Early life and start in the music business
Singer-songwriter and musician Burton Cummings was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on December 31, 1947. When he was 16, he dropped out of school, so it seems that his fate would inevitably be in music.
His first band was The Deverons (not to be confused with the The Devrons, a country and R&B group). The band released several recordings on local labels, and usually recorded at Kay Bank Studios.
Cummings with the Guess Who
It was at Kay Bank Studios where Cummings would meet The Guess Who, who also often recorded in that studio. In 1965 band asked him to take the place of keyboardist Bob Ashley, who had just quit the band. Cummings finally joined the Guess Who in early 1966, and in May that year he was made as lead vocalist upon the departure of the band’s original lead singer Chad Allan.
During Cummings’ tenure with the Guess Who, the band experienced considerable commercial success. He also wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s songs.
The Guess Who were considered as one of Canada’s hardest-working bands; they also used to perform on a weekly basis on the CBC variety TV show Let’s Go. In 1969, their hard work finally paid off with real mainstream success with the song “These Eyes,” written by Cummings and the band’s guitarist Randy Bachman. It reached the Top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100 that year.
The Guess Who followed “These Eyes” with more singles which charted often in America including the Top 20 singles “Laughing,” “No Time,” and their biggest US hit “American Woman,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.
Cummings and Bachman were The Guess Who’s primary songwriters. However, they had a severe rift that caused Bachman to leave the band. Cummings became the leader of The Guess Who and went on to write (or co-write) and record songs with the band that include “Share the Land,” “Hand Me Down, World,” “Albert Flasher,” “Rain Dance,” “Clap for the Woman” (another US Top 10 hit), and “Dancin’ Fool,” among others.
Click here for the full biography of The Guess Who.
Cummings remained with The Guess Who until 1975 when he left the band, who promptly split after his departure.
In 1976 Cummings released his eponymous debut album which carried the lead single “Stand Tall.” It became very successful even outside his native Canada. “Stand Tall” peaked at #10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the adult contemporary chart. The album Burton Cummings peaked at #30 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Cumming’s other hits include “I’m Scared'” (#61 US pop, #10 US AC, 1977), “My Own Way,” (#74 US pop, 1977), “Break It to Them Gently,” (#85 US pop, 1977), and “You Saved My Soul” (#37 US pop, #22 US AC, 1981).
Cummings also dabbled in acting, having appeared in the 1982 Canadian movie Melanie.
The Guess Who’s reformations
In the early 1980s members of the Guess Who reunited. The original members — Bachman, bassist Jim Kale and drummer Gary Peterson — as well as Cummings got together again to perform a series of gigs around Canada and recorded a new LP Together Again. In 1999 the same lineup also performed at the closing ceremonies of the Pan American Games, through a personal request from the Premier of Manitoba.
Cummings, Bachman and Peterson reunited as The Guess Who in 2000 and embarked on several tours in Canada as well as in the US. More recent members Donnie McDougall and Bill Wallace joined the band throughout the rest of their tour which continued until 2003.
Cummings and Bachman play together on occasion as the Bachman-Cummings Band, featuring the Toronto-based rock band The Carpet Frogs.
Burton Cummings Band
Burton Cummings has also toured as a one-man band. Occasionally he also has the Carpet Frogs as his live back-up group. Whatever bands he has chosen to be his backing group, his act is referred to as the Burton Cummings Band or just Burton Cummings.
Because of his significant musical and cultural contributions to his native Canada, Cummings was named as officer of the Order of Canada (OC) in 2009.
In 2011 he also announced his plans to release a book of poetry, supposedly titled The Writings of B. L. Cummings.
He has continued to perform mostly live shows, playing his oldies music hits frequently. On January 1, 2016 Cummings announced on his Facebook fan page that he will begin recording an all-new material.