The roots of The Guess Who lay in the Winnipeg-based group
Chad Allan and The Reflections (who were also known as
Chad Allan and The Expressions when a U.S. group called The Reflections had a big hit with Just Like Romeo And Juliet), who'd formed in Winnipeg in 1962.
Chad Allan and The Reflections themselves had evolved out of two late fifites combos who didn't make it onto vinyl, Mickey Brown and The Velvetones and Al and The Silvertones.
Chad Allan and The Expressions recorded a cover of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates' Shakin' All Over for Quality Records in 1965, which was picked up by Scepter Record in the U.S.A.. It became a Canadian No. 1 and got to 22 in the U.S.A.. When they later released their debut album of the same name Quality Records printed Guess Who? on the cover to give the impression the group was English and this became their new name. By now Bob Ashley had left the band because of increasing nervous problems and shortly after
Chad Allan left the band to return to school. His replacement was Burton Cummings, vocalist of local Winnipeg band
With Cummings supplying the vocals the band continued to enjoy hits with
Neil Young's Flying On The Ground Is Wrong and His Girl, which got a lot of pirate airplay over here in the U.K. after being leased from Quality Records by the independent King label. It got to No. 45 and the band visited the U.K. to do a promotional tour but returned to Canada $25,000 in debt after falling out with the King label who wanted to sign them before organising a tour. Whilst here, though, they did record some songs by U.K. writers Jimmy Stewart and Jerry Langley.
The Guess Who are usually remembered as a pop band and rightly so but they did cut a couple of garage 45s:- Clock On The Wall (1966) and It's My Pride (1967). The superb Clock On The Wall was one of the highlights on It's Time, which was a good beat era album. Everyone's a winner here but note particularly the flamenco guitar of
Randy Bachman on Guess I'll Find A Place, the great guitar and bass work of Seven Long Years and Believe Me and the sheer drive of All Right. If you like beat music this album is particularly recommended.
By late 1967 their contract with Quality lapsed and they appeared regularly on the Canadian T.V. show 'Where It's At'. This led to a chance meeting with producer Jack Richardson, who was employed by an advertising agency at the time. The band made quite an impression on him and he arranged for them to record a promotional album for Coca Cola. Then he mortgaged his home to pay for the recording of what became the Wheatfield Soul album and set up his own Nimbus 9 label to release it. After two unsuccessful 45s for the new label the band's third attempt , a Cummings/Bachman ballad, These Eyes, became a Canadian hit securing them a deal with U.S. label RCA Victor. It went on to top the Canadian Charts and got to No. 6, eventually going gold in the U.S.A., where the Wheatfield Soul album also got to No. 45.
In August 1969, Laughing, another Cummings/Bachman song made the U.S. Top Ten, becoming their second million seller. The 'B' side Undun narrowly missed the U.S. Top Twenty a couple of months later. Their next album, Canned Wheat Packed By The Guess Who, reached the lower echelons of the U.S. Album Charts, peaking at No. 91.
The hits continued during 1970. No Time climbed to No. 5 in the U.S. giving them their third consecutive U.S. seller. In May their follow-up, the double 'A' side, American Woman/No Sugar Tonight topped the U.S. Charts for three weeks, becoming their biggest seller yet and fourth gold disk. They were now at the peak of their popularity and played at the White House that Summer. American Woman became their second and final U.K. hit single, peaking at No. 19.
Unable to reconcile his Mormon religion with the band's extravagant new life style consequent upon their success,
Randy Bachman left the group at this point. He joined forces with his two brothers and
Chad Allan to form
Brave Belt who later evolved into
Cummings now became the band's pivotal figure and two new guitarists were recruited - Kurt Winter, formerly of
Brother, another Nimbus 9 act, and Greg Leskiw, who'd been with Wild Rice. The commercial success continued, though it was never of the earlier proportions. Hand Me Down World (No 17), Share The Land (No 10) and Rain Dance (No 19) all made the U.S. Top 20. Their Share The Land album climbed to No. 19 in the U.S. earning another gold disk. The following year the compilation The Best Of The Guess Who went two places better. Their subsequent albums:- So Long Bannatyne (US No. 52), Rockin' (US No. 79), Live At The Paramount (No 39), recorded at a concert in Seattle, Washington, and Artificial Paradise (US No. 112), were less successful and they suffered a further blow when one of their founder members, Jim Kale, departed in the Fall of 1972 and recorded with Scrubaloe Caine prior to forming his own Winnipeg-based Jim Kale band. His replacement Bill Wallace had also played in
Brother with Winter. Earlier in the year Leskiw had quit to form Mood Jga Jga and do work for Warner Brothers. He was replaced by Don McDougall.
Cummings was never really happy with the new line-up and fired Winter and McDougall in April 1974, replacing them with Toronto-born guitarist Domenic Troiano. He'd previously been in The James Gang and had the distinction of being the only member of the band not to have been from Winnipeg. Winter and McDougall were both around long enough to play on the Road Food album, which climbed to No. 60 in the U.S. and spawned their most successful 45 since American Woman in Clap For The Woman, which was notable for including snippets of dialogue with American deejay Wolfman Jack, and climbed to No. 6 in the U.S..
After one final American hit, Dancin' Fool (No 28) and two further albums, Flavors (No 48) and Power In The Music (No 87), Cummings dissolved the group in September 1975. Their final concert was at Montreal Forum on the 13th of that month. He later went solo and relocated to Los Angeles. His first 45 on Portrait, Stand Tall, peaked at No. 10 in the States and his debut album, Burton Cummings, climbed to No. 30. He went on to enjoy a successful solo career in the late seventies and eighties. In April 1985 he figured on the charity record made by Canadian artists under the name Northern Lights in aid of African famine.
After The Guess Who ceased operation Troiano returned to Toronto where he put together his own band. Wallace went on to play with various groups in the Winnipeg area and Peterson formed Delphia, though they met with precious little success.
The inevitable hits compilation emerged in 1977, The Greatest Of The Guess Who, and climbed to No. 179 in the U.S. Album Charts. There were reformations in the late seventies involving
Allan, Kale, McDougall and Winters and an album (All This For A Song) and 45 (Sweet Young Thing) were released but with little success. There was a further reunion in 1983 which produced an album and a video and
Bachman and Cummings toured together in 1987 but aroused little interest among the punters.
The band will best be remembered as Canada's most successful late
sixties/early seventies pop group
"No Time" - 5:37
"Minstrel Boy" - 3:18
"Laughing" - 3:05 (#1 Can.)
"Undun" (Bachman) - 4:17 (#21 Can.)
"6 A.M. or Nearer" (Bachman) - 5:24
"Old Joe" (Cummings) - 3:07
"Of a Dropping Pin" - 3:42 (#97 Can.)
"Key" - 11:24
"Fair Warning" - 1:44
All songs written by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings except as noted.
Randy Bachman – guitar, sitar, background vocals
Burton Cummings – vocals, organ, harmonica, piano, guitar, keyboards, flute
Jim Kale – bass, background vocals
Garry Peterson – drums, percussion, conga, tabla, background vocals