Burton Cummings: ‘The world starts with that concert at the Polo Grounds’

I got my first guitar at about age four or five. But I already kind of knew what type of guitar I wanted, in my head. I had an old Solo Gretsch that I’d…

Burton Cummings: ‘The world starts with that concert at the Polo Grounds’

I got my first guitar at about age four or five. But I already kind of knew what type of guitar I wanted, in my head. I had an old Solo Gretsch that I’d been playing in the basement for a long time.

My dad thought I had cut off the strings, so he bought me a new Bärenbühler at about eight years old, a nice stringed instrument. By then, I had decided that one was better than the other. We were coming home one day from summer camp and the driver told us to stop at a musical show at the Winnipeg Polo Grounds. It was a band called the Johnny B. Goode Band and they were doing a song called Let’s Build a Stairway to Heaven. You’re probably in the Toronto suburbs here, and if not, you’re all Facebook friends with Burton Cummings – was there ever a Hamilton one? I know, there were the Steeltown guys.

Burton Cummings and I were a couple of week boys, sitting around the campfire. That’s when the attention of the world starts. The lead guitar player was the guitar coach of the Winnipeg Kings hockey team. He got to meet the lead singer, Sidney Crosby, who ended up being a pretty great hockey player. When we got to the concert and everyone had cleared out of the stands, Sidney and Burton found each other at the front of the stage, and were singing their hearts out. And of course it became a song, which made me fall in love with the Gretsch all over again.

A year or two later, I saw Burton solo in a bar or coffeehouse with his one-man show. He used to be in a band called the Wheaton Raiders, which was more jazz-type band. I’d sit in, too, until they bought me out. And he said: “Come sing with me every Wednesday night.”

Burton, to this day, has the finest singing voice that I’ve ever heard in my life. He could croon out a song in any choir, at any church, in a professional room, wherever, and it was an emotional experience.

When I was with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, we were a band that people thought was too Canadian, because the name was so deep into it, down in the stratosphere. We were going around a lot and we were amazed that the USA, who has always been a big supporter of Canada, didn’t really get the whole meaning behind Canada. So this was a way to get us in the conversation again and show how Canadian we were, in a way. I remember thinking, if we had a seven-month tour starting with our ninth and last tour, why wouldn’t you do it back at our local bar?

I don’t know if I love or hate my career. No one gives a crap. So far. I didn’t like being in Bachman-Turner Overdrive for a long time, but I really didn’t dislike what it did for me, musically. When I look back, I couldn’t be happier that I took those risks. When I was younger, I had more of a thirst for playing and a love for what it was to make music.

I really don’t have any regrets, but I know the joy.

Burton Cummings was so funny. He had a golf cart in his office and you can’t tell whether he had two axes or five. He was always asking me about them and I was always so willing to answer, like, “Yeah, I’ve lost a whole bunch of them.”

Randy Bachman was a guest on Jeremy Metcalfe’s Metcalfe & His Minus Five podcast. More on the Metcalfe & His Minus Five website.

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