Cummings was born and raised in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as were all of the other original members of The Guess Who, and attended St. John’s High School. His first band was a local Winnipeg R&B group The Deverons, with an ‘E’ (not to be confused with the band The Devrons who had Country/R&B hits in the early ’60s). The Deverons with Cummings released two singles on the tiny REO Records label. The first single, “Blue Is The Night / She’s Your Lover” were cut in a Winnipeg radio station. The second single, “Lost Love / Feel Alright” was recorded at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis, where The Guess Who frequently recorded. He joined The Guess Who in 1965 to replace keyboardist Bob Ashley and shortly thereafter its previous lead singer, Chad Allan, left the band.
SUCCESS WITH THE GUESS WHO
Between 1966 and 1969, The Guess Who were one of the hardest working bands in Canada. Despite having released several strong singles, a hugely successful split LP (“A Wild Pair”, which also featured Ottawa’s The Stacattos), and a weekly stint as house band on CBC-TV’s “Let’s Go!”, mainstream success eluded them.
In 1969, The Guess Who scored an international hit with “These Eyes”, co-written by Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman. It was followed up by hit “Laughing”, again written by Cummings and Bachman. Another Guess Who song “Undun” featured Cummings on a jazzy flute solo. In 1970, the band hit no. 1 in Canada with “American Woman.”
Ultimately, conflict between Cummings and bandmate Randy Bachman – partially ignited by Bachman’s then-deepening Mormon religious beliefs—caused a rift in the band. Bachman left and went on to form the band Brave Belt with former The Guess Who mate Chad Allan, which later evolved into Bachman–Turner Overdrive.
Cummings became the band’s leader and continued to chart with songs such as: “Share the Land,” “Hand Me Down World,” “Albert Flasher,” “Rain Dance,” “Sour Suite,” “Glamour Boy,” “Star Baby,” “Clap for the Wolfman,” and “Dancin’ Fool.”
In 1975, after 10 years, Cummings left The Guess Who to become a solo artist and the group disbanded. One of his first projects included providing back-up vocals on Eric Carmen’s second solo LP, Boats Against the Current, including “She Did It.”
Cummings’ subsequent solo hits in Canada included “Stand Tall,” his biggest American solo hit, peaking at #10, “I’m Scared,” “Break it to Them Gently,” and “Fine State of Affairs.” Cummings charted outside Canada with “Stand Tall” and “You Saved My Soul.” His Dream of a Child album released in 1978 was the biggest Canadian album in history at that time. Cummings released a total of eight solo albums and collections from 1976 to 1990. In 1997 he released a live compilation album of his solo performances entitled Up Close and Alone.
Cummings became a resident of Sherman Oaks, California, and began writing and singing for films in the late 1970s. Cummings also tried his hand at acting. He appeared alongside Paul Sorvino, Glynnis O’Connor and Don Johnson in the 1982 film Melanie.
THE GUESS WHO RETURNS
In 2000, Cummings reunited with Randy Bachman and original drummer Garry Peterson and toured as The Guess Who. Bassist Jim Kale played one show before former Guess Who sidemen Donnie McDougall and Bill Wallace re-joined the line-up for the remainder of the tour in Canada and later in the U.S. from 2000 through to the summer of 2003. In 2001, Cummings and the rest of The Guess Who received honorary doctorates at Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba. Cummings was also made a member of the Order of Manitoba. In 2003, the band played at the SARSstock concert in Toronto alongside The Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Rush.
After The Guess Who reunion came to an end, Cummings played with Randy Bachman as The Bachman-Cummings Band, featuring The Carpet Frogs as the back-up band. The Bachman-Cummings Band released a compilation album titled the Bachman-Cummings Song Book featuring songs from The Guess Who, Bachman–Turner Overdrive and Cummings’ solo career. They have also released an album titled The Thunderbird Trax, which is an album that Cummings and Bachman recorded in Bachman’s toolshed in British Columbia in 1987. Previously unreleased until 2006, it was made available exclusively at Bachman-Cummings concerts.
The Bachman-Cummings First Time Around CBC TV Special was released on DVD in November 2006 on the Sony BMG label. In June 2007, Bachman and Cummings released an album titled Jukebox that covered various songs from the 1960s that influenced them.
They last played together in 2009 at Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario. Bachman has since rejoined with CF Turner and Cummings has toured on his own with the Carpet Frogs.
ABOVE THE GROUND
In November 2004 Cummings released a single “With God on Our Side”, a cover of the famous Bob Dylan song. The single debuted at the 21st spot on the Canadian music internet music chart.
On November 4, 2008, Cummings released his first solo album of new studio material in eighteen years titled Above the Ground. The album has 19 tracks of all original songs written by Cummings, some of which were written by him many years ago. The album was recorded with his touring band The Carpet Frogs. The release also includes a DVD with a behind the scenes look at the recording process. The first single from the album was “We Just Came from the U.S.A.” Originally a Canadian-only release, Above the Ground is now available at Burton Cummings’ website and on iTunes.
The Burton Cummings Theatre, located in downtown Winnipeg, is named after Cummings.
ORDER OF CANADA
On December 30, 2009, Cummings was named an officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaëlle Jean. The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, and was established in 1967 to mark a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation.
BOOK OF POETRY
On the November 23, 2010 morning-show episode of Canada AM, Cummings announced that he will be releasing a book of poetry. He mentioned that he had been working on it for the past 3 years. The collection of poems will be titled “The Writings of B. L. Cummings.” He also stated that works by Kipling, Keatsand Edgar Allan Poe were great inspirations to him during his writing process, saying, “I like to be influenced by the best.”
He currently winters in California and returns to Winnipeg in the summer, living in Canada throughout autumn. Besides his music, Cummings purchased Winnipeg’s “Salisbury House” restaurant chain with manager Lorne Saifer and is an avid comic book collector.
For several years Cummings has been active on My Space blogging and posting music and photos. Cummings is a notorious blogger and don’t be surprised to find yourself in a one on one conversation at 4am on his Facebook page !