Years Active: 1965-1975
- Chad Allan (vocals, rhythm guitar; 1965-66)
- Randy Bachman (guitar; 1965-70)
- Jim Kale (bass; 1965-72)
- Garry Peterson (drums; 1965-75)
- Burton Cummings (vocals, keyboards; 1965-75)
- Greg Leskiw (guitar; 1970-71)
- Kurt Winter (guitar; 1970-73)
- Donnie McDougall (guitar; 1972-73)
- Bill Wallace (guitar; 1972-1975)
- Domenic Troiano (guitar; 1974-75)
- Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1987)
- Canadian Walk of Fame (2001)
- 2 Juno Awards (Band of the Year 1970 and 1971)
- 30 Top 30, 13 Top 10, and 5 #1 Songs in Canada
- 13 Top 30, 7 Top 10, and 1 #1 Songs in the U.S.
“American Woman” (1970)
- 3rd biggest song of the year in Canada
- 3rd biggest song of the year in the U.S.
“These Eyes” (1969)
- 10th biggest song of the year in Canada
Other #1 Hits in Canada:
- “Shakin’ All Over” (1965)
- “Laughing” (1969)
- “No Time” (1970)
Some Other Hits:
- “Undun” (1969)
- “Share the Land” (1970)
- “Hand Me Down World” (1970)
- “Albert Flasher” (1971)
- “Rain Dance” (1971)
- “Runnin’ Back To Saskatoon” (1972)
- “Clap for the Wolfman” (1974)
- “Star Baby” (1974)
- “Dancin’ Fool” (1975)
Three shards of irony come to pass. The first hit from a Canadian band to top the American charts is anti-American. Band members leave when the band is at its pinnacle of success. And Canadian radio’s disdain for homegrown talent launches the greatest Canadian rock band of all-time.
Winnipegger Chad Allan started up a band in the late-50s called Al and the Silvertones, then Chad Allan and the Reflections in 1962. They released their debut single, “Tribute to Buddy Holly” that year. But it and subsequent singles over the next few years failed to chart.
Beatlemania was so huge in Canada that five of the Top 10 songs of 1964 were Beatles’ songs! Probably, in part, owing to this, Canadian radio stations were snubbing homegrown talent. To them, American music was good; British was much better. Canadian music? A joke. Canadian acts who’d moved to the States were played and there were some regional stars and novelty hits. But, aside from their giving the nod to the irresistible Bobby Curtola, Canadian disc jockeys were predominantly anti-Canadian.
Meanwhile, in 1965, their name now Chad Allan and the Expressions, the five lads from Winnipeg recorded a rendition of British Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over”. Quality Records felt it had potential but that once radio stations knew it was Canadian (and not British) they would not grant it airplay. Producer George Struth invoked a marketing ploy. Promotional copies of the single were mailed to radio stations across the country without the band’s name and with “Guess Who?” printed below the song’s title. It was hoped that DJs would assume they were listening to a mysterious new English band. The strategy worked and the single topped the charts and finished as the 20th biggest of the year. It won an RPM award and hit the Top 30 in both the U.S. and Australia.
The name Guess Who stuck and became an ideal moniker, given the number of personnel changes that were to come. The first of these was that, for some reason, despite their success, Bob Ashley and Chad Allan left the group; keyboardist Burton Cummings became lead vocalist. They began churning out a number of hit singles (including three that made the Top 10) in Canada, but were not successful outside the country. This changed with their release of “His Girl” which made the Top 20 in Britain and was their first hit in England.
Apparently, when Canadian radio stations found out that the Guess Who were not English but homegrown musicians, they stopped playing their records. And the resulting poor record sales prompted Quality to sell The Guess Who’s recording contract to the Nimbus 9 label for the incredibly low price of $1,000. Big, frickin’ mistake!
In 1968 Nimbus 9 signed a $3,000 licensing deal with RCA in the States, later heralded by RCA as the beginning of the “Canadian Invasion”. A full length album of Bachman/Cummings originals was released called Wheatfield Soul. Radio stations indicated they would not support “any inferior Canadian music, especially the new Guess Who record” (JAM Pop Encyclopedia) so RCA hired promotional people in key cities to launch the album’s single “These Eyes” in 1969. The song became a million-selling single in the U.S. reaching No. 3 on the charts. Canadian DJs were surprised at the band’s States-side success, and decided to play it in Canada. Needless to say, it became the 10th biggest song of the year in Canada.
The Guess Who’s follow up album, Canned Wheat, resulted in three very successful songs: “Laughing”, “Undun”, and “No Time”. This album is hailed as their crowning achievement by music critics. But it was The Guess Who’s next album, in 1970, that housed their biggest hit, the edgy title track, “American Woman”. Ironically, despite its anti-American themes, it became the band’s only U.S. chart-topper. The Guess Who was invited to perform at the White House before U.S. President Nixon.
Trouble was brewing on the horizon, however. Randy Bachman decided to leave the group. An unfinished album They Way They Were was abandoned but released later in 1976 after The Guess Who folded. Bachman first teamed up with another ex-Guess Who member—Chad Allan—before forming the immensely successful Bachman-Turner Overdrive in 1973. Despite several lineup changes, The Guess Who managed to trudge on, continuing to rock their way up the charts.
The Guess Who’s next album was Share the Land which scored three Top 10 singles in Canada. They continued with several more hit albums and singles, their last Top 10 being “Clap for the Wolfman” featuring dialogue by renowned disc jockey “Wolfman” Jack. During their lifetime, the band toured extensively. Canadian appearances included annual concerts at the CNE before audiences of up to 20,000. The band, as led by Cummings, gave its farewell concert at the Montreal Forum in September, 1975. Burton Cummings embarked on a successful solo career.
In 1997, Bachman and Cummings decided to bury the hatchet and perform together for the first time in more than a quarter century. Two years later, the original members of The Guess Who (Bachman, Cummings, Kale, and Peterson) reunited to perform four songs at the closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg before a crowd of 22,000. When they were told that the concert drew a television audience of over 900,000, they decided to launch a reunion tour the following year: Running Back Thru Canada. Grossing nearly $5 million, it was one of the most successful in Canadian music history. In 2003 they performed a set at the SARS benefit concert in Toronto before an estimated audience of 450,000. The show was the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history.
The Guess Who were the ones who made it okay to be Canadian and who proved that you didn’t have to leave the country to make it big. They were the first to have a Canadian hit top the charts in both Canada and the U.S. at the same time, a feat that wasn’t repeated until Nickelback accomplished it 32 years later. The songwriting team of Bachman / Cummings became Canada’s answer to Lennon / McCartney. In 1970, The Guess Who sold more records than the entire Canadian recording industry to that point, even outselling The Beatles. From 1969 to 1975, The Guess Who released 20 million-selling singles. They are, quite simply, rock legends.