I posted a brief glimpse behind the band, The Guess Who, early last year and I think it time to look a little deeper into the band that was regarded as the Beatles of Canada. With names like Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman as key members, you can be assured of an interesting dip into musical history today.
When Chad Allan’s embryonic band formed in the late 1950s it is doubtful that he realised that it would go on to include two huge names in Canadian music. By 1965, Chad Allan & the Expressions’ British Invasion influenced sound was proving popular with local audiences, but the short-sighted radio stations wouldn’t play local bands. To circumvent this, Chad and the gang released their cover of ‘Shakin All Over’ under the name Guess Who?
When Chad Allan left in 1966 and was replaced by an 18-year-old Burton Cummings. The band’s career seemed to plod along as the resident band on the CBS music show Let’s Go. Ironically the show was hosted by the very man Cummings replaced, Chad Allan.
Producer Jack Richardson took a gamble and purchased the band’s contract from Quality Records for $1000 in 1968. He took a second mortgage on his home to finance the remarkable album, ‘Wheatfield Soul’. The album yielded the million-seller, ‘These Eyes’, co-written by Bachman and Cummings
I was 14-year-old when the album came out and when my sister’s boyfriend introduced me to it, I was hooked. From the well known ‘These Eyes’ through to the dark Gothic ‘Friends of Mine’, each song spoke to me and The Guess Who became regular listening from that moment onward.
Let’s start with that first huge song, sung here by the 19-year-old Burton Cummings. What a voice! Here’s These Eyes’
In 1970, the huge hit song and the album it came from, ‘American Woman’, took The Guess Who to international stardom. The origins of the song have an interesting story attached. Although some think the song is about some floozy, it is actually an anti-Vietnam War anthem. As the band was heading across the Canadian border to play a gig in the USA, they had an altercation with an officious border patrol guard who tried to get them to sign up for the draft. The band turned-tail and head back to Canada.
With no gig planned they managed a last-minute booking. In the middle of the show, Randy Bachman broke a string. While quickly re-stringing and tuning his guitar backstage he hit on the famous opening riff. To make sure he didn’t forget it, he returned to the stage and started playing the chord progression of the riff. Burton Cummings took the initiative and started singing the first thing that came into his head. And so ‘American Woman’ was born.
Randy Bachman left the band in 1970 (more on that later) and was replaced by two guitarists and the first album with this new line-up, ‘Share the Land’ featured several hits. ‘So Long, Bannatyne’ followed in 1971 and the concert album Live at the Paramount’ in 1972. The golden era of The Guess Who was over, and although various line-ups saw numerous hits, their sound had become more progressive which didn’t suit many die-hard fans.
Burton Cummings left The Guess Who in 1975 to follow a solo career. His soft-rock self-titled debut had two singles feature in the charts during 1976. His follow-up ‘My Own Way to Rock’ peaked at #4 on the Canadian charts, and the self-produced ballad-driven album, ‘Dream of a Child’ (1978) which became the best selling album in Canadian history at that time.
His greatest popularity came at the turn of the 80s when he headlined stadium concerts throughout Canada and toured extensively through the USA. He has continued to perform live, although the last album we saw was the live album ‘Massey Hall’ in 2012.
There have been numerous The Guess Who reunions and performances over the years, which isn’t surprising as they have a fan base that spans 5+ decades. The second track for today is Burton Cumming’s rather schmaltzy, but incredibly beautiful, ‘Stand Tall’.
This closing section for today features Randy Bachman, yet another huge name in Canadian music. Bachman had become a Mormon in 1966 and left The Guess Who in 1970 directly after American Woman, while they were at the peak of their fame. He has been quoted as leaving ‘due to the other band members’ lifestyle choices conflicting with his beliefs’.
He re-teamed with Chad Allan (the original founder of Guess Who) and formed the band Brave Belt that had moderate success with two albums. Chad wasn’t happy with the rock direction that new members, Fred Turner and Robbie Bachman (drums), were bringing to the band and subsequently left. When a third Bachman, Tim, joined the band on guitar, a change of name was fitting; Bachman Turner Overdrive, or, as they became known, BTO. They were signed to Mercury Records and released their first album, ‘Bachman Turner Overdrive’ in 1973.
‘BTO II’ quickly followed and brought them commercial success with the songs ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and ‘Let it Ride’ charting well. The 1974 album ‘Not Fragile’ hit #1 in Canada and the USA with rock classics ‘Roll n Down the Highway’ and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’. This #1 hit gave Randy Bachman the rare accomplishment of having a chart-topper in both the USA and Canda with two different bands.
BTO were chart regulars throughout the mid-70s. Albums like ‘Four Wheel Drive’ and ‘Head On’ ensured a constant stream of hits. During the recording of ‘Freeways’, the 6th studio album, disagreements started arising. Randy Bachman quit the band in 1977. He sold the rights to the name to the remaining band members, who carried on touring and recording until the end of the decade.
He released a solo album that failed to make much impact and then formed the hard rock band, ‘Ironhorse’, with Tom Sparks. The band had mild success in Canda and the USA but found a big following in Italy and other parts of Europe. A second album was released before Randy left to join Fred Turner (fresh from BTO dissolving) and form the band ‘Union’.
You will notice various names keep popping up in this story and I am sure that with the amount of shared history that the collective members have, it is no wonder that there have been numerous reunions, collaborations and festival performances from these friends and superb musicians over the years.
Randy Bachman has gone on to be one of Canada’s national heroes and has received every honour, award and tribute imaginable, including being inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, twice! He was also the popular host of CBS’ coast-to-coast radio show, Vynil Tap.
This isn’t a man known to sit around doing nothing. In 2015 he released the album ‘Heavy Blues’, influence by 60s blues-rock, and featuring contributions from fellow Candian Neil Young, Joe Bonamassa, Peter Frampton, Jeff Healey and Robert Randolph. 2018 saw his George Harrison tribute with a well-chosen Walter Trout taking the lead solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I’m sure that once we are pandemic free we will be seeing lots more from Mr Bachman.
From early Guess Who to his latter works, to choose a ‘best’ final song from his vast catalogue is near on impossible, so I took the easy way out and decided on the obvious. Here’s Randy Bachman with Bachman Turner Overdrive and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’.
Thanks for joining me on a musical trip through time. Catch you soon.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2021