THE FUTURE IS WHAT IT USED TO BE
A CONVERSATION WITH DEREK SHARP (D#) OF THE GUESS WHO
In 1958 Chad Allan formed Allan and the Silvertones, by 1962 they had become Chad Allen and the Reflections, featuring Allan (lead vocals and guitar), Bob Ashley (keyboards), Randy Bachman (guitar and backing vocals), Jim Kale (bass and backing vocals) and Garry Peterson (drums and backing vocals). In 1965, Reflections was dropped. They became Chad Allen and The Expressions, and were signed to Quality records in Canada. When they released the single “Shakin’ All Over”, Quality records tried a publicity stunt and released the record, but they credited it to Guess Who, to create mystique. The band never intended to change their name, but when disc jockeys kept playing the record and referring to them as ‘The Guess Who’, the name stuck.
The Guess Who were born and from 1966 until 2018 they have had numerous member changes. In 1966, Burton Cummings replaced Bob Ashley, by 1970 Bachman had left the band, and in 1977 Cummings left the band (for the first time). The point being, the band has continued on with many member changes. So, it should come as no surprise that The Guess Who are still going strong in 2018, albeit with a different lineup.
2018 also sees The Guess Who releasing their first album since 1995 (Lonely One). The new album, The Future IS What It Used To Be is The Guess Who’s 21st album, for those keeping count. Guitarist and vocalist Derek Sharp (who goes by D#) has been with the band since 2008, and according to Derek, during our recent conversation “we were just trying to make the best record you can”.
Sharp explained, “We want as many as possible to hear the album. We want to establish who we are today, reawaken the beast. It is a natural progression of this band. We did not have to do it, we wanted to do it.”
For the record, the current lineup includes Sharp; Rudy Sarzo replacing original bassist Jim Kale who recently left the band; Will Evankovich (guitar, harp and vocals); Leonard Shaw (keyboards, vocals); and the only remaining original member Garry Peterson (drums).
“When I joined the band in 2008, we were just playing the hits, almost like a very good bar band. And initially I thought ‘why would you try to write new songs and go up against songs that are ubiquitous’. Try to write songs that hold up to songs that people had heard so many times. But in 2008, I wrote “Playin’ On The Radio” and “Long Day” (both on their new album, The Future IS What it Used To Be), specifically for the band. Songs about being on the road. Eventually we added them to the set and people started asking what album they were on, thinking they were older songs,” laughs Sharp.
“Then in 2010 we needed a guitarist, and a very good friend of mine, Tommy Shaw (of Styx) recommended a guitar player, Will Evankovich. Not only can he play guitar, but he sings and writes and produces. So he had songs, and my songs kept coming, and we collaborated on about 20. When we finally decided to record a new album, Will and I produced it.”
“We recorded the bed tracks in Nashville, and Will and I have our own studios where we could complete things. But initially it was five of us in one room in two or three days. Will approached the album in the same way he did when he worked on the latest Styx album, sort of like getting a sound like it was 1978 but make it today at the same time. The Future IS What It Used To Be is a bit more pop-rock but it is a reflection of what we have been doing.”
Sharp had and continues to have his own career separate from The Guess Who. He was a member of Mad About Plaid and Backstreet. He also worked with Sass Jordan, Bobby Curtola and Red Ryder, to highlight just a few. Was he concerned about how fans would see a new Guess Who album with a different lineup from their last album?
“When you talk to Garry (Peterson), he sees that there is a link. He sees how this band links with the past. He also sees himself as one of the links with the past. This is a band that has been around a long time, and is an institution. I mean we play to half a million people a year on our tours. I have been with this band a long time now, so I am part of that link as well. Everyone has a favourite stage of The Guess Who, from Chad Allen to Bachman to Cummings. Having said that, I don’t see a musical link with this new album. Remember, those original hits were written by young guys, the new album is written by older, more experienced musicians. But it would be the same if the original guys were still in the band, bands change and evolve as you become a more experienced musician and writer.”
Sharp was part of The Guess Who history with this album, in that they made their first music video, for “Playin’ On The Radio”. It was the first time Peterson ever made a music video.
“That was directed by Nigel Dick, who did all of Britney Spears videos. The microphone in the video is the one she used for all those videos and my first question was, ‘did you spray it? Clean it?’”, laughs Sharp. “We shot the video in Nevada, and it was 98 degrees. We shot it in one day, the shoot stopped when the sun went down. We had these fans blowing and we were kicking dirt up to blow into Garry’s face. We kept asking him if he is ok, and he was like ‘no problem’. He took one for the team,” says Sharp. He is amazing, he is 73 and was cool with everything.”
Sharp is equally proud of the second video from the album, “Haunted”.
“That was directed by George A. Johnson and it is his concept and vision for the song. It is like a short film.” The band should be proud, especially as the video has already has been nominated for video of the year by Italy’s Prisma Independent Film Awards.
One thing is clear, The Guess Who continue to make music, and their new album is a clear example of that. The band continues to tour and are well worth seeing live. They put on a fantastic show.
“We are doing some of the new songs in the show, they can be played along with the classics,” remarks Sharp. And why wouldn’t they be on par with the older songs. The album is brilliant. Fans may remember how fans reacted to The Guess Who’s “Clap For The Wolfman”. It is not a classic. I am sure this new album will be regarded as one of their classic works in years to come. It is already getting great reviews.