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The Guess Who

One of Canada's most enduring bands, the Guess Who rose to fame in their homeland in the 1960s and were major international hitmakers in the '70s, starting out as a hard-hitting garage-y combo (as heard on their first hit, "Shakin' All Over") and maturing into a thoughtful rock band who were as comfortable with tough, guitar-based rockers like "American Woman" as they were with heartfelt, melodic numbers like "These Eyes." Though the band found its greatest fame with lead singer and pianist Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman, they continued to enjoy success, even after Bachman's departure, with 1970's Share the Land and 1972's Rockin'. Cummings quit the group in October 1975, but that was far from the end of the story, as the Guess Who soldiered on despite occasional breakups and frequent personnel changes. Now nearly 60 years on, they delivered a new album in 2023, Plein D'Amour. Hailing from Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, the story of the Guess Who began in 1958, when singer and multi-instrumentalist Chad Allan formed a rock & roll group, Allan and the Silvertones. After going through several lineup changes, the band re-emerged in 1962 as Chad Allan & the Reflections. Along with Allan on lead vocals, the group featured guitarist Randy Bachman, bassist Jim Kale, keyboard player Bob Ashley, and drummer Garry Peterson. The band released their first single in 1962, "Tribute to Buddy Holly," and they were signed by Quality Records, issuing a pair of singles in 1963 and '64. In 1965, after an American act called the Reflections scored a hit with "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet," the Canadian band changed their name to Chad Allan & the Expressions, and they cut a tough-sounding cover of the Johnny Kidd & the Pirates rocker "Shakin' All Over." Hoping to boost interest in the single, Quality tried a promotional stunt, with the initial pressing identifying the group as Guess Who?, hoping listeners would speculate that it was the work of a well-known British or American group. While the song soon picked up significant airplay, rather than wonder who the artists might be, fans and disc jockeys simply identified the group as Guess Who? Quality soon revealed Chad Allan & the Expressions were the band behind "Shakin' All Over," but radio announcers continued to tell listeners the act was Guess Who?, and when their first album, Shakin' All Over, appeared in stores in 1965, both "Chad Allan & the Expressions" and "Guess Who?" appeared on the front cover. In time, "Shakin' All Over" would become a number one single in Canada, and made the American charts as well, peaking at number 22. Before 1965 was out, the group delivered their second album, Hey Ho (What You Do to Me), which also had both group names on the sleeve. To take advantage of their chart success, Chad Allan & the Expressions took on a punishing touring schedule, and at the end of 1965, Bob Ashley resigned from the band. Taking over on keyboards was Burton Cummings, previously a member of the Winnepeg-based group the Deverons. Cummings was as good at singing as he was at piano, and he was soon sharing lead vocal duties with Allan. In 1966, Allan left his own band to go back to school; he'd later go on to a long career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Bruce Decker, Cummings' former bandmate in the Deverons, joined the group on guitar, Cummings became the sole lead vocalist, and with Allan gone, they billed themselves as the Guess Who? Their first LP under the new banner, It's Time, was issued in mid-1966. They continued to hit the pop charts in Canada, though a disastrous British tour left them deep in debt. Needing to reassert their reputation at home, in 1967 they became regulars on a CBC-TV pop music series, Let's Go, hosted by none other than Chad Allan; they also hosted a CBC Radio show, The Swingers. The Guess Who? caught the attention of record producer and promo man Jack Richardson, and when he was tasked with putting together a record album featuring Canadian talent as a marketing gimmick for Coca-Cola, he asked the Guess Who? to be one of the featured bands. (The other, the Staccatos, would go on to greater success as the Five Man Electrical Band.) Richardson saw potential in the Guess Who (who had dropped the question mark from their name), and when he started a record label and production company called Nimbus 9, the Guess Who were one of his first signings. The Guess Who's first album for Nimbus 9, Wheatfield Soul, was released in 1969, and represented a creative leap forward for the band, adding sophisticated pop, folk-rock, and jazz accents to their arrangements, and showing off the songwriting gifts of Cummings and Bachman. (it also saw Bachman taking on full guitar duties after Bruce Decker left the group.) A single from the LP, "These Eyes," went Top Ten in both Canada and the United States, and the group landed an American record deal with RCA Victor. Their second album of 1969, Canned Wheat, fared even better; "No Time" and "Laughing" were Number One hits in Canada and went Top Ten in the U.S., while "Undun" peaked at 21 in Canada and 22 in the States. Appearing in early 1970, American Woman would be the Guess Who's most successful album; the swaggering title track became a fixture on rock radio for years, and along with "No Sugar Tonight" it was half of a two-sided hit single that hit number one in Canada and America, while "No Time" was another number one in Canada and hit five in the U.S. The Guess Who were easily the most successful Canadian band of their day (and the first to score more than one number one single in the United States), but Randy Bachman was becoming dissatisfied with his role in the group. He'd released an instrumental solo album in 1970, Axe, and dropped out of touring with the group, citing health concerns. He'd also had a spiritual awakening, joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormons), and the lifestyle of a touring rock band didn't mesh with his new beliefs. Bachman left the Guess Who in May 1970; he was initially replaced for live work by American guitarist Bobby Sabellico, and when Bachman's departure became permanent, the group brought in two new guitarists, Kurt Winter on lead and Greg Leskiw on rhythm. The Guess Who's first album after Bachman dropped out, 1970's Share the Land, saw Cummings and Winter handling most of the songwriting, and it produced three more hit singles, "Hand Me Down World," "Hang On to Your Life," and the title cut. The band had racked up enough hits that RCA Victor compiled The Best of the Guess Who, and 1971 saw the release of a fresh studio set, So Long, Bannatyne. While the singles "Rain Dance" and "Sour Suite" fared well in Canada, the album's sales didn't meet RCA Victor's expectations in the United States, and Rockin', released in early 1972, met a similar fate as the group's American profile was beginning to fade. While touring in support of Rockin', Greg Leskiw had a falling out with Cummings and left the group; Donnie McDougall took his place on guitar and would appear on Live at the Paramount, a concert set recorded in Seattle, Washington that came out in August 1972. Not long after Leskiw's departure, bassist Jim Kale also turned in his notice, joining Scrubbaloe Caine, and Bill Wallace (who had been a member of the group Brother with Kurt Winter) was hired to play bass. Wallace made his recording debut on 1973's Artificial Paradise, which became their lowest-charting album since signing with Nimbus 9 in 1969. 1973's #10 revived their fortunes in Canada somewhat, spawning the single "Glamour Boy" and rising to number seven on the album charts, and 1974's Road Food spawned a pair of hits, "Clap for the Wolfman," featuring guest vocals from the famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack (number four in Canada, number six in the U.S.), and "Star Baby" (number nine in Canada, number 39 in U.S.). In June 1974, Kurt Winter and Donnie McDougall were asked to leave the Guess Who, and Domenic Troiano, who had previously played in the James Gang, took over on guitar. Troiano's first album with the group, 1974's jazz-influenced Flavours, just missed the Top Ten in Canada, topping out at number 11 on the album charts, but without a hit single to support it, it only made it to number 48 in the United States, while 1975's Power in the Music included the nostalgic single "When the Band Was Singin' 'Shakin' All Over.'" The album came and went with little notice, and Cummings, unhappy with the group's creative direction, broke up the Guess Who in October 1975. In 1976, they released The Way They Were, which collected unreleased tracks cut shortly before Randy Bachman left the group. When Cummings disbanded the Guess Who, he believed he owned the rights to the band's name, and after Jim Kale asked Cummings for permission to use it for a one-off concert, he learned it had never been trademarked in Canada. Kale wasted no time trademarking the name the Guess Who himself, and in 1978, he released Guess Who's Back, which featured former group members Kale, Kurt Winter, and Donnie McDougall, as well as guitarist David Inglis and drummer Vince Masters. Winter was out and the Guess Who were a quartet for 1979's All This for a Song, while that same year, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Bill Wallace, and Garry Peterson reunited for a televised concert on CBC-TV. The Jim Kale edition of the band issued Now and Not Then in 1981; Kale was the only original member on board, accompanied by vocalist Brent DeJarlais, guitarists Mike McKenna and Dale Russell, and drummer Sonnie Bernardi. In 1983, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Jim Kale, and Garry Peterson staged a Guess Who reunion tour, and the 1984 album Together Again featured live recordings from a show at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition, as well as a handful of new tracks. (An expanded edition of the same album appeared under the title Reunion.) By this time, Kale's edition of the Guess Who toured regularly each summer in the United States and Canada, and in 1994 he took them back to the studio for the album Liberty. For this project, Kale was joined by one other original member of the Guess Who, Garry Peterson on drums, with the band rounded out by singer and guitarist Terry Hatty, guitarists Kevin Breit and Dale Russell, keyboardist John Sheard, keyboard and sax player Leonard Shaw, and percussionist Rick Lazar. The album also appeared with a different sequence under the title Lonely One. In 1997, after their hometown of Winnipeg was hit by severe flooding, Cummings and Bachman played a benefit show for disaster relief. They would periodically reunite for touring, but Kale declined them permission to bill themselves as the Guess Who, with the duo advertising themselves as Bachman-Cummings. The Cummings/Bachman/Kale/Peterson lineup of the Guess Who returned for a special performance at the closing ceremonies of the 1999 Pan-American Games; while health issues forced Kale to drop out, Donnie McDougall and Bill Wallace were added and they played the half-time show at the 2000 Grey Cup game (the Canadian Super Bowl), and this lineup staged periodic tours until 2003, including an appearance at a Toronto SARS benefit concert that attracted 450,000 people. One of their reunion shows was documented on the 2000 album Running Back Thru Canada, while the Kale-led version brought out a live disc of their own, 1998's The Spirit Lives On: Greatest Hits Live. In 2016, Kale retired from music, and drummer Garry Peterson took over ownership of the Guess Who. He put a handful of younger hard rockers together to record 2018's The Future Is What It Used to Be, including Will Evankovich on guitar, Leonard Shaw on keyboards and sax, Derek Sharp on guitar, keys, and lead vocals, and Rudy Sarzo on bass. 2023 saw another studio album from Peterson's Guess Who, Plein D'Amour; for these sessions, Peterson, Shaw, and Sharp were joined by guitarist Michael Staertow and bassist Michael Devin.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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