If there is a list of ten bands synonymous with Canadian rock n’ roll, The Guess Who are definitely on it. A musical entity for over fifty years and still rolling on strong, The Guess Who just keep on celebrating new milestones. Long-time bassist Jim Kale had to step down from the band, opening the door for Rudy Sarzo, one of the best-known bassists in modern rock. Together, with Garry Peterson (drums, vocals), Derek Sharp (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Will Evankovich (guitar, harp, vocals), and Leonard Shaw (keyboards, flute, sax, vocals), The Guess Who have recently released their 21st studio album The Future IS What It Used To Be.
Also featured on The Future IS What It Used To Be are several special guests including, Tommy Shaw (Styx) on vocals, Brent Fitz (Slash, Gene Simmons) percussion, Jim Kale (Guess Who founding member) and Michael Devin (Whitesnake) on bass guitar. Nothing is slowing down this legendary act who plan on touring Future well into 2019, and promise to deliver the goods every night they play live.
Rudy Sarzo? He’s been around the musical block! Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Manic Eden, Dio, Blue Öyster Cult, Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche and Devil City Angels to name a few of the bands he’s been attached to. This interview was done over the phone on September 12th. I can assure you the fifteen-year-old in me was grinning from ear to ear the entire time we were talking.
Have a listen to this new track “Runnin’ Blind” from The Future IS What It Used To Be.
I feel like your book ‘Off The Rails’ needs a follow up because it really only focused on your time with Ozzy and you’ve been in so many bands and touch so many great rock n’ roll personalities you’ve probably got way more stories that you could tell there.
Rudy Sarzo: Yeah. Yes, I do. But you know the only reason why I wrote that book was to answer the number one question I get asked when I travel which is “what was it like to play with Randy Rhoads?” At the time that I wrote it I had just gotten online and joined social media, and I found that there were so many conspiracy theories and misinformation surrounding Randy’s crash that I figure if I don’t set the story straight and put down the conspiracy theories out there, Off The Rails is the truth. It’s basically my attempt to set the record straight as to what happened, how it happened, and why. That that was my sole motivation, there was no ulterior motive to me. Have you read it?
I have yeah.
Sarzo: So you know it’s not really a book about me. It’s a book about Randy. That was the hardest thing for me to do, to keep myself out of the story you know? Because I didn’t want it to be a book about me. I wanted it to be specifically about Randy.
It’s a nice tribute to him too. I mean I think that’s why a lot of people buy the book, it’s described as such. It’s really your testament to what a great guy and a great player he was.
Sarzo: Yeah absolutely. You know it’s the least I could do for somebody that I completely feel this; not only was responsible for my career. He gave me that break. He trusted me to join Ozzy. And also he saved our lives. Him trying to prevent the crash, the plane from crashing completely into the bus. That’s the least I could do for him.
You know, I was so huge into Ozzy and Quiet Riot back in the early ’80s. It just feels surreal that I’m even talking to you. I mean we used to sit around on our lunch breaks at school and talk about the members of Ozzy Osbourne; who he was touring with and who you’d see on stage with him live.
Sarzo: Where were you at the time? You know what city?
I lived two hours outside of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Sarzo: Oh yeah. Oh god, yeah.
The first time I got to see Ozzy you had just left the band. I saw the ‘Bark At The Moon’ tour. So I think you were out of the group for about a year.
Sarzo: Yeah that was probably about 1983. I was in Quiet Riot by then. The Metal Health version. But with Ozzy, we toured with Randy back in 1981. We did a Canadian tour right after June, like in the middle of July. I remember being in Victoria. It was fantastic I loved it.
It was just a little too young to see that show my mom wouldn’t let me go. (laughs) And now here you are in The Guess Who, You know, you’re down in L.A. talking to a Canadian guy about a Canadian band. That’s crazy.
Sarzo: Yeah, yeah. I love Canada. I’ve spent a lot of time out there. I’m involved with a charity that is based out of Calgary called BANC, Benevolent Artists National Charity. We have Sass Jordan and a couple of the guys from The Guess Who are involved. Derek Sharp, our singer. And Leonard Shaw has been involved in it. And we just raise money. We’ve raised a lot of money for different charity organizations are one of them is the one in Calgary; the Bell National Music Centre. I love going to Canada. I love when I see more of my Canadian friends and bandmates of course.
Here’s the recently released video for “Playin’ On The Radio” from the band’s new record.
So that that kind of how that came together? That you knew Leonard (Shaw)? Or was there another inroad to you joining The Guess Who?
Sarzo: No actually I was playing in a Queensrÿche Geoff Tate version of the band. And Sass Jordan, who I had known socially but never had worked with her before, she joined the tour, and she played the part of Sister Mary on the ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ tour. We were doing the whole record. So we became really really good friends so when it came time that (The Guess Who) were looking for a bass player to start subbing for Jim Kale, Sass told Derek (who is her husband), “Why don’t you call Rudy and see if he’s available?” They called me, and I’d grown up listening and playing Guess Who music when I was a kid. So it was great you know to play that music again and to actually be able to play that music with Garry Peterson, the original drummer. That, to me, being a bass player, is such a treat. To be able to do that because you know being a part of the rhythm section and having the actual guy playing the correct drum parts (laughs). “This is great,” you know?
Pretty big shoes to step into. Jim Kale, I mean, he’s been in that band for so long.
Sarzo: I know! I mean Jim Kale actually passed me the torch on stage one night during a show at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. I was visiting the band, and I had already done a few subbing shows, and by that time he’d officially announced that he was retiring and he just brought me on stage and told the audience that I was going to be taking over. And you know, that had never happened to me before when I joined a band that there have been previous members you know. So it was really a special moment for me to have the pioneer, one of the founding members actually welcome me into the group, especially being the bass player.
That’s awesome. Can you tell me, is this the first Canadian band that you know of that you’ve been in?
Sarzo: (laughs) That I know of. You know what, you know you have me thinking now. Ah, yeah I think so.
You may be thinking of the ultimate Guess Who classic “American Woman” by now so have a listen!
You’ve played with a lot of Canadian musicians but not an actual Canadian band, which The Guess Who is still considered.
Sarzo: Yes. I believe I played with other Canadian musicians but a lot of times you know that it gets blurred to you. You’re playing with them, and it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make any difference where they’re from you know? I’ve played with a lot of English musicians also. It’s like, “it’s music, we’re all playing music,” you know?
Can you tell me a bit about the writing process for the new album? I’m assuming this is for the new album The Future IS What It Used To Be which comes out on Friday right?
Rudy Sarzo: Correct. On the 14th (of September).
Okay. So how did you how did you approach the writing of this album? Was it all done jamming together in a room or did you bring different parts in?
Sarzo: Actually yes, it was an interesting process. One of the reasons why the album came to fruition is because it is a very unique situation. You actually have two producer-engineer songwriters in the band. Being Derek Sharp and Will Evankovich, our other guitar player who actually just recently produced the latest Styx record along with Tommy Shaw and co-wrote the music too. So here you have like two incredibly creative individuals, Derek, and Will you know? And creative people cannot help but create. And he was like “Man I’ve got all of these songs and instead of giving it to somebody else to record, why don’t we record them as The Guess Who?” That’s basically the seed of the album. It was a two-year process. So originally Jim was on the first few tracks and then the first sub, Michael Devin, who was the bass player for Whitesnake currently, he was subbing before I even started subbing for Jim. He played on a lot of tracks. And then by the time that I became an official member of the group they were just a few tracks open. So it’s basically three bass players on that record.
Where did you record the album? Was it done up here in Canada? In Vancouver or Toronto?
Sarzo: Actually the bulk of the record it was recorded at Blackbird in Tennessee. In Nashville. Yeah, I believe we did it there because we had the connection of Styx having recorded The Mission there too with Will producing it. So Will, I guess he had some ties to the people that own the studio and he just said “well listen I just finished working here… It’s an incredible studio… Why don’t we bring in The Guess Who?” That’s where the bulk of the record was done at.