PORTLAND, Maine — Husband, father and long-time fixture on Maine’s live music scene, drummer Larry Peterson has died.
“A light has gone out,” said former bandmate Rob Babson.
Peterson was eight days shy of his 80th birthday when he died in Lewiston on June 22.
Famous for his fast, hard left-handed swing, Peterson’s passing leaves a funky, drum-shaped hole in the local music community. A family man, he also leaves behind a wife of 41 years, three daughters and three grandchildren.
“Everyone remembers his laugh and his smile and that big, warm, all-embracing sense of acceptance,” said bassist Sandy Pardee, who played more than 1,000 gigs with Person in 15 years with the Delta Knights Band, “I will always picture him driving the train, smiling, letting out a big whoop now and again and generally bringing joy to the music and the world.”
Babson, remembers Peterson using his considerable rhythm skills to liven up played-out audience requests like “Margaritaville” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”
“He’d turn them into rhumbas,” Babson said, calling Peterson a friend, mentor and consummate gentleman.
Peterson was born June 30, 1943, in Chesapeake, Virginia. He came to music at a young age, playing baritone horn as well as drums.
After a difficult childhood, he left home at 19, joining Leon Claxton’s “Harlem in Havana” review, drumming 10 shows a day in carnivals across the United States and Canada.
By 1970, he’d settled in Leeds, Maine, taking a job as a lineman with Central Maine Power. He worked there for 25 years while still drumming with popular local bands including Red Light Revue, the Kora Shrine Band and his own jazz and blues ensembles.
He also continued to play with national acts like the Platters, Bo Diddley, Joe Houston and Larry Coryell.
Randall Moribito played with Peterson in Gospel Explosion and children’s band Good Rockin’ Daddies.
Morabito remembers loading out after a gig when Peterson accidentally drove over one of his own drums, lifting his large van’s wheel off the ground, spinning in midair.
“We laughed, and he put it in the van, and never did anything about it,” Morabito said. “I couldn’t resist ribbing him about it when I had the chance. He liked to laugh, and I liked to make him laugh.”
As well as being a consummate, unflappable musician, Peterson was also notable for being a Black man in an overwhelmingly white state.
“It saddens and angers me to think of the number of times I witnessed people hurling the N-word Larry’s way over the years,” Pardee said. “As you might expect, Larry largely deflected those moments with humor and gentle calm.”
Peterson once told Pardee that he’d been pulled over by a police officer late one night, on the way home from a show.
“The cop made him take his drum kit out, set it up on the street and play for him to prove that the kit wasn’t stolen,” Pardee said. “Horrifying.”
Known to most Mainers through his music, daughters Joy, Tiffany and Crystal remember him simply as Dad.
“He loved us, hard,” said Tiffany Peterson. “He wasn’t a softie but taught us to respect ourselves and others.”
His daughters also said that for Larry Peterson, family was everything.
“He instilled in us the importance of family,” said daughter Joy Peterson. “He told us men and friends will come and go but we’ll always have our sisters.”
Larry Peterson had been ill for several years. His daughters took turns helping their mother, Nancy, care for him, with Joy Peterson traveling from Florida and Tiffany Peterson from New Jersey to do so.
But it’s nothing he wouldn’t have done for them, they said.
“Once, when I was in college in Ithaca, I told him I didn’t think I knew the way home,” Tiffany Peterson said. “He told me, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow to get you,’ and he was.”
“That’s how our family rolls,” Joy Peterson said.
Larry Peterson also made sure creativity was a big part of his children’s lives. All were given musical instruments and urged to play. He also made sure their home was full of all kinds of different sounds, from classical to jazz to blues to world music.
The whole family often took part in community musical theater shows in Auburn.
“He’d be in the pit band and we’d all be on stage,” Tiffany Peterson said.
Larry Peterson met his wife, singer Nancy Peterson, at a Valentine’s Day gig.
“That was in 1981, and I was born shortly thereafter,” Joy Peterson said.
Both Joy and Tiffany Peterson said they’ve been moved by the outpouring of condolences and memories posted on social media since their dad died.
“It’s amazing to see all those memories,” Joy Peterson said, “how many lives he touched outside our family, how many people he loved and how they loved and respected him right back.”