Burton Cummings: No Plans For Retirement

Don’t expect legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Burton Cummings to be retiring anytime soon.

In fact, for a man who is turning 65 next month, the former Guess Who member, who is performing at Moncton’s Casino New Brunswick this Friday night, says he is arguably the healthiest he has been in quite some time.

“I think that it is rather well documented that I haven’t exactly lived the life of a Buddhist monk,” Cummings says with a laugh from his home in California. “I am lucky to feel as good as I do. I quit smoking almost three years ago and am trying to eat better when I’m on the road, in addition to running and walking a little more.

“I’m really excited about what is going on with my career. I still have a lot to look forward to though, so I have to take care of myself to make sure that I am around for a little while yet. So many others from my era are gone, so I have to be thankful for every year that I am still here.”

What a life Burton had led in his first 65 years on this planet. The man has played a hand in writing legendary Guess Who hits, including “American Woman,” “Undun,’ “No Time” and “These Eyes” while also penning a more than respectable list of solo hits, including “I Will Play a Rhapsody” and “Break It to Them Gently.’

Burton has assembled some of those aforementioned hits, along with many more, on a new live album simply entitled Massey Hall. Recorded at the historic venue in downtown Toronto, the songs were recorded over the span of two concerts about one year apart from each other.

“Making a live record wasn’t something that I honestly thought about all that often,” Cummings said. “I always wanted to do a live record as a solo artist but at times in the past, the material just didn’t seem to be up to snuff. I released Up Close And Alone in 1996, which was essentially recorded as a live, one-man show.

“I have had the same guys in my live band for quite some time now. We have spent a lot of time playing over the course of the last two years. Our show is very tight, and I wanted to preserve these songs with this specific group of guys. I am a big believer in recordings essentially being a snapshot of a moment in time. We recorded our Massey Hall show in 2010 and I just wasn’t happy with everything from that performance on that night. I thought to myself, ‘if we only had one more night to pick performances from’ and sure enough, almost a year later to the day, we were back onstage at Massey Hall.

“We ended up culling the very best of both performances onto Massey Hall because we didn’t want to do something lame or something that we weren’t happy with. There are some nights that you record your show and the band just isn’t up to snuff and other nights, the band is on fire, but you’re not recording it. I think we finally got what we were after with this new live record.”

Asked if he has any plans to stop touring, Cummings says that as long as he has two feet and a heartbeat, he is will pursue what he loves to do: playing live.

“I know when it will be time to quit,” he said. “If the show gets lame, I swore I would never go out on the road only as a cash grab and just go through the motions onstage. Much to my pleasant surprise, a lot of the people who come to our shows say that we are like a breath of fresh air, since we do sing and play our instruments.”

Due to legalities around the Guess Who name, Cummings and former Guess Who member Randy Bachman have been performing under the name of Bachman-Cummings, releasing a full-length effort, Jukebox, in 2007.

For the time being, with Bachman now performing with his Bachman Turner Overdrive bandmate Fred Turner, Cummings says he is content to be on his own. He doesn’t rule out reuniting with Bachman down the road and says nothing is set in stone.

Regardless of what the future may hold for the musicians in collaborative terms, Cummings says Bachman has played an immeasurable part in bringing music to his life.

“Randy has taught me so much about music,” Cummings said. “He was the one that insisted that I learn to play guitar. He pushed me to play the flute. He was responsible for turning me on to so much music. He is truly a world-class kind of guy.”

Article published in the November 20, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript