These two are the real deal

Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings may not be known as the Guess Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive anymore, but they're still the guys who made those bands famous.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

If you want to be fooled, check out the Guess Who or the latest incarnation of BTO at your local music hall. They'll sound pretty good, but you won't be getting the real deal.

For that, head down to Atlantic City on Saturday where Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings will be appearing together at the Trump Marina Hotel & Casino.

"Randy and I are in a unique position because people still want to see us," said Cummings. "One of the things that I like about the Bachman-Cummings band is that it's real. Randy and I wrote all of the songs and sang on the records. We're lucky to have songs that are still ingrained in everybody's mind."

"It's great to know that our songs have lasted for decades and that people still want to come out and hear us play them again," concurred Bachman.

Bachman and Cummings were the creative forces behind the Canadian band Guess Who, which had a number of hits in the late 1960s and early '70s, and the Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which charted several monster hits in the mid-'70s.

Former bassist Jim Kale owns the rights to the name "Guess Who," and he still tours with other musicians under that name. Likewise, there is a version of BTO, featuring several former members, who also still tour.

Both bands actually split up in the 1970s, but not before leaving the public with catalogs of songs that still survive, receive air play and can be heard in every office nationwide by co-workers humming their distinctive riffs. Like many bands, the Guess Who had a long and interesting history before finally getting its time in the sun.

In the late 1950s, Allen Cabell formed a band in Winnipeg, Manitoba, called the Silvertones, which also included Bob Ashley and Kale. During a personnel change, Cabell decided to take a stage name and front the band. Chad Allen & the Silvertones now included Bachman and Garry Peterson. As Chad Allen & the Reflections, the group cut a record in 1965 that became a hit partly as a result of a publicity stunt by a record company.

The North American charts in the mid-'60s were dominated by the British bands that followed the Beatles' phenomenal breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Shakin' All Over was released to radio stations on a plain label with the song title and "Guess Who" listed as the artist. The plan worked, and the record topped the Canadian charts and reached No. 22 on the Billboard charts in the United States.

Follow-up records were successful in Canada but not in America, and Ashley left in 1966 and was replaced by Cummings. After Allen left, Bachman, Cummings, Kale and Peterson continued as a quartet under the name Guess Who. Eventually, they signed a two-year deal to appear on the CBC-TV program Let's Go, which was similar to American Bandstand.

"We were the house band in Winnipeg," said Bachman, who explained that the show broadcast from different cities, Monday through Friday. "We were on every week for two years, and it was the greatest training that anyone could ever have.

"This show was a school for all of the bands (in Canada). It taught you everything — stage presence, discipline, all that. You had to look good and sound good. Some of the guys (from the show) went on to play with Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray."

This schooling gave the band exposure and enabled Bachman and Cummings to develop their songwriting skills. RCA signed the group and released an album, Wheatfield Soul, and a single, These Eyes, which shot to the top of the American charts in 1969.

Follow-up singles, such as Laughing, Undun and No Time, were also hits, and the Guess Who became one of the hottest bands in the States. The album American Woman and the single of the same name reached No. 1 on both charts in 1970, but it also marked the end of the line for Bachman, who reportedly left the group because the other members were overindulging in the spoils of rock 'n' roll stardom.

"We partied a lot, and I did a lot of acid (in those days)," admitted Cummings. "Kale and I went a little more crazy than the others. It was tough on Randy because he had become a Mormon, and he didn't smoke or drink. He wouldn't even drink coffee if it had caffeine in it, and the rest of us were all going nuts."

"I'm allergic to smoke, and I stopped drinking in 1964 when I made a fool of myself at a party and my father told me that he was embarrassed with me because I was drunk," Bachman said, explaining his aversion to such vices.

"As we got more money, Burton and the others were drowning in drink and smoke. I told Burton that I was tired of trying to hold the band together when everyone else was drunk or stoned. They all went along with me for a while, but eventually they kept going back to it."

His decision to leave was not hailed by industry publications.

"I was blasted in magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone," Bachman recalled. "They said you couldn't make it (in the music business) if you were straight, but I said it had nothing to do with that. Everything was about talent."

Bachman would eventually prove his point, but the Guess Who added Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw and continued for a few more years. Personnel changes included Donnie McDougall, Bill Wallace and Domenic Troiano, and later hits included Share the Land and Clap for the Wolfman.

Cummings disbanded the Guess Who in 1975 and began his solo career with the hit song Stand Tall the following year. He continued to record successfully over the next two decades and also received accolades for his work as an actor.

Meanwhile, in 1971, Bachman had formed the country-rock band Brave Belt, whose members included Chad Allen, C.F. (Fred) Turner and Bachman's brother Robbie. Two albums did not sell. Allen left and was replaced by another Bachman, Tim. The group then changed its name to Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

"Fred Turner had a John Fogerty type of voice, so I started writing songs that were more suitable for his voice," explained Bachman. "After two years, radio grabbed a hold of (our sound), and everything started happening for us."

The band's second release, 1973's Bachman-Turner Overdrive II, contained its breakout hit, Let It Ride, and its signature song, the working-class anthem Takin' Care of Business. In 1974, Blair Thornton replaced Tim Bachman, who left to pursue record producing, and the band's next LP, Not Fragile, spawned its biggest hit, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, and another Top-40 hit, Roll On Down the Highway.

After two more albums and a few more hit singles, dissension set in during the recording of the 1977 album Freeways. Randy Bachman ended up leaving the band. Jim Clench replaced him, and the group continued as BTO, released two more albums and disbanded by the end of the decade.

Aside from Kale's version, which Cummings calls "The Klones," members of the Guess Who have reunited a few times over the years. The most notable tour was a summer 2000 trek across Canada with Cummings, Bachman, Peterson, McDougall and Wallace. That same show toured the United States in 2001.

When not touring, Bachman continues to record and run his music business, which includes the Ranbach Music label, and he hosts a weekly radio show, called Vinyl Tap, on the CBC radio network. Cummings' pet project these days is transferring his extensive personal music library to his computer.

Like a lot of bands in those days, the Guess Who didn't see a lot of the money that it was generating.

"We weren't into the business end of the group," said Cummings. "We did lose a little money. A couple million dollars disappeared with some light-fingered accountants. Plus, we had a terrible contract with RCA, and we had a problem with somebody who took a lot of the publishing rights.

"I didn't have much when I left the Guess Who in 1975. Randy made a fortune with BTO because, by then, he had learned a lot about the business end of the industry."

This story was published on Sept. 21, 2005, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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