Sunday, September 15, 2013

Burton Cummings - Part Three

We wrap up our interview with Burton Cummings today in Forgotten Hits.  Remember you can catch him at The Arcada Theatre on Friday, September 27th.  (Link below for more ticket information)  And be sure to check out his website for all the latest Burton Cummings news.  

Click here: Burton Cummings   

(photo by Brad Joblin)

KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS:  To go back to a point you made earlier, I've always thought, as a listener, that the "Jukebox" CD you did with Randy Bachman must have been what it was like for you guys way back when, when you were just learning how to work together at your craft, sharing your different musical tastes with one another ... he'd show you something he liked and then you'd turn around and shoot one back at him ... a whole evolution process, if you will, as you learned to write songs together.  The songs on the "Jukebox" CD would almost seem to me to be the kind of stuff you used to play to each other as you were learning your craft.  
BURTON CUMMINGS:  Yeah, the "Jukebox" CD ... that's a VERY good example ... the "Jukebox" CD was TREMENDOUS fun for us.  He picked things he liked and I picked things that I liked and there was no pressure for song writing ... there was no pressure on creating.  All we did was do our own version ... kind of put our stamp on those old songs.  He did a GREAT job on The Beatles and "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You", almost a jazzy ... almost like a different song ... and I think that we did a really cool job of "Judy In Disguise" ... instead of the horn line that John Fred and the Playboy Band did, we did all those horn lines with guitars.  And I loved singing the Sam Cooke song and I loved doing the Edwin Starr "Double-O-Soul" song.  We had a lot of fun doing that, man ... that was REALLY fun doing that album. 

kk:  My favorite song on there is the Cliff Richard song ... which I'd never heard before.  That song wasn't a hit here in America so I discovered that song through YOU, not through the original Cliff Richard recording.  
BC:  Oh, "Don't Talk To Him", yeah ... you know, I think fanwise ... I have a bunch of fans that follow me online, they're called "The Faithful", and I think that was voted the favorite song on "Jukebox" ... everybody LOVED the Cliff Richard song.

kk:  And it was NEW to me which goes back to the point you were making earlier about still discovering new music today at this age ... I discovered that song ... even though technically it's 45 year old music ... I first discovered that track through YOU GUYS, not through Cliff Richard, 'cause that didn't get played here when that song was out and was a hit.  
BC:  Yeah, that was a pretty well-played thing in Winnipeg.  We were very fortunate in Winnipeg in that we got to hear some of the British stuff that Americans didn't get to hear ... some Georgie Fame and some Gerry and the Pacemakers that really didn't get off the ground in the States ... Billy J. Kramer was another one.  The British Invasion was very, very extensive in Canada, I guess probably because we were part of the Commonwealth.  and Canadian Capitol Records, they had just about everybody ... from The Beatles and Dave Clark on down ... Hollies, Animals, Ciff Richard and the Shadows ... EVERYTHING was on Capitol.  It was a very cool time in Canada.  We took that British Invasion square in the face.  

kk:  That's actually what we're covering right now on The Forgotten Hits Website ... we're doing a whole series on the hundred biggest hits of the British Invasion ... and the response is just phenomenal ... it's just amazing how many people relate to this part of their lives.  
BC:  Oh, I imagine it would be ... and The Beatles would score VERY heavy in there ... Wow!  What would be the #1 Song of the British Invasion?  My God!  Well, you know what, "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" would have to be right up there near the top.

kk: That's a GREAT song.  
BC:  Although they didn't have a string of records, Procol Harum, but "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was as big as any Beatles record.  And I remember when that it, it was #1 forever.  That was a big, big record. 
I think The Beatles would be right up there ... I think "A Hard Day's Night" would have to be one of them ... that record hit like a ton of bricks.  "A Hard Day's Night" and "Can't Buy Me Love" ... those two hard rockers, they hit like a ton of bricks in the '60's.   

kk:  OK, well here, that's a good segue into this next question ... I was BLOWN AWAY by the fact that The Guess Who never really had a major hit record in England.  How the heck can that be?!?!  Seriously, what's the deal with that???  Like most bands of the day, The Guess Who were heavily influenced by the sounds coming out of England at that time.  Untold THOUSANDS of kids picked up a guitar or a bass or a drum kit ... (or, in your case, a piano!) ... searching for rock and roll success ... and you guys were no different.  How is it even REMOTELY possible that The Guess Who had exactly ONE Top 40 Hit in Great Britain?  And that one ... "American Woman" ... only peaked at #19. BC:  No, not so much.  "American Woman" did okay but RCA in England never really worked that hard on us.  I actually did better with CBS with "My Own Way To Rock" many years later.  But we didn't really happen that much in England.  I don't know why.  It's just one of those things.  I mean there's a lot of Canadian acts that are HUGE in Canada that never had any success in the States.  Sometimes I guess it just doesn't translate well across borders ... I don't know ... we were pretty lucky.  We had a lot of success in Australia, too.  But as I look back, I think we were pretty lucky, especially considering where we came from, which was this little dot on the map in the middle of snow!   

kk:  Did you guys ever tour England in the day?  
BC:  We did a promotional tour in 1970 ... it was just very brief ... very, very brief ... we were only there about five or six days ... nah, never really worked on it much.  We were too busy touring the States!  We toured the States ENDLESSLY!    

kk:  And I would go see The Guess Who faithfully when you guys would come to Chicago ... and, of course, a lot of the solo shows, too, when "Stand Tall" became a hit. 
BC:  I remember The Arie Crown ... The Arie Crown was always a favorite place to play.  And we played a lot in Texas.  We played a lot in El Paso ... and then we would go across and drink tequila in Juarez ... I'll tell you one thing, man, you wouldn't be doin' that today!  It's not the same as it was in 1970!  Look at that, 43 years later ... it's not the same!  We used to cross the border regularly and drink tequila till five in the morning and sometimes I'd even shoot the worm ... but we wouldn't be doin' that now!  I can tell you that!  (lol)  Times have changed!  
kk:  (Laughing)  Hey, you don't have to tell me ... I watch that TV show "The Bridge"!  You go across the border today and you may not be coming back!  

kk:  We can't do an interview like this and not bring up this question so please, grit your teeth and bare with me one more time.  
It is no secret that it has been a real point of contention for you that, as the driving force and focal point of The Guess Who, you do not have the legal rights to use the name ... that it is instead owned by the former drummer and bass player whose names 99.9% of the world, with all the money on the line, couldn't come up with on a "phone a friend" segment of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire".  
In 25 Swear Words Or Less, tell us a little more about this situation so that the fans out there can better understand why even when you and Randy Bachman have appeared together, you cannot use "The Guess Who" name.
BC:  At this point I honestly don't know who owns it overall … maybe Kale and Peterson, maybe more … I don't know for sure. To me personally, it's a shame that now sometimes there are five people on stage calling themselves "The Guess Who" and once or twice, not one of the five was on any of the records. I guess it's like "The Platters" or "The Temptations". You can go and see these acts but it's not the people who made the records. To me it always seemed like owning a McDonald's franchise or a Dairy Queen … nothing to do with the magic of the records … the true followers know who made the recordings … and the recordings will live forever.   

Here's my take on this whole Guess Who thing ...
What seems to bother Burton the most is the fact that you've got this "fake band" running around, using the real records to draw people into the concerts.  Simply put, it's misleading and deceptive to the fans.  Of course the REAL fans know better 'cause they've been around it and have heard all the stories ... but the casual fan who sees or hears this ad and thinks, "Hey, that's a show I might like to see ... The Guess Who had a lot of great hits" is potentially going to buy a ticket to that concert and not get to see the people who recorded all those hits.  
Burton feels very fortunate that after he joined the band, he was the one to have written and sung EVERY hit The Guess Who ever had ... and yet this OTHER band, who have the legal right to the use of the name are using HIS voice on those records in order to sell tickets to their shows with a completely different singer who's trying his best to SOUND like Cummings ... and that's taking advantage of the fan base as well as tarnishing the memory of those great records when they're sung by somebody else, misrepresenting themselves as "The Guess Who".  
Burton mentioned SEVERAL times during our interview that he is VERY proud of the fact that he can still sing those songs and sound like the records ... all in the original keys and with all the original arrangements ... fans are constantly coming up or writing in, telling him how good he still sounds ... and, at this stage of his career, that really means a lot.
We've been over this point time and time again in Forgotten Hits ... and sadly it really has become a case of "Buyer Beware".  It's the Rock And Roll World we live in today.  SO many acts have continued on, trying to earn a living playing the music that got them there in the first place ... and we would never deny them this ... after all, in most cases, some of THESE guys were on those hit records, too ... but there needs to be a certain "honesty" in representing what you're putting up there on the stage.  Perhaps the best parallel example I can think of is Creedence Clearwater Revisited.  Now don't get me wrong ... I was one of the biggest CCR fans on the planet when these guys were out making hit records ... and there is absolutely NO doubt that the rhythm section of Doug Clifford on Drums and Stu Cook on bass contributed GREATLY to the sound and success of those records ... but the guy who wrote and sang every hit they ever had is nowhere to be found.  Instead, they're trying to mimic the sound of these records with a sound-alike singer, much the way Jim Kale and Garry Peterson are doing with their version of The Guess Who.  There's a version of The Grass Roots out touring right now without a SINGLE member of the original band ... they're just using the name.  They're faithfully recreating all of the group's biggest hits ... but they're NOT The Grass Roots!  At best, they should bill themselves as "A Tribute To The Grass Roots" and leave it at that.  You still get the same music ... the same vibe ... but without the misleading moniker.  Peter Noone, who was the voice of Herman's Hermits throughout the '60's, competes with a British version of Herman's Hermits led by their original drummer, who never sang a note and didn't play on half of their recordings in the studio!  Paul Revere INSISTS that absolutely NO original recordings can be used when promoting his upcoming concerts because he doesn't want ANYBODY buying a ticket thinking that they're going to get to see Mark Lindsay up there singing the hits that night.  In fact, he supplies the promoters and radio stations and advertisers with clips of five songs done by the current band, live in concert, to more accurately present what you're going to see and hear if you buy a ticket to their show.  And the truth is that, thanks to Paul's insistence on this matter, they're contractually obligated to do so and abide by this method of "truth in advertising".  And I'll tell you what, it's still one HELL of a show ... but he's not trying to FOOL anybody into seeing it.  (Burton may be surprised to hear that although the previously-mentioned Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna are long-time members of The Buckinghams and were there for all of the hit records, they played bass and guitar on those records and never sang a single hit.  The vocals on those hits belong to Dennis Tufano, no longer with the band and now working as a solo act.)
Now in all fairness, some of these artists have chosen to walk away from these musical institutions at some point in their careers, only to try and reclaim their rightful spot years later, by which time the remaining members who kept things going have already re-established themselves as the "current" make-up of the band and, in many cases, built a new and loyal following in the process.  The recent "Truth In Music" laws require that at least ONE original member be part of the hit group selling tickets to the public and, by this definition, groups like The Buckinghams, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Guess Who, Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Britain's version of Herman's Hermits qualify ... but as we have seen SO many times here over the years, it is always best to do your research FIRST before buying your tickets to some of these shows.  If you just want to hear the hits played well, faithfully honoring and respecting the music you love, then every one of these bands will give you your money's worth.  But if you want to see the guys who wrote and/or sang those hits, then you'll want to catch Burton Cummings, Mark Lindsay, Dennis Tufano, Peter Noone and John Fogerty ... 'cause there ain't ANYBODY out there who are going to do these songs any better!!!    

kk:  Last year you released a live CD of your performance at Massey Hall, which I'm told is the equivalent of performing at America's Carnegie Hall. 
Clearly a number of honors have been bestowed upon you back home in Canada ... you're a member of Canada's Walk Of Fame not once, but TWICE ... as both a member of The Guess Who and as a solo artist.  What do these accolades mean to you in the scheme of things?   
BC:  After a certain point all these awards started coming my way. I'm particularly happy that my Mother lived long enough to see me inducted into the Order of Canada. That's the highest honour that Canada bestows upon a civilian.  

kk:  In addition to all of these honors bestowed on you of late, there's even a THEATER named after you in Winnipeg now!  
BC:  (Laughing) It's still a pleasure and honor to have the old Odeon Theatre named after me in my hometown of Winnipeg. It's a beautiful old building with the ghosts of decades and decades lurking in the wings.  I used to go and see movies there for years. My Mother and Dad even went to the movies there before they were married. I love seeing my name on the building, and love hearing it referred to as "the Burt"!  (laughing)
kk:  (laughing) Which begs, of course, the most obvious question ... 
With all these accolades being bestowed in your honor, there still seems to be one TREMENDOUS oversight in the music world that truly is nothing short of unjust and unthinkable in light of the music you guys created.  For the past two decades we have campaigned for The Guess Who to be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It is a COMPLETE injustice that this hasn't happened yet.  What would this mean to you at this point in your career ... or does it mean nothing at all after all this time?  That is to say, would any recognition now be diminished by the sheer stupidity of the oversight and snub for so many years?  And, if you WERE inducted now, would you feel any differently?  And finally, in light of the somewhat "strained" circumstances between some of the former members of the band, who would you bring up to accept the award and perform???  
BC:  The Hall of Fame hasn't seen fit to name the Guess Who before now, and at this point in time, the name doesn't mean what it once did. I honestly don't think I could stand up there and be inducted and then watch those "other people" go right back out on the road calling themselves "The Guess Who". What so many of us feel nowadays is that the name means very little, but the memories and the recordings are the real treasure. Remember what happened with Axl … enough said.    

kk:  Burton, we can't wait to see the show.  There are still a few seats available to see The Burton Cummings band LIVE at The Arcada Theatre (with The Zombies!!!) on Friday, September 27th. (Hey, they're ALL good seats at The Arcada!!!)  Go to for more ticket information.  Great to talk with you!  
BC:  Hey, thank you, my man ... it was good talking to you ... and we'll see you at the show.

VERY special thanks to Burton Cummings, Sam Boyd and Lorne Saifer for helping us put together this AWESOME interview ... I sincerely appreciate it ... and I think we did ya proud!!!


Tomorrow in Forgotten Hits ... The Guess Who / Burton Cummings Hit List!