As the voice
behind some of the ‘70s biggest hits, Burton Cummings of the Guess
Who is a bona fide rock legend. Now 63, Cummings is not
content to be resting on his laurels. Augmented by the power pop
band the Carpet Frogs, Cummings has embarked on a US solo tour.
Still at the top of his game, Cummings’ magnificent voice and
impeccable artistry are coupled with a dynamic set list jam packed
with timeless hits numbering Guess Who classics like “American
Woman,” No Sugar Tonight.” “No Time,” “These Eyes,” “Hand Me Down
World,” “Laughing,” “Undun”, Clap for the Wolfman” and “Star Baby,”
along with solo gems like “Stand Tall.”
This amazing songbook makes the shows a can’t-miss performance.
spoke to Cummings for the lowdown on over four decades of music
The tour has
been receiving rave reviews.
Frogs are a tremendous band. I’ve been working with them on and off
for ten years. They’re a cover band so they always sound like the
records that they’re performing, so that serves me very well when we
do Guess Who songs and my solo stuff. We always sound just like the
perform, you have the great luxury of having penned so many hits.
How do you narrow down your set list?
We do almost
the same show every night but always throw in a few songs to vary it
a bit – depending upon the length of the set. The show doesn’t vary
that much because I know why people are coming. We do all the Guess
Who hits, the stuff that people want to hear. We’ve done two shows
thus far since my reentry into the States and the response has been
overwhelming. Standing ovations all night. I was a little
overwhelmed. I think it’s because the fake Guess Who band has been
touring the States for so long. All of a sudden the real guy is back
singing the tunes that he wrote, played on and arranged and the real
fans know the difference. I sound the same as before. We just did 21
or 22 shows in 30 cities in Canada and most of those songs are up in
my own YouTube channel. You can also check most of these videos out
on my site,
performing for many years, how do you keep it fresh?
It comes down
to the fact that I like performing. I like being onstage. Who
wouldn’t like thousands of people cheering for them? (laughs)
I’ve been in band situations since I’ve been 14 and I’m 63 now.
That’s a long time. I’ve been in the business for almost 50 years.
I’ve always enjoyed the two hours onstage except when you’re sick or
have a cold. Now at this age, the other 22 hours of the day are
getting a little tougher, and the traveling is tougher but I still
very much enjoy it. I don’t have to try to keep it fresh, it is
fresh. I have so many hit records that when the audience hears the
first three notes then the applause starts and that just triggers
some kind of adrenaline response in me that makes me always of my
“Star Baby” is
a Guess Who song that you’re performing in your current show. And
while it wasn’t a huge hit, it stands among the group’s best work.
was on the Billboard charts for over six months. But it
happened regionally, it didn’t hit nationally. It spent 32 weeks on
the Billboard charts, which is a ridiculous amount of time.
It was on the chart more than any of my other records. But it never
made it past #30 on Billboard but because of the regional
success it stayed hovering around #30 for six months. My God, that’s
two careers nowadays. (laughs) People are up bopping and
dancing when we do that one. One of our roadies was having an affair
with Bonnie Bramlett [from the rock group Delaney
and Bonnie], who was opening for us way back in the ‘70s.
When I wrote it I was trying to see Bonnie through our roadie’s eyes
and what he might say to her. It was finished really quickly. I
wrote that in about 20 minutes.
heard you’re working on a book of poetry.
It should out before the end of this year. It’s called “The Writings
of B. L. Cummings.” It’s stuff that I’ve written in the last three
years. I have over 100 poems now but I’m only putting about 50 of
them in the first book. I’ve picked what I think are the best ones.
A lot of them are up on
Burtoncummings.net. I’ve had tremendous praise, even from
English professors and literary teachers in college. They’ve read
some of them on my blog and said, “My God, you’re a really gifted
writer.” Some of it is blank verses; some of it is limerick style. I
read a lot of the greats online like Kipling or Edgar Allen Poe or
newfound interest in writing poems impact on the manner in which you
shape your lyrics for your next album?
I have enough
songs ready for another album. My last album, Above the Ground,
came out about a year and a half ago in the States and it met with
tremendous critical acclaim. But nobody’s selling a lot of records
anymore in the industry. There are only a few people really selling
a lot of records, people like Lady Gaga or Snoop Dogg. Even The
Eagles, who are the American Beatles, aren’t selling a lot of
records anymore. The genie’s out of the bottle as far as stealing
music and downloading. To an extent it has turned around a little
but because everybody’s got 99 cents to buy a track form iTunes. In
the old days if 100 fans liked your album 100 fans would go and buy
it. Today if 100 fans like it one guy will buy it and make 99 dupes
for his friends. There’s more control for artists now but there’s a
lot less money. I’ve never been driven by money. I knew very young
that if the music was good enough the money would be a tributary of
that. So I never really chased money. But the thing is it’s much,
much tougher financially. Unless they can go out and play live,
you’re not gonna make money on recordings anymore like we used to.
success I get the sense you still love writing and performing music.
taken it for granted. I’ve been very, very lucky. I say this onstage
every night; all you’ve got to do is watch CNN for five minutes and
realize how lucky you are. In terms of performing, I always told
myself if it ever got lame I’d be the first one to quit. We’ve done
two shows thus far. Both nights the response was overwhelming to me.
I wasn’t quite prepared for that. In some ways the fake Guess Who
out there has paved the wave for me to make my reentry. And above
all, not only am I a recording artist and a performer I’m still a
huge fan of music. I have 128,000 MP3s in my collection. It’s a