Interview: Do Peterson chats with NWMS

Photo by Aaron Pfeiffer

Do (say “dew”) Peterson, one of the hardest-working men in Seattle show business (don’t mind that sweat folks, it’s just a little holy water), put together a crackerjack band to play an evening of Stevie Wonder tunes. He’s bringing the Wonder band to the Royal Room on March 23 and was kind enough to lay out his history and battle plan for me.


NWMS:  What are your best, worst, and strangest memories from growing up in the Bronx?

Do Peterson:  1966 to 1971:  From birth until I was 5, my family lived in the Throgs Neck, Bronx projects; these were happy times.  

1971 to 1984:  When I was 5, we moved to a sprawling complex in the Bronx, on the Westchester Border, called Co-op City: 33 high rise buildings, 15 townhouse complexes, 8 garages, 4 shopping centers, 3 elementary schools, 2 intermediate schools, one high school (with a planetarium), a power plant, numerous playing fields and playgrounds and a garbage dump hill slowly growing about a half mile away visible from my window.  

We (Dad, Mom, older brother, lived on the 3rd floor of a 33 story-high-rise; good times initially, lots of kids to play with, new schools, little league baseball, bowling.  At 8 years, my parents gave me a choice between guitar lessons and piano: I chose guitar.

Then Dad started sleeping on the couch more and more; my parents split up in 1976 and dad moved out to another location in the Bronx.  My brother and I mostly lived with Mom and my brother, now in his early teens, started acting out. Brother continued down a troubled path and was incarcerated in 1979; it was in the local paper; Mom and I felt shunned and shamed within our community.  

The day my brother was taken away by law enforcement I wrote my first song called “I’ve Had All That I Can Take.” Mom enrolled me in a Quaker summer camp in Vermont that summer to get me away from the mess at home.  I played my song to happy reactions and applause from campers and counselors alike; at 13 years, I had my first taste of what my music could do; how, in this instance, my pain could turn into joy and release for others. 

In 1980, I scored well enough on a general/standardized test to get into a magnet science high school, Stuyvesant, in Manhattan 1.5 hrs away one way by bus and train.  Now happy to spend time away from Co-op City, after a hard year, I enrolled. I applied myself to my studies and tried my best to be a good student, a good son, sure that one day I would flip, like my older brother, go down a dark path and be incarcerated.  

To my surprise, it didn’t happen.  Instead in 1984, I was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the time, the most elite science/engineering school in the world.  I had made it out of the Bronx.

NWMS:  What were your earliest musical epiphanies–which artists, songs, albums, etc.?

Do Peterson:  Earliest musical epiphanies in the 1970s were around gear: Stereo consoles of varying wattage and quality, bass and treble knob sonic magic, speakers of differing size and timbre, boom boxes.  It took the shape of esoteric discoveries like mono-versus-stereo mixes of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” (which rocked better? which seemed more detailed? how much reverb? what recording gear? etc.). I was a music tech nerd (still am).

In the summer of 1983, now 16 and in my 4th consecutive summer at the Quaker summer camp in Vermont, I met a fellow camper, Steve Espinola, who was also a song/music writer, and perhaps more important, a recording music gadget nerd.  He lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts. His father had a Reel-to-Reel TEAC 3440A 4-track. He already had good multi-tracked recordings of his songs and even one song that had made it on the air of a local radio station.  We starting travelling back and forth from Sudbury to the Bronx, in a recording/performing collaboration that would last through college. In 1987, I transferred to Oberlin College, where Steve was a student.

Steve already had fans at Oberlin.  We grew his, now our, audience, performing as a duo at least once a semester to a packed coffee house on campus.  We were popular. Nerds could be popular at Oberlin.

NWMS:  What are your earliest memories of Stevie Wonder music—which songs, which albums, when, and how?

Do Peterson:  It was 1969.  My earliest memory of Stevie Wonder music would be the song “My Cherie Amour.”  I remember hearing it on the radio on the way back from beach fun with my father.  At the time of its release, I was about 3 years old; so I didn’t know or care about who sang it.  

I remember the recording filled me with a sense of wonder, not just the about the content of the lyrics or even the distinctive Stevie Wonder vocal, but the arrangement, the flutes carrying the intro and then the “la’s” that joined the flutes, next drums and rhythm guitar to support the song, etc.  I remember even at that age trying to figure out how great music was made.

NWMS:  What convinced you ultimately that Wonder was a genius?

Do Peterson:  My father was very impressed with SW the album Songs in the Key of Life (1976); so naturally at 10 years of age, I was impressed too.  I think this was the first time I connected his songs on the radio to a specific album.  

The next realization was at Oberlin College in the late ‘80s when I became aware through friends of many great SW albums, musical arrangements and his multi-instrumentalism; I came not only to appreciate much about SWs work in the context of albums.  For example, yes, SW was obviously lead vocal and keyboardist on the hit song “Superstition,” but also he was the rhythm section (drummer and bass) on that song. Then I discovered that he held down the rhythm section role for most of that album Innervisions.

NWMS:  What are your favorite Stevie Wonder songs and albums?  And why?

Do Peterson:  Andrew, I have sooo many favorite SW songs, too numerous to list.

Albums:

Innervisions (1973): I love every song off of this album.

Songs in the Key of Life (1976): An epic creation, double album, one man writing it all, not a group.  Stevie’s highest artistic/commercial achievement by many yardsticks.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1978):  Another double album.  A colossally artistically expansive effort.  SW applies his gifts to European classical styles wholesale.  Also he incorporates sounds of nature. I feel like this is Stevie at his most brilliant, vulnerable, beautiful.

Hotter Than July (1980):  Much anticipated and then delivered the goods, i.e. pop hits, post the commercially-disappointing Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.  Noted is SW’s attempt at country western-ish style vocals on verses of “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It.”  I love to hear SW expand/comment on genre’s beyond typical African-American idioms; he is a personal hero in that realm for me.

NWMS:  What led you to pull up stakes and move all the way out here? When did you land in Seattle and what were your earliest impressions?

Do Peterson:  I came to Seattle for graduate school in Biostatistics, recruited by the UW School of Public Health.  I arrived the summer of 1995 from the east coast into a group of instant friends, my classmates. Graduate school was great because many lifelong friendships started there.  It was also wonderful opportunity to explore/grow personally as well as intellectually.

NWMS:  What’s your take on the Seattle music scene, good, bad, ugly, and weird?

Do Peterson:  In my opinion, Seattle has the best bands per capita of anywhere I’ve lived (including NYC).  Even “bad” bands here are pretty good/tight/serious musicians. I don’t know why that is, but that has been my experience.  There are also many good places who will give you a shot to play your show. The first of these kind venues for me was The Rendezvous’ Jewelbox Theater for my band Science Groove (2001-2004) after grad school; gratitude to Jane Kaplan (co-owner) for housing my first (and later) shows in Seattle.

NWMS:  What led you to the concept of a whole evening of Wonder music?

Do Peterson:  The Do Peterson Band started doing soul covers from our beginning (early 2015); we blended that into our set with folk covers and soul/folk originals. It sounds like a strange marriage, but all the members of the band really felt both kinds of music; for most shows our instrumentation was acoustic guitar and banjo.  “Living for the City”, “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and “Signed Sealed Delivered” were in many of our sets from the beginning.

Jeanne Morefield (vocals) joined our live shows in 2016, adding a strong blues vocal.  Conversations around SW with Jeanne, Kirk Van Scoyoc, and Zoe Bermet ensued immediately, as we discovered that both talent and interest might be in adequate supply to take on some more of his songs.  In particular, songs from two albums: Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life make up the majority of our set. We tried a set of mostly Stevie at Café Paloma, then all-Stevie at the Royal Room.  There seemed to be great joy and interest coming from both the audience and within the band for this material.

NWMS:  Who are your bandmates, and what does each one bring to the mix?

Do Peterson:  Zoe Bermet (vocals):  Zoe and I worked together at Group Health Research Institute for 5 years (2009-2014, pre-Do Peterson Band) and she has sung with me for the past 4 years.  She is a veteran of group/part singing, blends with anyone, sings lowww notes and has the most beautiful/musical Oo’s I have ever heard. With our band she has expanded her domain to lead vocals; catch her on SW’s “Visions” in our set.

Jeanne Morefield (vocals):  Jeanne and I sang together as a duo at Oberlin College almost 30 years ago and without missing a beat, we stepped right back into singing together when we found each other via Facebook after she moved back to Seattle 3 years ago.  Jeanne is a lead vocalist with raw blues rushing through her veins; she also possesses formidable Gaelic/Irish/Folk vocal chops. With our group, she has expanded her domain to blended part vocals. She’ll be moving to London 2 days after our SW show; we will all miss her dearly.

Kirk Van Scoyoc (vocals, banjo):  I did not actively look for a banjoist to play with.  I have no special affinity for the banjo; however, I do have great love for Kirk. He has been a friend for over 20 years now and because of him I met and married my wife, Lori DeGloria, the best decision by far I’ve made in my life.  So playing with Kirk is like playing with my brother by another mother. He has been game for all my musical excursions for about 18 years now (since Science Groove) and he has the chops on the banjo to execute just about any musical idea, seriously!  He is also an excellent part vocalist.

Special Guests:

John Ewing (drums, percussion, guitar, vocals) – We met working on a collaborative medical care study at Group Health Research Institute 5 years ago.  He is a great all around musician, possessing adept chops as music producer, band leader (Johnny & the Moles, Reptet), vocalist & guitarist as well as on the drum kit.  John has been a fixture of Seattle’s music scene for 20+ years; he is equal parts mensch and authoritative rhythm.

Bob Lovelace (bass) – Bob is a friend of John’s from childhood, both growing up in Philadelphia.  Currently, renowned among Seattle musicians as one of the top rock/soul bassists in Seattle, he brings his deep energetic bass groove and an encyclopedic knowledge of SW bass.

NWMS:  What are the biggest challenges of doing these songs live, and how did you move through those challenges?

Do Peterson:  The two main challenges are:

1. Mental stamina. Stevie songs often feel like 3 regular tunes because he is not just doing the back-and-forth between verse and chorus with a bridge thrown in.  There is often an intricate musical arrangement that needs to be negotiated as well. It could be a vocal arrangement essential to the song, a long ending with many sections, unusual rhythmic complexities, a total change of genre within the song, etc.  His songs require more alertness to music details than most and then energy to execute them. For example the song “As”, is more than seven minutes long with very little rest for musicians as it unsympathetically demands more and more with almost no respite for vocals or instrumentation.

2. SW’s amazing vocals.  SWs voice is one of the definitive voices of American soul and pop music.  His vocal range (low to high notes) and control (styles, timbres), arguably unparalleled in the history of pop music.  Fortunately, we have four strong vocalists in Do Peterson Band; still to perform SWs songs, I have sometimes needed to distribute the lead vocals among us just to keep up with the agility, density and power of Stevie-like vocal execution.  We have been/are often in awe of and intimidated by the material. But inspired by love of his songs, we have worked hard and moved through as we rehearse. We are at our best vocals with SW material because the material demands no less.

NWMS:  What are your plans for after the show?

Do Peterson:  Immediately after:  Celebrate my 16th wedding anniversary with my wife Lori DeGloria (put off from Mar 18).  Say a tearful goodbye to Jeanne Morefield as she will be moving from Seattle 2 days after the show to live in London.

A week or so after:  Start planning a tour of the UK for Sept, 2019.

A month or so after:  Complete Do Peterson Band’s third original album Air recorded all outdoors.

Continue work with singer-songwriter, Heidi Snyder (new Seattle transplant from Ann Arbor, MI and friend from back in the early ‘90s), on new original collaborative songs/recordings.


The Do Peterson band will be playing the Royal Room on March 23, click HERE for show information and get more information about Do Peterson at the website HERE

Andrew Hamlin

Andrew Hamlin likes to photograph shoes and write about dog shit. He was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where he resides today. He attended the Evergreen State College, where he wrote and edited arts coverage for the Cooper Point Journal. He is the film critic for the Northwest Asian Weekly, and he’s published arts coverage and criticism in the San Diego Reader, Village Voice, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Goldmine, and other publications. He misses Helen Wiggin. Hamlin’s website is https://andrewhamlin.org.