One of Canada’s most successful and prolific rock groups of the 1960s and 1970s, the Guess Who produced a string of hits and more than a dozen albums. All natives of Winnipeg, Manitoba, they proudly marketed their image as hard rockers from the Canadian prairies and scored their biggest success with a song that portrayed the United States as a seductive, villainous woman.
The Guess Who was spawned from two teenage bands in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the early 1960s. Guitar player Randy Bachman and drummer Garry Peterson were in a band called the Velvetones. Guitarist and vocalist Allan Kobel, bass player Jim Kale and pianist Bob Ashley were in Allan &the Silvertones. Kobel changed his name to Chad Allen and the merged group was first known as Chad Allen &the Reflections. They learned most of their repertoire from British singles by the likes of Cliff Richards and the Shadows, and their first recording was a cover of Mike Berry’s British hit “Tribute to Buddy Holly.” The song made the local Winnipeg radio station’s top ten and led to the group signing with Canada’s largest record label, Quality.
By early 1964, the group had copied the Beatles and perfected the popular Mersey beat sound, and they changed their name to Chad Allen & the Expressions. Two singles, “Shy Guy” and “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” failed to generate many sales. However, in 1965, with the British Invasion in full swing, the band released a cover of “Shakin’ All Over” which rose to the top of the Canadian charts. Officials at Quality credited the single and an album of the same name to “Guess Who?”—a ploy to suggest that the music was the work of an anonymous British super-group. The name stuck, the song reached number 22 on the charts in the United States, and the band toured America with the Turtles and the Crystals.
Unfortunately, the pressure of touring overwhelmed Ashley’s nerves, and he quit the business. He was replaced by Burton Cummings, a member of the Winnipeg group the Deverons. Cummings had a lilting, soulful and powerful voice that could cover several octaves, and he would eventually share lead vocal duties with Allen. The group’s version of “Tossin’ and Turnin’” hit the top of the Canadian charts. Scepter Records, the U.S. licensee for Quality, took the band to New York to record more material for release in the United States but the session produced only flops. One song, “Hurting Each Other,” with lyrics by Cummings, later became a hit for the Carpenters, though.
In 1966, the Guess Who virtually disappeared from view in the United States, though they remained popular in Canada. Allan left the group due to voice problems. He was briefly replaced by Bruce Dekker before Cummings became sole lead vocalist and the group became a quartet. Cummings, Bachman, Kale and Peterson would be the group’s most successful lineup, but not without more struggle. In 1967, the Guess Who’s Canadian release “His Girl” was a minor hit in England, but a promotional tour of Britain was canceled due to a contract dispute, and the group returned to Canada $25,000 in debt.
Back home the Guess Who remained popular. In 1968, they started appearing on a CBC-TV music show, “Where It’s At.” Their efforts so impressed producer Jack Richardson that he mortgaged his house to start a record label, Nimbus 9, and produce a Guess Who album, Wheatfield Soul. The third single released off the album, “These Eyes,” hit big, topping the charts in Canada and rising to number six in the Billboard ranking, eventually selling more than a million copies in the United States. The song, a soulful, bluesy ballad about a broken relationship, featured the haunting refrain, “These eyes have seen a lot of love but they’re never gonna see another one like I had with you,” repeated at increasingly higher octaves by Cummings. “These Eyes” became a ballad standard but had enough soul to be a hit when covered by Motown’s Junior Walker & the All-Stars. That song earned the Guess Who a contract with RCA Records and started their remarkable run.
Members include Chad Allen, (left band 1966), vocals; Bob Ashley, pianist; Randy Bachman, (born September 27, 1943, Winnipeg; left band 1970), guitar; Burton Cummings, (born December 31, 1947, Winnipeg, Manitoba; joined band 1965), vocalist; Jim Kale, (left band 1972), bass; Greg Leskiw, (1970-72), guitar; Don McDougall, (1972-74), guitar; Garry Peterson, (born May 26, 1945, Winnipeg), drums; Bill Wallace, (1972-75), bass; Kurt Winter, (1970-74), guitar.
Group formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962, as Chad Allan & the Reflections; signed to Quality label, 1963; changed name to Chad Allen & the Expressions in 1964; changed name to Guess Who in 1965; released Wheatfield Soul for Nimbus 9 label in 1968; signed with RCA in 1969; released Top 10 singles “These Eyes” and “Laughing, “, and album Canned Wheat Packed by the Guess Who in 1969; Released “No Time,” “American Woman” and “Share the Land” in 1970; “Clap for the Wolfman” in 1974; Cummings disbanded group and embarked on solo career in 1975.
Addresses: Website —www.theguesswho.com
In 1969, the band moved to Los Angeles but remained based in Winnipeg, and by the end of that summer they had a second U. S. hit single with “Laughing,” a more upbeat song about lost love, which peaked at number ten on the Billboard charts. With Cummings’ writing and voice providing a signature style, and the band’s tight musicianship, the Guess Who became a phenomenon—rockers from the prairie who played the Seattle Pop Festival with the likes of the Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Santana.
In early 1970, the Guess Who logged its third consecutive million-selling single, “No Time,” which hit number five on the Billboard charts. In May, its biggest hit, “American Woman” and the flip side “No Sugar Tonight,” climbed to number one on the charts and stayed there for three weeks. “American Woman” was the eighth most popular record of the year and charted as number 235 on the top 1, 000 singles of the rock era, according to a 1992 Billboard compilation. “American Woman” was one of the group’s first songs with an overt message—in this case, a thinly veiled put-down of crass American commercialism and an anthem of Canadian independence. When the group was invited to play at the White House, First Lady Pat Nixon asked that the song be removed from the play list.
The group’s third album, Canned Wheat Packed by the Guess Who, continued the band’s massive popularity, but even as the group enjoyed its success it was unraveling. Bachman and Cummings feuded frequently. In 1970, Bachman quit, saying the group’s hedonistic lifestyle was incompatible with his Mormon religion. He would later achieve similar success with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. With Bachman gone, Cummings took total control of the Guess Who, recruiting two new guitarists, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw. By the end of 1970, the group had charted twice more with songs that had an anti-materialistic, pro-environment message: Hand Me Down World,” and “Share the Land.” The album Share the Land reached number 14 on the album chart.
Now past its peak, the Guess Who in 1971 had marginal success with the songs “Hang On To Your Life,” “Albert Flasher,” “Rain Dance,” and “Sour Suite”. The album So Long, Bannatyne softened the group’s rock edge with more piano ballads by Cummings, and a greatest hits compilation, The Best of the Guess Who, did well, reaching twelve on the charts. The next year saw the band’s popularity wane further still with the album Rockin’ and Live at the Paramount achieving only mild success. Don McDougall replaced Leskiw and Bill Wallace replaced Kale, leaving Peterson—the drummer—as the only original member of the Guess Who.
The band continued its downward spiral in 1973 with two less than memorable albums, Artificial Paradise, and #10. The 1974 hits compilation, The Best of the Guess Who Volume II, did not manage to register on the Billboard Top 100, but the novelty song “Clap For the Wolfman” hit number 6 on the singles chart, their best showing since “American Woman.” Later that year, Cummings fired Winter and McDougall and replaced them with Domenic Troiano, the only group member not from Winnipeg. In 1975, the Guess Who released two more albums, Flavors and Power in the Music, before Cummings disbanded the group and started a solo career. His first solo release, “Stand Tall,” was his biggest hit, charting at number ten in 1975.
In 1979, Kale and McDougall led a revival of the Guess Who, adding vocalist Allan McDougall, guitarist David Inglis, drummer Vince Masters and horn player David Parasz. They released an album All This For a Song and a single “Sweet Young Thing,” both of which flopped.
Several subsequent efforts to regroup the Guess Who also failed until the 1990s, when the group found new life playing concerts at fairs, casinos and amusement parks across North America. Only two members of the original group, Kale and Peterson, remained to lead the nostalgia tours. Joined by Dale Russell on lead guitar, Leonard Shaw on keyboards, and lead vocalist Terry Hatty, they signed with Atlanta’s Intersound label and, in 1995, released first new Guess Who recording in 15 years, The Lonely One. The title cut got some airplay on adult contemporary radio stations, but the Guess Who’s legacy remained its “wheatfield soul” from the golden era of rock.
Shakin’ All Over, Quality/Scepter, 1965.
Wheatfield Soul, Nimbus 9/RCA, 1968.
Canned Wheat Packed by the Guess Who, RCA, 1969.
American Woman, RCA, 1970.
Share the Land, RCA, 1970.
The Best of the Guess Who, RCA, 1971.
So Long, Bannatyne, RCA, 1971.
Live at the Paramount, RCA, 1972.
Track Record: The Guess Who Collection, RCA, 1988.
The Lonely One, Intersound, 1995.
The Guess Who: The Ultimate Collection, RCA, 1997.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.
Einarson, John, American Woman: The Story of the Guess Who, Quarry Press, 1995.
Erdewine, Michael, editor, All Music Guide to Rock, Miller
Freeman Books, 1997.
Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Stanley Sadie, editors, New Grove
Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular
Music, Guinness, 1992.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Banson, 1991.
Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top 1000 Singles of the Rock Era 1955-1992, Billboard, 1992.
Amusement Business, November 27, 1995.