Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Guess Who
The other day my sister brought home one of her friends from the fast-food place where she works. Betty is her name, and she and my sister went out in the back yard to get some sun. I really like the way Betty wears a bikini, and I really like her taste in music: while they were out in the sun I “borrowed” one of Betty’s albums that she brought over, Road Food by the Guess Who.
The Guess Who are those Canadian boys who had all the hits back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. You know, “Share the Land,” “Undun,” “No Time” and of course, “American Woman.” They were not so well known for their albums, but I don’t know why. There’s a lot of good stuff on Road Food, which is from 1974. The Guess Who had been goin’ for a while, since the early 1960s, and had a handful of hits by the early 1970s. Keyboardist Burton Cummings, who sang on most of these, had actually joined the band after original lead singers Chad Allan and Bob Ashley left. Cummings wrote most of those late 60s-early 70s hits with guitarist Randy Bachman, but by the time of Road Food Bachman had left (to start Bachman-Turner Overdrive) and was replaced by guitarist Kurt Winter.
This album was supposed to be some sort of concept piece – about life on the road – but the songs, written by Cummings and Winter, fly off into the ozone and don’t much stick with the theme. A couple of songs were hits, including “Star Baby” and “Clap For the Wolfman,” the latter featuring a cameo by Wolfman Jack. “Clap” went all the way to No. 6 and was the Guess Who’s last chart hit. The album is short (nine songs) but there are a couple of Guess Who-style deep tracks that are pretty good: “Attila’s Blues,” the country-rock-ish “Pleasin’ For Reason” and the title song.
The concept isn’t helped by the fact that the record label confused the LP’s Side One and Side Two when they mastered the CD for Road Food; the last four songs on the LP become the first four songs on the CD. Anyway, the seven-minute epic “Ballad Of The Last Five Years” covers a lot of ground, going from bluesy to jazzy behind Cummings’ pounding piano and his smooth voice. The strings make this song sound, to me, kind of like an Elton John tune.
After this album, Winter left the band and the Guess Who rapidly disintegrated. Cummings went on to a successful solo career and Bachman didn’t look back either – original bass player Jim Kale now owns the Guess Who name and tours with a band that includes original drummer Garry Peterson. They have had occasional full one-shot reunions (mostly in Canada) but nobody will ever recapture the magic that this band had back in the early 1970s.
Talk to a Guess Who fan (if you can find one) and a lot of ’em will say Road Food is their favorite album. Others will go with So Long, Bannatyne (1971) or Rockin’ (1972). Whenever I need a Guess Who fix, I always pull out Road Food – it may not be nutritious, but it’s oh so good.