After more than four decades of making music, Richard Peterson, 71, is having his first concert in his hometown.
When asked why he decided on now for this special show, in usual Peterson fashion he was fairly nonchalant about the whole thing.
“I don’t make it down to Chehalis very often,” Peterson said of his return to his hometown.
Well-known Northwest piano and trumpet player and composer, Peterson, has lived in Seattle since 1973. He gained much of his fame performing trumpet solos on the Seattle streets, most notably in front of the old Kingdome. His rise from obscurity was chronicled in his full-length feature film “Big City Dick” in 2004.
Born in 1948 in San Diego, his family moved to Chehalis when Peterson was still an infant. His first musical memories were the soundtracks from some of his favorite television shows as well as classic radio programming. He holds a great affinity for radio “booth announcers” and still fondly recalls classic KELA personalities such as Dick Dawson, Bill Carter, Jim Knutson and Mike Fairhart.
“When I was a teen, I was interested to be a local radio personality,” Peterson recalled.
Though Peterson never got to be on the radio in Chehalis, he did eventually get his wish as a regular personality on Seattle station KZOK for many years. But Southwest Washington was where Peterson first made his own music. He said he first received piano lessons while in a foster home in Longview as a child. When he returned to his family in Chehalis, he was able to continue piano lessons and his first song released to the public “Let’s Take a Trip to Spokane” was composed in Chehalis in 1969. But he eventually quit piano lessons because he preferred learning music by ear.
“(Lessons) led into Classical music and that’s not what I wanted to do,” Peterson said. “I don’t want to play Bach and Handel and Beethoven. You listen to Baroque music too long and you fall asleep. I like more modern music.”
Peterson has been collecting old recordings of everything from soundtracks to sound effects for about forty years. Some of his favorites are music by Ziv and Columbia music production companies.
“I like the ‘50s and ‘60s. That music didn’t stay on TV very many years,” Peterson said. “That’s the Golden Age of the sound.”
He has released seven full length albums since 1982, the most recent of which is “Seven” released in 2019 by Olympia’s Green Monkey Records. It was recorded by the “Richard Peterson Orchestra” which is basically Peterson playing piano, horns, synth oboe, bass, drums and harp with guest vocalists and violinists. It is an eclectic mix of instrumentation, vocals and mixed recordings heavily influenced by those soundtracks from classic television that remind him of happy times. He said he hopes someday to be able to raise the money to do a Christmas album as well as a Beatles album, which would include his own version of “Eleanor Rigby”.
“You’ll hear a lot of the Beatles influence in it, but mine is about six minutes long,” he said.
These days, Peterson said his health doesn’t really allow him to play on the streets anymore. He said he played at one Huskies game and one Sounders match last year but for the most part, he’s doesn’t feel it’s the place for him to be.
“I can’t perform on the street anymore,” he said. “Being a street musician was not meant to be permanent. I want to perform on stage.”
Besides, Peterson noted that the atmosphere on the city streets is not the same as it was more than forty years ago. Peterson’s voice filled with emotion talking about his one-time rival who became something of a friend, Seattle’s Tuba Man Edward McMichael, who died in 2008 after being assaulted on the Seattle streets where they both used to play their music.
“I don’t want that to happen to me. I can’t be on the streets no more,” Peterson said.
On his rare trips back to visit Chehalis, Peterson said he no longer stops “at the radio station by the fairground” because none of his old friends are working there any longer. He said he likes to stop by city hall to look at building permits. He loves the Seattle city life, quoting freely the ages and number of stories of the buildings he can see from his apartment window. He said he is always hoping Chehalis will build more tall buildings like Seattle. Like his affinity for the sounds of classic television, Peterson also has a soft spot for older buildings such as the St. Helens Hotel and sadly recalled former downtown buildings that are now parking lots.
“Any time they tear down a building, a city loses its soul,” he said.
Peterson’s first-ever hometown concert will take place 8 to 11 p.m. March 20 at McFiler’s in downtown Chehalis. The free, all-ages concert was sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Museum, McFiler’s and Chehalis Holiday Inn Express. Lewis County Historical Museum director Jason Mattson said he first met Peterson last summer when a friend brought him to town for a visit. Peterson visited the museum and Mattson said they talked a lot about downtown buildings and then Peterson played some songs on the player piano from the Playquato dance hall that is located at the museum. Mattson said he was surprised to learn Peterson had never performed in Chehalis and began looking into finding a venue for a local concert.
“It’s pretty special and I think it’s going to be a really neat show,” Mattson said.
Peterson said the March 20 concert will be piano music only and he will play on Playquato piano, which will be on loan from the museum for the night. It will include selections of some of his favorite music, including classic television and the Beatles, and also some of his own compositions.
“I try to do as many piano songs as possible,” Peterson said. “I play a repertoire I have played many times in the past.”
If You Go...
What: Lewis County Historical Museum and Chehalis Holiday Inn Express Present Richard Peterson in concert
When: 8-11 p.m. March 20
Where: McFiler’s, 543 NW Pacific Ave., Chehalis
Cost: No cover and event is all ages until 11 p.m.
More information about Peterson, as well as links to his music, can be found at greenmonkeyrecords.com/r-peterson/