Playbill

When the first lady disses your song, you know you're onto something good. Canadian rockers the Guess Who were asked to give a performance at the White House in 1970 because Tricia Nixon, daughter of Pat and Dick, thought they were simply the grooviest. Except, Pat ordered, they could not play their current hit, "American Woman," the No. 1 monster that made them superstars.

Surprising as it may seem, the tune that Lenny Kravitz resurrected for Generation X was written during the Paleozoic era by a couple of guys from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The coolest thing of all, well, okay, from this (Canadian) writer's perspective, is that American kids who still crank Lenny's version have no idea that the song was written as an anti-American protest by Canada's answer to Mick & Keith -- Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. Nope, this "American Woman" isn't the sexy blond in that Austin Powers flick, she's the seductress of 1960s-era U.S. cultural and political colonialism that invaded Canadian airwaves and flooded our country with goddamn pot-smoking, draft- dodging hippies.

No wonder Pat Nixon was miffed, though she never could have been quite as pissed off as Bachman and Cummings were at each other. Cummings and the other band members fired Bachman backstage after a mid-1970 gig at Fillmore East. It seems Bachman, a newly minted Mormon, was so freaked by the perverted rock 'n' roll lifestyle that he constantly lashed out at his bandmates. This was a feud with staying power, and if either Cummings or Bachman had been packing heat the night the band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987 -- the most unfriendly, alcohol-fueled reunion ever staged -- the current Guess Who tour might have been one or more men short. Thank God they come from the relatively gun-free Great White North. Nevertheless, after various kiss-and-tell memoirs were published in the 1990s, it was Bachman who sucked it up and apologized to Cummings, leading to the current reunion tour, which follows several tours of a doppelgänger Guess Who run by founding bassist (and to hear the band's true believers tell it, minimal contributor) Jim Kale.

While many Canadian writers couldn't spit out the superlatives fast enough when the real, Bachman-Cummings Guess Who went into rehearsals for their 2000 comeback tour, somehow it was heartening to note that Cummings stormed out of a session because the other guys weren't playing up to his standards. As my Francophone countrymen would say, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr