Will Evankovich is a producer, performer and songwriter, best known for his performances with The Guess Who, rock duo Shaw/Blades and most recently for his co-production of Tommy Shaw’s (Styx) 2011 debut bluegrass album, The Great Divide. The Guess Who are set to release their much-anticipated The Future IS What it Used to Be that is brimming with a fresh modern approach making it a candidate for smash sleeper of the year. We’ll find out about that in the future. Until then, we caught up with the band’s guitarist and proud Nashvillian to talk Music City, making music and a whole bunch more!
RRL: Will, you got on our radar last year when you co-helmed with Tommy Shaw the critically-acclaimed comeback album from Styx called The Mission. That platter elevated the band’s profile a bit while reviving their classic sound. Did that good work lead to any inquiries from other legacy acts looking for similar results?
W.E. Thanks about “The Mission!”. I’ve been working in the rock genre for a while and have had the pleasure of working on some great stuff over the years. I do have a propensity for that 70’s rock sound and it has led to working with some great legendary artists. My relationship with Styx started with Tommy Shaw when I played in Shaw Blades starting in 07 which manifested into he and I working together on his solo Bluegrass record in 09. During that time, we forged a very good writing partnership that eventually translated in the latest Styx album. I have met and keep meeting folks along the way and there is a few things in the works with some other artists that will reveal itself in the future! I am honored to be a part of a few different band lineages so far!
RRL: Will, congratulations on joining The Guess Who and your upcoming record The Future IS What It Used To Be out 9/14 via Cleopatra Records. To what extent were you involved in the writing process and production? BTW, we’re loving the Styx influence on the album!
W.E. Thank you. Derek Sharp and myself produced the album. Before I had joined about 5 years ago, Derek had started the writing process and had 5 strong songs that were buttoned up. He and I began to write (with the help of Leonard Shaw, our keyboard player-on a few) the next 5 songs. We had a like-minded vision of what we were going for and everything seemed to fit nicely together for an album. It is definitely “this” chapter of The Guess Who which is a great combination of guys including Garry Peterson (original drummer) and Bass legends, Rudy Sarzo and Michael Devin. That being said, it retains a classic rock & roll feel/sound and great catchy songs much in the spirit of the older catalog of the band. Regarding the Styx sound, I never thought about that! But that is a high compliment!
RRL: The Guess Who is responsible for countless rock classics including “American Woman”, “No Time”, “These Eyes” and many more. Are you pulling from all eras of the band for your live show and what currently are your favorite songs to play in a live setting?
W.E. Our show encapsulates the best of the best from most of the eras of the band’s lineage. We play the hits every night! We also are currently introducing the new songs (currently about 4) every show. The crowd response for the new material is great and in some cases, some folks don’t even know that they are not part of the older repertoire. Fine by us!
Of course the aforementioned hits in your question are great to play. No Sugar Tonight, Hand Me Down World, and Undun are some favorites of mine as well as off the new record; In America, Haunted, and When We We’re Young.
RRL: You are a longtime Californian who has made the move to Music City making your story a most unique one… LOL. Just kidding. The mass exodus from California to Mid-Tenn continues with recent additions to town being the great bassist Billy Sheehan and the incomparable Joe Bonamassa. What do you think accounts for that?
W.E. Yes- there is in fact a mass exodus of new-comers much to the chagrin of Nashville natives who now refer to themselves as “Unicorns”! I can’t speak for anyone else, but there were a myriad of reasons for leaving California beyond a more tragic one that my family was the victim of the Nor-Cal fires in Santa Rosa California.
I was working a lot in Nashville making an album and I fell in love with how much it has changed. You get southern environment and hospitality mixed with some big city culture these days. Flying in and out of the city to play shows with The Guess Who, has become infinitely easier as I have cut my commute time in half from the California days.
I think a lot of us California natives have felt like the greener pastures of California are no longer so green and Nashville offers a friendly small town feel but also a still thriving creative scene with lots of things happening. Change is good!
RRL: As an in-demand producer you probably feel “the more the merrier” when it comes to world class talent taking up stakes in the Tennessee?
W.E. I do in fact welcome more talented people here. Put enough talent in one place, and great things happen! The caveat is that I hope they bring the respect this city deserves. Once upon a time, The Bay Area had a thriving music scene obviously and most notably, the 60’s and 70’s. The bands came together to create a unique environment that created it’s own “sound”. I find Nashville’s “sound” is ever evolving with all of it’s new influences. It’s exciting to see what is going to happen next.
RRL: How have you liked your Nashville experience so far? Do you buy into the theory that a certain musical and mystical magic hovers over, in and around the Cumberland region?
W.E. I love it here. The lineage of great music that has come from this place can only be attributed to it’s culture and people. As I said before, as long as its contents respect that, newcomers and old, I believe this place will always produce amazing music. There is still so much for me to learn about all of it’s history. I have already had the chance to play The Opry in 09, and more recently the Ryman and those institutions just ooze vibe. There is something here for sure!
RRL: I understand the concept of band as brand because as time goes on sometimes the only way to see an act play live is to accept the fact that some of the parts and pieces might be different than the lineups that made the original records. I guess that The Guess Who is no different in this regard?
W.E. Everything changes and evolves. People sometimes fall in love with different combinations (especially ones that produce hits or a more popular catalog) understandably. For me, the evolution of a band every so often, hits a combination of personnel that is a special one. The Guess Who has after several years, managed to find that combination again in this line up. This is one of the fundamental reasons that it was crucial for us to make a new album. The live show is energetic and very musical. The album has very strong song power. We are very happy with this chapter of the band so far.
RRL: Your group is being referred to as the “Mark III” version of The Guess Who? Besides original drummer Garry Peterson what threads exist to tie this configuration to the past? Is there a line of continuity?
W.E. The familiarity and power of the drum groove/rhythm section is as emblematic as vocals or guitars. Nobody plays the catalog quite like Garry Peterson as after all, he played on all the albums dating back to the early 60s.. Derek Sharp (Lead singer/guitar), Leonard Shaw (Keys/Winds), Rudy Sarzo (Bass), and myself definitely have a terrific sound together so it is different in a great way. The continuity of new vs. old is that we purposefully wrote and recorded songs that have a classic sound.
We did this at Blackbird Studios in Nashville in their legendary “A” room on a big Neve console shooting for vintage tones throughout. The songs themselves have big vocal driven choruses and signature guitar riffs very much in the spirit of the old The Guess Who.
RRL: Does this incarnation of the band have the blessing of former members and rock icons Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings?
W.E. I do not know how they feel about this band. I believe they are on their own journey of making music. Randy Bachman quit the The Guess Who in 1970 and of course eventually went on to form Bachman Turner Overdrive etc.
RRL: I see that one-time Ozzy Osbourne associate Rudy Sarzo has become a permanent fixture in this band. Has he shared any stories about working for the Prince of Darkness while on the road?
W.E. Rudy is a legend and it is an honor to work with him both musically and personally. As for his stories, you will have to ask him for those!