Catching up with The Guess Who
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of the official publicity biography
As the house lights fade down and the stage spots flair up, the sounds of rock and roll with classic sensibilities and progressive nuances permeate the crowd. At first a familiar chord strikes everyone's attention, then comes a catchy chorus followed by a memorable solo or remarkable moment of improvisation. Such an ear-pleasing arsenal carries into a non-stop evening of precise performance taking fans on a roller coaster ride of electric instrumentation, timeless balladry, unpredictable jamming and the ultimate sing-a-long experience. It's a position held by a troupe of true musical luminaries who through over four decades in show business have been loaded with more hits than members can count, record sales well into the multi-millions and more drama than a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode and an E! "True Hollywood Story" documentary combined.
The name is none other than The Guess Who, a group that's connected with the masses throughout an exultant hit parade including "These Eyes," "Clap For the Wolfman," "Hand Me Down World," "No Time," "Star Baby" and "Share the Land." Add in fellow classics and double sided singles like the rock anthem "American Woman" and "No Sugar Tonight," plus "Laughing" and "Undun," and the Canadian bred stateside conquerors are amongst music's most indelible treasures who are eternally etched within the very fabric of pop culture history.
"You're going to see an excellent version of the songs and hear exactly how they should sound or be played," verifies founding member and original drummer/songwriter Garry Peterson. "We're coming at a new generation of fans who are seeing how the band can execute with enthusiasm. And we're also making sure the respect level remains at an all time high for how the music was initially recorded and remains at an all time high for the fans who've been with the band from the beginning."
Joining Peterson is fellow co-founder, songwriter and bassist Jim Kale, plus veterans like keyboard player Leonard Shaw, guitarist Laurie MacKenzie and powerhouse vocalist Carl Dixon (of April Wine and Coney Hatch fame). Together the quintet has launched an ambitious 2005/2006 tour, criss-crossing the country to adoring audiences and selling out each house with their awe inspiring execution, deft meticulousness and decades of radio penetrating smashes.
"Besides hearing members reproduce each records' integrity, we've exhaustively outlined all the other moments that cannot be reproduced by players on stage," Peterson offers. "We've used technology to bring fans closer to the action than they've ever been on any of our previous tours, incorporating everything from the strings in 'These Eyes' to the enhanced percussion in "Laughing" to chimes at the end of 'Share the Land.' The point of this band is to take time and let fans old and new experience the material true to form. The more we play, the more that's becoming evident and the comments are astounding!"
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A trip through time with The Guess Who
From the pages of the official publicity biography
By Andy Argyrakis
Long before the group's current climax or even its rocket ride to superstardom from the late 1960s through early 70s and beyond came a period of thorough self-discovery, experimentation and official formation. It all began in 1962 under the name Al and the Silvertones, featuring Peterson, Kale, singer Allan Kowbel, guitarist Randy Bachman and pianist Bob Ashley. The foursome's moniker would refine itself over time, leading to Chad Allan and the Reflections followed by Chad Allan and the Expressions to avoid potential trademark infringements over a similarly named act from that period. Come 1964 under the latter misnomer, the gang recorded A Tribute to Buddy Holly and was soon inked to Quality Records in Canada for the release of the Shakin' All Over album a year later. But rather than putting the act's actual name on the product, the company hoped to build up buzz by simply including the mysterious "Guess Who" phrase, which wound up overtaking the original namesake. After the disc's title cut (a cover of the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' barnburner) became a breakout hit that year, the group was officially christened The Guess Who.
In 1965, the group hit the studio for its second Quality release Hey Ho (What You Do To Me), which featured writing collaborations with the young duo Ashford and Simpson, who brought a soulful flair to the sessions and helped make inroads for the group in America. In the fall of that year, co-vocalist Burton Cummings joined the fold, adding a Beatles-esque flair to the pre-existing Holly influence on It's Time (Quality).
Kowbel left the following year but the band carried on with late great rhythm guitarist Bruce Decker, spawning A Wild Pair (an album shared with The Staccatos as part of a Coca Cola promotion). The split-record released on Capitol and reached a frenzied peak as new fans all across the U.S. redeemed bottle caps by the truckload in exchange for the record.
The core four (minus Decker) jumped to Nimbus 9 Records in Canada and were marketed stateside, eventually landing on RCA in 1968 for the innovative Wheatfield Soul. Those sessions birthed the unforgettable "These Eyes," which would ignite a commercial frenzy that would carry on endlessly into its lineage. The next year's Canned Wheat on the same label split spawned singles like "Laughing" and "Undun" earning a significant buzz within the music industry and wetting the appetites of fans for a continued chart parade.
Not only did The Guess Who deliver with 1969's American Woman, but members ignited a cultural phenomena starting with the single "No Time" and the title track, which has gone on to become one of the most applauded classic rock cuts of all time. That period also placed the group alongside the upper echelon of Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as part of a very exclusive list that managed to score double-sided number one singles (for "No Sugar Tonight" and "American Woman").
Fame followed at a rapid pace, but also resulted in personnel shifting starting with Bachman. Though he abruptly left the American Woman tour with a medical issue (after which he was temporarily replaced by prodigy Bob Sabellico) he finished up its last date at the Fillmore East. However, following that gig he moved into other projects outside of The Guess Who and a reconfigured line-up featuring guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw teamed with the others for 1970's Share the Land (Nimbus 9/RCA).
The new additions (also known for time in Brother) brought a wealth of new ideas and material to the band transferring into a more psychedelic sound that included "Hand Me Down World," "Bus Rider," "Share the Land" and "Hang On To Your Life." Having such a solid follow-up made way for the guys' first retrospective collection, simply titled The Best of the Guess Who the next year on RCA. But rather than merely repeating the same formulas as chronicled in that collection, the band fledged forward with 1971's So Long, Bannatyne (RCA). The outpouring was its most experimental to date focusing on longer cuts that found more favor on the underground than they did on the airwaves. Such sidestepping also came from the group's increasingly involved concerts, which often carried on with riveting spontaneity and attention to detail.
Rockin' (RCA) bowed in 1972 marking another milestone for the group during which it sought to make an entire album live in the studio without any overdubs. Such a lofty goal was not only nailed with perfection, but also came at a remarkably speedy rate. The group worked tirelessly throughout the weekend and delivered a final product on the desk of record label employees the following Monday. It was an example of the players' finely tuned craftsmanship and also an exercise that allowed everyone to flex their artistic muscles.
The Guess Who Live at the Paramount (RCA) came that same year including Donnie McDougall on guitar in place of Leskiw, which was split between the group's commercial selections and fan friendly romps. Remarkably, 1972 brought about a third venture in the form of RCA's Artificial Paradise (recognized especially for its unconventional packaging) at which time bassist Bill Wallace slipped in the place of Kale. The character driven design mimicked junk mail and game shows and was conceptually ahead of its time.
Come #10 (RCA) in 1973 again focusing on artistic testing over accessibility. Later that year, The Guess Who's latter chart action was resurrected with The Best of the Guess Who Vol. 2 (RCA) catching faithful up to speed since the prior compilation. That attention gave the gang an additional kick-start come 1974's Road Food, an incredibly interesting expression of creativity. The record took a bluesy direction at times, exploding with singles like "Star Baby" and "Clap For the Wolfman." After that outpouring, guitarist Domenic Troiano took over for Winter and McDougall on Flavours (RCA), yet another robust departure steeped in exploration. Power In the Music was The Guess Who's last studio record for RCA, which despite not producing any charting singles became a collector's item for die-hards due to its obscurity in latter years.
With Cummings departing for a solo career, the previously absent Kale rekindled The Guess Who's flame in 1978 with Winter, McDougall (who stepped up to the microphone), guitarist David Inglis and drummer Vance Masters (also from Brother). The fivesome released Guess Who's Back followed by 1979's All This For a Song on the Aquarius label and toured feverishly majoring in familiar and new material. By 1983, Kale reunited with Peterson, while Cummings and Bachman returned from solo life to hit the road recalling their storied past. The group's first ever videocassette Together Again (Pioneer) came as a result, as did the record Reunion (Compleat), which became a hot item in a television advertising campaign. Though all split company following the outing, Kale pressed on with a variety of players linking back up with Peterson in 1987.
Though an array of compilations (some of which were authorized and others that weren't) flooded the market the following decade, The Guess Who entered headlines again when Kale, Peterson, keyboardist Leonard Shaw, guitarist Dale Russell and singer Terry Hatty released a much-anticipated project of all fresh produce in 1995. Two pressings ensued called Liberty (Aquarius) and Lonely One (Intersound) demonstrating incredible evolution and even more melodic tendencies than yesteryear. An extensive tour came next, chronicled in 1998's The Spirit Lives On: Greatest Hits Live (J-Bird Records).
Vocalist Carl Dixon (April Wine, Coney Hatch) entered the picture just prior to that latter CD's release and his showmanship was archived the next year in a special recording from Chicago called Down the Road (Diamond Ditty). The disc also showcased the remarkable bass thumping prowess of Ken "Spider" Sinnaeve, regarded for his work with 80s icons Loverboy and Canadian superstar Tom Cochrane.
In 1999 an invitation came from the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg for Peterson, Kale, Cummings and Bachman to perform and they obliged with a four-song mini-set in front of 20,000 spectators. Around the same time, eclectic superstar Lenny Kravitz recorded a cover of "American Woman," which went on to appear in the Austin Powers film series. Kravitz's rendition also became a number one single, earning The Guess Who another notch in the history books as an unprecedented act who's original and cover versions both topped the charts. The combined response was so solid that Peterson, Cummings and Bachman (with McDougall and Wallace) launched a full-fledged tour in 2000. It resulted in the double disc recording Running Back Through Canada (BMG) and also trickled down to America.
The line-up then moved towards a stateside Joe Cocker tag team ending in 2003 with a historic SARS benefit in front of 490,000 fans. The day long festival (chronicled on 2004's WEA DVD Toronto Rocks) was headlined by The Rolling Stones and also featured The Guess Who, AC/DC, Rush, The Flaming Lips, The Isley Brothers and Justin Timberlake. Running Back Through Canada also appeared as a DVD installment in 2004, asserting additional interest in the withstanding band and raising demand for the current combination of Peterson, Kale, Shaw, MacKenzie and Dixon on tour.
And that leads full circle to the present tense, a period when The Guess Who is once again playing sold out shows from coast to coast earning some of the most glowing fan assessments and critical reviews throughout its tenure. Not only is the band sounding better than ever before, but it has scrupulously preserved the past and continues to expand upon its viable legacy. For anyone who's encountered one of the group's captivating concerts, The Guess Who remains one of the most celebrated bands of all time and is forging into the future with all of the accolades deserving of a revered and still relevant trend setting rock and roll institution.
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