Art Culture

Grounded to Indian ways

Grounded to Indian ways

Don Decker, YAN News

On any Tuesday and Wednesday during the afternoons you can hear Chuck Peterson playing his guitar at the Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, Arizona on the Yavapai-Apache Nation. He calls the casino his home and for good reason too, as he is considered one of the team members who provides that extra edge of sound through his voice and guitar that soothe all  that frequent the gaming floor there.

Chuck has an endless repertoire of songs that date back from the 60’s to the 90s. With this type of expertise and variety, he can bring all the tunes from long ago back to life, whether it’s Santana, the Doobie Bros. with Michael McDonald or Credence Clearwater.

Just throw any song out there to him and chances are he can play it. From the Stones, Eagles or Marvin Gaye. He plays it all.

Peterson makes the guitar wail as the background band provided by a pre-recorded sound track filled with bass and drums keep right in step with his voice on guitar. “They have their favorite songs that they request and it’s nice to know what they are,” he adds about his fans that walk up to him asking for a special tune.

“I guess I’m kinda like a human jukebox,” he says with a smile.

“One of things I really want to express is that my time here at Cliff Castle has been so rewarding for me in the sense that I feel a real connection with the people that come in to enjoy the gaming and all the amenities that are offered here. It really is an amazing place,” he says.

The regular casino customers just seem to love him. “I actually had one of the bus patrons bring me a hamburger one time all the way from Phoenix,” he chuckles. Then there’s the Japanese lady who would from time to time show up with some green tea from a  gourmet restaurant her sister owned back in Phoenix 90 miles south of the casino.

Native American connection

Peterson is somewhat of a mystic and at this point he digresses from his electronic music. It all began back in 1983 when his father went to visit the Big Horn Battlefield in Montana and knowing his son was interested in Native history, he inquired to the clerk at the gift shop about a book that might explain the history and events that led to this great moment in the Indian wars of the late 1800’s.

Before his father could finish his request, the lady clerk started walking away down the aisle to retrieve ‘Crazy Horse-Strange man of the Oglalas’ by Marie Sandoz, a book that was written in 1946. He tells the story best:

“ My father said to the curator, ‘I’m going to take this book back to my son’. And as the old saying goes, the rest is history “.

Chuck was mesmerized by the tale Sandoz told, describing how they lived, how they thought and just how everything worked in harmony, in the Native way.

It was through these writings of Sandoz that he first felt the beginnings of what would eventually become a personal transformation of sorts concerning all that he believed in, including his music on the guitar and the vocals.

From here, Peterson penned a song called ‘Crazy Horse’ from the inspiration he got from the book his dad bought for him years before.

Subsequently, that song got him an interview with a local TV station in northern Arizona where he talked about the story and writing the song.

It was during this time that Chuck met John Joseph, a Navajo-Yaqui- who played traditional Native flute on Peterson’s recording that has two versions: one with a band and the other version, unplugged, which has Joseph flute.

In the unplugged version, Edgar Red Elk is featured with a vintage battlefield victory song of the Lakota that was acquired through the Library of Congress that had been recorded many years before.

“It starts with a beautiful chant at the beginning, moving into guitar and vocals with Joseph’s flute trailing along,” he says.

“I am  also very interested in getting some airplay for this song and an opportunity to play it at the Crazy Horse Monument with a Lakota flute player. That is something I am working on going forward,” Peterson is hoping to perform the song at the Crazy Horse Monument sometime this year. The commemoration of the Little Big Horn Battle of June 25, 1876 with Crazy Horse is marked on each year.


Spirit world beckons

Recalling the time when Joseph crossed the river of life and left into the spirit world, he mentions the impact that Joseph’s Indian philosophy has had on him to this day.

Joseph was a Vietnam veteran and a loyal patron of Cliff Castle Casino for many years and he was known to many employees and regulars.

Chuck remembers the time when he would visit Joseph at the Veteran’s hospital in Phoenix whenever Joseph became ill from the effects of Agent Orange and always telling him, “I’ll see you next week my friend,” noting the special  bond and friendship that they had.

One day Peterson got a call from his boss at the casino informing him that Joseph had become very sick and was taken to the hospital again, where later that day, he passed on.

“Joseph taught me a lot in the two years I knew him “ Chuck says. The most important thing was to always be accountable to myself. He called me ‘Little Pipe” after having once given me a small ceremonial pipe. But we never got the chance to making one together”.

It was these Indian connections that would make Peterson whole again.

“He (Joseph) would always tell me to do what I knew was right and to not second guess or accept mediocrity in anyway shape or form. If I was mess’in up or do’in something half-baked , John would just look at me and say, ‘get your inner guitar in tune Little Pipe. You’re twang’in on me’ “.


“After 30 plus years” Chuck says, “ I’m still on this road, and still learning something every day. I feel so blessed to be able to give people a reason to smile and tap their foot and I consider my work to be what I am. I think in a way, it defines me. As someone once said, I am the ‘string’ and the ‘spirit’ is the ‘note’

As Peterson sets up at Cliff Castle Casino on a Wednesday morning in Camp Verde, Arizona , he  smiles. “You know what the best part of my job is? I can’t really call it work. I just play”, he says just  as someone walks up to him with another request.





Arizona entertainer Chuck Peterson has a special connection with Native America through his music.

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