The Guess Who had a truly impressive number of hit songs during the late 1960s and early ‘70s, including “These Eyes,” “Laughing,” “Undun,” “No Time,” “American Woman,” “No Sugar Tonight,”, “Share the Land” and “Clap for the Wolfman,” many of which are on regular rotation on today’s classic rock radio.
Drummer Garry Peterson was a founding member of The Guess Who, and was part of their classic late 1960s and early ‘70s lineup. He and founding bassist Jim Kale are in the current incarnation of the band, which visits the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez on Thursday. Click here to purchase tickets online.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show?
Garry Peterson: In this era that we’re in right now, it’s mostly polkas.
GP: You have to imagine that almost every interview asks that. I think that our fans, or people that come to see The Guess Who, would be very angry if we didn’t play all of the hits that they know and love. So what we will do is play all the songs that were Top 40 hits, probably. I think there’s about 14 or 15, or something like that. Plus we will play a song that we re-recorded by Little Richard, we will play that. And we will probably play two new songs that we recorded in the past year.
JM: It’s an interesting story how the band first got its name. Could you tell me about that?
GP: We were signed to a Canadian record label called Quality Records, and when we recorded our 1965 single “Shakin’ All Over,” Sceptor Records in New York City leased that record from Quality, and wanted to put it out on Sceptor. And they did. Because the world was playing British Invasion music, George Struth, who was the president of Quality Records, thought we may have a hard time getting it played on American radio because it was a Canadian group. So they put on the label “Guess Who?”
People calling in for the record to be played again would say “We want that record ‘Shakin’ All Over.’ Is that The Animals or The Beatles, or somebody under a pseudo-name?” I think what happened is finally the disc jockeys and the people phoning in would say, “Let’s listen to the song by The Guess Who.” They put the article in front of it. And after that point we were going to release our next record under the name that we had at that time, which was Chad Allen and the Expressions. But since we were already branded with that name, it was useless and futile.
JM: Looking at the band’s past catalog, it’s amazing how many songs are well-known. My favorite of the bunch is “American Woman.” How did that particular song come together?
GP: We were playing in Toronto after a long tour of the United States, with the unrest that was in this country during that time period with the racial problems and other things, and the war in Vietnam. Coming from Winnipeg, this was all new to us. We didn’t have those kind of problems there. So it was kind of an eye opener.
One night we were just outside of Toronto, and we had two one-hour sets. In between sets we took a break and were out talking with our producer Jack Richardson and some other people from RCA Records in Canada who were at the show. We couldn’t find Burton Cummings, our lead singer, for the second set, so we just went on and I started playing this rhythm, with a double bass drum figure. Because I was listening to Buddy Miles at the time, and he was playing with a double bass drum set in The Electric Flag. If you listen to their album you’ll get a feeling for what his drumming was like, and how “American Woman” kind of comes from that.
We started playing, Randy (Bachman) started playing some riff, and I guess Burton heard that and came running onstage, because he knew that he was late (laughs). It was basically a jam, that it started as. The audience really enjoyed it, so we said, well, we have to keep that in the show. And it kind of morphed every night, and changed — we threw this out, put that in, you know. Finally, after playing it onstage, which is a great way to develop a song because you’re playing it for the people and they’ll tell you if they like it or not, then we went to Chicago, RCA Mid-America Recording Studio and cut the song. Basically it was a group effort jam onstage.
And the only No. 1 song we had. Oh, I shouldn’t say that, because it was a double-sided No. 1 hit; in other words the A-Side of the 45 and the B-Side (“No Sugar Tonight”) both charted No. 1 at the same time. There are only three or four other acts that have done that, ever. That would be Elvis, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Guess Who.
JM: Your song “Clap for the Wolfman” has the voice of Wolfman Jack. Were you around when he was recording his parts?
GP: Oh yeah. He had a couple of girls in the studio. If you listen closely at the end he’s talking to them, and they’re kind of giggling and laughing. He had quite a few joints. It was maybe 10 or 15 or 20 people in the control room. It was kind of like a big party.
JM: That’s how you imagine it happening, so it’s good to hear that’s actually how it was.
GP: That was done in Toronto, in Nimbus Nine Studios, which was the studio of our producer. They built that probably with a lot of the money they made from The Guess Who. It was a nice studio.
We actually went on tour with him for a while. He would announce the band at the beginning of the show, and then during the show he would come out and do the song with us. It was kind of neat because, growing up in Winnepeg, at night when it got cold you could get KAAY in Little Rock, Ark., and you’d get WLS in Chicago. It would travel on the airwaves at night like crazy. We knew about all these disc jockeys. So for us to be able to do ... I mean, that’s why we did that song. It was kind of paying homage to a great figure. We’re a radio band. We’re a band of the radio age, and so disc jockeys like he and Don Imus, Dick Biondi — all these guys were big for us.
JM: It’s impressive that you’re still drumming in a rock band at 67 years old.
GP: Well, I started professionally when I was 4 years old.
JM: Yeah, you’ve been doing this a very long time. What’s your secret?
GP: I have to have my body rebuilt from time to time. Because the parts wear out. It’s tough for a drummer, because I’ve been playing so long and you’re pounding a hard surface. It’s like the body and the muscles and the tendons and the nerves are all shock absorbers, and they take a beating. I have to get things done every once in a while. And hopefully I can play for a long time. I’ve often said it, who knows, maybe they’ll just pull me dead one day off of my drums.
Click here to read the full interview with the Guess Who’s Garry Peterson.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.