As a songwriter, I can’t think of anything more restricting than to be classified as only writing for one genre. Whether it be Blues, Folk , Pop, Alt. Pop, Latin, Jazz etc. etc. etc.. That is far too limiting. If I happen to write something with a Bossa Nova feel to it … wonderful! If I happen to write a tune with a Heavy Metal attack and power chords… equally wonderful!
I remember attending a life changing concert in August of 1971. My friend, Tony DiPasquale, had called me up to say that he had an extra ticket for a concert by The Guess Who down at the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand and would I like to go. I really wasn’t that interested in attending as I had seen them briefly at “Time Being” down at the Ex a few years earlier and they didn’t do anything for me. At that time, however, they’d had only minimal radio airplay with “Shakin’ All Over” which they didn’t play when I was there. Perhaps with their new Lead Singer (Burton Cummings) they were trying to separate themselves from their past. Also, I thought their name “The Guess Who” was too similar to the British band “The Who” which I preferred.
I remember Tony, who was a great friend, really working on me to take that extra ticket off his hands and I eventually caved and agreed to go. Well, I was shocked on so many levels by what I saw and heard. I saw five guys come out on stage dressed, not like superstars, but just average young men in blue jeans and T-shirts. I remember them starting with “Bus Rider” and because we were so far away from the stage I couldn’t really see who was singing. Burton was playing the piano with his back turned away from our view so I wasn’t sure who was doing the lead voice. I hadn’t really been paying close attention to AM Radio by the late 60’s, although I was aware of the songs just not the artists, because by that time I was listening to more album oriented rock like Led Zeppelin, Country Joe and The Fish, Janis Joplin and, of course, The Beatles. So, as we sat there I realized that I recognized all of their songs. I just hadn’t been aware that it was THIS band that had produced all of these magnificent songs! Hit after hit after hit unfolded. From “Laughing” to “Undun” through “Share The Land” and “Hang On To Your Life.” “These Eyes,” “Rain Dance” and “American Woman.” It was an unbelievable show performed by a Canadian band. Up until this point I never thought a Canadian band could do something like that because no Canadian band had ever done it before. (O.K. I am aware that Carmen Lombardo wrote songs for his brother Guy’s big band and that Paul Anka wrote his own material but these guys seemed more home grown. They had recorded in the states but still lived here.) Write their own songs, play their own songs and not appear packaged like some commercial product line. Most bands you saw on television had the appearance of a groomed show. Perhaps it was because they were mostly playing along to pre-recorded tracks. Even The Guess Who themselves had that choreographed look about them when they were on the television show “Let’s Go.” The Guess Who’s performance that night in August was almost a deliberate attempt to be opposite of anything like that. Burton Cummings had, at that time, arguably, the best male voice in popular music. He could be as sweet as any of the balladeers, had a range that operatic tenor voices would envy, (singing up to the C# above high C in These Eyes) and could rock out with the right amounts of grit, grime and guttural noises. With the exception of Paul McCartney I haven’t heard of anyone who can do it that well. They usually can do one, or two of these categories but fail in the third.
The rest of the band Kurt Winter, Greg Leskiw, Jim Kale and Garry Peterson all sang back up with precision like harmonies and played their parts instrumentally to perfection.
Tony and I raced down from high up in the last section to get closer to the stage. To see these Canadian kids in their early twenties, without any stage clothing per se, no slick show of one liners, performing hits I was familiar with all evening long and witnessing the reaction of the crowd signaled to me that this music thing could be a reality for me.