#625: Life In The Bloodstream by The Guess Who

Peak Month: December 1971
8 weeks on CKVN’s Vancouver Charts
Peak Position ~ #4
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “Life In The Bloodstream
“Life In The Bloodstream” lyrics

Originally there was a band in Winnipeg called Al & The Silvertones. The band had some lineup changes and became Chad Allen & The Expressions. In time they changed their name again to The Guess Who ?, with a question mark at the end of their name. They had a hit in Canada in 1965 called “Shakin’ All Over”, a cover version of the original by the UK’s Johnny Kidd And The Pirates in 1960. The Guess Who tried to tour in the UK themselves in 1967 to support their single, “His Girl”. However, they didn’t have the proper documentation to perform, and “His Girl” only ended up spending one week on the British singles charts.

In the fall of 1967 The Guess Who? were hired as the house band for The Swingers, a local CBC radio show in Winnipeg. They also were hired as the house band for the TV show Let’s Go, also on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. That show was hosted by their former band-mate, Chad Allan. The group got exposure on the 39 weeks the show aired in both seasons (1967-68 and 1968-69). They performed hits on the Canadian charts like “Touch Me” by The Doors, “Time of the Season” by The Zombies, “You Keep Me Hanging On” by Vanilla Fudge, “White Room” by Cream and “Along Comes Mary” by The Association. They also were able to debut some of their own compositions including “These Eyes”, “No Time” and one of their early minor hits, “This Time Long Ago”.

(Let’s Go also had a separate west coast show out of Vancouver. It was variously hosted by Terry Jacks, Tom Northcott, Mike Campbell and Howie Vickers, and featured appearances by The Seeds of Time, The Shockers, The Northwest Company, The Poppy Family and international stars like Eric Burdon & The Animals).

In the late ’60’s, The Guess Who? at this time consisted of Burton Cummings (keyboards, guitar, piano) Randy Bachman (guitar), Jim Kale (bass) and Garry Peterson (drums). While the Guess Who were performing weekly on Let’s Go they were approached by Jack Richardson, a record producer working at his own record company Nimbus 9. He pitched to the band an idea to join him in advertising recording effort for Coca-Cola. What unfolded was an album called A Wild Pair. One side of the album featured The Guess Who? while the other side were recordings of the Ottawa band, The Staccatos (who shortly afterwards renamed themselves as The Five Man Electrical Band). The album was only available for purchase through mail-order for the price of 10 Coca Cola bottle cap liners and $1 for shipping. Randy Bachman of The Guess Who recalled years later that he thought A Wild Pair may have sold many copies. However, as the LP was sold through this unorthodox mail-order scheme, it was not on the radar of those who certify record sales for albums.

Believing in The Guess Who?, Richardson went into debt to help them record their first studio album in September 1968 called Wheatfield Soul. It was released in March 1969 along with the debut single from the album, “These Eyes”. By 1969 the band dropped the question mark in their billing to be known as The Guess Who. In 1969 the band played before one of the biggest crowds at the Seattle Pop Festival. Other headliners on stage at that event were Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Byrds, The Burrito Brothers, Frank Zappa and The Mothers, Alice Cooper, Bo Didley, Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina, The Chicago Transit Authority.

Life In The Bloodstream by The Guess Who

“Life in the Bloodstream” was the B-side to “Sour Suite”. It was one of the tracks released on The Guess Who’s eighth studio album, So Long Bannatyne. Bannatyne Avenue is a street in Winnipeg, the home town of The Guess Who. It was the twenty-fourth A-side or B-side of a single to reach the Canadian Top 40. It would be the seventeenth of twenty A-side or B-side of single releases to reach the Top Ten in Vancouver. The song is about the basics of being human, namely that we are all dependent on blood cells to keep us alive: “we’re life in the bloodstream.” When we skin our knees we bleed. And for all of us our life force has an unknown due date when we will expire and our life energy will depart. The song was given a backing that was a nod to the early ‘50’s rock n’ roll era. As there was a early rock n’ roll revival with acts like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley & the Comets touring North America, The Guess Who echoed that phenomenon with this song. Burton Cummings saxophone solo captures the late ‘50’s best. This was the era when the saxophone was often featured for a solo in a hit single. And piano sounds were crafted at the time by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and others. Among the songs that echoed this earlier era in rock ‘n roll were “Good Old Rock ‘N Roll” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys in the summer of 1969.

In 1970, Frijid Pink covered The Animals #1 hit from 1964, “The House of the Rising Sun”. Donny Osmond covered Steve Lawrence’s 1962 chart topper, “Go Away Little Girl”. Aretha Franklin covered Ben E. King’s 1960 hit, “Spanish Harlem”. Dave Edmunds took Smiley Lewis’ 1955 R&B hit, “I Hear You Knocking” into the Top Ten in 1971. In 1972, Don McLean immortalized the fatal plane crash of February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died. He referred to that date as “the day the music died” in “American Pie”. His tribute was the #3 year-end hit in the USA in 1972. That same year, Robert John successfully covered The Tokens‘ winter of 1961 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  Michael Jackson had a Top Ten hit with Bobby Day’s 1958 classic, “Rockin’ Robbin”, and Donny Osmond took Paul Anka‘s early 60’s classic, “Puppy Love” up the charts as well in ’72. Additionally, Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen took Johnny Bond’s 1960 hit, “Hit Rod Lincoln” into the Top Ten. Oh, and Bobby Vinton had a big hit with Brian Hyland’s 1962 chart topper, “Sealed With A Kiss”. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett made it back into the Top Ten in 1973, nine years after topping the charts in 1962. Donny Osmond was also successfully covering Freddie Scott’s “Hey Girl” and Johnny Mathis’ “Twelfth of Never”. While Johnny Rivers had a hit with Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu”. In 1974, the rock ‘n roll revival took Ringo Starr to #1 with the old Johnny Burnette hit from 1960, “You’re Sixteen”, while Grand Funk Railroad put some metal into Little Eva’s dance tune from ’62, “The Loco-Motion”. In contrast to all of this, Rick Nelson sang in “Garden Party” “if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

“Life in the Bloodstream” got passed over by in a lot of radio markets but did best in Vancouver and Regina at where it peaked at #4. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the song made it to #6. The song did not make the Billboard Hot 100.

The Guess Who went on tour with Three Dog Night in November and December 1972 to Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. Several albums in 1973 failed to deliver hoped for record sales. In 1974 The Guess Who pulled out of their slump with a Top Ten hit across the continent, “Clap For The Wolfman,” a tribute to the famed rock ‘n roll DJ. However, after their album, Road Food, the band went back into a slump with fans taking a pass on further album releases into 1975-76. Meanwhile, The Guess Who officially split up in October 1975. Burton Cummings went solo.

Over the decades since their breakup, The Guess Who have performed at reunion concerts and tours. As of October 2017, The Guess Who have thirteen upcoming concerts scheduled between April and November 2018. The current lineup includes original band member of The Guess Who, Gary Peterson.

November 8, 2018
Ray McGinnis

References:
Contributions from John Einarson and Burton Cummings, The Guess Who, Manitoba Music Museum, Winnipeg, MB, 2012 and 2016.
Ivor Levene, Rearview Mirror: Burton Cummings Reflects on The Guess Who New York, NY,  June 20, 2016.
Leslie Michele Derrough, Burton Cummings of the Guess Who (Interview), Glide, January 26, 2015

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