Kurt Winter in-memorium
Before the implimentation of Canadian content regulations, homegrown musicians usually didn’t get alot of airplay, and in reflection in some cases, proper respect. In the early ’60’s the Winnipeg scene was alive and vibrant with new and innovative sounds, mostly impersonations of what kids what were hearing on British vinyl they were buying in the stores and hearing on the airwaves. On the top and leading the pack was a group of kids then going by the name Allan’s Silvertones.
The band went through several early incarnations, but eventually solidified with Chad Allan on guitars and vocals, guitarist Randy Bachman, Jim Kale on bass, Bob Ashley on keyboardist and drummer Garry Peterson. They changed the name to The Reflections, released a handful of singles on American-Canadian Records that did moderately well, but then changed their name to Chad Allan and The Expressions after signing with Quality Records in ’64.
But for the most part radio stations largely ignored the group despite their local following. The turning point was in 1965 when the band sent a promo ’45 to one of the local radio stations. On it was a cover of Jimmy Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”, and simply the phrase ‘guess who?’, in what turned out to be unintentional ingenius marketing. The name eventually stuck and officially changed, and the band was soon touring western Canada, southern Ontario and into the US.
Still officially known as ‘The Expressions’, they released a pair of albums before year’s end, SHAKIN’ ALL OVER and HEY HO, which both contained original material as well as covers of the big British hits of the day. Soon after, Ashley left and was replaced by Burton Cummings, who’d been fronting his own Winnipeg sensations The Deverons, who’d also been making huge strides releasing a handful of singles of their own. The story goes that Cummings was introduced to the band and their manager Bob Burns. When asked if he’d like to join,he thought it was some sort of joke and quipped, “I’d love to guys, but the Beatles asked me first.” It wasn’t long though before the 17-year old realized this was ‘his break,’ and along with keyboards and piano duties, he took over the vocals from Allan, who soon also left to further his education.
Now officially The Guess Who, Cummings‘ Deveron-mate Bruce Decker came in to share guitar duties with Bachman. They continued their dominance of the local area single. But within a couple of months Decker was gone, and the band was now a foursome. 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, but things weren’t as rosey as the band and management were led to believe. London’s streets weren’t paved with gold, and there weren’t swarms of photographers and screaming teenage girls, and the tour was nothing more than a few shabbily assembled dates. While there though, they did manage to get some recording done after being introduced to some outside writing teams. “The boys came to London in the sixties. Myself and Jimmy Stewart were signd to Belwin Mills music as staff songwriters. We went to see them at their hotel and played them some songs, and they recorded “This Time Long Ago” and Miss Felicity Grey,” and were produced by Tony Hiller. There’s one thing i do remember – I had a hangover the next day… A great bunch of guys,” Gerry Langley remembers. The band returned to Canada shortly thereafter – deeply in debt and their future in doubt.
Refusing to give in, the band began playing across Canada, at one point 27 straight shows for the better part of the next year. A rare innovative stroke of genius from the CBC would end up being the band’s saving grace. “Let’s Go” was a series of afternoon television half hour shows that showcased local talent from across the country. A requirement for the job was the ability to read music, as they’d be playing a lot of covers. They couldn’t, but they faked it. They landed the gig as the house band for the Wednesday portions of the program eminating from Winnipeg, ironically backing up host Chad Allan‘s bits and on their own, primarily covering the top hits of the day, including The Beatles, Bill Haley & The Comets, The Faces. Cream, The Zombies, Vanilla Fudge, Bob Seger and The Doors. By the start of the show’s second season, they were slipping in their own material, including the first public performances of “No Time” and “These Eyes.”
By ’68 the band was still toiling at the scene, relatively speaking – although the now cancelled “Let’s Go” had gotten them exposure across the country for the first time. They recorded a promotional album for Coca Cola with The Staccatos (later 5 Man Electrical Band). Although it didn’t produce any huge hits for the band, it allowed them opportunity to showcase their stil-evolving versatility, with the tender “Very Far From Near,” the psychadelic “Heygoode Hardy” and the orchestrally driven “Somewhere Up High,” “I Need Your Company,” and “Mr. Nothin.”
That same year 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, playing to packed medium-sized venues coast to coast and well into the States.
Their true ‘big break’ happened later that year when WHEATFIELD SOUL was released. Producer Jack Richardon had mortgaged his house to finance the recording of the album, which contained the smash ballad “These Eyes”, which sold over a million units worldwide and reached #3 on Billboard’s Top 100 – instantly making The Guess Who a household name.
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 seven-plus minutes version of the title track. The shortened version became the first single by a Canadian group to top Billboard. Bachman was sidelined late that spring by a gall bladder attack, though the group made good on some live commitments by touring a couple months with the only American in what would turn out to be a revolving door of players in history – Bobby Sabellico. Once Bachman was back, they played The White House that year, but were told by the Nixon entourage not to play “American Woman,” as it was too confrontational. But dissension between members over the band’s direction, coupled with the night and day differences in lifestyles since Bachman converted to Mormonism was mounting, and Bachman ventured off to release his first solo record in 1970.
But they didn’t look far to find a replacement, and in fact found two. Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw were both fellow Winnipeggers. Both had played in Gettysburg Address. Winter had been lured from Brother, and Greg Leskiw recently departed from Wild Rice. SHARE THE LAND was released before year’s end, and let the world know the group could survive without Bachman. The album featured the ultimate hippy title track and other singles “Bus Rider” and “Hand Me Down World,” two songs Winter had penned while in Brother. Although they weren’t originally credited offically because of a management decision, both songs were co-written with Vance Masters and Bill Wallace.
1971 saw the release of their first best of package while they finished up work on their next project, SO LONG BANNATYNE (sort of a sayinggoodbye to Winnipeg title, as Bannatyne was a street in the city), 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.
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). Cummings’ piano-work shined in “Your Nashville Sneakers”, a sort of charged up lounge-style, “Arividerci Girl” and “Back To The City” – two ‘swing’ numbers, “Heartbroken Bopper,” 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 weeks prior to the show in mid-tour to form Mood Jga Jga, and Don MacDougall (formerly of The Gentry, Sticks & Stones, Watt and the Blazes, Sons and Lovers, which briefly featured Kurt Winter and Garry Peterson’s brother Randy, and then Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck) was brought in to fill the guitar vacancy. More than simply live versions of the known hits, LATP also featured the dawning of the band’s era where Cummings didn’t have to handle all the vocals. The album featured the acoustic “Glace Bay Blues” (written and sung by MacDougall), “Running Back To Saskatoon” (a derivitive of a song Winter initally co-wrote while in Brother called “Roller Steam”), “Truckin’ Off Across The Sky” and “Albert Flasher”, none of which had appeared on lp before.
Shortly after the release of the album, Kale announced he was leaving the group due to health problems. He co-founded the short-lived Scrubbaloe Caine soon after. Winter recommended Bill Wallace, another former member of The Gettsybyrg Address and Brother to fill Kale’s shoes and the band finished off the tour by playing in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the first time, after which they immediately went into the studios for their next project. The interim saw the release of THE HISTORY OF THE GUESS WHO, and WILD ONE, a pair of albums full of out-takes that the record label issued while the band worked on its next project.
ARTIFICIAL PARADISE hit the stores in early ’73, and Wallace’s presence was immediately heard, with him singing lead on the first track, “Bye Bye Babe”, a rocker in it’s purest form in tribute to Winnipeg’s queen rocker Dianne Heatherington after she’d moved to Toronto. McDougall’s contributions were also further seen, writing and singing “Samantha’s Living Room”, a sweet song full of nostalgia and “Lost and Found Town. But the big hits were of course the singles – “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 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. Other noteable tracks included “Rock & Roller Steam,” another song Winter wrote that was spurred from the same Brother tune as “Running Back To Saskatoon.”
ROAD FOOD wasreleased in ’74 and featured the tribute to and a cameo by radio dj Wolfman Jack, “Clap For The Wolfman,” with Wallace the chief songwriter. They even performed the song with Wolfman Jack when they appeared on “The Midnight Special” later that year. 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 fold. While regrouping, the label released their second greatest hits package, BEST OF THE GUESS WHO VOLUME 2.
The first member not from Winnipeg was Italian-born 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-tinged rock didn’t seem to bode well with the fans. Although it reached gold, aside from “Dancing Fool”, the album was a huge adjustment for the die-hard fans who couldn’t relate to the 180 in guitar styles.
POWER IN THE MUSIC came out in the spring of ’75. For the most part, Cummings and Troiano again 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 burned his stage clothes and officially quit the band in mid-tour that summer after a show in Montreal.
Contractual obligations saw the release of THE WAY THEY WERE in ’76, which featured an unfinished album of the Bachman era tapes before his 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 for the last couple of years, a promoter approached the members about a possible reunion in November, ’77. Bachman and Cummings were both unavailable, and when Kale realized no one had ever registered the name, he quickly rectified that, recruiting Peterson, Winter and McDougall. But shortly thereafter, Peterson was gone again and in his place was Vance Masters, the third and final former Brother alumni, and Ralph Watts on piano. They released GUESS WHO’S BACK that fall, which predominantly featured a joint songwriting process. Although he was on the record, Winter was gone from the group again by its release. Discomate Records released a Japanese version of the lp with a different jacket than Aquarius’ release.
A year later, Kale carried on the group’s name with ALL THIS FOR A SONG. Although the credits featured new guitarist Doug Inglis along with Kale, Masters, MacDougall, he in fact never played on the record, which consisted mostly of MacDougall’s writing and vocals, though Kale and Masters contributed to the writing of a few of the songs. There were actually two versions of this album pressed. Aquarius’s Canadian release was the original, but Hilltak’s international version was actually half made up of songs from GUESS WHO’S BACK – three of which were co-written by Winter. But again Kale disbanded the band after a lacklustre tour in which he didn’t actually complete himself due to health problems. Nor did Inglis survive. With Masters and McDougall were guitarist Bobby Bilan, Brian Sellar on piano and Jimmy Grabowski on bass.
Kale regrouped and found a new label, and El Mocambo Records released NOW AND NOT THEN in 1981, which featured the lineup of Kale, Brent DeJarlais on vocals, guitarist Mike McKenna, and it took two drummers to finish the album – Sonnie Bernardi and Dan Russell. But both singles, “Love Lite” and “Beyond Beautiful” failed to make a dent in the charts. A small tour followed and included the revolving door which was getting beyond ridiculous at this point, which saw Inglis come again and leave again, along with Brian Tataryn and Ken Curry in what seemed like a beer and a toke later.
Ironically though, the band’s name resurfaced only two years later. A reunion with Bachman, Kale, Cummings and Peterson resulted in a tour in the summer of ’83 that 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 political undertones of “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 ’87under the name BEST OF THE GUESS WHO LIVE.
The individual members drifted back into their own little projects, and for all intents and purposes the band was dead. The next time they appeared together was at the 1987 Juno Awards – but not to perform. Kale, Peterson, Cummings and Bachman were in Toronto to accept their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the first recipients of the honour. But despite the CBC airing a special interview documentary of the band during the ceremony, to this day they haven’t forgiven the network 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.
Capitalizing on the renewed interest, Kale and Peterson again resurfaced in the early ’90’s – touring with singer Terry Hatty (ex of Sam Moon), Leonard Shaw on keyboards (formerly of the Ian Thomas Band) and Dale Russell on guitars. They released LIBERTY on Aquarius Records in 1995. The same album hit the stores again that year under Intersound Records’ umbrella as LONELY ONE. Same recordings, different jacket, different track listing. Among the guest contributors was Edmonton’s Alfie Zappacosta. Interest in the group waned again (or never really existed this time) after some sporadic live dates and again the band faded back into the sunset, despite the release of THE SPIRIT LIVES ON, produced by Russell.
Kale continued to occasionally assemble various rosters and remained on the circuit, including having Carl Dixon, ex of Coney Hatch and April Wine, Shaw and Laurie on the members list. Coincidentally, around this time, 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. But it wasn’t long before Kale and his team of lawyers put a stop to that.
In May, 1997 Cummings, Bachman, Kale and Peterson got back together for a benefit concert to aid the victims of the Red River Flood in Manitoba. Their hometown of Winnipeg was facing a potentially disastrous flood that had already taken cities south of the border, and participated in an emotional fund raiser for disaster relief organized by Tom Jackson. During the concert it began to rain,then thunder, then lightning. Through the rain Cummings kept singing while the band crew tried to cover the stage and gear in plastic. At one point he told the crowd that if they didn’t leave, neither would he. And he didn’t – until the lightning started to strike. It was a temporary pause, though, and the concert continued a short time later. A deal was signed to play a four song set at the Pan-Am Games in August, 1999 in front of 20,000 fans. The incredible response given them led to rumours of a full-fledged reunion.
Bachman procured the rights to the first three records under the auspices of Chad Allan and The Expressions and released them in 1999, along with THIS TIME LONG AGO. It was a double album collection of remastered and unreleased rare originals and covers of some of the band’s favourite influences they played on tour and on “Let’s Go.” It also included the original versions of a number of tracks that appeared on albums in later years, including “When Friends Fall Out,” 6 A.M. Or Nearer” and “Friends of Mine.”
That same year, the rock world was ecstatic at the news that Cummings and Bachman would reform the ‘real’ band for a cross-country tour. Along with Peterson and MacDougall, the initial intention was to have Kale join, but he had to back out at the last minute due to health problems. Wallace was brought in as his replacement, the first time this lineup of the band existed. They toured the country and into the US. 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. The DVD version also featured behind the scenes footage and soundcheck recordings. As part of the ongoing tour, they played to a standing room crowd only in Calgary, when they were the half-time entertainment at the 2000 Grey Cup and did a three-song set.
Ironically, it was this time period that saw Kale assemble a touring lineup that again featured Carl Dixon released a pair of live albums over the next year or so – LEGENDS LIVE and DOWN THE ROAD LIVE in 2000, with various lineups. In fact, one featured Spider Sinnaeve of Streetheart fame (among others) on bass while Kale acted as the band’s manager.
But the fight over the band’s name ended earlier the next year with Kale refusing to let Cummings & Bachman to continue after that under that name unless he got a cut, whether he was in it or not. And just to confuse everyone, he authorized the release of a pair of live albums available only in the US featuring Peterson/Hatty/Mackenzie/Shaw –THE SPIRIT LIVES ON on J-Bird Records, then LEGENDS LIVE – both which were recorded prior to the Bachman/Cummings reunion.
In 2003, the Bachman/Cummings version of the band performed at the SARSTOCK festival in Toronto to aid in the SARS relief as part of their ongoing tours. In 2005, Bachman procured the rights to the old “Let’s Go” recordings, and released an album of the same name. Packed with highlights of the band’s two seasons on the show, it showcased their reputation as the ‘best jukebox band in Canada’ according to Bachman – their ability to cover the top bands of the day, as well as some of their own earliest hits, including the only other release of the five songs that were included originally in the Coca-Cola set with the Staccatos.
In Sept, 2007, Kale released the SHAKIN’ IN LAS VEGAS mini-dvd, recorded a year earlier. It featured the lineup that included Dixon, Mackenzie and Shaw. Along with reworkings of “Let’s Watch The Sun Go Down” from the early ’80s, and “Shakin’ All Over,” the song that got the ball rolling 40 years earlier, the DVD showcased five tracks written by Dixon. On that same tour, Dixon opened for the band as a solo artist, which became his ONE VOICE – TWO HANDS album. But in the spring of 2008, he was involved in a severe car accident while vacationing in Australia, and subsequently had to leave the group.
Although he was out of the limelight and off the stage for over a year, this didn’t stop Kale from carrying on the band’s name with a never-ending change in personnel, including Derek Sharp (Sass Jordan‘s husband) as the new vocalist. With Kale and Peterson, Sharp, Mackenzie and Shaw, GUESS WHO IN CONCERT was released – 14 tracks written during the ’60s and ’70s while Cummings still led the group.