Every summer, music fans — some from as far away as Germany — come to Winnipeg to get up close to this city’s incredible music lore. They want to see where musicians such as Neil Young, Terry Jacks, Bob Nolan, Crash Test Dummies, Oscar Brand, Lenny Breau, The Guess Who, BTO, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman lived, played and developed their sound.
Not surprisingly, it’s the latter two who draw much of the interest, largely because they retain close emotional ties to Winnipeg. Even though they no longer reside here, Cummings and Bachman never fail to acknowledge their hometown.
Much of the visitors’ time is spent in the North End simply because this part of the city produced so many talented entertainers. One stop is at 152 Bannerman Avenue, Burton Cummings’ childhood home. Although born on Lansdowne, Burton and his mother, Rhoda, came to live in this house with his grandparents, the Kirkpatricks, around 1950. This is the spot where his music career began with piano lessons and where the songwriting partnership of Bachman & Cummings developed. It’s also where the Guess Who’s first million-selling single, These Eyes, was written. Many of the songs on the band’s first three RCA albums — including No Time, another million-seller — were composed in the living room of this modest 1½ storey home.
"I would come over to Burton’s house at eleven on Saturday mornings," recalls Randy Bachman, "carrying my notebook filled with song ideas jotted down throughout the week. We would work at the piano in Burton’s front room, putting our ideas together crafting songs. At two in the afternoon, Granny Kirkpatrick would bring us cookies and 7-Up and we would be done by four, go outside and enjoy the sun, play our latest efforts on guitar, bid farewell to each other, and I would go home. A few hours later I would pick him up for the gig that night."
One of the song ideas Randy brought to the house was a chord pattern he had composed on his future wife Lorayne Stevenson’s piano while waiting for her to be ready for a date. All he had were the words, "These arms long to hold you."
"Burton suggested it start with eyes, then go to arms in the next line, and he was correct," Randy acknowledges. "It made more sense. As we worked on the song further he suddenly came up with that long line, ‘These eyes have seen a lot of loves but they’re never gonna see another one like I had with you’ and it fit perfectly." In no more than half an hour in the living room of that house the two completed the song that would forever change their lives.
Incidentally, at the corner of Bannerman and Main you’ll find Mid-Canada Mechanical Electrical, but in the ’60s and ’70s this was the location of Sportsman’s Billiards. Recalls friend Irv Applebaum, "Burton was just a kid playing pinball all the time and he used to drive me crazy with all the noise from the pinball machines when I was trying to play pool." In 1977, when Burton moved to more luxurious digs in Los Angeles, he purchased his seven favourite pinball machines from Sportsman’s and had them installed in his L.A. home.
Across Main Street from Mid-Canada Mechanical Electrical, there’s a small parking lot with a mural celebrating the Guess Who, one of three such murals in the city, painted by students from Burton’s former alma mater, St. John’s High School, as well as from Marymound School.
A couple of blocks north of Bannerman sits a bungalow at 160 Luxton Avenue, where Randy Bachman and his wife Lorayne lived after marrying in 1966. They would remain there until the big Guess Who royalty cheques started arriving, then move to a more spacious two-storey abode at 199 Scotia Street (where Randy assembled the future Bachman-Turner Overdrive). The Guess Who often rehearsed in the basement of Randy’s Luxton home and at one of those rehearsals in 1969, he played the others a new composition of his entitled White Collar Worker. It began with the lines, "You get up every morning from your alarm clock’s warning, take the 8:15 into the city" and told the tale of workers commuting to and from work in New York and comparing their lives to that of a musician: "We love to work at nothing all day." The other three Guess Who band members were unanimous in their rejection of that song. Never one to waste an idea, three years later Randy resurrected those same lyrics and added a new chorus and title, Takin’ Care Of Business. But its genesis came in that North End house.
There’s plenty of fascinating musical history to discover in our city. Too bad we don’t have a Manitoba Music Hall of Fame or a program of historic plaques to commemorate it. Both are long overdue.
For information on John Einarson’s Magical Musical History Tour, go to heartlandtravel.ca.