When did your musical career start?
My musical career kicked off when I was laid off at Pfizer Products where I was working then. Though I had fair for music while in Pfizer, I did not start until we were laid off in 1969.
How did it go?
Yes we were paid some money as severance benefit. It was this money I used to buy my first set of musical instruments which included guitar, local drums and all. It was with these set of instrument I started the musical career. I first moved to Boundary Hotel to perform musical shows. From Boundary Hotel, I moved to Temi Ogbe Hotel and finally settled at Lido Bar, opposite Fela’s shrine, all in Idi Oro, Lagos.
So at what point did the name Emperor Pick Peter began to tick?
It was Lido Bar that actually sold me to the world. In those days, it was only the Afro music king, Fela Ransome Kuti and I that ruled Idi Oro. He was playing at his shrine while I play directly opposite him at Lido Bar. I can vividly remember the day he met me, he was so happy and he said he wanted to bless me. He bought three bottles of local gin, palm oil and other things to perform the blessing. That day, Fela dipped his hands in his pocket, brought out money and sprayed me as I was singing. He said that was the first and the last time he would do such thing. He saw the Volvo station Wagon that I was using then and was so impressed. The second day, he went to Briscoe Motors to buy the type of Volvo; he bought Mercedes Benz and other expensive cars. He used the Mercedes Benz to carry refuse.
There was this famed quarrel between you and King Sunny Ade in those days that made your fans rush to buy your albums in the 70s, what was the cause of the squabble?
There was never a time I have any misunderstanding with King Sunny Ade. He has always been my big brother and friend and our relationship has ever been cordial But there are some albums by both of you attesting to this quarrel? You see, all those things are cooked up by our fans. I can remember that it all started with a rumour that I drove Sunny Ade from TYC African Songs, his recording studio then.
Is that true?
There was no iota of truth in that. What happened was that King Sunny Ade breached the contract he signed with the recording company and they had to stop the contract.
But how did you connect TYC African Songs to be your recording studio too?
TYC African Songs discovered me at Lido Bar where I was doing my show. They gave me appointment and we discussed. I gave them conditions that they should buy a new set of musical instruments for me and a Kombi bus. They agreed and we took off from there.
But what could have led to the album by Sunny Ade in which he sang “E kilo fomo Ode” (Warn this son of a hunter. Emperor Peter’s nick name is ‘son of a hunter.’)?
That music was not directed at me. In fact, Sunny Ade was not the originator of that music. It was sang by Ambrose Campbell in a three-minute track. When Sunny waxed the record in 1974, a lot of journalists besieged my house to ask questions on the track and I told them it was not directed at me. I am a close ally of Sunny Ade. As at that time, I was a frequent sight at his rented apartment on Igbobi Sabe Street, off Ikorodu Road. So there is no way he would direct such music at me. It was Ambrose Campbell’s song and Sunny paid royalty to him in Great Britain after waxing the music. He confirmed all these by himself (Sunny Ade).
So what actually led to the rumour and its eventual escalation?
It all started in 1975 when I was to play with Dele Abiodun at a burial ceremony at Ita Faaji in Lagos Island. Dele Abiodun was there before me because I had an earlier show in Ogun State. So, on getting there, I met Dele and we exchanged greetings. We drank and ate together and arranged to play one hour each so that the place would not be too polluted. But my friend mounted the stage and started abusing me. It was at that event he came with his popular track, “o jebi o jebi omo ode” (The son of the hunter is guilty). When my fans heard this, they came to me and insisted I must fre back or they back out as my fans and become Dele Abiodun’s fans. I was confused because I was not prepared for all that.
What was your immediate reaction?
I was confused totally. I took a bottle of Rum and entered my band boys’ civilian bus and emptied it. I then prayed to God to give me inspiration to counter Dele Abiodun. I don’t attend church but God has always been answering my prayers. Suddenly I was in a trance and the inspiration came. I heard: ‘Ejuba fomo Ode – Peters –Imanamana ile ogun….’. I quickly gathered my boys together and we did 10 minutes rehearsal before mounting the stage. The uproar was much. I did not stop from 10pm when I mounted the stage till 9am the following morning as all that were present, including the celebrants were all carried away.
So, what was Sunny Ade’s response when the squabble was degenerating?
Oh yes, he went into the studio to wax another record so that Dele Abiodun would not let people believe he was attacking me. That was when he came out with “Ode ma ti pogidan soko, oju ti babalawo won, to ni ode yi o pa eku” (The hunter has made great exploit, shame on the soothsayer who says the hunter would not kill a rat).
So, what is the relationship between you and Sunny Ade like, these days?
It is as cordial as ever. If I want to see him now, I will see him.
What advice do you have for today’s musicians, they seem not to be as in-depth as you guys were in those days?
We have really worked for them. They came to meet a lot in our reservoir which they now use to build up their music. I will advise that they should also work hard for the coming generation to lean on. They should not allow computer to ruin them. I am almost 70 years old now and I still play my guitar. In our days, we play analogue. I can play almost all musical instruments.
Who is Emperor Pick Peters?
I am a born artist. Music saturates in my veins. I did not learn music under anybody. I learnt guitar by picking the rhythm and that is where the name ‘Pick’ derived from. I don’t have any other business aside music. I am also a producer. I produce other musicians too. I do outside shows and play in ceremonies.
Any plan to release an album to lighten up your fans soon?
I waxed one last year, titled ‘iyanu’. In 2012 too, I came up with one christened ‘Igba Otun.’ Another one will be coming this year. What I want to do now is to release the video clips of the albums so as to give them ample publicity.
Can you recollect the saddest day in your career?
That was the day my promoter, Chief Bolariinwa Abioro seized all my musical instruments in 1979. Abioro was the CEO of my recording studio. Not only that, he seized the car and the bus they bought for me.
What was responsible for this?
He claimed that I breached the contract we had; which was not true. The car and the bus and the car were given to me on installment and I had waxed four records in his studio without royalty. I built a house then and he wanted me to use it as collateral which I refused because the facilities we took from him is on the name of the organisation not me. I told him that was not part of our agreement. He was not satisfied with my stance and he decided to reach for the bid axe. He collected the instrument and gave them to my parker, Wale Abiodun to lead my other boys. I can never forget that experience. It is unforgettable.
That means your boys are not loyal to you?
They are not. They were too ambitious. But they couldn’t go far. The whole thing collapsed in their hands in less than two years.
How did you move on from there?
I went to one Baba Eroya, at Idi Oro to rent instrument and he said he heard my predicament and was willing to help me. There and then, he gave me a new set of instrument and gave me comfortable time to pay back. Infact, he paid for the transportation of the equipment to my house that day. That was in the dark days when charms rule the Yoruba musical world.
How were you faring in the midst of all that?
I also have it. I am well equipped in native charms too. Anywhere I play and they want to try me, they always come back to tell me that what manner of man was I. They were trying me but it would not work.