#981: Running Back To Saskatoon 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”/”Lightfoot“.
(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).
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.
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.
Their 14th Top Ten single on the Canadian RPM charts was “Running Back To Saskatoon”. It was the bands’ 19th Top Ten charting song in Vancouver. However, it was almost unnoticed in America stalling at #96 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Running Back To Saskatoon” is a song about being curious and learning about what goes on around you. The singer checks out gas stations to learn about tires and cars, libraries to learn about words and phrases, hospitals to learn about dying and heart disease, grain elevators to learn about food and farming and camera stores to learn about photography.
The song references several communities. Moosomin is a town of 2,400 in southeastern Saskatchewan that was named after Chief Moosomin, who became well known for leading his band into treaty status in 1880. The town was established in 1882 with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Moose Jaw is a city in south-central Saskatchewan. Moose Jaw was a traditional site where Cree and Assiniboine people used the area as a winter encampment. It also became a town when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built in 1881-82. Saskatoon, in central Saskatchewan, was established in 1881 as a Temperance Colony where alcohol was prohibited. Saskatoon is named after the berry of the same name, which is native to the region, and is itself derived from the Cree misâskwatômina.
Red Deer is a city in south-central Alberta. It was a trading post and stopping house built by a crossing in the Red Deer River in 1882. A permanent settlement began to develop around it. After the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary in 1881, traffic along the Calgary & Edmonton Trail increased substantially. The Cree peoples called the river on which Red Deer stands Waskasoo Seepee, which translates to Elk River. However, British traders translated the name as Red Deer River, since they mistakenly thought elk were European red deer.
The name, Medicine Hat, is the English translation of Saamis, the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men or Medicine Hat. Several legends are associated with the name from a mythical mer-man river serpent named Soy-yee-daa-bee – the Creator – who appeared to a hunter and instructed him to sacrifice his wife to get mystical powers which were manifest in a special hat. Another legend tells of a battle long ago between the Blackfoot and the Cree in which a retreating Cree Medicine Man lost his headdress in the South Saskatchewan River. In 1883, when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached Medicine Hat and crossed the river a town site was established using the name from the First Nations legends.
Terrace is a city in British Columbia incorporated in 1911. September 1912, when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway took over its function. George Little donated 47 acres to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The station stop was originally named Littleton after George Little. However, as there was already a Littleton in New Brunswick, George Little changed the name to Terrace in reference to the local geography and the traditional Tsimshian name for the area. It is set in the Skeena Valley in northwestern British Columbia.
If you were running back to Saskatoon, you’d find yourself in the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon is named after a berry found across much of the province and featured in pies, jams and jellies. The Temperance Colonization Society, formed in Toronto, and members of that society travelled west by rail and horse-drawn cart to establish a permanent settlement by the South Saskatchewan River. Saskatoon became a city in 1904 and agriculture, oil, potash and a university have been major engines for its economy. It features art galleries, museums, a variety of live music venues and community theatre.
In the case of Saskatoon, Moosomin, Moose Jaw, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Terrace, there is a First Nations name (or mistranslation of a name), plant or geographical area that is at the root of the name of these Canadian communities. Of these five communities, Terrace is not a prairie town. Perhaps The Guess Who wanted folks to the west of the Rocky Mountains to join in with them and “sing another prairie tune.”
The islands in and around what is known today as Hong Kong have been inhabited by humans since 38,000 BC. China occupied the area beginning in 214 BC. As an outcome of the First Opium War, Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842. Hong Kong was still a British Colony at the time The Guess Who recorded their song. At the time Hong Kong was still a Commonwealth country where people from Hong Kong could migrate to Canada, and other Commonwealth countries with some ease. In 1972, with increasing worldwide trade, there were many cheap and cheaply made items on store shelves in Canada from Hong Kong. These undercut the more expensive domestically made Canadian garments and other items. There was no recording industry competition from Hong Kong, no Hong Kong Invasion to knock Canadian recording acts like The Guess Who off the charts. However, the reference to a “home grown” song in “Running Back To Saskatoon” evoked the politics of buying Canadian first to keep jobs secure in Canada.
“Running Back To Saskatoon” peaked at #3 in Tulsa (OK), #5 in Toronto, #8 in Vancouver (BC), and #9 in Hamilton (ON).
In an interview in 2016 Burton Cummings said, in a comment about “Running Back to Saskatoon”, “the riff is from a group called “Brother” that Kurt was in before he joined us. The song was much slower when he brought it to us, and I always loved the riff. I was traipsing around Europe all by myself, and I was sitting in Orly airport in Paris on my way to visit my sister.”
While “Running Back To Saskatoon” was on the charts 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. 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.
Over the decades since their breakup, The Guess Who have performed at reunion concerts and tours. 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. 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.
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.
As of October 2017, The Guess Who has ten upcoming concerts across six states in the USA and on two Caribbean winter cruises.
October 6, 2017
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,” Relix.com, New York, NY, June 20, 2016.
Saskatoon, SK, Wikipedia.org
Red Deer, AB, Wikipedia.org
Moosamin, SK, Wikipedia.org
Terrace, BC, Wikipedia.org
Medicine Hat, AB, Wikipedia.org
Hong Kong, China, Wikipedia.org
“The Guess Who – concerts – Canada,” setlist.fm.
“The Thirty Hits,” CKVN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 6, 1972.
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