Early beginnings and becoming stars in their native Canada
The beginnings of The Guess Who hail back as far as 1958. In Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, singer/guitarist Chad Allan (born Allan Kobel) formed a local band and named it Al and the Silvertones. In 1962 their name was changed to Chad Allan & The Reflections and finally to Chad Allan and the Expressions. At this point the band’s lineup consisted by Allan, keyboardist Bob Ashley, guitairst Randy Bachmann, bassist Jim Kale and drummer Garry Peterson.
In 1962 the band released their first single “Tribute to Buddy Holly”, and three years later they achieved their first big hit with their cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” — which the band actually did not expect.
“Shakin’ All Over” topped the Canadian national charts and even crept toward the Top 40 in the US, peaking at #22. When the Expressions recorded their debut LP Shakin’ All Over, their label, Quality, wanted to build some mystique around the record. Quality came up with a ruse by crediting the album as being recorded by “Guess Who?” in an attempt to fool the record-buying public into thinking that the album had been recorded by a popular British band in disguise, given the British Invasion during that time.
“Shakin’ All Over”‘s immediate follow-ups were a success in Canada but created a little impact outside their country. In late 1965 Ashley left the group, to be replaced by another keyboardist Burton Cummings in early 1966 who would also share lead vocals with Chad Allan. However, in 1966 Allan quit the band, making Cummings the new lead singer. Since Allan’s departure, the band had renamed themselves as “The Guess Who?”, initially with the question mark, which would remain until 1968.
After a disastrous British tour, The Guess Who returned to their home country, appearing in commercials and on the CBC TV show Let’s Go which was, rather coincidentally, hosted by Allan.
It wasn’t until 1969 that The Guess Who would enjoy their international breakthrough. Record producer Jack Richardson mortgaged his house to finance the group’s recordings which would form their album Wheatfield Soul, their first album on their new label RCA. The album contained the track “These Eyes” which would be released as a single that year. The single became the Canadian band’s first US Top 10 hit, peaking at #6.
The follow-up to Wheatfield Soul was Canned Wheat (1969), which later peaked at #91 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album yielded hit singles such as “Laughing” (at #10 on the US pop chart) and “Undun” (at #22).
In 1970 The Guess Who had changed their repertoire to a more gritty, hard-edged rock sound. They released American Woman which featured the title track which, as many saw, was a dig at anything against American especially politics and the draft. Ironically, the single became the Guess Who’s only #1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The album reached its peak position at #9 on the Billboard Pop Album chart.
Personnel changes, solo careers
By then personnel changes had occured within the band. Bachman fell ill due to his gall bladder condition. An American guitarist Bobby Sabellico filled Bachman’s position in many of the band’s tours.
However, it was the rising internal trouble between Bachman and Cummings that led the former to quit the band. The incident temporarily put the recordings for their next album on hold. Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw joined The Guess who to fill in Bachman’s shoes.
Bachman went back to his hometown in Winnipeg where he formed and led the group Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which became a successful venture for him.
The Guess Who would enjoy further chart success: “Albert Flasher” (at #29; single only), “Rain Dance” (at #19; from their album Sol Long Bannatyne), “Heartbroken Bopper” (at #47; from Rockin’), “Star Baby” (at #39; from Road Food) and their last Top 10 pop single “Clap For the Wolfman” (at #6; from Road Food), the last song being the band’s homage to Wolfman Jack (who himself provided the dialogue for the track). Domenic Toriano joined the band as their new guitarist. He was also now Cumming’s chief songwriting partner.
However, Cummings felt more encumbered by the constantly shifting lineup, and his band mates’ leanings on jazz made him feel out of place. He finally severed his ties with the band in 1975 and also attempted to pursue a solo career. He went on to score some hits including the US Top 10 single “Stand Tall.” Click here for Burton Cumming’s biography.
From the 1980s to the present
Oldies music and classic rock fans would hope of a possible reunion but some of the members weren’t yet interested as they were focused on their solo careers. Original member Jim Kale used the Guess Who name with both Cummings and Bachman’s own permission. Kale, after finding out that the name had never been legally recorded, so he went back to Winnipeg and had the band name registered, making Kale the legal owner of The Guess Who trademark.
In 1983, the talks of reunion finally came into reality when several members of the of the band’s glory years — Bachman, Cummings, Kale and Peterson — got back together to perform a series of gigs in many parts in Canada. They also recorded and released 1984’s Together Again video live album. It was the same lineup who also performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1999 Pan American Games, by personal request from the Premier of Manitoba.
With its ever-shifting lineup, Kale and Peterson are presently the only original members still active. During the start of the new millenium, the group became active again in their touring schedule. Coney Hatch’s Carl Dixon was the lead vocalist until his car accident in 2008. Guitarist and singer Derek Sharp took Dixon’s place in singing lead; Laurie McKenzie as well as Leonard Shaw completed the current lineup.