Burton Cummings: Still on tour, and lovin’ it, at 63

He might be 63 years old but Canadian musical legend Burton Cummings talks with the enthusiasm and excitement of someone a third his age.

And, really, who can blame him?

His is the unmistakable voice behind FM radio staples such as These Eyes and American Woman, and his tour schedule is a heady one, playing shows as if every one of them could be his last.

Burton expresses genuine excitement at the prospect of returning to Moncton tomorrow night for his show at Casino New Brunswick, the first date of a 20-show run that will take him from one coast of Canada to the other.

“We don’t get out there enough,” he notes, referring to Moncton and the Maritimes in general.

Speaking from a recording studio in California, Burton is in the midst of mixing a live CD and DVD of a Toronto/Massey Hall performance recorded in November 2010. As long and as storied as his career within The Guess Who and as a solo artist has been, he notes that the impeding live package (which he estimates will be released by July) will actually be his first solo live release.

“With the Guess Who, we had our Live at the Paramount record, but this is the first time I have had a solo live release,” he says. “The show was filmed with six cameras and was just a really great night. Some nights you record your show and the band isn’t the hottest and then other nights, the band is on fire and you’re not recording,” he laughs.

“It all seemed to click on this night though and I am very glad we captured this particular show. We were all wound pretty tight that night. The guys in my band are all from Toronto and they had their wives, kids, mothers, etc. out to the show. As we are mixing the record though, you can hear us loosening up as the night goes on, in terms of our performance. It is really exciting to hear.”

Burton notes that he has had the same backing band for the past decade, a group in its own right known as The Carpet Frogs, whom he says, are a very good band when he is not with them.

“Over the past 10 years, we have all become very good friends but also become a very good live unit as well. With the Massey Hall show, I thought it was about time that we captured the band in this respect,” Burton says.

“We were shooting the show to make a DVD. We never fathomed simultaneously releasing a live record but when we started the mixes two weeks ago, we started hearing the excitement in the performance. Suddenly, it got very exciting and the project became much bigger in scope.”

Asked whether he will be taking to the road again with his long-time partner in crime Randy Bachman, Burton notes that their Bachman-Cummings Band is technically “over” as Bachman is out touring with his B.T.O. partner Fred Turner under the name Bachman-Turner.

The fact that Cummings and Bachman are not touring under the more widely known name of The Guess Who is no accident, however.

“Legally, Jim Kale owns The Guess Who name and has been touring on his own under that name. I don’t have much to do with them anymore. They have been touring for years and years with different singers and different guitar players and really, it is one of the biggest disgraces in the music business,” Burton says.

He says that when his former band mate Kale copyrighted The Guess Who name in 1978, Cummings old bandmates Donnie McDougall and Kurt Winter were still performing with Kale. As such, both he and Bachman had agreed that they could continue performing under The Guess Who name since they felt as though Winter and McDougall were such big parts of the band.

“The minute that Jim got permission to continue, he had copyrighted the band name and then fired both Donnie and Kurt.”

Still, Cummings is adamant that long-time Guess Who fans are not being fooled by “The Guess Who” that is touring these days.

“By the grace of God, I am the one who wrote and sang the tunes and still have a career at the age of 63. I’m just pleased to be where I am at these days.”

Once his Canadian tour dates have wrapped up, Burton will head south of the border for a run of 30 dates with “old friend” Steve Miller, followed by some shows with Huey Lewis.

“It is going to be an interesting summer, to say the least. Not many people are lucky enough to be 63 years old and be able to go out and tour for such a significant period of time.”

Burton attributes his ongoing, remarkable road stamina to the fact that he quit smoking approximately 2-1/2 years ago.

“Quitting smoking has made such a big difference,” he says. “It is so much easier to play a two-hour show; I have much more wind and the high notes are a little clearer. I truly feel that this is the best I have sung in the past 20 years.”

Article published in May 5, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript