#111: Star Baby 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 “Of A Dropping Pin, “Lightfoot, and “These Eyes”.
(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).
In the late ’60’s, 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 Turner, 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.
Randy Bachman left the Guess Who in May 1970. He was replaced by Kurt Winter, born in 1946 in Winnipeg. He was in a band called Brother. Gregory Leskiw, also born in Winnipeg in 1946, was from the band Wild Rice. Leskiw had begun learning guitar at the age of 12. Both Winter and Leskiw played guitar in the Guess Who.
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”.
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.
The next single release for the band was “Star Baby”.
“Star Baby” was written by Burton Cummings. It’s a song about a woman who is sexy and wears satin and silk. She’s a “two-timin’ mama” who is a “shiny little flashy little lovin’ machine.” The singer of the song is “head over heels” and “shook up” about the way she fools around with him. He goes to a Hollywood show to see her perform on stage. A woman of means, he wants to go riding in her Cadillac and make out.
“Star Baby” peaked at #3 in Chicago, and Winnipeg (MB), #4 in Vancouver, Salt Lake City, and Fargo (ND), Wichita (KS), Nashville, and Davenport (IA), #5 in Tucson (AZ), and Saskatoon (SK), and Denver, #6 in Des Moines (IA), #7 in Rockford (IL), Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Sydney (NS), #8 in Fort Lauderdale, Wenatchee (WA), Saint John (NB), Milwaukee (WI), La Crosse (WI), and Birmingham (AL), #9 in Toronto, Tacoma (WA), Miami, and Dallas, #10 in Sacramento (CA), #11 in Hamilton (ON) and #12 in Sudbury (ON). “Star Baby” also climbed to #20 in New Zealand.
In 1974 The Guess Who pulled out of their international sales slump with a Top Ten hit across the continent, “Clap For The Wolfman”, a tribute to the famed rock ‘n roll DJ. The single also climbed into the Top 20 in the Netherlands (#11), South Africa (#14) and Belgium (#18).
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. Cummings gave his first solo concert in Vancouver on November 18, 1976, at the Commodore Ballroom. He followed up with a concert at the Pacific Coliseum on August 20, 1977.
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 October 15, 1978, Burton Cummings appeared in concert at the War Memorial Gym in Vancouver. Three years later Cummings returned to Vancouver and gave a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on December 16, 1981. The following year he performed at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in 1982 on August 18th. He returned to the Skyline Hotel in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond for a 5-night stand in January 1983.
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, Burton Cummings came to Vancouver for concerts at the PNE Amphitheatre on August 31, 2018, and a year later on August 21, 2019. In December 2016, Burton Cummings gave one concert in Coquitlam on the 29th, and in Richmond at the River Rock Casino on December 6, 2008, September 27, 2014, December 30, 2015 and December 31, 2016. He has also performed in the Vancouver area in suburb of New Westminster at the Massey Theatre on October 12, 2017, and October 6, 2019.
September 28, 2022
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 City, June 20, 2016.
Leslie Michele Derrough, Burton Cummings of the Guess Who (Interview), Glide, January 26, 2015.
“The Guess Who – concerts – Canada,” setlist.fm.
“Burton Cummings – concerts – Canada, ” setlist.fm.
“CKLG Thirty,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 26, 1974.
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