He made his name with his decade of work in The Guess Who, but Burton Cummings’ career did not end with the disbanding of that beloved Canadian act. Far from it. Instead, the native Winnipegger embarked on a solo career that has brought him many accolades, including his 2016 solo induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Cummings was born on New Year’s Eve, 1947, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His mother Rhoda raised Burton, who never knew his father, in his grandparents’ home. Cummings quit school at age 16, two years after joining popular local garage band The Deverons. At age 18, in 1965, he would be asked to join The Guess Who.
That band’s success was slow but steady, arguably peaking in 1970 with the release of the American Woman album, which included the chart-topping title track. Cummings’ primary songwriting partner, Randy Bachman, left the band shortly after, leaving him as The Guess Who’s de facto leader.
Cummings would go through a number of guitar players in the next few years and churn out modestly-successful singles such as “Clap for the Wolfman,” “Share the Land” and “Albert Flasher” before pulling the plug on the band in 1975.
Cummings’ solo career started strong. His self-titled solo album, released in the fall of 1976, yielded the hits, “Stand Tall” (which peaked at #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart) and “I’m Scared” and earned him two JUNO awards, for both Male Vocalist of the Year and Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year. (A JUNO favourite, Cummings would go on to host the show four times over the course of the next few years.)
A move to Los Angeles in 1977 yielded his second album, My Own Way to Rock, and 1978’s Dream Child. The latter won him the 1979 JUNO for Best Selling Album.
Cummings also made a foray into acting in the ‘80s, playing a washed-up rock star in the 1982 film Melanie. He won a Genie for Best Original Song (“You Saved My Soul”).
The year 1983 saw the first reunion by The Guess Who. Dubbed “The Twilight Zone Tour,” Cummings, Bachman, Garry Peterson and Jim Kale played a number of dates across Canada, releasing the live album Together Again to mark the occasion. (The band, in various configurations, would occasionally reunite through the years, most notably in 1999 for the “Runnin’ Back through Canada” tour.)
Cummings’ next solo album, Heart, was released in 1984 and it would be six years before he surfaced again with 1990’s Plus Signs. Cummings would not release another solo studio album until 2008’s Above the Ground, his first album of all-original material. His live record Up Close and Personal also made a stir upon its release in 1996.
Cummings would collaborate with Bachman again in 2006. With Jim Kale retaining ownership of The Guess Who name, Bachman-Cummings recorded the TV special First Time Around for the CBC and released Jukebox, a covers album of songs influential on their songwriting partnership, in 2007.
Cummings has received many awards and acknowledgments throughout his career, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Guess Who. His solo recognitions include three JUNOs, an appointment to the Order of Manitoba, having the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts named in his honour, a solo star on Canada’s Walk of Fame (2011), and an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2005).
Burton Cummings continues to perform regularly.
Awarded Best Selling Album JUNO in 1979 for Dream of a Child
Appointed to the Order of Manitoba
The Guess Who reunites for “SARSstock” in Toronto
Reunites with Randy Bachman for a CBC special
Given a solo star on Canada’s Walk of Fame
Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame