Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Former Guess Who friends now bitter enemies

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We met late last month, at the most opportune of moments for both of us.

Jim Kale was passing by my daughter's house in Norwood Flats with Jippy, his cat-sized Pomeranian chihuahua cross.

What I didn't know, when I went out to just say hello, was how much Kale wanted to talk to me right then.

I hadn't read the story, but just a few days earlier, Burton Cummings had used an interview about the release of a new solo album to gratuitously attack former Guess Who mates Kale and Garry Peterson for continuing to tour under the storied band name.

"What they've done to the name is a disgrace," Cummings said.

The comment, ironically, is a disgrace itself.

Kale is the last man still playing from the original band that gave birth to the Guess Who. He preceded Cummings, Peterson and Randy Bachman.

Plus he owns the Guess Who name.

It was immediately evident Kale had been stung by Cummings' comment, because he brought it up almost as soon as I asked how he was doing.

Cummings' big voice carries a long way, so I asked Kale if he wanted to have his say.

The following week, we met at his nearby house, the same one he's resided in for 34 years. It's no personal rock-'n'-roll shrine. There's no Guess Who memorabilia, no photos or gold records. What he had he gave to the St. Vital Museum. All Kale has to suggest his connection to the band is the guitar he plays when the band hits the road. And all he had to suggest about the decades-long feud with Cummings is a one-word Christmas-style sign that sits year-round on the bookcase.

"PEACE," it reads.

Oh, if it only could be so.

Once upon a rock-'n'-roll dream, Cummings and Kale spent five years together as roommates.

"Mostly because we both liked to drink," Kale says with his impish smile.

But the smile abruptly disappears.

"He used to go on about how he wanted to be friends when we were older."

They were destined to get older, but after Kale shrewdly registered the Guess Who name when Cummings left the band, they were also destined to be bitter enemies.

"If it were up to him," says the almost 70-year-old Kale of the nearly 65-year-old Cummings, "I'd be living at the Harbour Light."

"Cummings signed off on the name in 1977... and he hasn't stopped his pissing and moaning ever since. What the hell do you think I was going to do, start a scrapbook? Here I was with a whopping Grade 10 education and I don't have a trade and I'm too old for a paper route. I gotta make a living.

"He launched a solo career, I spent the next 20 years in the back of a van."

Over the years there have been reunions under the Guess Who banner -- including one that Kale was paid for, but didn't play in -- and in 2005, Cummings and Bachman launched a court action to take back the name, but to no apparent end. And then, as Canada Post was preparing to reunite the original Guess Who on a stamp, Cummings shoots off his big mouth again.

"That really got to me," Kale says.

Kale says if Cummings and Bachman really want the Guess Who name back, all they have to do is pay him and his partner Peterson.

But pay them big.

He knows that's not going to happen, so he'll keep on playing.

"I'll have a band of trained monkeys out there just to piss him off. I'm prepared to be that petty... I'm really, really sick of it. I'd love to take the high road, but I'm not going to. I'm his karma."

I ask Kale what he would say to Cummings if he were sitting there with us. He hesitates, not sure what he'd say to a man he never wants to talk to again, and then he says this: "I might ask him why?"


-- -- --

I sensed there was something unfinished about our first interview so this week I returned and the topic turned to another tortured relationship with another man. Kale's abusive, alcoholic father died 45 years ago while the Guess Who were on their ill-fated tour of England. Kale missed his father's funeral.

"No closure," he says.

Then Kale went deeper.

"There are some days when I'd like to dig him up and kick the s out of him. And there are some days when I'd like to dig him up and talk to him. He was vicious and he was cruel and that's how he treated my mother and I."

I ask Kale what he would say to his father if he were there with us.

This time Jim Kale didn't hesitate.

"Why? And why not?"

No wonder what Cummings said stings so much. No wonder the endless feuding hurts so deeply.

No closure.

Are you listening, Burton?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 B1


Updated on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 8:24 AM CST: replaces photo

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