#992: Lightfoot by The Guess Who?
Randolph Charles Bachman was born in 1943 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. When he was just three years old he entered the King of the Saddle singing contest on CKY radio, Manitoba’s first radio station that began in 1923. Bachman won the contest. When he turned five years he began to study the violin through the Royal Toronto Conservatory. Though he couldn’t read music, he was able to play anything once he heard it. He dropped out of high school and subsequently a business administration program in college. He co-founded a Winnipeg band called Al & The Silvertones with Chad Allan in 1960.
In 1962 the band became Chad Allan and the Reflections after some lineup changes. In addition to lead singer and guitarist, Chad Allen, and Randy Bachman on guitar, the keyboard player was Bob Ashley, on bass guitar was Jim Kale, and the drummer was Gary Peterson. Born in Winnipeg in 1943, Kale was still 18-years-old when he joined Chad Allen and the Reflections. Garry Denis Peterson was born in Winnipeg in 1945. He was 17-years-old when he joined the band. In 1962 they released “Tribute To Buddy Holly”, followed in 1963 by “Shy Guy” and in 1964 “Stop Teasing Me”. Later in 1964 the band changed its name to Chad Allen and 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. Quality Records label credited the “Guess Who?” as the recording artist in an attempt to disguise the fact that the group was Canadian. Quality thought the record would be better received if they were thought to be a British Invasion act. The actual name, Chad Allan and the Expressions, was revealed a few months later. However, radio DJs in the United States and Canada continued to announce the group singing “Shakin’ All Over” as Guess Who?. This prompted a name-change to The Guess Who?
In 1965 The Guess Who? had a #3 hit the Canadian RPM singles chart with a cover of the 1961 Bobby Lewis hit “Tossin’ And Turnin'”. They repeated the feat with their third national Top Ten hit in Canada with “Hey Ho, What You Do To Me”.
Burton 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.
In January 1966 Cummings was asked to join 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. In 1966 The Guess Who? had a fourth Top Ten single on the Canadian charts titled “Believe Me“.
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. A follow up single, “This Time Long Ago”, was a Top 20 hit in Vancouver later in ’67.
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”.
“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”. A big hit in Vancouver was Lightfoot’s cover of the Kris Kristofferson song, “Me And Bobby McGee“.
As for The Guess Who?, they dropped the question mark from their billing becoming The Guess Who.
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.
On April 18, 1969, the Guess Who performed in concert at the PNE Agrodome in Vancouver. The following Sunday, April 24, 1969, the Guess Who appeared at the Vancouver Pop Festival in Paradise Valley, Squamish, BC. They shared the stage with Chicago, Lee Michaels, Little Richard, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Taj Mahal, Canned Heat, Love, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, the Grass Roots, Alice Cooper, Grateful Dead, Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts, the Byrds, the Chambers Brothers, and the Rascals.
In the summer of 1969 the Guess Who had their second #1 hit in Canada with “Laughing”. The B-side, “Undone”, was also a Top 30 hit. In January 1970 the band charted “No Time” to #1 across Canada and #2 in Vancouver. This was followed by the anti-war anthem “American Woman”. Though Burton Cummings would later state the song was just about preferring Canadian women to American women, the lyrics speak of larger issues: “I don’t need your war machines. I don’t need your ghetto scenes.” “American Woman” became the band’s biggest hit, and ironically was heard by some listeners as a song of adoration of American women. The Guess Who were invited to perform at the White House in July 1970. However, Pat Nixon instructed the band not to play “American Woman”, given her concern the lyrics would be understood as anti-American and anti-war. The latter being objectionable for a nation still at war in Vietnam. The B-side, “No Sugar Tonight” made the disc a double-sided number-one hit in Canada.
Following upon their monster hit, the Guess Who had another Top Ten hit in Canada with “Hand Me Down World”, which climbed to #2 in Vancouver in August 1970. In the winter of 1970, The Guess Who had another Top Ten hit in Canada with “Bus Rider”/”Share The Land”. The latter advancing communal values of shared property among the common folk.
In 1971 the Guess Who had another Top Ten hit in Canada with “Hang On To Your Life”. The song’s lyrics offered a message advising against taking illegal drugs. The album version of the song concluded with Burton Cummings reading Psalm 22: 13-15. It included these words: “my bones are out of joint… My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.”
The next single release in 1971 by the band was the non-album disc “Albert Flasher”/”Broken”.
The followup single, “Rain Dance” became the twelfth Top Ten single for The Guess Who in Canada. The B-side, “Sour Suite” was also a Top 20 hit in Canada. In the fall of 1971 The Guess Who released “Life In The Bloodstream”, which peaked at #4 in Vancouver. All three songs were from the Guess Who’s eighth studio album So Long Bannatyne. While the Guess Who gave a concert at the PNE Agrodome on October 15, 1971.
In 1972 the band had more Top Ten hits in Canada with “Heartbroken Bopper” and “Running Back To Saskatoon”. The Guess Who went on tour with Three Dog Night in November and December 1972 to Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.The following year “Follow Your Daughter Home” and “Glamour Boy” kept the band on Top 40 radio.
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. On August 26, 1974, and again on August 16, 1975, the Guess Who performed concerts at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The Guess Who officially split up in October 1975. Burton Cummings went solo.
On May 20, 1978, the Guess Who appeared at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver for a concert. And on June 23, 1983, the Guess Who returned to give a concert at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
Over the decades since their breakup, The Guess Who have performed at reunion concerts and tours. Meanwhile, former bandmate Randy Bachman, quit the band in 1970. He went on to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which was commercially very successful through the mid-70s. Bachman subsequently launched a solo career. Since 2005, Randy Bachman has been a host of Vinyl Tap,a show on CBC Radio where he plays sets of pop tunes and discusses some of the details he knows about the performers and musicians he’s met. In 2008 Randy Bachman was awarded the Order of Canada.
On June 24, 2000, the Guess Who appeared in concert in Vancouver at General Motors Place. The Guess Who last performed in concert in Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum on August 7, 2001.
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,” Relix.com, 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.
“The Guess Who – concerts – Canada,” setlist.fm.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, February 7, 1969.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.