By Sarah Naron
CROCKETT – The 2017-2018 season of the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association (PWFAA) will be rockin’ and rollin’ on Saturday, Feb. 24 as Canadian classic rock legends The Guess Who take the stage of the Crockett Civic Center stage at 7:30 p.m.
Speaking to The Messenger on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 8, drummer and founding band member Garry Peterson expressed excitement about the show.
“You know, we don’t often get to play in a performing arts center – which means, usually, good acoustics,” he explained. “So, it’s kind of a treat to be able to do the show in a setting like that.”
According to Peterson, Texas is a state the band would be interested in visiting more frequently.
“But you know, we can only go where they book us,” he chuckled. “You know, I go on our Facebook page all the time, and I’m looking – ‘Oh, you guys gotta come to Boston!’ and ‘What’s wrong with you? You don’t come…’
“And I want to say to all of them, ‘We can’t just come and show up and play,” he continued, laughing again. “We have to have somebody book us there.”
Peterson said the band occasionally performs in Dallas and Houston.
The Guess Who began, as Peterson said, “a long, long time ago and far, far away in a place called Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
“We were all teenagers living through Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and all the great guys that started rock n’ roll,” he explained. “We were listening to them and thinking, ‘Wow, this is so exciting.’ It was music of our era. We didn’t realize it then, but it was going to be our era.”
The band members had all been playing instruments since childhood, Peterson said, and decided to form a musical group of their own. They began by covering songs by groups such as The Beatles, but eventually decided to take a shot at producing original material.
“So, we started doing that, and lo and behold, we recorded,” he said. “Our first recording was in Minneapolis; we drove down there to the Key Bank Studios, and we recorded.”
The band scored its first hit record in the United States in 1965 with “Shakin’ All Over” and began touring the country.
“Actually, the first place we went to was Texas,” Peterson recalled. “We went to San Angelo/Odessa/Midland area to do a three-date tour and then back to Canada. So, that was really the start of our coming down here.”
After returning to Canada, the band continued recording.
“And then, in 1969, it took that long to have our really first huge hit in the United States, and that was a song called ‘These Eyes,’” Peterson explained.
The band then signed with RCA Records of New York City, remaining with the label throughout their careers and producing a total of 14 albums and 17 Top 40 Hits.
When asked what inspired the band’s moniker, Peterson reverted back to 1965, the period of time during which “Shakin’ All Over” was gaining popularity in the States.
“Most radio stations were playing records from the British Invasion – all the groups coming from Britain like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Manfred Mann and all of those great British acts,” he explained. “Our record company president didn’t think that American radio would play a group from Canada.”
Rather than the name of the band at the time, the promotional copies of “Shakin’ All Over” which were distributed to radio stations was labeled with “Guess Who?”
“Once that song became a hit, the plan was then to tell them the real name of the band at that time,” Peterson explained. “However, once you brand something with a song, you can’t change the name of the product. So, everybody at radio stations kept saying, ‘Well, here’s ‘Shakin’ All Over,’ by The Guess Who.’”
When asked to describe how he and his bandmates felt upon hearing their music on the radio for the first time, Peterson said their thoughts were along the lines of, “Is this really happening?” and went on to share another instance which was meaningful to the band.
“Dick Clark was originally a DJ, and he had a television show called ‘American Bandstand.’ That was a television show that was done out of Philadelphia,”he explained. “ And every major act in the world that became successful in those early years was on that show.”
While the band’s first foray onto the radio waves “was a wonderful thing,” the day on which the group appeared on ‘American Bandstand’ and were bestowed with their first gold record for ‘These Eyes’ by Clark seems to be the experience held most dearly to Peterson’s heart.
“When we were on that show getting that record, I think finally, we said, ‘You know, this is unbelievable. This is what we wanted to do, and here it is,’” he said.
The opportunity to reflect on all that had led them to moments of that sort, Peterson explained, was not one often afforded to the band.
“When you’re in the midst of being an artist – our big success was from 1965 to 1975 – in those days, you did maybe two or three albums a year; probably two, and touring,” he said. “You didn’t really have time to sit back and ponder all that had happened.
“I think now, when you look at the pictures on the wall – now, in my older age, I have a chance to look at these things and remember all the events surrounding it,” Peterson continued.
When asked to identify the biggest challenge he and his bandmates faced over the course of their career, Peterson addressed the difficulties associated with getting a musical act off the ground.
“You have to have some substance to what you’re doing, no matter what kind of art it is,” he explained. “And I guess we had that, as is evidenced by the fact that we’re still working today. But I think you need a set of circumstances that could be called luck.”
The “luck” experienced by Peterson and his bandmates included meeting their producer, who sent them to New York to record.
“If any one of those didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have had the success,” he pointed out. “So, that’s very difficult to get it. But we were fortunate to have that set of circumstances come together.”
After achieving success, Peterson said, the greatest challenge becomes maintaining it.
“There’s the pressure to create new material to keep yourself relevant and successful,” he said. “Trends change. Music has changed. Fashion has changed.”
At the conclusion of the height of the band’s success in 1975, Peterson explained, disco was taking over the music scene.
“So, that was really a change in the music,” he said. “So, getting there was difficult because you need help to get there. You need the right set of circumstances. And then, staying there is kind of a pressure to come up with the relevant material that would keep you successful in that era.”
Peterson said the band is preparing for its first album release in almost 48 years.
“We recorded it in Nashville a year ago,” he explained. “We’re hoping that it will be out between the middle or the end of July. We’re just working on all the components – the artwork and all the information that’s going on the album.”
Peterson said the group hopes for the album to released as a vinyl record as well.
“There seems to be a nostalgic trend back to the actual records,” he noted. “A lot of artists are putting their new stuff out not only in (digital) files, but in vinyl. So, wouldn’t you say that’s full circle?”
The band plans to play at least two songs from the new album, along with all their previous hits, during the show in Crockett.
The fame and fortune the band acquired during their career was something Peterson said its members never expected.
“In the initial stages, we had no idea that, being from such a small city in Canada, that we could do what we actually ended up doing,” he said. “We wanted to do it, but you know, ‘wanting’ and ‘doing’ doesn’t always coincide. This time, it actually happened, and it was quite an amazing journey.”
It is a journey that, as Peterson pointed out, has yet to reach its end, continuing with shows in locations such as Crockett – a place which Peterson and his bandmates are excited to visit.
“Crockett, Texas may not be New York City or Los Angeles, but all the greatest people in this country live in places like Crockett and Midland and Odessa. The bulk of the country – and same in Canada – is not made up of all these large, high-profile cities. It’s made of the real people that are Americans and Canadians living out in the small areas. When you add those up, there are far more people there than in the big cities.”
According to Peterson, the band enjoys performing in smaller cities due to the appreciation exhibited by the audience.
“They don’t get as much activity as far as concerts and other art shows as a place like New York,” he pointed out. “So, it’s always very special.”
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.