#981: Running Back To Saskatoon by The Guess Who
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“.
(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.
The Guess Who had a huge international successes into 1970 with “American Woman” topping the charts across North America. The band continued to have chart success with “Share The Land” internationally and with a string of Top Ten hits in Canada. 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. 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.
Over the decades since their breakup, The Guess Who have performed at reunion concerts and tours. 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 Thirty Hits,” CKVN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 6, 1972.
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