The Guess Who’s Garry Peterson, having starting playing drums when he was 2 years old, can’t really imagine a life without performing.
“There’s nothing more exciting,” says Peterson, who appears with the classic rock band 8 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. “It’s like a drug to entertain people — to make them happy. There’s nothing like a live performance because you’re entertaining people right then and there.”
Fortunately, Peterson, who helped found the band more than 50 years ago, doesn’t have to worry about hanging up his drum kit anytime soon.
The Guess Who, known for hits such as “American Woman,” “Shakin’ All Over” and “These Eyes,” is on what can be described as a “continuous” tour, with shows every month and a full slate during the outdoor summer stage season.
“The fans are a big part of the equation,” Peterson says, noting the band has more than 250,000 “likes” on Facebook. “Without them, we’re not who we are or where we are today.”
The current lineup features one other original member, bassist Jim Kale. However, it’s been more than a decade since two other key members from the band’s hits era — guitarist Randy Bachman, later of Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame, and singer-keyboardist Burton Cummings — have been in the mix.
Having attempted two reunions with them, Peterson doesn’t foresee a third.
“I thought it was a great thing to do, but there are deep scars,” he says.
“I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t seem to work. My opinion is this band has been in its own way ever since success hit. The reasons for the demise of the band have been ego and greed. I think that’s probably true of many bands.”
Unlike The Eagles, another famously fractious group, The Guess Who hasn’t been able to put aside its differences for the good of everyone, according to Peterson.
“We live in a free society, and everybody has to decide what’s best for them,” he says. “I don’t think what happened to The Guess Who is in the best interests of (the band), but that’s just my opinion. I wish it could have happened another way, because after you spend so much time chasing success, it would be nice for the people who did it to be able to enjoy it together.”
Founded in Winnipeg, Canada, and operated under several different names, The Guess Who didn’t really come into its name — or its own — until the U.S. release of “Shakin’ All Over” in 1965.
It was the time of the British invasion, and the band’s American label, Scepter, worried that radio stations here wouldn’t want to play the Canadian band, then called Chad Allen and the Expression.
So it released the single with Guess Who? in place of the band’s name on the label, and it stuck.
“After the branding of The Guess Who, why would you change it,” Peterson says. “We hated the name because we knew about The Who in England. We didn’t want to have a name like someone else’s. Branding is a funny thing — sometimes it finds you before you find it.”
Ultimately, Peterson believes the band was able to overcome the novelty.
“I believe we had a diverse catalog of sounds, which would take you from a song like ‘American Woman’ to a song like ‘Come Undone’ — one is almost bordering on hard, heavy metal and the other is almost an out and out jazz tune — that’s quite a range,” he says.
“American Woman,” the band’s most famous song and its only track to top the U.S. charts, started off as a kind of commentary from an outsider’s perspective of the turbulent late-’60s period, including the escalation of the Vietnam War and the riots during the 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago.
Although Peterson claims the song isn’t meant to sound anti-American, the band agreed not to perform it during a show at the White House during Richard Nixon’s presidency.
“It was a comment — it wasn’t really meant to be a judgment, because how can you judge something unless you go through it yourself,” he says. “We had been forced to go through it by virtue of the fact that we had been touring this country.”
Today, the tune is just part of the classic rock soundtrack, Peterson believes.
“What people think today, I don’t know, they just come and they love it. It’s like the name The Guess Who. It’s just ‘American Woman.’ Its meaning has been lost in 50 years of antiquities. Like a lot of things, its meaning gets lost.”