this group of musicians have together. Also, they exist on a personal level in the same manner. In other words, we are like a group of brothers, love each other very much, enjoy being with each other, and enjoy playing music together. I hope that comes out in the music.

Cryptic Rock – That feeling does translate. In support of Plein D’Amour you have already done some shows. You will be doing a bit more touring into 2024. How excited are you for all these shows?

Garry Peterson – Everybody else is a bit younger than I am. I am seventy-eight years old and I’m still on the road. I’m very blessed to be able to do it; I hope I can do it and I am going to try to do it until I die. I try not to think about that, because I want to do the next album. We are talking about it and Derek is putting material together for the next album. Although we are an older band, we have that drive to want to keep this train rolling and keep the music coming while God has given us the inspiration and time to be able to do it. You strike while the iron is hot! Most bands know you will go into periods where you are not as productive; the muse isn’t speaking to you. I think we are at a point now that we have to keep going. It’s there, we’re enjoying it, and it’s pretty simple.

Cryptic Rock – It is really nice to hear how inspired you are at this stage. Those coming out to these shows, what can they expect? Can they expect a mix of the past and present The Guess Who music?

Garry Peterson – Oddly enough, even before we are talking, we have four out of the eight songs on the new album in the live shows; they have been there a month already. In a way that is very courageous in the band to be so confident in the material that you would put it up against songs that are fifty and sixty years old. Those are pre-sold hits that people are coming to hear.

We are putting out a video for each single on the album; so there will be eight videos before the end of this year. I think that is the new way of selling music. It’s so different from when we were a radio/record company act. Radio did everything then. Social media and the internet are the vehicle now for music to come to people. We’re trying to learn that new method. The old days it was different, and now we have a new way.

We are going to keep doing new songs in the show; I think it’s very important that people hear them. Obviously, the hit songs we will always play; as long as we have that name in front of us to honor the people who recorded those songs. It is also very important we play those songs as close to the records as absolutely possible. However, as I said, the other part of our mission was to create new music to add to that legacy. You can’t do that if you don’t have the confidence to play it in front of people.

Ultimately, as it was in the old days, it’s the people that we play with that tell you what they like and what they want to hear from you. That’s important for us, because if they like “The King” or “People Around Me,” hopefully we are going to write something more along those lines. It gives us the information to be able to say, “Okay, we have to take the band in this direction… they want more of what we just produced.”

The Guess Who – American Woman / RCA (1970)
The Guess Who – Guess Who’s Back / Unidisc Music (1978)

Cryptic Rock – Yes, and you are keeping very busy. So, as a seasoned, successful musician, what do you think are some of the most important things you have learned from your life in Rock-n-Roll?

Garry Peterson – Wow, that’s a loaded question. (Laughs) I love being with people. I love meeting people. Sometimes your encounters with people, whether you are working through an airport or something, are moments in time where you will never see that person again. I have kind of a game I play – I smile at a person and I may never see them again. Ninety-nine out of one-hundred times… they will smile back.

So, in the longer view of your question… The Beatles said it best with the last cut of their last album… what I’ve learned is, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Cryptic Rock – Give out into the world good, you will receive good back, and live in the moment.

Garry Peterson – Within a brief moment… you’ll never see that person again… but what you will get out of that little moment by doing something like that. I learned that, but it took a while to do that. I realized it is incredible to be able to do that. It gives me great hope for humanity.

People are what it’s all about. Sometimes you will see a person who is not feeling well and they are nasty, but if you make that smile at them, rather than be nasty back, it may help at that particular moment. That’s what I’ve learned in my life.

The Guess Who 2023-24 Tour Dates:
September 22 Saginaw, MI Temple Theatre
September 23 Atlantic City, NJ Golden Nugget
October 6 Ames, IA Stephens Auditorium
October 7 Onamia, MN Grand Casino Mille Lacs
October 12 Park City, UT Egyptian Theatre
October 13 Park City, UT Egyptian Theatre
October 14 Park City, UT Egyptian Theatre
October 15 Park City, UT Egyptian Theatre
October 20 Las Vegas, NV Golden Nugget Casino
October 21 Kansas City, MO Ameristar Casino
October 27 Warren, MI Andiamo Celebrity Show Room
October 28 Des Plaines, IL The Arcada Theatre
October 29 Evansville, IN Old National Events Plaza
November 3 Elkhart, IN The Lerner Theatre
November 5 Sidney, OH Sidney Auditorium
December 1 Wichita, KS The Cotillion
December 2 Hinton, OK Sugar Creek Casino
January 19 Durham, NC Carolina Theatre of Durham Fletcher Hall
January 20 Myrtle Beach, SC The Carolina Opry Theater
January 25 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
January 26 Atlanta, GA Buckhead Theatre
January 27 Greenville, TN Niswonger Performing Arts Center
February 2 Greensburg, PA Palace Theater
February 3 Erie, PA Warner Theater
February 9 San Diego, CA The Magnolia
February 10 Thousand Oaks, CA Bank of America Arts Center
March 22 Norwood, MA Norwood Theatre
March 23 Washington, DC Warner Theatre
March 24 Salisbury, MA Blue Ocean Music Hall
March 29 Tucson, AZ Fox Tucson Theatre
April 5 Saint Petersburg, FL The Mahaffey Theater
April 6 Fort Myers, FL Barbara Mann Performing Arts Hall
April 7 Fort Lauderdale, FL The Parker Playhouse
April 10 Fort Pierce, FL Sunrise Theater
April 11 Jacksonville, FL Jacksonville Theater
April 12 Mobile, AL Saenger Theatre
April 18 Daytona Beach, FL Peabody Auditorium
April 19 The Villages, FL Savannah Center
April 25 Marietta, OH Peoples Bank Theatre
April 26 Lorain, OH Lorain Palace Theatre
April 27 Wheeling, WV Capitol Theatre
May 3 Shipshewana, IN Blue Gate Performing Arts Center
May 4 St. Charles, IL The Arcada Theatre
May 5 Wausau, WI Grand Theater
May 31 Rochester, NY Kodak Center Theater
June 1 Shippensburg, PA Luhrs Center

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