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Burton Cummings Stands Tall

Updated: May 9




Burton Cummings

Stands Tall

by Ken Sharp


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.


We recently spoke to Cummings for the lowdown on over four decades of music making.


The tour has been receiving rave reviews.


The Carpet 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 records.



When you 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, burtoncummings.net.



You’ve been 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 always makes me my best. 



“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… 


“Star Baby” 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. 



I’ve heard you’re working on a book of poetry. 


That’s right. It should be 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 Keats. 



Will that 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 from 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 going to make money on recordings anymore like we used to. 


Despite your success I get the sense you still love writing and performing music.

 

I’ve never 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 monstrous collection.


For more info on Burton, his recordings, tour and new book, dial up his web site, www.burtoncummings.net


Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 15, 2011.


Photo Credits:

#1 © 2012 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2012 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2012 Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.



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