Bassist Rudy Sarzo is best known for his work with metal acts Quiet Riot and Whitesnake, and time spent with Ozzy Osbourne, but his current role as the bassist for rock pioneers The Guess Who may have caught some people unaware.
“I actually took over for the original bass player, Jim Kale,” he said. “We released our record, The Future IS What It Used to Be … Jim had started the record but it was about a two-year process or more to finalize. He wanted to take some time off and then the first sub that came into the picture was Michael Devin of Whitesnake and then I got into the picture because I guess Michael was busy with Whitesnake … By the time that happened, Jim was pretty much ready to fully retire but he wasn’t fully off the road and I believe it was at his last show that he introduced me to the audience as the guy who was going to take over for him. By then I had been subbing for about eight months.”
Wait a minute: a new album? Yes, you read that correctly. A new Guess Who album was released in September. It’s the band’s first since 1995, but according to Sarzo, they’ve never really stopped touring over the last four decades.
“In addition to Garry (Peterson) being the founding member and drummer, and Jim being a founding member and bass player, our keyboard player Leonard Shaw has been in the band for over 20 years. Then you have Derek Sharp, who is our singer-songwriter and front guy who also shares guitar duties with Will Evankovich; he’s been in the band for over 10 years now. Will joined the band maybe five years ago and they’re both producers. As a matter of fact, Will co-produced and co-wrote the last Styx record, The Mission, with Tommy Shaw. … We have the cream of the musicians. It really rises to the top and they’re all good people.”
Sarzo says they purposely made The Future IS What It Used to Be as close to the classic sound of The Guess Who as possible, and the same thought process accompanied the release of several videos.
“We do four songs from the record live, and … a lot of people don’t even realize that they’re new songs because they fit right in with the rest of the hits. We also have three videos from the album. ‘In America,’ ‘Playin’ on the Radio’ and ‘Haunted’ are the three that have sprung from this record, and so far our audiences love it.”
Being veteran rockers can be both a blessing and a curse. With the release of this disc, what kind of help have they received from their label and are there any plans to go the licensing route for film and television as opposed to the traditional sales and touring efforts?
“We’re on Cleopatra Records, who were also the label I was on with Quiet Riot, and they’re very good at placing music in movies and on TV shows. The Guess Who gets a lot of placements from their catalog like the TV show, ‘American Woman,’ and that is the theme song. Then there’s the Lenny Kravitz version out there, too.
“They (record companies) don’t nurture the artists like they used to. There’s no artist relations department and things like that. I can’t blame the musicians for this, because it’s a whole different industry now. Basically with The Guess Who, the record was finished and we gave it to the label. Whereas back in the day, you worked with the label and they assigned you a producer and an artist relation guy to make sure that the album was complete and the material was well rounded, and promotion guys to get you a hit on the radio. It was a whole different machine.”
Sarzo is widely considered to be one of heavy metal’s greatest bass players. Was it a challenge for him to adapt his style to that of The Guess Who?
“I’ve been playing bass in bands from, like, the late ’60s, before metal became a staple. What we used to consider metal back in the day was actually just rock ‘n’ roll.
“To me, what differentiates styles of music is the foundation, which to me is the rhythm section. I didn’t really start playing metal and hard rock until I moved to L.A. and started playing with the Randy Rhoads version of Quiet Riot and then, of course, I joined Ozzy. Tommy Aldridge is one of my favorite drummers, so to get to play with him in Ozzy was an incredible experience, because he did not approach it exactly like the record. He leans forward when he plays, which is something I think he developed from playing live with Black Oak Arkansas, and playing a lot of shuffles. So he’s not your typical English drummer who is either a little bit on top of the beat or behind it. He was always pushing forward. So to play with him in Ozzy and then again in Whitesnake was an incredible experience.
“What I’m getting at is, playing with Garry Peterson, the original drummer on all of those Guess Who records, is really a treat. He plays it the way it should be played.”
For more about The Guess Who, visit theguesswho.com.