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Ultimate Guess Who reunion highly unlikely

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Winnipeggers wore Juno Awards weekend as if we had received the best award of all.

Which we did, in a way.

I haven't seen our beleaguered "Disaster City" this proud of itself -- or mentioned so affectionately and so often on the national stage -- since the return of the Jets.

But the proudest Winnipeggers of all had to be Randy Bachman, Fred Turner and the rest of the boys in Bachman-Turner Overdrive, inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame here in the city where they began.

Actually, the only place I've sensed Bachman being prouder of his roots is in his latest book, Tales Beyond The Tap, which he was autographing Saturday at McNally Robinson. It's a memoir of sorts, structured around 20 questions posed by Free Press contributor and Bachman pal John Einarson, each set at the beginning of a chapter. I was captivated. Especially by what Bachman revealed about his pride in his late father, his single-mindedness about wanting to be a musician and the way parts of the book overflow with his obvious affection for our city.

Inevitably, it also includes the other stuff. What Bachman refers to as "the sad legacy of the Guess Who... the residue of bitterness and recrimination."

I had reason to expect that and more from the book. In November 2012, I received an email from Bachman. He had been in town to see Neil Young and the Sadies perform. Coincidentally, that weekend, I had written a column about his former bandmate, Jim Kale, who owned the right to the Guess Who name, and Kale's venom-dipped relationship with Burton Cummings. In his email to me nearly a year and a half ago, Bachman alluded to his own unresolved issue with Cummings and suggested someone should write a book that exposed it.

It now appears Bachman did it himself. Or at least a one-chapter version of the sticking point that, over the years, Bachman says has cost him millions of dollars in royalties. And sleep.

The chapter explaining why is set up with this question: "Your relationship with Burton Cummings has been a roller-coaster. Will you ever work with him again?"

Bachman goes on to relate the story in sometimes anguished tones, starting in 1968 when Bachman and Cummings agreed to a deal that gave their publishing rights to their producer's production company, which essentially amounted to 50 per cent of whatever the songs they wrote earned. The other 50 per cent -- the writing royalties -- went to Bachman and Cummings. But the production company also received half the record royalties, which meant they were taking 75 per cent of total song earnings.

Then, around 1980, the production company's rights became available because of a bankruptcy. By chance, Cummings found out first. And, as Bachman writes: "Burton wasted no time in contacting his lawyer in L.A., Abe Somer, who brokered the deal for Burton to acquire all the Guess Who songs, from These Eyes onward. All the songs, including the ones I wrote alone or with Burton, now came under the control of Shillelagh Music, Burton's publishing company."

The bottom line?

Cummings receives 75 cents of every dollar the songs earn; Bachman gets 25 cents. During the years, the tours and the Guess Who's induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Bachman kept quiet and collected his cheques.

He also sued over the perceived wrong and lost.

"He was a kid when I invited him into the band," Bachman writes. "I was his big brother, picking him up for gigs and bringing him home as his mother insisted. I taught him about publishing and shared everything equally with him in our little publishing company. Then having him grab it all and not tell anybody was hurtful. He needs to fix it."

Bachman also writes about wanting to do a Guess Who reunion next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first hit, Shakin' All Over. Of course, for the ultimate Guess Who reunion, Bachman would need to reunite with Cummings.

"I still want to celebrate the songs," Bachman says in the book, "but I'm not going to do so with him unless he rights the wrong between us."

When he contacted me nearly a year and a half ago, Bachman wanted someone to write a book about all this in hopes it would "shame" Cummings "into making things right." Evidently, that's what he's trying to do in his own book. But Burton Cummings is not about to be shamed. Which, if Bachman remains true to his promise, means he and Cummings will never perform together again.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2014 B1

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