When you think of Canadian rock legends The Guess Who, their hit “American Woman” may spring to mind, but their sound and history is drenched in British influence and humble beginnings playing roller rinks and school dances. The band was originally formed in Winnipeg as Al and the Silvertones in 1958, taking their name after the classic Silvertone guitar. Founding member, singer and guitarist Chad Allan evolved the band into the Reflections, the Expressions and finally, Chad Allan and the Expressions.
In 1965, with members Randy Bachman (lead guitar), Bob Ashley (piano), Jim Kale (bass) and Gary Peterson (drums), the group cut a Merseybeat inspired record, a cover of “Shakin’ All Over” originally performed by British rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. The promo single was released with only a white label and the words “Guess Who?” in order to give the illusion of being a British Invasion band. Radio stations held “name that band” contests and disc jockeys announced them as “Guess Who?” The name stuck, and the single sold over a million copies, charting #1 in Canada and #22 in the US. The 1965 album includes covers and original Beat tunes. It was released in Canada and the US under different labels with different track listings. The record pictured is an original Canadian release on Quality records, and has since been reissued on CD.
Allan’s unique tonal quality and Rickenbacker guitar complimented and contrasted Bachman’s signature Gretsch guitar, giving the group a driving sound perfect for their blend of cover tunes from the ’50s and ’60s. In Randy Bachman’s recent book, Vinyl Tap Stories, he reminisces about working for years mowing lawns and delivering papers to save $400 for a new guitar. In 1961, he bought an orange 6120 Gretsch Chet Atkins model, noting it wasn’t as shallow-sounding as a solid-body guitar, and how it had a beautiful mid-range twang – made famous in “Shakin’ All Over” (and later in BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”). Legend has it that on the original Johnny Kidd recording, the guitarist used a cigarette lighter to achieve the wavering sound before the chorus, but Bachman was able to use a Bigsby vibrato to the same effect.
The famous Gretsch was stolen from a hotel room in 1976, and was never recovered. Bachman thinks it may be in the possession of British pop band The Thompson Twins, having recognized it in one of their music videos. Chet Atkins sent him a similar model after hearing of its loss.
In 1966, Allan was replaced by Burton Cummings as lead singer, and the group continued to release top 40 singles, garnering international success as The Guess Who. Allan and Bachman joined forces again in 1971 in the rock group Brave Belt, which upon Allan’s departure morphed into Bachman-Turner Overdrive.