Guess Who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
That’s a statement, not a question. Winnipeg’s other big-name rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a.k.a. BTO, should be there, too.
So why haven’t the Guess Who and BTO been invited to take their places in the Cleveland-based shrine to the icons of popular music?
That’s the bigger question with the more complex answer.
The one that occurred to me late last summer while thinking about the Magical Musical History Tour that takes fans from all over the world for drives by the homes and haunts of some of Winnipeg’s world famous rockers — Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings and, of course, rock-hall member Neil Young. And stops at the Pembina and Stafford Salisbury House to "ooh and aah" at the local rock memorabilia on display.
So I contacted local rock historian John Einarson and asked why the Guess Who — the band fronted by Cummings and driven by Bachman — and BTO, the hard-rocking quartet Bachman formed with Fred Turner — haven’t been honoured by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
"Sometimes I write better than I speak," Einarson began.
And with that he answered my question with a series of emails taken from his own past reflections on the subject, backed by other authorities plucked from liner notes and books.
But maybe before Einarson explains why they haven’t been inducted, we should hear the case for why they deserve to be.
Einarson turned first to Rolling Stone magazine which, at the height of the "maverick" bands’ success, wrote the Canadians "had few equals among contemporary North American groups."
Billboard magazine correspondent Larry LeBlanc had this to say: "There really wasn’t another group on a national level in Canada like the Guess Who. All the other bands across the country were regional. The Guess Who became big nationally. There was no other national band. Modern day Canadian rock music began with the Guess Who and they did it from Canada."
By the 1970s, Einarson added, the Guess Who had sold more records than the entire Canadian music industry combined.
The case for BTO belonging in the hall is even stronger.
"In the mid ’70s there was no one bigger than Bachman-Turner Overdrive," Einarson said. "Over a mere four-year span they earned a staggering 120 platinum, gold and silver discs, notching up hits in over 20 countries."
They topped both the Billboard singles and album charts and placed a half dozen more songs in the Top 50. Takin’ Care of Business, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Let It Ride, Roll On Down the Highway, Hey You, Blue Collar, Not Fragile, Four Wheel Drive, Looking Out For Number One and My Wheels Won’t Turn.
"All classic rock anthems from Bachman and Turner."
On reflection, Charlie Fach, who as head of Mercury Records signed BTO in 1972, said this of the group’s impact: "Their success was worldwide. They were so big, at one point when BTO had a new album coming out the German and British companies sent people over to New York to pick up the masters and take them back and press the albums over there. They couldn’t wait to get the albums out. BTO sold in Europe, the U.K., Japan, South Africa."
At the band’s peak, BTO headlined the largest venues in the rock music world including Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The CNE in Toronto had to add seating.
"And let’s not forget," Einarson added, "they were the first Canadian band to appear on The Simpsons."
So, again, why hasn’t the hall door opened for BTO, if not the Guess Who?
Because, according to Einarson, nominations aren’t based on record sales.
"Instead, it’s based on the artist’s impact on rock music: were they innovative, did they pioneer a new sound, style or genre, how creative and unique were they?"
Einarson believes that across the border in the U.S., neither group, but especially the Guess Who, is regarded as groundbreakers the way they are in Canada. They are considered mere Top 40 pop bands with a few commercial hit records; in the same league as Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Grass Roots, the Turtles or Paul Revere & the Raiders.
"That is the sad reality which prevents these two bands from being regarded as serious contenders for inclusion in the hall."
There are other rock industry realities in the way, though.
"The nomination and induction process for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," Einarson pointed out, "is very much a music industry insider affair."
Einarson said the members of the voting committee are made up of musicians, music business executives and music scribes who nominate potential inductees then vote for a select few to be inducted.
"It’s quite secretive and a bit like an ‘old boys’ club.’"
Although the hall’s website notes there is a way for fans to vote and have their preferences factor into the selections. But there’s another aspect of that process that actually favours the Guess Who and BTO.
They’re still alive and still able to play.
That helps when there’s a big TV audience and DVDs from the induction show to flog.
But Bachman and Turner are both in their 70s, and Cummings will be 70 on New Year’s Eve.
And while their hearts are still ticking, so is the clock.
It’s Einarson’s view that we need to "educate" the hall’s induction committee on the achievements and impact that the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive have had on music beyond Canada.
Which is why come early next year the local group he’s part of — the Manitoba Music Experience — will be launching a petition campaign in hopes of prying open the doors to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for both our hometown-hero bands.
Artists are eligible for inclusion in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first recording. The 2017 inductees were chosen by more than 900 voters of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, as well as the aggregate results of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s online fan vote. The top five artists from the fan vote comprised the fans’ ballot that was tallied along with the other ballots to determine this year’s inductees. Four of the groups from the fans’ ballot (Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam and Yes) were inducted in 2017, their first year of eligibility.