#897: Lightfoot by The Guess Who?
Peak Month: January 1969
6 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #6
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
The Winnipeg band, The Guess Who?, had morphed from it’s earlier line-up as Chad Allen & The Expressions. 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.”
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, but as it 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.” The B-side on the 45 RPM was “Lightfoot.”
Sidemen come out first,
John Stockfish base guitar,
looks at the world through the eyes of Nashville,
the Riverboat and Charlie McCoy,
he’s just a boy.
The lead guitarist Red Shea,
who’s really come a long, long way,
since rythym rocker jingle jangle,
and go Red!
Edwardian, suddenly striped,
his hair blondish and poetic,
he is less than vinyl perfect,
his foot is a precise anchor
for the husk and vibrance of his voice.
He is the image of Alberta,
the side street near Chicago,
the grim beauty of Toronto.
He is an artist.
He is an artist.
He is an artist painting sistine masterpieces,
of pine and fur and backwoods,
still echos long ago the winter night,
of black july and then the outcome,
of an early cleveland rainfall.
I sit softly among the rest waiting there for him to paint his pictures.
And as the go-go girl went round and our heads were in a spin I thought about
The Crossroads, In the Early Morning Rain and Rosanna.
I’m not saying that I’m sorry,
I’m just telling you this story.
And when Lightfoot’s magic calls,
you can write it on your walls,
’cause that’s what walls are for.
He is an artist.
“Lightfoot” was a song of tribute to Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot. He was born in Orillia, Ontario, in 1938. His parents, Jessica and Gordon Lightfoot Sr., ran a dry cleaning business. His mother noticed young Gordon had some musical talent and the boy soprano first performed in grade four at his elementary school. He sang the Irish lullaby “Too Ra Loo Rah Loo Rah” at a parents’ day. As a member of the St. Paul’s United Church choir in Orillia, Lightfoot gained skill and needed confidence in his vocal abilities under the choir director, Ray Williams. Lightfoot went on to perform at Toronto’s Massey Hall at the age of twelve when he won a competition for boys who were still boy sopranos. During his teen years Gordon Lightfoot learned to play piano, drums and guitar.
In the years that followed Lightfoot performed in coffee houses in Toronto. He got work as a performer on the CBC’s Country Hoedown and went to England to host the BBC TV Country and Western Show in 1963-64. At that time, Lightfoot’s songs were recorded by numerous recording acts. These included “Early Morning Rain” by both the Kingston Trio and Judy Collins, and “Ribbon of Darkness” by Marty Robbins. The attention Lightfoot got as a songwriter landed him a record contract with United Artists in 1965. In 1966 he was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to compose the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” for a broadcast on New Year’s Day in 1967, the nations centennial.
The Guess Who?’s “Lightfoot” references several songs this Canadian folk singer had recorded through to 1968. Among these were “Black Day In July,” a song about riots in Detroit from July 23-27, 1967; “Go Go Round,” a song about a go-go girl who dances in a cage at a club and has a fling with a guy in a live band who appears at her dance club; “Spin Spin,” about the web of love, “Early Morning Rain,” about a guy who’s far away from his loved one, “cold and drunk as I might be…;” “Rosanna,” about a woman who rules a man’s heart; And “The Crossroads,” about those who’ve labored to build the country of Canada and the crossroads of time where they pass the torch on to the next generation. “Lightfoot” seems to have only had a significant chart run in Vancouver, as other radio markets in Canada just played the A-side, “These Eyes.”
After “Lightfoot” was released in the winter of 1968, it was a year and a half later that Gordon Lightfoot had his biggest hit single to date, “If You Could Read My Mind.” He would enjoy further hit singles in Canada and the USA into the mid-70’s most notably with “Sundown” and “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.”
As for The Guess Who?, they dropped the question mark from their billing becoming The Guess Who. The band had a string of Top Ten singles in Canada and America into the mid-70’s including “American Woman,” “No Time” and “Clap For The Wolfman.” They disbanded in October 1975.
October 2, 2017
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.
Gordon Lightfoot – A Musical Tour of The 1960s – Bio, Gordon Lightfoot.com
Valerie Magee, Gordon Lightfoot – Bio, Gordon Lightfoot.com
Gordon Lightfoot – Chronology, Lightfoot.ca
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