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The Guess Who

+ {Chad Allan And The Reflections} + {Chad Allan & The Expressions}

As famous for being the stamping ground for lead guitarist Randy Bachman (BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE) as much as their solitary, signature tune chart-topper, `American Woman’, Canadian rockers The GUESS WHO were an integral part of the 70s, until, ironically, BTO took over their mantle. Not so much out-and-out hard-rock, as lazily pigeonholed by reviewers of the day (compared to rivals GRAND FUNK RAILROAD or The JAMES GANG), leader Burton Cummings and Co could boogie on down with the best of them – and that included swampsters CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL and boogie-meisters JO JO GUNNE.
A well kept secret for several years, while then-chief Chad Allan (born Allan Kowbel) led out Winnipeg’s brightest hopes Allan & The Silvertones, one could trace their roots back to 1958. A schoolboy/collegiate combo comprising Allan (vocals/guitar), Bob Ashley (keyboards), Randy Bachman (guitar), Jim Kale (bass) and Garry Peterson (drums), the 5-piece subsequently chose the name CHAD ALLAN AND THE REFLECTIONS (in awe of folkies the CHAD MITCHELL TRIO), when issuing their 1962-recorded debut 45, `Tribute To Buddy Holly’.
Over the course of 1963-64, a series of singles went virtually unnoticed outside the state of Manitoba: namely `Inside Out’ (as Bob Ashley & The Reflections), `Shy Guy’, `Stop Teasing Me’ (as Chad Allen & The Original Reflections) and Chad Allan’s solo `Till We Kissed’. The latter song was chosen to complement the band’s inaugural US release – a cover of JOHNNY KIDD’s `Shakin’ All Over’. As the group hadn’t really settled on a permanent moniker as yet (having been forced to perform as CHAD ALLAN & THE EXPRESSIONS), a promotional ruse by Scepter Records early in ’65 billed the band as GUESS WHO? The well-hyped mystery and intrigue behind such a stunt led to inevitable airplay and discussion/gossip concerning the “unknowns” (a British Invasion group?), for which Chad and the lads garnered a near Top 20 entry, having already topped the chart on home-soil.
However, CHAD ALLAN & THE EXPRESSIONS found it hard to shake off the “Guess Who?” tag, and after securing further Canadian-only hits, `Tossin’ And Turnin’ (the Bobby Lewis cue) and `Hey Ho What You Do To Me’ (spawned from garage-beat LP, SHAKIN’ ALL OVER (1965) {*5}) – not forgetting a cross-pollenated HEY HO (WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO!) (1965) {*5} – their subsequent records were simply down to The GUESS WHO?
Enter Burton Cummings, a considerable and talented singer/keyboardist from The Deverons, who superseded Ashley, in 1966, when the latter couldn’t make longer journeys on tour. Very much still in the wake of British Invasion beat groups, a succession of singles failed to register with the buying public; third album IT’S TIME (1966) {*6} seeing Chad Allan exit stage left for university, having laid down the tracks before substitute Bruce Decker (ex-Deverons) came into the fore that summer. Building an AM/sunshine-pop motif where harmony complemented garage-esque guitar licks and Beatlemania screeches, Randy was their main pitcher with around half the songs. Sadly, his `And She’s Mine’ track did not come close to being a hit outside Canada, while the non-album, Johnny Cowell-penned `His Girl’, became The GUESS WHO?’s second US Top 50 hit; they’d reverted to a quartet in the meantime.
Unsure of what direction to take when Fontana singles `This Time Long Ago’ and `Miss Felicity Grey’ sank without trace, up popped producer Jack Richardson, who allegedly mortgaged his house to pay for the studio time at RCA Victor Records. Buoyed by the immediate Top 10 success in early ’69 of charming, BACHARACH-esque, blue-eyed rocker, `These Eyes’, parent Top 50 album WHEATFIELD SOUL {*6} came out at a time when contemporary pop music was under a transition from psychedelic to hard-rock. Somehow, The GUESS WHO fitted weirdly somewhere between both stations; Cummings cunningly copying Jim Morrison on the 10-minute epic, `Friends Of Mine’, and dedicating `Lightfoot’ to folkie GORDON LIGHTFOOT; Bachman, meanwhile, tread lightly at this point on the likes of `A Wednesday In Your Garden’ and `Pink Wine Sparkles In The Glass’.
The quartet further established themselves in the more lucrative American market with major hits from the double-header `Laughing’ and `Undun’ (Nos.10 & 22 respectively) and an edited `No Time’ (#5); all three were gloriously presented on the punningly-titled, CANNED WHEAT PACKED BY THE GUESS WHO (1969) {*8}. Whether the convoluted title misled buyers and took the “Heat” off what was a remarkable set of songs (the 11-minute magnum opus `Key’ verging on percussion-heavy prog), there was indeed mystery into why any album with a trio of smash hits would end up just scraping into the Top 100. A smorgasbord of all-round British accents (from north to south) on `Fair Warning’, the band occupied a space left behind by ERIC BURDON, or Marriott and his SMALL FACES.
This anomaly was thankfully rectified on The GUESS WHO’s quick-fire Top 10 follow-up, AMERICAN WOMAN (1970) {*7}. Its raucous title track topping the charts; a juddering behemoth of a record fuelled by guitar distortion and a testosterone-saturated verve, a more than convincing Cummings sounded something akin to ROBERT PLANT or STEPPENWOLF’s John Kay – but possibly only after a particularly heavy night on the whisky and cigs. Featuring the un-fettered single version of `No Time’ (here cut from 5:36 minutes to 3:50), producer Richardson drew a harder-edged groove from the Cummings-Bachman songs, although lighter, shaded areas shone through on `No Sugar Tonight’ (American Woman’s flip-side), `Talisman’ and the Zeppelin-esque `Humpty’s Blues’ / `American Woman (Epilogue)’ curtain call medley.
That same year, the band were unlikely guests at the White House, where they performed for President Richard Nixon, as well as Prince Charles and Princess Anne; the sarcastic `American Woman’ was thought not appropriate on the day. It wasn’t all celebrations though, as Randy –who’d recently become a Mormon – found the band’s rock’n’roll lifestyle incompatible with his new-found religious beliefs, and promptly left for a solo set and, ironically, BRAVE BELT, alongside Chad Allan. While Randy duly went on to fruition with BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, a refreshed GUESS WHO – with twin guitarists Kurt Winter (ex-Brother) and Greg Leskiw (ex-Wild Rice) in tow – pulled out another ace from the pack in `Hand Me Down World’.
One of two big hitters from 1970’s SHARE THE LAND {*7}; the other being the title piece, there was no question that the quintet would advance towards becoming Canada’s greatest export since NEIL YOUNG and JONI MITCHELL. Leftover Cummings-Bachman dirges, `Palmyra’ and `The Answer’, concluded a post-BEATLES-like, harmony-addled set that also drew in other genres (jazz, boogie and country) in `Bus Rider’, `Do You Miss Me Darlin’ and `Hang On To Your Life’ (yet another Top 50 cue).
1971’s SO LONG, BANNATYNE {*5} didn’t quite cut the mustard critically and commercially (as it stalled outside the Top 50), but in singles `Rain Dance’ and `Sour Suite’, The GUESS WHO were still making their mark; their reason to omit the hit double-A-sided `Albert Flasher’ and `Broken’ (released that March), was probably a bad decision on reflection, but the set was mainly a group effort that tried its hardest to reflect a fun-time “Sgt. Pepper”-meets-CSN-type perception.
Taking retro-rock’n’roll and doo-wop to a pastiche level that only ZAPPA or FLO & EDDIE could get away with, the shocking trips back in time such as `Sea Of Love’ (on the concluding `Hi Rockers!’ medley), JOHNNY PRESTON’s `Running Bear’ and Cummings’ own swinging `Your Nashville Sneakers’ and `Get Your Ribbons On’, ROCKIN’ (1972) {*5}, saw the group plummet considerably; modest hits `Heartbroken Bopper’ and `Guns, Guns, Guns’ aside.
If The GUESS WHO had lost their mojo, or even their “natural born boogie” (profuse apologies to HUMBLE PIE), Top 40 concert set LIVE AT THE PARAMOUNT (1972) {*7} restored some of the faith bestowed upon them only a few years back. Donnie McDougall had now replaced Leskiw prior to this Seattle date on May 22, while the record’s most grandiose piece was undoubtedly a 17-minute rendition of `American Woman’; Cummings and Winter’s exclusive `Runnin’ Back To Saskatoon’ was a very minor hit.
Jim Kale passed up a chance to re-join the band on the disastrous ARTIFICIAL PARADISE (1973) {*4} – succeeded by Bill Wallace – while only `Follow Your Daughter Home’ found its “Iko Iko”-like way into the Hot 100. Counting only LPs that labelled them as The GUESS WHO (and that included the previous live effort or the cross-matched debut!), #10 (1973) {*5} was arguably another trip to Planet Self-Indulgence. Boogie, country and a touch of glitz (`Glamour Boy’ relayed a mock audience), the band had lost their way somewhat.
As they trundled on towards the mid-70s, there was a flicker of commercial daylight when both `Star Baby’ and novelty ditty `Clap For The Wolfman’ (the hirsute creature in question being disc-jockey Wolfman Jack), hit the Top 40, and a resurgence of sorts was on for the accompanying ROAD FOOD (1974) {*5}. A million miles from their early 70s halcyon days or the “Not Fragile” riffs of yer BACHMAN, yer Turner, and yer Overdrive, 1974’s FLAVOURS {*4} – featuring final hit `Dancin’ Fool’ – and 1975’s POWER IN THE MUSIC {*4} received many a-pasting from every sane reviewer. Both sets had tried to steady the sinking ship with Canadian-born guitarist/co-songwriter Domenic Troiano (from The JAMES GANG) – who’d superseded Winter and McDougall – but the end came fast after the retro-fied `When The Band Was Singin’ “Shakin’ All Over”’ failed to make an impact.
BURTON CUMMINGS and DOMENIC TROIANO both attempted respective solo careers, while Peterson formed Delphia, before hooking up with BTO. Burton’s career, in particular, got off to an auspicious start when his debut single, `Stand Tall’, reached the Top 10.
When bassist/vocalist Jim Kale saw an opportunity to re-form the band, when actually no one had registered an interest, The GUESS WHO – i.e. Don McDougall (vocals, rhythm guitar), Kurt Winter (guitars, vocals), David Inglis (lead guitar) and Vance Masters (drums, vocals) taking up the slack – further adventures appeared for Aquarius Records on 1978’s GUESS WHO’S BACK {*5}, and the equally patchy ALL THIS FOR A SONG (1979) {*4}.
Keeping the band’s name alive once again, Kale, plus Brent DeJarlais (vocals), Dale Russell (guitar), Mike McKenna (guitar) and Sonnie Bernardi (drums), were the line-up that confessed to the criminal record that was the El Mocambo-endorsed NOW AND NOT THEN (1981) {*4}. More was to follow in TOGETHER AGAIN (1984) {*4}, released only in Canada until America re-issued it as THE BEST OF THE GUESS WHO – LIVE! (1986). It featured Kale, Cummings, Bachman and Peterson in a brief reunion of sorts.
Jim and Garry kept the motor running for another several years, roping in Terry Hatty (vocals, guitar) – a replacement for late-80s member Ken Carter, Dale Russell (guitar, vocals) and Leonard Shaw (keyboards, sax, vocals); the latter superseded late-80s member Mike Hanford. 1994’s LIBERTY {*2} – or its US equivalent LONELY ONE (1995) – found a loyal audience, as did 1998’s candid THE SPIRIT LIVES ON – GREATEST HITS LIVE {*2} and DOWN THE ROAD – LIVE (1999) {*2}.
An odds-on bet that other original members would get in on the act, Cummings, Bachman and Peterson decided to re-form The GUESS WHO (without an ill Kale); adding the returning Donnie McDougall + Bill Wallace for a bona fide reunion double-CD, RUNNING BACK THRU CANADA (2001) {*6} – listen out for a few BTO numbers. Subsequently positioning themselves as their country’s all-time biggest attraction, this line-up played to nearly half a million fans in 2003 (for SARS benefit) at the Molson Canadian Rocks For Toronto.
Unable to continue using the group name, the reunion was short-lived; Kale and Peterson once again allowed to take the band – Derek John Sharp (vocals, guitar), who replaced Carl Dixon (ex-CONEY HATCH), Will Evankovich (guitars, vocals), who replaced Laurie McKenzie, and Leonard Shaw (keyboards, saxophone, flute) – on another journey. The web-only live release, IN CONCERT (2009) {*3} has been their only new release so far.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016

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