Wednesday Night Music Byte
The Guess Who started out as a local Winnipeg band formed by singer/guitarist Chad Allan in 1960 and initially called Al and the Silvertones. This was changed to Chad Allan & the Reflections in 1962, by which point the band consisted of Chad Allan (vocals/guitar), Bob Ashley (keyboards), Randy Bachman (guitars), Jim Kale (bass), and Garry Peterson (drums). All the band members were born in Winnipeg.
The band’s debut single (“Tribute To Buddy Holly”) was released on Canadian-American Records in 1962. Chad Allan and the Reflections then signed with Quality Records and released several flop singles in 1963/64, including one mis-credited to Bob Ashley & The Reflections. By 1965, the group was forced to change its name to Chad Allan & the Expressions after a U.S. group called The Reflections had scored a hit with “Just Like Romeo & Juliet”.
It was at this point that the band scored their first hit, a 1965 rendition of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”. This track reached #1 in Canada, #22 in the U.S (where Quality had licensed the track to the American Scepter label for release in the U.S.) , and #27 in Australia. However, in an attempt to build a mystique around the record, Quality Records credited the single only to “Guess Who?” It was hoped that some listeners might assume the “Guess Who?” identity was deliberately masking several famous performers working under a pseudonym — given the “beat group” nature of the record, perhaps even members of The Beatles and/or other popular British Invasion bands. In concealing the identity of the band in this fashion, Quality Records may have been influenced by a similar ploy made the previous year by “The You Know Who Group”, an American outfit whose Merseybeat-ish 1964 single “Roses Are Red My Love” had peaked at #43 in the US, and at #21 in Canada.
It is debatable as to whether anyone was really fooled by the “Guess Who?” ruse, or if the record would have been a hit regardless of the artist credit. But the upshot was that, even after Quality Records revealed the band was “really” Chad Allan & The Expressions, disc jockeys still announced the group as Guess Who?, effectively forcing the band to rename themselves. So although singles were issued as being by “Guess Who?”, on their first two albums, the band was credited as both “Guess Who?” and “Chad Allan & The Expressions”.
The immediate follow-ups to “Shakin’ All Over” met with major success in Canada, but very little success elsewhere. After Bob Ashley left the group in late 1965, Burton Cummings joined the band as keyboardist and co-lead vocalist (with Chad Allan) in early January 1966. This line-up only lasted for a few months before Chad Allan left, making Cummings the new full-time lead singer. By this point, the band’s name had become “The Guess Who?” (the question mark would finally be dropped in 1968), and with Chad Allan gone, the “Chad Allan & The Expressions” subtitle was dropped once and for all.
As the group’s lineup changed, so did their sound. Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman were now the band’s main composers, and they moved away from Merseybeat-inspired rock to a sound that mixed rock, blues, and jazz. The 1969 ballad “These Eyes” was the group’s first Top 10 US hit for their new label RCA Records. By the beginning of the 1970s, they had moved toward an edgier hard-rock sound with the album American Woman, the title track for which, “American Woman” (coupled with its B-side “No Sugar Tonight”) was the group’s only No. 1 hit in the U.S. “American Woman” also earned The Guess Who the honor of being the first Canadian band to have a No. 1 hit on the American charts. The Top Five US hit “No Time” preceded “American Woman” by about three months.
In the spring of 1970 Bachman was sidelined by a gall bladder attack. The group continued touring with an American guitarist, Bobby Sabellico. But differences between Bachman and the others led Bachman to leave the group after playing one final show with them at the Fillmore East in NYC on May 16, 1970. An unfinished 1970 album The Way They Were, was abandoned (not released until 1976, after the band had broken up). Randy returned to Winnipeg, and later formed Brave Belt, which eventually evolved into the supergroup Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Bachman was replaced by two guitarists, fellow Winnipeggers Kurt Winter from the band Brother, and Greg Leskiw. Winter became the main songwriting collaborator with Cummings, and The Guess Who continued with more hit singles such as “Hand Me Down World”, “Share The Land”, “Hang On to Your Life” and “Albert Flasher”.
In 1972, they recorded their highly acclaimed album “Live at the Paramount” which was recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. This preceded an overseas tour in November-December 1972 to Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Leskiw left the band before the Paramount show in 1972 to be replaced by Don McDougall, and bassist Jim KaleWolfman Jack, who lent his voice to the recording before McDougal and Winter left in June 1974. Domenic Troiano became the new lead guitarist for the band and Cummings’ chief songwriting collaborator. left after his lifestyle could no longer support touring. Winter’s former bandmate Bill Wallace came in to take over bass duties. Cummings, Wallace and Winter wrote the Guess Who’s last big hit, “Clap For The Wolfman”, which reached No. 6 in the U.S., and which was an homage to disc jockey
The Guess Who broke up in October 1975. Cummings then went on to forge a successful solo career.
Please enjoy this video clip of The Guess Who performing their first hit (from 1969), “These Eyes”.