#944: Your Back Yard by Burton Cummings
Burton Cummings is the former lead singer and keyboardist for the Winnipeg, Manitoba, based rock ‘n roll band The Guess Who. He was with the band from 1965 to 1975. Cummings sang, wrote or co-wrote many hit songs. These include “American Woman,” “Clap For The Wolfman”, “Hand Me Down World”, “Laughing”, “No Time”, “Share The Land”, “Star Baby” and “These Eyes”. His solo career includes many hit singles, including “I’m Scared”, “My Own Way To Rock” and “Fine State Of Affairs”. His first solo hit single was “Stand Tall,” in 1976, which was his biggest hit as a solo recording artist.
Cummings was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1947. When he was sixteen he dropped out of high school. In 1962, while only fifteen, Cummings founded a band named the Deverons. All members of the band learned to play by ear. Cummings played piano, saxophone and lead vocals. Their high school dance concerts comprised of covers of songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s including “This Time” by Troy Shondell, “Wild Weekend” by The Rebels, “Sheila” by Tommy Roe and “Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney. The Deverons released a couple of singles and Cummings got some positive word-of-mouth and reviews in the local Winnipeg papers. This was pretty exciting for bandmates who still all lived in their parents homes.
Above: Burton Cummings on piano as The Deverons pose for a promotional photo
In January 1966 Cummings was asked to join another Winnipeg band, The Guess Who, when keyboardist Bob Ashley left the group. By May 1966 Burton Cummings became the lead vocal for the group when Chad Allen left to pursue solo work and host the CBC TV show Let’s Go. While Cummings was with The Guess Who the band scored twenty-one Top 20 hits in Canada, including three number one singles. In 1975 Cummings began a solo career after The Guess Who disbanded. That year he added backing vocals for Eric Carmen’s track, “Marathon Man”, from his Boats Against The Current album.
Cummings debut self-titled album went double-platinum in Canada. In addition to the single releases, “Stand Tall” and “I’m Scared”, he released “Your Back Yard”. The single was released over a year after the first two tracks from Burton Cummings, and after the first couple of singles off his second album, My Own Way To Rock.
So what is “Your Back Yard” really about? The guy has been writing love letters to his “mama,” who is elsewhere referred to as “babe” and “honey.” His sweetheart and he are separated, it seems, and so he writes her letters daily. He wants her to get him while he’s “on the run.” This could literally be because he is on the run from the police. After all, this guy has been leapin’ , creepin’, hidin’ (and) sleeping’. What is the need to be creeping and hiding? Is he trying to evade someone who is trying to track him down? In the past he had some “dreams and fortune” and got carried away. It’s plausible, that looking back, he outstepped what was proper and now he is paying for it. After all, he’s letting his sweetheart know he’ll be returning to her back yard with a shotgun. It seems he’s not supposed to be in her back yard and she’s worried about him. He plans to only come at night, by the light of the moon. An additional complication in their romance is that she is too blind to see (the truth of his passion for her). (Alternately, getting him “while he’s hot, get him on the run,” could imply if she doesn’t pick up on the opportunity he presents, some other woman will take a chance on him).
“Your Back Yard” isn’t the first song that Burton Cummings sang that had a gun reference. In the Guess Who hit in the early 70’s, “Rain Dance” included the question “Where’d ya get the gun, John?”
Since “Your Back Yard” Burton Cummings has charted 17 more singles either on the Canadian RPM singles chart, Adult/Contemporary chart or Canadian or US Country charts between 1978 and 2004. Cummings has lived in both California and Winnipeg. The Guess Who have toured from time to time on reunion tours since 2000. He has performed in concert with the Bachman-Cummings Band and also gone on tour as a solo act. Cummings has received the Order of Canada and published a book of poetry titled The Writings off B.L. Cummings. As of November 2017, Burton Cummings has a half a dozen concert dates scheduled in 2018 in Minnesota, Nevada and Ontario.
Cummings, Burton. The Writings of B.L. Cummings. Rock Paper Merchandise.com, 2017.
Burton Cummings – Bio, Burton Cummings.com
The Deverons, Manitoba Music Museum.com.
email from Kevin Murphy (“The Murf”).
“Vancouver’s Official Music Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, January 18, 1978.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.