The former Guess Who frontman, Burton Cummings, has failed to hit above his weight, as the saying goes, during his long career performing solo. This is no less the case today, now that the once-trim singer appears to be tipping the scales somewhere north of the big three-oh-oh. Never mind the avoirdupois: look what it did for Antoine Domino, not to mention Leslie West, and those three big rapping pimps whose name momentarily escapes me. *
Cummings’ last recording of original material was released 19 years ago, and contained some superb tracks, including the memorable Permissible to Cry. The record rocketed straight to Nowheresville, setting Burt’s career into the downdraft. At bottom, in the early ’90s, he was heard warbelling at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in the company of a couple of second-tier comedians. Someone who reviewed the performance observed, “The music business seems to be through with Cummings.”
They were wrong. He eventually worked out a new act, was rediscovered by big audiences, and then reformed the Guess Who, with songwriting podner Randy Bachman, for a successful North American tour. His new CD, Above the Ground, is an unexpected treat, although it will not elevate Cummings’ reputation. He should be regarded as the musical equal of Elton John and Billy Joel, and isn’t. As is the case with various other Canadian singer-songwriters, he has been marginalized by the limited ambitions of his managers, and his own overweening diffidence. That puts him in the same category as, say, the CBC newsreader Peter Mansbridge, who is comfortable to remain a large toad in a tiny enclosure, rather than hopping off and taking any big chances anywhere. The difference being that Cummings has the goods, while Mansbridge only has the camel’s-hair sportscoat.
Devotees of Burton will wish to purchase my excellent new book, which contains a brief anecdote about our hero, the jist of which I recall reading about in the Winnipeg Sun, when business travel took me to the Manitoba capital. Buy this outstanding new work here.
* Small wonder I momentarily couldn’t recall the names of rap trio the Fat Boys, whose acting assignments dried up after lensing “Orderlies” with Don Ameche. How many other careers has that Ameche guy killed along the way?