The title of The Guess Who’s new album, set to drop next month, says it all: The Future Is What It Used to Be
Meaning, this fivesome out of Winnipeg is devoted not only to entertaining lifelong fans with the band’s greatest hits from the ’60s and ’70s, but also to growing creatively and producing new work.
These dedicated road warriors have been touring since February of this year. That tour will bring The Guess Who – Derek Sharp, Rudy Sarzo, Will Evankovich, Gary Peterson, and Leonard Shaw – to the Foellinger Theatre Friday, August 24, for an 8 p.m. show.
Peterson, the band’s drummer, is a founding member. He played on all of The Guess Who’s albums, including the seminal Canned Wheat, American Woman, and Share the Land. He told Athens Calling that the current incarnation of the band is solid, musically and interpersonally.
“Love playing with the guys who are now in the band,” Peterson said. “These guys make walking out onstage and performing enjoyable once again. The chemistry between the various members, both onstage and off, is great and that is translating into probably the best live show the band has ever had in its 50-plus years. Not to mention that the band now has the confidence to undertake some ambitious future projects.”
Loyal followers will be happy to hear that The Guess Who’s current setlist is heavy on the hits. Audiences can count on raucous versions of “American Woman,” “No Time,” “No Sugar,” “Clap for the Wolfman,” “These Eyes,” and “Undun.” The band has also taken to playing a smattering of songs from the new album, too, to keep things fresh.
In an interview with Leslie Feffer of AXS, Peterson said with a laugh that naming the latest record was a bit of a process.
“They were going to call it, just like Yogi Berra used to say, The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be. And I said, ‘That’s kind of negative. So let’s call it The Future IS What It Used To Be. We had a lot [of songs] that were negative — ‘No Time,’ ‘No Sugar,’ ‘American Woman’ stay away from me — so let’s try a positive message for a change.”
Interesting that the name of the new Guess Who album would have a complicated backstory. The same is true of the band’s name as well.
The Guess Who began as Allan and the Silvertones, named for lead singer and guitarist Chad Allan (born, incidentally, Allan Kowbel). This was back in 1958. Four years later, they changed their name again, this time to Chad Allan and the Reflections and they soon put out their first single, “Tribute to Buddy Holly.”
In 1965, the group’s Canadian record company decided to get coy with the release of their cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over.” They credited to the song only to “Guess Who?”, hoping to drum up interest in this new group from Canada.
In a way, the ploy worked. Fans were curious about the voices and talents behind the tune. But, since radio DJs all over the U.S. started referring to Allen and the Reflections as The Guess Who, the band had no choice but to officially change their name yet again.
The band, at that time made up of Allan on lead vocals, Randy Bachman on guitar, Burton Cummings on keyboards, Jim Kale on bass, and Peterson on drums, began playing regularly in and around Regina, Saskatchewan. They also got a gig playing as the house band for the Canadian radio program, The Swingers, and the television show, Let’s Go. Despite their fame in their home country, they had yet to make much of a splash in the U.S. market.
That all changed in 1969 with the release of Wheatfield Soul, which included the song “These Eyes,” and the band’s follow-up album, Canned Wheat. The latter introduced American audiences to “Laughing”/“Undun” and “No Time.” Suddenly, The Guess Who were all over the FM dial, and they capitalized on that success with American Woman, the first album by a Canadian band to hit the U.S. Hot 100. The title track climbed to the No. 1 spot.
That same year, The Guess Who were invited to play at the White House for Richard Nixon and his guests (who asked them to refrain from playing “American Woman” because of its political overtones), and they put out another critically acclaimed record, Share the Land, which went gold.
The early ’70s were the band’s indisputable heyday. They went on an international tour with Three Dog Night and put out a best-of album.
But they weren’t finished. In 1974, they were on the charts once again with “Clap for the Wolfman,” a tribute to the gravelly voiced DJ Wolfman Jack, who made a cameo on the song. The song went to No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 1 in Canada.
The Guess Who got a new producer around this time and quickly put out two albums with a more progressive, jazzy sound – 1974’s Flavours and 1975’s Power in the Music. Not everyone in the band was happy with its new direction, and The Guess Who broke up in 1975.
But they never stopped playing together for long. Thanks to Jim Hale, who had the foresight to officially register the band’s name in 1977, the group reunited with the help of Peterson and a number of Winnipeg-based musicians. Hale kept The Guess Who going until his departure in 2012, when he turned the reigns over to Peterson.
Countless reunion concerts, tours, and benefits followed, including a 1997 fundraiser for their hometown, which had experienced disastrous flooding.
And now The Guess Who has a second lease on life, and guess what? It sounds a lot like the past, but even more like the future.