Lightnin’ Larry strikes again
Chico guitarist’s musical background leads to upcoming Pikes Peak Blues Festival
Local guitarist Larry Peterson is a man in demand.
I was lucky enough to catch him between his Lake Tahoe stint with the George Souza Band and his trip to Los Angeles to meet with John Swan of the John Swan Blues Band, with whom he is playing at the Pikes Peak Bluesfest International (www.thepikespeakbluesfest.com) in Colorado on Saturday, July 19. The band is playing right before headliners Dickey Betts (ex-Allman Brothers) and his band, Great Southern. They are also the house band for the after-hours musicians’ party. Nice gig! How did Peterson get to this sweet place in his career?
Well, he comes from a musical family, for one thing. Peterson’s grandparents were in vaudeville. His mother Bonnie and her brothers were all musicians. It was Peterson’s mom who handed him his first guitar at age 13, and, being a guitarist herself ("She played everything,” I was told), she showed him how to tune it for the first time.
Her brother, Ray, a trombonist, played for years with the renowned Les Brown and with Harry James. Uncle Ray Sims was the soloist, Peterson proudly informed me, on one of the first million-selling records, Frank Sinatra’s What’s New?
Uncle Gene Sims, “the musical influence in the family,” was a guitarist and photographer. He did the photography for many artists’ albums, including Woody Herman. And then there’s Peterson’s Uncle Zoot Sims, the famous tenor sax player! You might say that being an accomplished musician is in Peterson’s blood.
He also cites the importance of the influence of his favorite guitarists: B. B. King, Jeff Beck, Robben Ford, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Buzzy Feiten, who like Peterson was an early hotshot, playing at age 17 with Paul Butterfield.
His success is also the result of hard work. Peterson has played for many years with many fine musicians. Beginning with his early experience at age 16 when his band opened for the Turtles and for Them (Van Morrison’s band at the time) through his years with the Catfish Hunter Band (Peterson describes lead singer/sax-man Drew Sallee as the most fun musician he’s ever played with: “He can do to a crowd what no one else can!") to his more recent successes, like his beloved gig at the Tucson (Ariz.) Gem Show last year with some serious heavyweights—singer Dennis Rowland (who replaced Joe Williams in the original Count Basie Band), keyboardist Joey Navarro (Tower of Power, Greg Adams, Eric Marienthal), and drummer Al Ortiz (Stevie Nicks, Sister Sledge).
Peterson has played a lot and with a lot of fine people, both locally—George Souza & the Funk Bros., Razorback, Lesley McDaniel Band, Groovediggers (www.mp3. com/groovediggers), etc.—and around the country. It’s the combination of his fabulous musicianship, professional work ethic and friendly way with people that makes Peterson a pleasure to be around and to be on the bandstand with. It’s what surely helped Peterson land squarely on his feet on his recent move back to Chico after living in Laguna Beach, where wife Nancy’s work took them for a time (Nancy and Peterson’s sons John and Rich are also credited with giving Peterson the love and support that helps him stay at the top of his game).
Peterson is excited about his upcoming time at Pikes Peak. Besides getting to play with his old homie, John Swan (they go back 15 or so years), he recently found out that keyboardist Navarro, from the Tucson gig, is going to be playing with them as well, and he is thrilled about that.
Peterson has and makes friends wherever he goes. Though he calls Paradise and the Chico area his home, he really is at home wherever the next gig takes him as well. He’s got that kind of likeability, talent and ease.
On to Pikes Peak. As Dennis Rowland might say, "Knock ’em dead, ‘Lightnin’ Larry'!"