Ex-Guess Who Frontman Takes Aggressive Legal Action Against Former Bandmates, Forcing Them To Cancel Shows

Features News Popular

Ex-Guess Who Frontman Takes Aggressive Legal Action Against Former Bandmates, Forcing Them To Cancel Shows


For years, Winnipeg rockers the Guess Who, the band who gave us songs like “American Woman,” have been one of those groups who tour without any members from the classic lineup. Frontman Burton Cummings, the Guess Who’s primary songwriter, hasn’t been in the group in decades, and he’s currently engaged in a legal battle against the current version of the band, as well as the former bandmates who currently hold the trademark for the Guess Who’s name. Now, Cummings has taken the extraordinary step of ending the performance rights agreements for all of the songs that he wrote, which effectively makes it impossible for the band to play any of those songs live.

The Guess Who initially broke up in 1975, and Burton Cummings went on to a solo career. Over the years, Cummings has returned to the Guess Who a few times, most recently with a classic-lineup reunion that ended in 2003. In 1987, Jim Kale, the founding bassist who was fired from the Guess Who in 1972, filed a trademark for the band’s name, and he put together a new group under the Guess Who name. Original drummer Garry Peterson joined up, and he and Kale have jointly held the rights to the Guess Who’s name since 2006. Kale has since retired from performing, and Peterson only plays with the current Guess Who lineup sometimes, which means that it often performs with no original members.

Last year, as Rolling Stone reported, Burton Cummings and original guitarist Randy Bachman, who left the Guess Who in 1970 to start the similarly successful Bachman-Turner Overdrive, filed a lawsuit against the current version of the Guess Who, as well as their former bandmates Jim Kale and Garry Peterson. They claimed that the current version of the Guess Who is a cover band that tours under the false implication that the band’s founders will be playing these shows. The case is ongoing, and now Rolling Stone reports that Cummings has taken the nuclear step of terminating performance rights agreements for all of the Guess Who songs that he wrote, which could potentially cost him a lot of money.

Cummings tells Rolling Stone, “I’m willing to do anything to stop the fake band; they’re taking [Bachman and my] life story and pretending it’s theirs. They’re not the people who made these records, and they shouldn’t act like they did. This doesn’t stop this cover band from playing their shows; it just stops them from playing the songs I wrote. If the songs are performed by the fake Guess Who, they will be sued for every occurrence.”

Burton Cummings is both the writer and publisher of the Guess Who’s biggest hits, which gives him the ability to control those songs’ performance rights. Most music venues have agreements with performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, which license the songwriters’ rights for their music to be performed. In ending those agreements, Cummings is giving up any royalties that could come from performances of Guess Who songs, as well as royalties from things like radio play, TV-show syncs, and covers like Lenny Kravitz’s hit version of “American Woman.” But now, Cummings could sue both the band and the venue if the current version of the Guess Who plays any of his songs.

Cummings tells Rolling Stone, “Yes, I’m going to lose some money, but we’re going to find out what’s worth what. I will not have this fake band going on any longer.” Right now, the strategy seems to be working, since a number of the current Guess Who’s upcoming tour dates have been cancelled.

Back To Top