Canada’s Best Rock ‘n Roll Band
Winnipeg was the rock ’n roll capital of Canada in the sixties, and of course, The Guess Who was the best. Long before Justin Beiber, The Guess Who hit number one on the U.S. Billboard charts – in fact, it was May 8th, 1970 when “American Woman” became the first record written, performed and produced by Canadians to be number one. Sales of the single exceeded two and half million copies world-wide. Billboard tracks record sales around the world and is generally seen as the measuring stick for rock ‘n roll success. “American Woman” gave The Guess Who the right to be recognized as the best rock band in the world – at least for that week when it topped the charts!
The stories about American Woman’s origins abound. In fact, it grew from an on-stage jam session. Guitar player extraordinaire Randy Bachman had broken a string, so the rest of the band including Burton Cummings, the keyboard player with the amazing voice, base player Jim Kale, and drummer Garry Peterson all left the stage. Once he had his string replaced, Randy started playing the now-familiar riff – dum dum de-de-de-de-de de dum to get the rest of the guys back on the stage. They rest joined in and they all started jamming, unrehearsed. Burton, so glad to be back in Canada where he said the girls were “fresh-faced”, sang “American Woman, get away from me”. Then they moved on with the rest of their set.
After the show, a teenager in the audience gave them a cassette recording of the jam session, and Burton and Randy knew the song could be a hit. But would American girls buy a record that told them to get away?
That’s where the spin came in. Lyrics were added to make “American Woman” into a protest song. The Guess Who was just back from an American tour: they had seen the inner city ghettos and the damage done in race riots. They had heard the anti-Viet Nam war demonstrations. Thus their riff and jam session became a very popular political statement in the U.S. and a huge hit for these Canadian boys.
Back in the late sixties and early seventies, I was a big fan of The Guess Who. Burton Cummings was my Justin Beiber, and I have been researching the phenomenon that was The Guess Who. If anyone has any stories about The Guess Who’s place in Canadian entertainment history, please share it here, or contact me through the comment section.