Named “the greatest band in Canadian history” by The Toronto Star, The Guess Who emerged out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1965 and went on to international success through the next decade. Their legacy, however, continues to this day.
Then known as Chad Allen & the Expressions, they had a number of small regional hits until their then label, Quality Records, released their cover of British artist Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” in 1965 under the moniker “Guess Who?” as a marketing ploy to get the band played on Canadian radio. (Canadian DJs virtually ignored Canadian bands at the time.) The name stuck and The Expressions were effectively forced to change their name to The Guess Who?, although the question mark was dropped soon after.
A stint performing music on the CBC TV show Where It’s At in 1968 led the band to meet producer Jack Richardson who mortgaged his home to finance the recording of Wheatfield Soul (1969). That album contained “These Eyes,” which would go on to top the Canadian singles chart and reach #6 in the U.S. It would also become the band’s first million-seller. Despite being encouraged to move to Los Angeles, the band decided to stay in Winnipeg, proving that Canadian bands didn’t have to leave Canada to find success.
American Woman (1970) was a smash success, with the title track topping the American singles chart for three weeks and becoming the band’s biggest career hit. Among the kudos The Guess Who earned in this period was an invitation to perform at the White House, albeit with the caveat not to perform “American Woman,” which was rightly regarded as social commentary.
American Woman would prove to be the last Guess Who studio album to feature co-founder Randy Bachman who left after converting to Mormonism. Bachman would go on to form the band Brave Belt and then Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the latter perhaps best known for the 1974 hit “Takin’ Care of Business.” Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings recruited guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw to replace Bachman.
Under Cummings’ leadership The Guess Who would continue, with various lineup changes, until 1975. Cummings would disband the group after the release of the Power in the Music album, and move to Los Angeles to start a solo career. Bassist Jim Kale, who owned registration of the Guess Who name, would continue to record and perform as The Guess Who, albeit to less commercial success.
The original lineup has reunited at various times over the years. In 1983, Bachman, Cummings, Kale and drummer Garry Peterson (the “American Woman” lineup) got together for various Canadian gigs, captured on the live album Together Again. Another reunion occurred in 1999 when the band performed at the closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg at the personal request of Manitoba’s premiere. That led to the successful Runnin’ Back Through Canada Tour in 2000.
Various honours have accrued to The Guess Who in the years since their initial breakup. In 1987 they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and in 2001 they were given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Canada Post even issued a Guess Who stamp in 2013.
Third single, “These Eyes,” tops the Canadian charts
“American Woman” topped the US charts for three weeks in May 1970
Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987
Given the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2002 for Lifetime Artistic Achievement
Canada Post issued a Guess Who stamp