The Guess Who

Antiwar songs by The Guess Who
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The Guess WhoBefore the implimenting of Canadian content regulations, homegrown musicians usually didn't get alot of airplay, and in reflection of some cases, proper respect. In the early '60's the Winnipeg scene was alive and vibrant with new and innovative sounds. On the top and leading the pack was a group of kids then going by the name Chad Allan and The Reflections, then The Expressions. Between '62 and '65 they released a number of singles, including a remake of Bobby Lewis' "Tossin' and Turnin'". But radio stations largely ignored the group despite their local following. The first turning point was in 1965 when the band sent a '45 to the local radio stations. On it was "Shakin' All Over", and simply the phrase 'guess who?', in what turned out to be unintentional ingenius marketing. The name stuck and the band was soon touring western Canada and southern Ontario.

In '66 the band took their biggest step in their evolution, as Allan and Ashley left and were replaced by Burton Cummings, leader of another Winnipeg group, The Deverons. Along with guitarist Randy Bachman, Jim Kale on bass and Gary Peterson on drums, their first single from their self-titled debut with Cummings, "His Girl", reached England and got them signed with King Records in the UK. A hastily put together tour of Britain ensued. However managerial woes plagued the band and they returned to Canada broke shortly thereafter. By '68 the band was still toiling at the scene, having recorded a promotional album for Coca Cola with The Staccatos (later 5 Man Electrical Band) earlier that year, when Nimbus 9 Records released CANNED WHEAT. The album demonstrated the band's raw penchant for innovative sounds, such as "Laughing", Undun" and the original version of "No Time". In "The Key" we were treated to some of Bachman's most innovative playing, complete with violin bows. The group was also making strides with their live show, by this time playing coast to coast and well into the States.

Later that year they also released WHEATFIELD SOUL, which contained the smash ballad "These Eyes", which sold over a million units worldwide and reached #3 on Billboard's Top 100. The group released another quintessential record in 1970. AMERICAN WOMAN contained a remake of "No Time", "No Sugar Tonite/New Mother Nature" and the full length version of the title track. The shortened version became the first single by a Canadian group to top Billboard. They played The White House that year, but were told by the Nixon team not to play "American Woman", due to it's underlying sarcastic tones.

Dissension between over the band's direction, coupled with the night and day differences in lifestyles was mounting, and Bachman ventured off to release his first solo record, AXE in 1970. He left the group shortly thereafter to form Brave Belt with Expressions member Chad Allan and CF Turner - which evolved into Bachman Turner Overdrive. The Guess Who regrouped and released SHARE THE LAND the next year. Featuring new guitarists and fellow Winnipeggers Kurt Winter, formerly with Brother and Greg Leskiw of Wild Rice, it let the world know the group could survive without Bachman, evidenced by the success of the title track and the other singles "Bus Rider" and "Hand Me Down World", two tracks written by Winter while with Brother.

1971 saw the release of their first best of package while they finished up work on their next project, SO LONG BANNATYNE, put out June of that year. With the band a fivesome, the sound was now becoming more diverse and creative - though still showing signs of it now being 'Burton's band'. Three singles were sent to the radio stations, "Sour Suite", "Life In The Bloodstream", which featured Cummings on sax, and the lead track "Rain Dance". Also were Leskiw's first full contributions to the writing, with "Grey Day" and "One Divided", both which featured him on vocals. His banjo work also contributed to the band's revived versatility and his penchant for more of a country-twinged flavour, also evidenced by "Fiddlin", which coincidentally enough had a violin solo. Also was the title track, a revved up raucous blues number. That same year saw the release of THE GUESS WHO PLAY PURE GUESS WHO, basically a compilation of throw-aways from the previous records, which unfortunately got the band nowhere.

ROCKIN' came out the next year and struck gold with "Guns, Guns, Guns" (a track Cummings re-did on his '79 solo DREAM OF A CHILD lp). Also featured was more evidence of the band's versatility, with Cummings' piano-work shining in "Your Nashville Sneakers", a sort of charged up big band sound, "Arividerci Girl" and "Back To The City" - two 'swing' numbers. A cover of "Running Bear" and "Hi Rockers" - an homage to the band's love of 50's music further showed off their versatility. The subsequent tour led to the band's first live album, LIVE AT THE PARAMOUNT, taped in Seattle. Interesting about it was not only did it capture the band's live energy, but Leskiw had left only days prior to the recording to form Mood Jga Jga, replaced by fellow Winterpegger Donnie McDougall. More than simply live versions of the known hits, LATP also featured McDougall's acoustic "Glace Bay Blues", "Running Back To Saskatoon", "Truckin' Off Across The Sky" and "Albert Flasher", none of which had appeared on lp before. Shortly after the tour Kale announced his leaving the group due to health problems.

Winter recommended Bill Wallace, another former member of Brother to fill Kale's shoes and the band immediately went into the studios for their next project. The interim saw the released THE HISTORY OF THE GUESS WHO, and WILD ONE, a pair of albums full of out-takes. ARTIFICIAL PARADISE hit the stores in early '73, and Wallace's presence was immediately heard. Now Cummings didn't have to handle all the vocals, with Wallace singing on the lead-off track "Bye Bye Babe", a rocker in it's purest form, followed by McDougall's first contribution to the writing process and singing "Samantha's Living Room", a sweet song full of nostalgia. But the big hits were "Follow Your Daughter Home" - where the band ventures into calypso waters complete with steel drums, and "Orly" - a jazzed-up ragtime piano tune. NUMBER TEN was released the same year. The band by this point was showing off their country influences again in "Lie Down". "Just Let Me Sing" allowed Cummings to let loose on the raunchy blues number, but it was "Glamour Boy", a sort of autobiographical number about life in the spotlight that was the hit. "Miss Frizzy", co-written by Bachman prior to his leaving the band was also redone and included.

ROAD FOOD was released in '74 and featured the tribute to the famed radio dj Wolfman Jack, "Clap For The Wolfman". Also included was "Star Baby" and a remixed version of "Don't You Want Me" from the ROCKIN' lp. "The Ballad Of The Last 5 Years", written by Cummings, pretty much told the whole story, a number of problems had plagued the band, causing members to come and go and pretty much summed it all up. By that summer Winter and McDougall had both left the band. Their second greatest hits album, BEST OF THE GUESS WHO VOLUME 2 was released while the band regrouped.

The first member not from Winnipeg was Montreal native Domenic Troiano, ex of The Mandala and The James Gang. FLAVOURS was released that October and showed a definite shift in musical direction. Troiano and Cummings co-wrote all the songs and the new boy's penchant for jazz-twinged rock didn't seem to bode well with the fans. Aside from "Dancing Fool", the album was pretty much a complete bust, though it did still reach gold status, pretty common for a band of that magnitude. POWER IN THE MUSIC came out in the spring of '75. Again Cummings and Troiano left the rest of the group out of the writing process and it just didn't fly. Management was losing interest in the band and the fans just couldn't get into what Troiano was trying to say, tho it was arguably one of the most creative albums they'd done. With Cummings' interests leaning towards a solo career, the album's most noteworthy song was the reminiscent "When The Band Was Singing Shakin' All Over", ironic huh? For all intents and purposes this spelled the end of the 'true' Guess Who, as Cummings was rumoured to have burned his stage clothes after a Montreal show that September and officially quit the band the following week.

Contractual obligations saw the release of THE WAY THEY WERE in '76, which featured the original line-up and what they were up to in between AMERICAN WOMAN and Bachman's departure in 1970. Included was the original "Miss Frizzy". THE GREATEST OF THE GUESS WHO hit the stores in '77 and nicely summed up the band's biggest hits from Bachman to Troiano. With the band now dead and gone, Greg Leskiw would sort of come into the picture again, when he joined Wallace in Kilowatt for two records in '81 and '82, before drifting out of the limelight altogether. Kale meanwhile acquired the rights to the Guess Who name and began touring in the spring of '78 with McDougall, guitarist Doug Inglis and drummer Vance Masters, formerly of Brother. They released ALL THIS FOR A SONG that summer but failed to garner any real renewed interest in the band and they were living on name alone, despite the release of "C'mon Little Mama", one of 3 songs co-written by Kurt Winter.

Wallace'81's NOW AND NOT THEN was their next release but both "Love Lite" and "Beyond Beautiful" failed to make a dent in the charts. A small tour followed but The Guess Who's time had run out. Ironically though they would resurface only two years later. Again showing how ahead of their time they were, a reunion with Bachman, Kale, Cummings and Peterson resulted in a tour in the summer of '83 Cummings penned 'The Twilight Zone Tour' ''because it was like turning the hands of time back 20 years". The reunion resulted in the live record TOGETHER AGAIN, concert video and the new single "Let's Watch The Sun Go Down" - penned by Kale, the politically motivated "What's Gonna Happen To The Kids", "Creepin' Peepin' Baby Blues" and "C'mon and Dance". A double album version of this was also released in '87 under the name BEST OF THE GUESS WHO LIVE. The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during that year's Juno Awards. But to this day they haven't forgiven the CBC for cutting off their acceptance speech to make room for commercials. The 3 album set TRACK RECORD was put out the next next year and ushered the Guess Who into the compact disc age. Though it contained mostly the band's hits, it also featured 4 unreleased tracks taped during the Troiano period.

Kale and Petersen again resurfaced in the early '90's - touring with a largely unknown supporting cast, then releasing LIBERTY on the independant FRE Records label in 1995. The ultimate in cheesy marketing ploys was implemented later that year when the exact same tracks resurfaced on another indie label in a different order on the album LONELY ONE. Among the guest contributors was Edmonton's Alfie Zappacosta. Interest in the group waned again (or never really existed this time) and again the name The Guess Who faded into the sunset, though they remained on the circuit touring again with again a mostly unknown cast, save for Carl Dixon, ex of Coney Hatch. Coincidentally, MacDougall and Wallace had also started touring, calling the band 'The Best Of The Guess Who', a group which featured Debi Segal, Wallace's wife. Around the same time a whole shwack of early Expressions-days albums began hitting the streets, some re-issues, some collections of tracks locked away in the vaults that never made it to vinyl before.

The world was saddened on Dec 15, 1997 at the news that Kurt Winter had passed away from kidney failure due to substance abuse. Cummings, Bachman, Kale and Petersen got back together for a benefit concert to aid the victims of the Red River Flood in Manitoba in 1998, and then signed a deal to play a 4 song set at the Pan-Am Games in '99. The incredible response given them led to rumours of a full-fledged reunion. Later that year, the rock world was ecstatic at the news that Cummings and Bachman would reform the band for a cross-country tour. Along with Peterson, McDougall and Wallace, the first time this version existed, they released a live disc on J-Bird Records available only in the US called THE SPIRIT LIVES ON, then another American import called LEGENDS LIVE. RUNNING BACK THROUGH CANADA, a full-fledged double album taped during their cross-Canada tour in '99 was released to ring in the new millenium.

Winnipeg, Manitoba was blessed with some of the most outstanding artists music has ever known. The likelihood of one small city producing such enormous talents is remote. Although it's the lineup with Bachman that many consider to be the 'true' Guess Who, Kurt Winter also had a following rivalled by few and is widely considered one of the most under-rated musicians to ever pick up a guitar - and proved through numerous hits on 6 records that he could not only hold his own, but firmly entrench himself in the annals of rock history. But regardless of who was present in the studios, The Guess Who showed on timeless occasions their innovations of recording techniques while experimenting with different sounds long before it was 'in'. No Canadian band today can honestly say they weren't somehow influenced by The Guess Who. Carrying the maple leaf proudly as they preach the gospel of rock and roll across the globe, they are indeed a Canadian treasure.