From: Steve Cooker
Jonny “Rock” Peterson graduated from Winona Senior High in 1984. The son of well known 1960s KWNO Radio personality late Dave “Put Put” Peterson and wife Kathy (now Frickson, remarried). Jonny toured the free world, including Europe, Italy, Canada and all 50 states, with Nashville’s biggest country music artists as keyboard player for two decades.
His mom, Kathy, recalled, “His dad played a variety of instruments, so there was always music around the house. By second grade, Jon was playing piano at home, so we got him piano lessons. He progressed rapidly and outgrew his teachers, who suggested he move on to more advanced lessons.” In high school, Jonny won the National Honors Award for his horn playing with jazz bands, acknowledging band director Dave Heyer, among others.
He attended Iowa State University at Ames for electrical engineering for a year. “I spent more time with bands than I did at school, so my dad told me he was spending a lot of money for that school for me to be playing music. When I told him I’d rather be a musician, he told me to go to Nashville and get my belly full, so I did,” Peterson recalled.
Who have you played with? “Kenny Chesney, Collin Raye, Vern Gosdin, Tracy Lawrence, Tanya Tucker, Charlie Daniels, John Michael Montgomery and Southern Reign, to name a few,” he said.
How did you get your first big break and with who? “Tim McGraw and Faith Hill invited me to audition, prior to their first record. Due to a series of events I was not able to connect with them but that opened the door for other opportunities,” said Peterson.
How did you travel when you toured? “In half-million-dollar tour busses. The busses got better as I moved up the ladder. The headliner artist had a suite in the back, the sidemen had our own bunks and closets. We had an entertainment section,” answered Peterson. “The caterers at concerts would give us fantastic leftovers to take on the bus. We ate very well. There were times I laughed nonstop from the time I got on the tour bus after a concert until the next show.”
What was the touring life like? “A lot more laborious than most people think — quite a bit of spare time just sitting around hotels and concert halls. I had the privilege of meeting and jamming with some of my musical heroes. Some gigs were the fun of a lifetime, laughing and carrying on nonstop. If you had any kind of weakness though, it was sure to be found and shared by everybody on the bus.”
Were some artists easier or harder than others to work for? “Absolutely … The more successful they were, the more fun they were. Kenny Chesney had only one rule: We must have more fun than any other act we play with. Others would say, ‘I have no rules, but if you get fired, you know why you got fired.’”
How are sidemen musicians paid? “Show-pay or salary. Some make $40,000 a year and play a hundred shows. Some may get $300 per show and have 150 gigs. We always got per diem of around $50 a day when we walked on the bus that we used for expense money, although everything was provided,” he explained. “Nobody on the bus was ever broke; we always had some money on us.”
Who have you been playing with since you’ve been home? “Greg Hall and the Wrecking Ball out of La Crosse; we’ll be playing lots of hippie fests this summer. You can see some youtube videos of ‘Travace and the Generators’ and ‘Woodstock-Riverside Park La Crosse’ plus ‘Classic Rockers Winona.’”
Where can we see you play next? “I’ll be performing with the Classic Rockers and former members of the Fabulous Ferraris and North Country Band plus other well known area musicians for the ‘Midwinter Boogie’ on Saturday, March 10, at 7 p.m. at the Blackhorse in Winona. We’ll take free-will offerings for friends who have medical issues and need a little help,” said Peterson. “This is always fun when all ages get together to eat, drink, dance, and reconnect.”