In the sprawling history of rock ‘n’ roll, few bands carry the legacy of Canadian rock icons The Guess Who. From the chart-topping heights of “American Woman” to the poignant notes of “These Eyes,” their vast anthology of hits is undeniable. Now, decades after their 1970s zenith, The Guess Who is back with a new album, Plein D’Amour, a melodic testament to their undying passion for music.
“We were all in Singhampton Ontario; all there for eight days recording in the studio, all together, all creating,” shares Garry Peterson, the band’s last remaining founding member and drummer. “That’s what happens when you’re in a studio and you’re able to be free and do however the moment strikes you. It becomes something special that you hope is captured on record.”
Indeed, this album is about going back to old school ways, capturing the magic of spontaneous creativity and moving forward with persistence and passion. For instance, a mandolin, which happened to be in the studio, became the starting point for one of the tracks. “That’s called recording and creating,” Peterson adds.
This latest album is a commendable addition to their discography, with singles like “The King,” “Plein D’Amour,” and “Headline” already making waves on Spotify and Apple Music. Yet, Plein D’Amour is also about a return to roots, a nod to the band’s past while embracing the present.
“Well, The King started out as this ambitious song I was writing,” vocalist Derek Sharp explains, drawing inspirations from power pop giants like Queen. “It’s pretty technical musically, because it goes through a bunch of modulations and rhythm things, but the massive amount of background vocals are really what we like to call like the horn section of the band.”
This penchant for elaborate musical composition isn’t new for The Guess Who. However, what makes Plein D’Amour stand out is its infusion of new energy with a classic touch, a sign of the band’s commitment to always evolve and experiment.
Talking about the title track, Sharp explains, “Plein D’Amour means full of love in French. It’s an all-you-need-is-love kind of record. A positive message.” The album’s title track carries a story of its own. The song, initially possessing a darker theme, was transformed to fit the record’s overarching positivity. It required Sharp to weave themes from other songs, creating a lyrically seamless tapestry.
Plein D’Amour is a very spontaneous, natural and real record. The casual ambiance of Tim Thorney’s studio, Villa Sound in Singhampton Ontario, played a huge part in its creation during the pandemic. As Sharp recalls with a touch of mischief, “These mandolins and bouzoukis were just sitting around… Everybody grabbed something and started working and that’s how it happened. It all just felt very natural.”
But any band revival carries the burden of the past, a musical legacy that forms both a rock and hard place. How does a legendary band push the envelope without alienating its classic sound? Derek is candid about the challenge. “Gary and I spearheaded this journey 15 years ago. Of course, everybody wants to hear American Woman and we’re happy to come through, but we’re not here to only relive the past.”
Their approach has been straightforward as soon as they decided to continue down that musical road: not to recreate but celebrate the past.
“We’re not trying to recreate the past. We’re just celebrating what happened,” he emphasizes. This may be a different Guess Who that the fans knew in 1970 or 1974, but it’s unmistakably the Guess Who of 2023. The album is testament to this evolution. And, as Peterson points out, there’s a common thread of musical love — be it for The Beatles or other beloved artists — that binds the band members from different eras.
“We all grew up listening to the same things,” Peterson explains. “Whether it’s the era of the band with Kurt Winter in it, or Greg Leskiw, Derek Sharpe, Rudy Sarzo, Randy Bachman or Burton Cummings, we all had the same heroes. Everybody that’s ever been in this band has loved The Beatles.”
Musical transformations are inevitable. “Who the hell plays the same from the time they’re 20 years old to their 70?s” Sharp quips. Peterson chimes in, “Maybe you get a little bit better with age, just like wine.”
The band’s journey is, at its heart, a story of commitment. For Peterson, who’s dedicated over six decades to The Guess Who, it’s been a labor of love. “I’ve really dedicated my whole life to this band,” he reflects.
He’s currently immersed in writing a book about his musical journey, seeking to capture and share the heartbeat of his experiences. “It’s not just a story of music, but of friendships, risks, and raw passion,” Peterson notes with a hint of nostalgia.
The Guess Who had its roots in a band called Chad Allan And The Reflections, formed in Winnipeg in 1962. That group itself came out of two others, Allan and The Silvertones and the Velvetones.
Revisiting the history, Peterson takes a moment, “You know, The Velvetones… those were the days of pure unfiltered dreams. We were young, passionate, and every tune felt like we were on top of the world.”
A naming mishap in 1965, after another band’s hit, led to another name change, this time to Chad Allan and the Expressions. Their significant break came with a cover of “Shakin’ All Over”, mischievously credited to “Guess Who?” by Quality Records on radio copies around North America. Despite the devastating reveal, the band embraced “Guess Who?” as their identity, solidifying their future from that point on.
“The Guess Who wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a calculated decision, but one of those accidental, defining moments.” He chuckles as he recalls his initial reaction to the name, “I personally hated the name [Guess Who]… but it chose us. I remember thinking, ‘Are we really going with this?’ But you know, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Guess Who will be showcasing this new sonic journey at the Temple Theatre in Saginaw, MI on Sept. 22, 2023. It promises to be a blend of new tracks and timeless classics, a chance for fans to relive the magic and witness the band’s continued evolution.
It’s no wonder that this renaissance of sorts for The Guess Who is welcomed warmly by fans worldwide. They’ve always been a band that has melded the past with the present, always reminding us of the raw, unbridled passion of rock ‘n’ roll. Plein D’Amour is not just an album; it’s an experience, a testament to the spirit of a band that refuses to fade into obscurity, continually reinventing itself while honoring its storied past.
For more from The Guess Who or to grab a copy of Plein D’Amour, visit theguesswho.com.