The Return of Rock ‘n’ Roll:
How The Guess Who’s New Album is Bringing Analog to the Digital Age
By: Matthew MacDermant
The Guess Who has been making music for over half a century. Having produced such hits as “American Woman,” “No Time,” and “No Sugar,” the band is iconic as a classic rock staple. Yet what these hits all have in common is that they were all created before 1975. They are from a seemingly bygone era when radio DJs, records, and all night cruising on thirty-five-cent gas dominated the landscape. In this era of streaming digital and social media, is there a place for analog? For rock ‘n’ roll? Garry Peterson, lifelong drummer and the last original member of The Guess Who, gives a resounding “Yes!” Can a fifty-year-old band put out a new album that really rocks? Another resounding “Yes!”
I had the chance to interview Garry and we got to talking about The Guess Who, the band’s journey, and the past and future of rock ‘n’ roll. He filled me in on everything the band is doing right now and I have to say, I was impressed. So often, bands that have been around for multiple decades just stop making content. They ride the wave of past successes and live out former glory. This is far from true of The Guess Who. The band is alive and well, producing new hits that, while paying homage to the band’s roots, are very much original and inspiring.
The Guess Who’s new album, “The Future IS What It Used To Be” is fashioned after the classic rock sounds of the 1960s and ‘70s. While this may at first seem to reflect mere nostalgia, rest assured that the album truly delivers. Dereck, Will, Rudy, Garry, and Leonard play every song with ease. Each cut feels real, an expression of the culminated talent that comprises the current lineup.
According to Garry, the purpose of the album is to produce an authentic no-nonsense rock album that can recapture the sound and feeling of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He reminded me that back in those days, whatever the DJ played was the soundtrack for your day and night. Before cars had auxiliary ports for phones and iPods, satellite radio, or even CD players and tape decks, there was the local radio station. The DJ was an artist, a trusted provider of music and mood, a master of ceremonies to any and all activity outside the home, venue, and record shop. People relied on the radio to deliver the freshest hits and musicians relied on the radio to spread their works of sweat and sound. It is this that “The Future IS What It Used To Be” is trying to capture.
The reasons for creating such a piece are clear. For those who lived that reality, it is a chance to recapture the magic. Yet Garry insisted that this was far less about nostalgia as it is about providing that feeling to those who never experienced it at all. In his words: “So many young people are longing for a slice of that era. We created this album for them, so they can live a little bit of that magic.” To accomplish this, the album is recorded all in analog, using the same console and outboard gear which created “Wheatfield Soul,” “Share The Land,” and “American Woman.” It was recorded at the same studio, Blackwood Studios Analog. Garry used the very same snare drum he toured with in 1969. All the instruments pay homage to the period, including the use of a Hofner bass, the same kind Paul McCartney plucked during his tenure with The Beatles. Listening to it, I can feel the soul of this music, the soul of the era. It’s a good feeling.
Garry feels strongly that this new album is really the band’s opus, their masterpiece, at least it is for him. He told me:
“This is the first album that I like every cut and the packaging. That’s never happened before. I love playing every song. It is a real rock ‘n’ roll album in the spirit of The Guess Who.”
“We want to make a new legacy for both the band and the fans,” Garry assured me. Instead of just touring on the hits from yesteryear, The Guess Who is creating and sharing the music that emanates from them as productive artists. “We put a lot of love into this album,” he told me, “and we had a lot of fun!”
While Garry holds the last remaining original membership position, the band lives on in an evolved form through the talent, hard work, and love of each and every addition to the Guess Who family. When I asked him about the changing lineup, he expressed regret that Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman had chosen to part ways, that Jim Kale had retired, and that the original band was no longer intact. Yet he expressed deep appreciation for the new energy and fervor. “It’s inspiring to be with all these new musicians,” he excitedly expressed. “They are really good people with fresh new energy.” Indeed, the band has some real talent. Rudy Sarzo was a member of Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Manic Eden, Dio, Blue Öyster Cult, Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche and Devil City Angels. Will Evankovich did work with Styx, Tommy Shaw, and Ted Nugent. The breadth and depth of this talent is incredible. This allows The Guess Who to achieve new and exciting heights. They are indeed a band once again on the rise.
Each track on the album has its own unique sound and feel. I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites.
“When We Were Young” features powerful lyrics, funky bass lines, and a breakdown guitar solo, with an onpoint backup set of riffs that really kicks. Furthermore, I love the line, “Never mind the money, we did it for the love when we were young.” This I feel sums up the spirit of this new band and this new album. It is a passionate project by passionate artists.
“Running Blind” highlights Derek’s talent as a singer. The background harmonies and overtones bring out something like The Eagles, but the sax adds a touch of blues.
“Haunted” has a lower tempo emotional presence. The piano is beautiful and the guitar which comes in halfway through brings us to the rock ‘n’ roll blues.
“In America” is great road trip music, perfect for cruisin’ around the town or country. This is a country rock anthem with the perfect hint of harmonica and piano sprinkled into the mix.
“Playin’ On The Radio,” the band’s first single off the album, is a tribute to the days of radio DJs and jukeboxes. It is the song that most captures that feeling of the era the way Garry spoke about it. This is a nickel-for-a-song, drive-around-town, hangin’-with-friends-at-Lookout-Point kind of classics.
“Long Day” is a low and slow jam. It brings us down and fades us out with the band as they close the album. The symbol fade out is a really great touch. No other song would have been better in this slot.
“The Future IS What It Used To Be” is the future of The Guess Who. It is a return to the tried and true, the authentic, the roots, while also moving the band into some bold new territory. It is amazing how these classic sounding songs feel so fresh, on key, and altogether new. Instead of chasing their shadow and the glory of ‘69 and ‘70, The Guess Who is now making a new legacy that is worthy of their name. This album, while in itself a great hit, is more than that. It reminds us that classic rock doesn’t have to be something of the past. Real, creative, new classics can be just as relevant in 2018 as in 1968. Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be merely the past. It can be the present and future as well.