Friday, October 31, 2014

Guess Who, The #70 Artist of the Seventies*

Another artist which got their start in the 60's, the Guess Who continued right where they left off in the early part of the Seventies. Make no mistake--add in their 60's music and the Guess Who are one of The Top 100 Artists of the Rock Era*.

The band from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada got their start in 1958 as Al and the Silvertones.  Back then, they were led by guitarist and lead singer Chad Allen, (though he was long gone by the time they struck it big).   Guitarist Randy Bachman, bassist Jim Kale, drummer Garry Peterson and keyboardist Bob Ashley joined to make up Chad Allan & the Reflections in 1962.  They signed a recording contract with Quality Records and released several singles the next few years, but they were only regional hits. 

When the Reflections scored a hit with "Just Like Romeo & Juliet", the band changed its name to Chad Allan & the Expressions so as not to be confused with that group.  Allan was around for the group's first hit, "Shakin' All Over" in 1965.  Quality Records billed the group only as Guess Who?, because to that point, Canadian radio stations shied away from playing Canadian artists.  It is uncertain how much the marketing ploy worked, but in any case, it forced the group to rename themselves as the Guess Who.  Burton Cummings replaced Ashley on keyboards and shared lead vocals with Allan, but Allen left shortly afterwards.

The group continued to enjoy some success in their native Canada.  You can have a talented group of musicians with great songs, but more often than not, you need someone who strongly believes in you in order to make it.  You not only need moral support, but you need a good strong backer.  The group had one in producer Jack Richardson.  He believed so strongly in the group that he mortgaged his house to finance the band's recordings in 1968, which would result in their breakthrough album Wheatfield Soul

Wheatfield Soul contained the group's first big hit, "These Eyes".  "Laughing" and "Undun" followed, and the Guess Who were major players by the time the 70's kicked in.

The Guess Who re-recorded "No Time" for the album (it had been originally included on their 1969 album Canned Wheat.)  "No Time" reached #5, and gave the group their second Canadian #1 (after "Laughing").  

The group released the album American Woman in 1970.  The title song went to #1 for three weeks, making the Guess Who the first Canadian group in history to attain that position in the United States in the Rock Era.  "American Woman" sold over one million copies to become one of the biggest hits of the year, and is still one of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*.

"No Sugar Tonight" was part of the huge double-sided hit with "American Woman", and on the radio, is often heard with "New Mother Nature".

Bachman had converted to the Mormon religion, and differences in musical direction between he and Cummings led Bachman to leave after one final show at the Fillmore East in New York City on May 16, 1970.  Bachman of course went on to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, whom we heard at #94. 

The Guess Who released the single "Hand Me Down World", which reached #17.

New recordings were shelved (later released as the album The Way They Were).  Fellow Winnipeggers Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw replaced Bachman in the Guess Who.  Winter took on songwriting duties with Cummings, and the group didn't miss a beat.  The Guess Who released the album Share The Land later in the year, and the title song gave them another Top 10 hit.

"Share The Land" gave the Guess Who five Top 20 hits in one year, and the group were by now household names.  "Bus Rider" was a pretty good "B" side on "Share The Land", and received quite a bit of airplay as well.

"Hang On To Your Life" only peaked at #43, but is another song worth featuring for the group in this special.

The Guess Who then released a non-album single, "Albert Flasher", which peaked at #29, another underrated song.

Later in the year, the group released the album So Long, Bannatyne.  The Guess Who were recording memorable songs, but success wasn't coming as easy as it did the year before.  Most fans of the period loved "Rain Dance", even though it only peaked at #19.

Leskiw left the Guess Who, replaced by Don McDougall.  In 1972, the band recorded "Live at the Paramount" at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.  But longtime bassist Jim Kale left as well, with Bill Wallace coming in to replace him.  The Guess Who then embarked on a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Japan with Three Dog Night.

Three studio albums and eight singles followed before the Guess Who could score another big hit.  Even "Star Baby", the single from their 1974 album Road Ode, stalled at #39.  It was yet another quality song from the group that was underrated.

Cummings, Wallace and Winter wrote "Clap For The Wolfman", an homage to famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack, who recorded his voice on the track.  "Clap For The Wolfman" reached #6, officially the first Top 10 for the Guess Who since "No Sugar Tonight" in 1970.

Another underrated song followed, as "Dancin' Fool" only reached position #28.

Domenic Troiano became the new lead guitarist as both McDougall and Winter left in June of 1974.  Cummings, the leader of the group, then decided to leave and pursue a solo career, and the Guess Who broke up in October, 1975.

The Guess Who scored 17 hits in the decade, 5 of which went Top 10, including the double-sided #1 "American Woman"/"No Sugar Tonight".

The classic lineup of the Guess Who has reunited several times, and a form of the group led by bassist Jim Kale still exists today.

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