Interview with Finnish Rock and Roll legend Kari Peitsamo!


Kari Peitsamo is a true rocker. He makes his living by entertaining crowds with old school rock and roll music that pours out of him in a very natural and honest way. With his instantly recognizable image and record breaking creative output he has become an icon in Finland. But there's a lot more to Kari than three chords as you'll soon find out...

Jani: When we last met you suggested I'd watch the film "Crazy Heart". How much of Kari Peitsamo is in the main character of the film?

Kari: That movie is very important to me. It was shocking how well I can really relate to it. Also the songs are amazing - "I used to be somebody and now I'm somebody else". What makes a star is the pain and how it is released. Accepting defeats is also very important. Many old timers have gone through similar steps and are still going strong - Chuck Berry, Lemmy...The only thing I would have changed is the ending. The character (Bad Blake) sort of resigned but you don't need to hold back with age. You can keep rocking.

You have to live with the preassure and pain that comes from being isolated from the community as an artist. It's a question of career choice and you have to love it and be passionate about it as music is just a small part of the whole thing. I have been searching for that main source of passion but there are so many forms it appears in. Luckily I'm not a virtuoso so I can easily take distance from it all and try other things.

Jani: Like you did by working as a gravedigger?

Kari: The physical side of that job is what appealed to me. In the late 90s I started to realize how important it is to be in shape. I was looking for something where I could really put my body to a test. I must say the time I spend on that job was some of the happiest of my life. I learned to look at things in a different way and it basically was the start of my political involvement in society. I saw things from a different side.

I was never really into religions but christianity started to open to me by accident. I read a book by Douglas Harding on having no head. I came to the same conclusion that I don't have a head - the spiritual and material worlds are separate and we are basically outside of our bodies. True communication is faceless. Christ said that eyes are the lights of our soul. Headless way is a miracle. Realizing all this really released me from lot of the stress and worrying.

Jani: In the movie "Walk The Line" there's a good question that a record label executive asks from Johnny Cash. In short, if you were dying and had time to sing one song that would sum you up, what would you sing?

Kari: You're not gonna believe this - "Folsom Prison Blues". God would want to hear about my pain, not my praise. That makes me human. Those last words - you can't get any lower.

"Kauppaopiston Naiset" was about the fear of women and it was relieving to say those words. I was crazy enough not to care what other's thought and I never felt the need to put make-up on songs with fancy production.

Jani: What is your relationship with the guitar?

Kari: Initially it was a toy that a young boy is drawn to. Like guns. When I was around 7-9 years old I had the need to get my own guitar. Beatles was one of the influences to pick it up but I guess I would have gotten one anyway. Each generation have their own heroes. The guitar was a way to express yourself. The real wakeup call came from seeing classical guitar playing on TV in the early 70s. I wanted to learn that. Segovia, Villa-Lobos, Benjamin Britten, Fernando Sor and Leo Brouwer were some of the masters. The way the classical guitar can be like a mini orchestra was really appealing. The nylon string acoustic is the most beautiful sounding instrument but you have to really have a lot of discipline to become a virtuoso. I don't really believe in that whole virtuoso thing though - it's a circus trick thing and childish. At 12-15 years of age I studied classical guitar. Moving to play with a pick was a big step towards rock.

Jani: How many guitars do you own?

Kari: Just two. An Epiphone acoustic and a 1989 Fender Telecaster. They are basically just tools for the job now and the image side of it is not as important anymore.

Jani: You've been associated with the tele for a long time. Why did you choose it?

Kari: It has to be the visual side as the sound is in no way irreplacable. I guess it's a cultural thing. I like revolvers and some like pistols.

Jani: Have you ever had problems with GAS ( Gear Affection Syndrome)?

Kari: None what so ever.

Jani: Let's talk about your Charvel Model 2 guitar that you used to own.

Kari: It was interesting cause it took the simple telecaster ideology further. I saw that model on Status Quo's "Ain't Complaining" album cover. Also a production model is very much my thing.

Jani: You used to have a Chiquita Travel guitar also.

Kari: Yeah I saw one on the ZZ Top "El Loco" album sleeve. I bought all the colors. They were really cool.

Jani: So you had GAS! What songs would you suggest for someone who wants to learn to play like you?

Kari: Status Quo "Caroline", Chuck Berry "Johnny B Goode", Andres Segovia/Bach "Chaconne". Francis Rossi is important.

Jani: What's the best guitar solo ever recorded?

Kari: George Thorogood "Hello Little Girl"

Jani: And the best riff?

Kari: Keith Richards "Honkey Tonk Woman"

Jani: What's the latest guitar performance that you found impressive?

Kari: Billy Gibbons in Järvenpää. I wasn't there though. I watched it on YouTube.

Jani: You are often called a walking jukebox. How do you remember all the lyrics?

Kari: I recently had to learn 17 new Road Hogs songs. The most important thing is to remember the beginning and then the logic will take over. The songs kinda re-write themselves on stage. "Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans" can only be followed by "Way back up in the woods among the evergreens". That's the way it is.

Jani: What new bands do you listen to?

Kari: None really. It's like Lennon said about "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On". I'm stuck in that era.

And there's nothing wrong with that! Kari keeps rocking and we wish him the best of luck in the 2011 elections!

Above is a photo from December 2010 when I had the honor of playing bass for Kari for the second time. Check out Kari's official website!