From The Vaults

When The Guess Who were TV stars

How a gig as the house band on a ‘teenaged rock n’ roll show’ helped turn the band’s career around

How a gig as the house band on a ‘teenaged rock n’ roll show’ helped turn the band’s career around

Star Machine: The Guess Who

3 years ago
10:04
In the late '60s, a failed attempt at a U.K. tour left the band in debt and in trouble. A chance to be the house band on a CBC teen dance show allowed them to reboot their career. 10:04

In 1967, The Guess Who found themselves with a surprise hit in the U.K. Their song "His Girl" had hit the British charts. They rushed to put together a U.K. tour, booking flights, and getting set up with a British promoter. The even bought new wardrobes.

Hundreds of local fans stood in the snow to see them off at the Winnipeg airport.

Terry David Mulligan, then a young upstart music journalist, came along to cover the story.

"'His Girl' was a hit there, a surprise hit for them," he says. "There was great excitement. So, I went over and back with them. I think I probably invited myself."

Unfortunately, their British tour wouldn't be the success they were hoping for. In fact, it wouldn't happen at all.

Their Canadian management had set them up with some on-the-ground representation to help them in the U.K. Unfortunately, their would-be British representation didn't have the band's best interests at heart.

We had all left school, you know, and we had taken the big gamble, and it looked like we had really blown it.- Burton Cummings

"He said we would be the next Beatles and we would get $400 a week," says Randy Bachman. "'Do you mean each?' And he said, 'No, it's 400 a week.' I said, 'What about the record royalties?' And he said, 'What don't you understand about 400 a week? You're in England, you have no gigs. I have all your gigs. Take this or leave it.' We just got up and walked out of his office. And we were waiting outside going, 'What are we gonna do now?' We have no gigs in England."

The band was despondent.

"Things looked just incredibly bad," says Burton Cummings. "Just worse than anybody could ever imagine. We had all left school, you know, and we had taken the big gamble, and it looked like we had really blown it."

Embarrassed and, more critically, thousands of dollars in the hole, the band returned to Winnipeg and started desperately looking for ways to get things back on track.

"We were scared, but what do you do when you owe money?" says Gary Peterson. "You go back to work and you pay the money off."

The Guess Who was suddenly available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and anything else you could think of. Fortunately, they got a crucial break in the form of a new CBC television show called Let's Go!

"I was first hired by the CBC in Winnipeg to try to make a teenaged rock 'n' roll show," says producer Larry Brown. "I had been told by everybody in Winnipeg that the best rock 'n' roll band in Winnipeg was The Guess Who."

In addition to letting them get out of debt, Let's Go! also helped raise the band's profile nationally. Suddenly, they were in demand all over the country.

"Being on TV was like, 'blam!' says Bachman. "We're getting calls from Toronto and Vancouver to go and play there 'cause suddenly, people there knew who we were. "

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