Sunday, September 27, 2015

Share The Music: The Hugh's Room Tribute to The Guess Who

A week ago Friday, my friend Michael Wrycraft, designer (of album cover art) extraordinaire, organized another of his infamous tribute shows. The venue? Hugh’s Room, one of the best sounding clubs in Toronto. The performers? We’ll get to them in a moment. The people being paid tribute? Canadian all–stars The Guess Who: Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Jim Kale and Garry Peterson. They’re the originals, the four guys who stormed out of Winnipeg playing rock’n’roll with a decidedly Canadian flavour. Sure their first big song was a cover version of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates' hit “Shakin’ All Over,” but we Canadians didn’t know that. We didn’t even know who this band that had captured the airwaves was. The label just said “Guess Who?” Little did we know it was a way to introduce Chad Allan & the Expressions. So the label added the definite article and the band was born. Chad Allan left, replaced by pianist/lead singer Burton Cummings and the rest is history. Hit after hit, The Guess Who dominated the Canadian charts for years. They survived the loss of Randy Bachman, his replacement[s] Greg Leskiw, Kurt Winter, and eventually Dominic Troiano and their legend survives reunion concerts, and artificial bands touring in their name. Why? It’s all because of the songs.

Friday night Mister Bachman’s contributions were downplayed to celebrate the songwriting prowess of Mr. Cummings. Truth be told the town gents co-wrote some of their best early material, but sometimes truth needs to be simplified. The Guess Who is one of Wrycraft’s favourite bands, their Greatest Hits LP was the first record Michael owned. And the Greatest Hits is essentially what we heard that night. The trouble with celebrating a band from the 60s and 70s – even the 80s – in 2015 is that the younger performers are not familiar with the songs. So there was a bit of stumbling over lyrics that to aged fans like myself were embedded in our grey cells. However, for the most part they got the music exactly right.

The evening started with a cold brew, and the chicken pan pesto, but at 8:30 guest host Arlene Bishop stepped onto the stage and played a welcome recording by our real host A Man Called Wrycraft. He spoke of his passion for the band from the ‘Peg and then the music started with Sam Taylor and the East End Love rocking away with “No Sugar Tonight-New Mother Nature” and “Guns, Guns, Guns.” The first was an early collaboration by Cummings and Bachman making one song out of two that happened to be in the same key. It worked when the Guess Who did it, and it worked beautifully when replicated by Sam Taylor and his band. Great harmonies, counterpoint and tasty guitar solos. On “Guns, Guns, Guns” (a later solo Cummings composition) they heard the first feedback from the audience. Everyone was singing the chorus. Next up was Fawn Fritzen and Daniel Janke, a jazz duo from the Yukon. They did “No Time” and “American Woman.” The jazzification worked better conceptually than musically, for me. “American Woman” is a guitar song created live on stage while Bachman changed a broken string and although Janke transposed the guitar solo virtually note-for-note to the keyboard, it simply didn’t have the power it could have. I’d like to hear what Ms Fritzen can do in her own element sometime, as she has the vocal chops. Dave Matheson, ex-Moxy Fruvous, was the next performer. He played solo piano renditions of “Sour Suite” and “Albert Flasher” on which he was joined by Andy Stochansky (who would appear by himself in the second half) on drums. The first half ended with a bizarre but compelling banjo/fiddle duet on “Hand Me Down World” and “Running Back to Saskatoon.” Tim Posgate and William Lamoureux really provided the highlight with this unexpected combination.

Cindy Doire (Scarlett Jane) playing bass with Darcy Windover.

After a twenty minute break, wherein we could visit the merch table and shop to our heart’s content, Arlene Bishop called us back to attention for part two. The Cocksure Lads for rocking versions of “Star Baby” and “Bus Rider.” With the addition of Dave Matheson, who will never receive a Cocksure Lads jacket, we were treated to 3/4s of Moxy Fruvous. Then Andy Stochansky joined to take the lead on “Undun” accompanied by the Lads. They left him alone at the piano for his second number, a melancholy “These Eyes.” Chris Staig (guitar) was then joined by Shelley Coopersmith (violin) to duet on “Clap For the Wolfman” and “Shakin’ All Over.” The vibrato of Ms Coopersmith’s violin added a perfect touch to The Guess Who’s first big hit! Then it was all pulled together by Darcy Windover & Friends with a stunning “Laughing.” Everyone piled back on the stage, and the audience was encouraged to sing along on a joyous version of “Share the Land”. It was a fun evening. Sure there were forgotten lyrics, and flubbed notes, but Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and the rest of the boys were paid their due by this talented aggregation of musicians. Thanks Michael for organizing it, hope to see you at your 10th annual Tom Waits show in November!

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.

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