Saturday, September 14, 2013

Burton Cummings - Part Two

Former Guess Who Lead Singer Burton Cummings will be performing at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois, on Friday, September 27th ... and we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to Cummings last week about the show ... and life in general. 

The concert will be a music lover's dream ... the warm-up act that night will be The Zombies, one of those GREAT bands that first touched our hearts during The British Invasion. 

We pick up our conversation here ...  

KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS:  This show at The Arcada Theatre is going to be one hell of a double bill -- Burton Cummings ... with The Zombies as the warm-up act?!?!  That's a dream come true for a music fan.  Have you ever worked with these guys before?  
BURTON CUMMINGS:  No, I'm looking forward to that.  I hear that it's still the lead singer Colin Blunstone and it's still Rod Argent, the keyboard player ... and that's enough for me ... 'cause those are the two guys that really made the sound of that band.  The Zombies were GREAT ... they were really something!  I don't know how the harmonies will be because the other guys aren't there ... and I believe one of them died ... Paul White I think is gone ... but I know that Colin Blunstone was the lead singer with the very distinguishable voice ... he had a VERY distinctive voice and Argent was the one with the great keyboard parts.  So yes, I'm looking forward to hearing them, too.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The bass player was actually Chris White, who is still alive and well but no longer performing with the band.  It was guitarist Paul Atkinson who died a few years ago (2004).  The group has a new album out and are booked solidly for the next year, playing all over the world to rave reviews.  The current line (besides Blunstone and Argent) consists of Jim Rodford on bass guitar, Steve Rodford on drums and Tom Toomey on guitar.  You can check out their website here:  Click here: The Zombies : Official Website  

kk:  You're going to really enjoy this theater ... it's a very intimate setting and seats maybe 900 or 1000 people but it's a GREAT place to see a concert.  (More Arcada Theatre information here: Click here: Arcada Theatre | Oshows ... good seats ... hey, they're ALL good seats ... are still available!)
BC:  Hey, that's FINE with me ... I don't worry about the size of the crowd ... as long as they're into what we're doing.

kk:  Oh, you're going to have a VERY receptive crowd to this show ... my understanding is that this is a VERY hot ticket and that's one heck of a line-up.
BC:  Good, good ... that's excellent.  I just did a show with The Buckinghams ... and I don't know how many of the original guys are still with them ... I think it's two of the original singers ... but it sounded like the records and that was really cool ... that was great to hear those songs again ... so this will be a good night.
(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Forgotten Hits Readers already know that Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna are continuing on with The Buckinghams' name.  While they do faithful renditions of all of their hits ... plus numerous other hit songs from this era ... performing to a very large and loyal following ... the original lead singer of The Buckinghams was Dennis Tufano, who is now performing as a solo artist.)
BC:  And we've been playing a lot so the show will be tight.  And we do all of the famous records. I'm not trying to shove a lot of new material down people's throats ... I really don't subscribe to that ... to that way of thinking.  I've always thought that man, it's hard enough to HAVE a hit record ... why not be satisfied to sing them for the rest of your life.

kk:  Well, the fans love 'em, that's for sure ... and this music has NEVER gone out of favor ... in all these years, your stuff has NEVER been off the radio.  The Guess Who are one of those fortunate bands that still get a ton of airplay and a good chunk of your catalog is well represented on radio.  This isn't the case with many of the artists of that era ... some are lucky to get one or two of their hits played on the radio today and MOST artists don't even get that ... but The Guess Who's material still holds up very well and gets a lot of airplay ... certainly here in Chicago anyway.
BC:  Well, here's the thing ... I'm 65 now ... I'm going to be 66 in December on New Year's Eve ... and I've said this a million times in interviews and it's SO true ... every time I can go out there and still sound like the records, it's SO special to the audience ... because they've had THEIR changes in their lives, too ... they may have sometimes lost a child or lost a partner or they've moved or been divorced or something joyous has come along ... we've all been through so many changes ... and EVERYBODY's life changes in a year ... every year when I go out and sing these songs one more time it is that much more special because the fans are growing older with me and their lives are longer and it just makes it more special.  Every year I find younger people in the audience again ... people that weren't born until LONG after these records were cut, and they're mouthing every word when I'm singing ... and that's really VERY flattering to me because I WROTE most of the stuff, ya know!  I know classic radio has been very kind to me and to my songs and my voice ... I mean, I hear the stuff all the time.

kk:  The concert line-up of The Zombies and Burton Cummings is one heck of a double-bill ... but we've also seen some odd pairings in the past.  A couple of years ago we went to a show that featured America and Jethro Tull ... two acts that would seem to be at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.  But I'll never forget one of the STRANGEST pairings I've ever seen ... and that was seeing a show that YOU did back in the day during the early solo years where Burton Cummings opened up for Alice Cooper!!!  How weird did THAT have to be for you?  (Especially after the whole "Glamour Boy" thing!!!)
(EDITOR'S NOTE:  "Glamour Boy", while not a big hit here in The States, was a #11 Hit back home in Canada.  In it, Burton takes a musical swipe at some of the Glam-Rock / Theater Rock that was going on at the time ... more specifically artists like David Bowie, The New York Dolls and ... well ... Alice Cooper ... although never actually mentioning ANY of them by name.)
BC:  Opening for Alice Cooper was an exercise in professionalism. The first few rows were always painted up like Alice, some of them carrying tomahawks and axes, and I'm out there singing "Stand Tall" … but eventually the band I had won over a lot of audiences.

kk:  As I mentioned earlier, I saw several of your solo shows in the '70's ... and "Stand Tall" still ranks as one of my all-time favorite songs.  You continued to record and release some GREAT solo albums but many of these never seemed to make it beyond the Canadian market.  US fans had to settle for a couple of "Greatest Hits" collections to get any idea as to the type of new music you were making.

kk:  Some of your music is completely out of print now ... we can't even get it.  I like to consider myself as having a pretty complete collection yet I'm still missing things that I would love to get my hands on.  In fact, in preparation for this interview, I just recently picked up the Live at "Massey Hall" release and the "Above The Ground" CD.  These aren't things that have been heavily promoted here in The States ... and it's apparently already too late to pick up something like "Sweet Sweet" and "Heart".  Do you have any new material coming out that we should know about?   
BC:  Well, both of these albums are currently planned to be re-mastered and re-released so hopefully they'll be available again relatively soon.  I've also got a brand new DVD series called "Ruff" ... R-U-F-F ... and Volume One is just about ready to go.  (Here it comes, folks … it'll be out in a few weeks, well ahead of Christmas.) It's even better than I'd hoped. It's volume one of what could be a dozen or so volumes. We have almost 13 years of digital video. We graduated from tape years ago, and now it's endless hard drives.  Lillian Sarafian, my videographer, has followed me with a camera for over a decade ... about the last thirteen years ... so much so, that we started calling her the "life capturer" … and capture she has … ALL this great stuff ... back stage, on the plane, on stage, off stage, in hotel rooms, in tour buses ... tremendous stuff.  From multi camera shoots at Massey Hall to the streets of New York City, to the streets of my home town of Winnipeg, to rehearsals and sound checks at the beginning of the century to a glimpse into so very personal events and places in my life. Soul is bared several times in Volume One. Pretty strong viewing in spots … pretty strong … beautifully assembled and edited by Lillian Sarafian, and all our post production audio was done at Blue Moon Studios, in Agoura Hills, California. The main sound engineer was Joe Vannelli, brother of Gino Vannelli, a fellow Canadian singer.  So, if you can imagine, now we've got thirteen years of archives, including rehearsals and sound checks ... stuff that fans never get to see.  Real "fly on the wall" stuff.  So we're putting all of that ... plus a lot of the stuff from Massey Hall, which was shot with eight cameras and edited ... together into one place.  It's called "Ruff" and volume one is coming ... it's wonderful.  We're planning a whole series of these and she's done a wonderful job and I'm kind of co-producing it with her.  
Also, my book of poetry ("The Writings of B.L. Cummings") is almost ready to go ... and that's going to have about the first fifty poems in it ... it'll be a very nice package on that.  But I have yet to make a dummy copy … run a real one and assemble it and hold it in my hand to see how it affects me. It has to be absolutely perfect. I don't take the poetry lightly. I'm not really overly concerned whether people like it or hate it, or say loudly that they "just don't get it" … don't write the poetry to impress ... I write it to make myself smile … or think. Period.
And I'm probably going to do another album with the same band.  You know, I have more than enough songs for this and I've REALLY picked the songs carefully for this so it's not like I'm scrambling to do an album ... I have MORE than enough songs so we'll see what happens.  
Right now we're focusing on the book of poetry and "Ruff" and I'm flying to Toronto tomorrow to take part in a very special thing this weekend ... it's a big march in Aide of The Women's Cancer Foundation" and the big hospital downtown ... I think it's the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in downtown Toronto has put together a very nice fund-raising event and the women ... I don't know HOW many thousands of women are marching ... ten miles or something ... and after the ten mile march, they're coming to the big center where myself, I'll be performing along with another performer ... it's a big, nice event this weekend in Toronto so I've been busy all summer.
(EDITOR'S NOTE:  The concert Burton is talking about took place on September 7th and, from what I understand, was a great success.  He performed with Johnny Reid and got great reviews ... and raised quite a bit of money for Women's Cancer Research.)
BC:  And then, of course, we're coming to your area and we're playing all around there and then a few more one-man shows including another one in Philadelphia ... so it's been a very busy time for me.  Ya know, I'm a pretty busy guy for 65!  

kk:  And all of this was probably a whole lot easier when you were 25 or 35 as opposed to 65, right?  (lol)  
BC:  It was a WHOLE lot easier when I was 21 'cause I had never even thought about running out of energy but I still love the two hours on spent stage ... it's just that the other 22 hours get a little bit tougher when you're 65.  But you know, people tell me that I still sound the same and that's the most important thing ... they're still saying I sound the same ... and as long as I hear that, I'm gonna keep going for a while.    

kk:  You really do ... I've watched a lot of the youTube clips and we've run some of these on the website ... and I've got to say that you still really look and sound great.  
BC:  We did a show with Steve Miller last year and he's over 70 ... and he's out there rockin' and there's 14 and 15 year old kids out there singing along with every word ... they could be his GRAND kids ... but they're rocking along with him ... so I see new evidence of older entertainers.  Gordon Lightfoot ... well into his 70's now ... and he's still out there.  Tony Bennett ... 900 years old and HE'S still out there ... what is he, 87 or something? ... and he still does a hundred shows a year.  So I think of myself right now as I've still got a long way to go yet.   

kk:  Seriously, who would have ever thought ... I remember when we were growing up and it was that whole "Don't trust anybody over 30" thing.  I remember back in the mid-'60's when The Beatles were all the thing and then all of a sudden Frank Sinatra had a #1 Record with "Strangers In The Night" and we all thought "What's HE doing on the charts?!?!?  He's ANCIENT!!!"  And he was like FORTY at the time!  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  Actually, he was 51)  But to us, he was ANCIENT!!!  Seriously, as a kid of 21, who EVER thought that you'd still be doing this at 65 ... and that there'd still be an audience for it!  And now you've got somebody like McCartney going out and still doing two-and-a-half and three hour shows to sell-out audiences all around the world!
BC:  Well, McCartney did The Hollywood Bowl and apparently sang 37 songs!  Holy God!!!  I do TWENTY and I'm pattin' myself on the back!  And he's got five or six years on me!  I'll tell you, it's not so much the age as keeping yourself in shape to hit the notes.  And I sing a lot at home, pick up a guitar or I'll sit at the piano and I'll sing a bunch of songs and I think that's the main thing ... I still keep doing it, ya know.  Hopefully for another long time yet!   

kk:  And it's great to hear that you're still writing, too ... still coming up with new material.  A lot of artists give up on that so it's nice to hear that you're still writing new material, too.  
BC:  Yeah, I still write songs all the time.  I don't schlep them together ... if they come together quick, that's fine and if not, I move on to something else.  I haven't change my mode of operation too much since the early days ... since the '60's and '70's ... haven't really changed the way I create songs very much at all.  It's just that the world around me has changed.  I'm still a musician first and foremost ... I still spend ungodly amounts working on my library.  I've got almost a terabyte of music now ... almost 180,000 MP3's ... so I've built a world-class library of music and I spend a LOT of time doing that. Mostly listening to classic stuff.     

kk:  So who do you listen to?  Do you mostly listen to the older stuff or do you keep up with the current trends?  
BC:  I listen to EVERYTHING, really and truly ... I just finished compiling ALL of the stuff by David Crosby from when he was with The Byrds and without The Byrds ... I still listen to a lot of Fats Domino 'cause that really inspires me ... he was a huge influence when I was first starting out ... I just found a new remastering of "The Wall" ... the entire thing with a third bonus disc ... I'm listening to a lot of classic jazz.  I just watched that AMAZING documentary on Ginger Baker called "Beware Of Mr. Baker" ... phenomenal!  And that spurred me into going out and finding EVERYTHING by Cream ... everything that Cream had ever done.  I'm listening to Stan Getz, Val Waldren, to Paul Chambers and John Coltrane and David "Fathead" Newman ... a lot of jazz stuff ... a lot of early Ray Charles, before he was a star ... I listen to everything ... absolutely everything.  Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans ... just TONS of stuff ... I really am a music junkie.   

kk:  I've heard that you're quite a Bobby Darin fan.  We once did a month-long series on Bobby for the website that picked up the endorsement of his family and his fan club ... and doing that turned ME into quite a Bobby Darin fan, too.  I discovered so many things that he did beyond the hits that I was never fully aware of.  
BC:  HUGE Bobby Darin fan ... and he left us so young ... he was only 37 and look at the legacy he left.  He made about twenty five movies and God knows how many albums ... tremendous ... tremendous piano player, tremendous writer ... I mean he really knew how to swing with an orchestra.  He was incredible   And I listen to a lot of Georgie Fame, too. I like Georgie Fame very, very much. And he's still going ... and he rocks!  So I like a lot of the survivors ... the guys who are still going and have kept it going after all this while.   

kk:  And quite honestly this depth of variety and openness to exploring different musical styles has to have influenced you as a songwriter and a performer ... your library of songs, your writing style has taken on SO many different genres over the years that, as a listener, I love the fact that you kept yourself open to so many different influences because we as listeners were able to reap the benefit from that.  
BC:  I was lucky, VERY lucky to have been able to get with a guy like Bachman ... in '66 and '67 ... before we had the hit records, we were playing each other EVERYTHING.  Randy was the first one that turned me on to Georgie Fame and I got him more than mildly interested in The Doors.  We were "ying and yang" to each other ... ya know, he was religious and he had a wife and kids already ... and I was out doing acid with the crowd ... and yet we fed each others opposites ... and I think that's why it worked so well ... for a while anyway.  We were listening to everything and between the two of us, we had such eclectic tastes ... and he turned me on to a lot of early Bo Diddley stuff and I was listening to the west coast experimental band put together by Frank Zappa and then we kept playing each other all this stuff that each other hadn't heard and it was GREAT learning with a guy like Randy and that's why our stuff has stood up, I think, because it was influenced by so many different areas.  EVERY kind of music.  I was just at Amoeba Music the other day, the one in Hollywood, which was recently, by the way, voted online as the #1 Record Store in the World ... on Planet Earth ... and I was just there the other day and I found all kinds of imports from Japan with the OBI strips still on the sleeve and I'm finding stuff there all the time that I don't have in my collection, so it's still a matter of learning for me.  Still to this day, at age 65.   

kk:  And let's face it, there aren't that many record stores left these days!  
BC:  No, there really aren't ... and that's one of the things that makes Amoeba so great, because it's really got the LA market cornered now and you can find ANYTHING there.  If it's been released, you can pretty much find it there.  It's a great place for a collector.  I know a lot of traveling musicians that come to LA only a couple of times a year and the first place they go, if they're any kind of a collector, is to Amoeba Music.  
Click here: Amoeba Music | The World's Largest Independent Record Store   

More Burton Cummings tomorrow ... EXCLUSIVELY in Forgotten Hits.

But first ... 

Just a few of the musical styles Burton Cummings has explored over the years ... 

From the hard-rocking, almost Aerosmith-sounding "Heartbroken Bopper" (a #26 Hit in 1972) ...

... to the '20's / jazzy sound of "Your Nashville Sneakers" (from the same LP, "Rockin'") ...

... to some heart-wrenching country (convincing enought that it actually charted on Billboard's Country Chart back in 1979.)