Allan, Chad & Expressions (Allan Kowbel)
Origin: Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Guess Who are a Canadian rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Initially gaining recognition in Canada, they also found international success from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s with numerous hit singles, including "American Woman", "These Eyes" and "Share the Land". Several members of The Guess Who, notably Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (of Bachman–Turner Overdrive), have also found considerable success outside the band.
The band was inducted into The Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987.
The Guess Who started out as a local Winnepeg band formed by singer/guitarist Chad Allan in 1960 and initially called Al and the Silvertones. This was changed to Chad Allan & the Reflections in 1962, by which point the band consisted of Chad Allan (vocals/guitar), Bob Ashley (keyboards), Randy Bachman (guitars), Jim Kale (bass), and Garry Peterson (drums). All the band members were born in Winnipeg.
The band's debut single ("Tribute To Buddy Holly") was released on Canadian-American Records in 1962. Chad Allan and the Reflections then signed with Quality Records and released several flop singles in 1963/64, including one mis-credited to Bob Ashley & The Reflections. By 1965, the group was forced to change its name to Chad Allan & the Expressions after a U.S. group called The Reflections had scored a hit with "Just Like Romeo & Juliet".
It was at this point that the band scored their first hit, a 1965 rendition of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' "Shakin' All Over". This track reached #1 in Canada, #22 in the U.S (where Quality had licensed the track to the American Scepter label for release in the U.S.), and #27 in Australia. However, in an attempt to build a mystique around the record, Quality Records credited the single only to "Guess Who?" It was hoped that some listeners might assume the "Guess Who?" identity was deliberately masking several famous performers working under a pseudonym – given the "beat group" nature of the record, perhaps even members of The Beatles and/or other popular British Invasion bands. In concealing the identity of the band in this fashion, Quality Records may have been influenced by a similar ploy made the previous year by "The You Know Who Group", an American outfit whose Merseybeat-ish 1964 single "Roses Are Red My Love" had peaked at #43 in the US, and at #21 in Canada.
It is debatable as to whether anyone was really fooled by the "Guess Who?" ruse, or if the record would have been a hit regardless of the artist credit. But the upshot was that, even after Quality Records revealed the band was "really" Chad Allan & The Expressions, disc jockeys still announced the group as Guess Who?, effectively forcing the band to rename themselves. So although singles were issued as being by "Guess Who?" on their first two albums, the band was credited as both "Guess Who?" and "Chad Allan & The Expressions".
The immediate follow-ups to "Shakin' All Over" met with major success in Canada but very little success elsewhere. After Bob Ashley left the group in late 1965, Burton Cummings joined the band as keyboardist and co-lead vocalist (with Chad Allan) in early January 1966. This line-up only lasted for a few months before Chad Allan left, making Cummings the new full-time lead singer. By this point, the band's name had become "The Guess Who?" (the question mark would finally be dropped in 1968) and with Chad Allan gone, the "Chad Allan & The Expressions" subtitle was dropped once and for all. Feeling that they'd "played out" all the venues in Winnipeg, the band began playing in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1966. While there, they crossed paths with a young Joni Mitchell, who played in many of the same venues as the group.
The group continued to release top 40 singles in Canada and even had one single ("His Girl") scrape the lower reaches of the UK charts in 1967. However, a trip to the UK to promote this single proved to be a financial disaster as the single dropped off the charts after only one week, and The Guess Who found themselves unable to get airplay or to book any paying gigs without work visas. They returned to Canada within a matter of weeks, thousands of dollars in debt.
The band's fortunes were saved when, later in 1967, they landed a gig as the house band on the CBC television show Let's Go, a music show oriented toward teens. The show aired 39 weeks a year and the paycheques from it allowed The Guess Who to pay off their debts; it also gave them further exposure in Canada. Although the band was initially hired only to perform the chart hits of the day on the show (in arrangements as close as possible to the actual hit records), after a time, the show's producer encouraged the group to write and perform their own material as well. The Guess Who stayed with Let's Go for two years; a compilation of some of their Let's Go performances was released on CD in 2004.
Among those who noticed The Guess Who during their run on Let's Go was record producer/sales executive Jack Richardson. He contacted the band about participating in an advertising project for Coca-Cola; this turned out to be the recording of a split LP with Ottawa band The Staccatos (soon to rename themselves The Five Man Electrical Band). The resulting album was called A Wild Pair, and featured The Guess Who on one side and The Staccatos on the other. The album was only available for purchase through mail-order for the price of 10 Coca Cola bottle cap liners and $1 (to cover shipping expenses). Guitarist Randy Bachman has stated in interviews that he believes A Wild Pair sold enough copies in Canada to qualify for gold record status; however, because the album was not sold through normal retail channels, no certified sales figures are available.