Wednesday, 12 January 2011

You can buy a name, but not a legacy…

Last month Burton Cummings posted a request on his blog ( - well worth perusing if you can cope with him SHOUTING AT YOU IN CAPS THE WHOLE TIME!; the relevant post is currently on page 6) asking to be kept informed of any instances of Guess Who gigs being advertised on the radio, with the original records playing as promotion.

The simple reason is he’s plainly had enough of his legacy being tarnished. Cummings and Randy Bachman were, of course, the brains behind the Guess Who. Between them they wrote virtually every Guess Who song (These Eyes, Laughing, No Time, Share the Land to name a handful of the biggest), and it was Bachman’s guitar and Cummings extraordinary vocals that formed the basis of their sound. At number three in the Guess Who Hall of Fame would be Bachman’s replacement, the late Kurt Winter, who became Cummings new writing partner upon Bachman’s sudden exit from the band in 1970 and contributed major songs of his own (Bus Rider, Hand Me Down World). The remaining (often rotating) cast of characters that rounded up the various Guess Who line-ups were all talented, certainly, but never indispensable.

The Guess Who, as it stands in its current configuration, is essentially a tribute band, albeit one led by original bass player Jim Kale. It seems Kale has owned the name since 1977 (2 years after the band originally split, 5 years after Kale himself had been fired), registering it for himself when he became aware that nobody else had ever done so. Well, you’ve got to admire such blatant opportunism, I guess. He’s been using it off and on ever since, and these days his line-up includes original GW drummer Garry Peterson in the ranks, giving it a slightly greater air of legitimacy than it has had in the past (barring the brief periods where the whole (i.e. real!) band genuinely reformed of course!); Peterson was actually the sole constant member from the band’s inception, to their dissolution in 1975.

But it’s still not enough - while two of the 5 current members were in The Guess Who, and played on most of their hits, the line-up as it stands remains an insult to the creative forces in the band that gave said band a *name* (not to mention hits) in the first place. As Cummings says, you can buy a name, but not a legacy. Methinks they should do the decent thing and rename themselves The Guess Why (‘Cause we need the money).

They’re not the only rhythm section from that era trading on a band’s name and reputation; Stu Cook and Doug Clifford (i.e. the ‘who the hell are those guys’ part of Creedence Clearwater Revival) have been performing since 1995 as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, much to John Fogerty’s chagrin. They may be using a slightly different name, but given that everybody refers to the original band as either ‘CCR’ or ‘Creedence’…well, you do the maths…these guys should perhaps have gone for CPR (Creedence’s Past Regurgitated) as their moniker…

And don’t even get me STARTED on the Little River Band!

My recommendations: The Guess Who 

Top 5 albums:

Wheatfield Soul (1969)
Canned Wheat (1969) (Features the original version of No Time; see youtube clip below)
Share the Land (1970)
Live at the Paramount (1972)
Road Food (1974) 

Compilations: Too many to list, The Guess Who had the perfect number of charting singles to fill a single disc, so most compilations have virtually identical tracklists anyway.  Good for introductory purposes, but by no means the full story.

Missing from my own collection: A few, most notably So Long Bannatyne (1971) and Flavours (1974).
Avoid: Anything with the Guess Who name that doesn't have Burton Cummings involved!


  1. I consier Cummings to have one of the best voices in rock history (possibly second only to Paul Rodgers).

    That's not to take anything away from the likes of Peter Cetara whom I consider one of the best vocalists ever-- it's just his voice has shown itself to be more suited to soft rock/AC material whereas Rodgers and Cummings had voices that are perfect for the more uptempo stuff.

  2. Can't disagree with that, although Cetera CAN rock, he just hasn't in far too long!

    Very pleased to see that Cummings is planning to record a new album this year, figuring that he 'might as well' since he has a bunch of songs he likes! Wish more veterans would follow suit and just make albums because they want to!