There are two usual responses in Winnipeg when the Guess Who and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are mentioned in the same sentence.
The first is, "Aren’t they in the hall of fame already?" and it’s usually followed by, "Whaddaya mean they’re not in the hall of fame?!"
A campaign launched last week is aimed at putting an end to the second response.
Guess Who 4 The Hall has emerged with a well-organized presence on social media along with a website — GuessWho4TheHall.ca.
At the top of the website is a letter to Greg Harris, the president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, demanding the band be nominated in 2021 for the honour, owing to "over 50 years after making such a monumental mark in music history."
A petition has been created at change.org that has about 10,000 supporters.
The hall’s next batch of nominees, selected by a panel of rock historians, will be announced in April. They will join a who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll history at hall’s grand museum in Cleveland.
The reasons why the Guess Who should be immortalized are obvious. American Woman, These Eyes, Laughing and Running Back to Saskatoon are just some of the songs that became hits in Canada and around the world.
They’re sacred hymns in these parts. Generations of Manitobans can wax poetic about important moments of their lives made even more memorable because No Sugar Tonight or Undun was on the radio or the record player.
When the city or the province has a big celebration, the Guess Who — or at least its most famous members, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings — are first on the list to make an important evening one to remember. A fundraiser for flood relief in 1997. Closing out the Pan Am Games in 1999.
When Manitoba decided to mark its 150th birthday last year with a free concert at the legislature, it was no surprise that Bachman and Cummings would headline it. When COVID-19 forced organizers to postpone until this August, they agreed to be there.
But Winnipeg’s underlying trait — the need for affirmation from elsewhere — has always been very much part of any recognition the Guess Who receives. If the band is ever anointed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it will be the big payoff.
It will be like the entire city will have been inducted into the hall of fame. Is Winnipeg that desperate for recognition?
While the campaign’s aim is an honourable one, be prepared for disappointment.
The Guess Who have been eligible for induction to the rock hall since 1991. After 30 years of hearing nothing, even Bachman and Cummings have said the honour means nothing to them anymore.
And there are many obstacles in the way of having the Guess Who receiving a plaque in Cleveland. Here are a few:
The hall has a woman problem
You can’t have rock ‘n’ roll without female singers, musicians and songwriters, but apparently you can have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with women making up only eight per cent of inductees.
That’s the jaw-dropping statistic revealed by Evelyn McDonnell, a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, in a Jan. 14, 2020 National Public Radio story. In the last 34 years, the story says, just 69 of 888 inductees, including all band members, were women.
One day later, the hall named Whitney Houston as one of its inductee, along with Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers.
So counting Houston and T. Rex’s keyboardist Gloria Jones, the hall added two more women to their honour roll along with more than a dozen men, depending on how many past members of the Doobies are included in the induction ceremony, which has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a shocking list of women who are not in the hall Carole King, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow, Mariah Carey, Cher, Mary J. Blige and the Go Go’s. These names just scratch the surface of a long and neglected list that will grow each year as the likes of Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears become eligible for induction during the next four years.
Sooner or later, there will either be a correction of this glaring problem — which will likely delay any Guess Who induction — or the realization that being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t a club worth being a part of.
Bands from ‘80s and ‘90s
Artists become eligible for the hall 25 years after the release of their first album. That means a band or a singer who put out an album in 1996 qualifies this year. Feeling old yet?
The Guess Who became eligible in 1991. The Doobies and T. Rex, both of which made the grade in 2020, are of similar vintages as the Guess Who, which offers hope for petitioners, but memories of groups from the late ‘60s and ‘70s grow dimmer with each passing year among those who make the decisions.
Meanwhile, another group of new wave, punk, metal and grunge bands, not to mention rappers and pop artists, become eligible for the hall every year.
Who are this year’s newbies? Jay-Z and the Foo Fighters top the list and are probably shoo-ins, but Wilco, Jewel, Garbage and the Chemical Brothers will all have their backers, too.
Tarnished by decades of nostalgia
The Guess Who had eight amazing years of commercial success, about as long as the Beatles did. Unlike the Fab Four, however, the Guess Who didn’t disband and create a legend of a band that broke up too soon.
Bachman was gone in 1970 and Cummings left five years later, and without its two musical forces, the Guess Who ought to have died right there, allowing for the inevitable reunion tours that come with the rock ‘n’ roll territory, of course.
But rock hall immortality wasn’t even an idea in 1975 and the lure of money has kept the Guess Who name alive, for better or for worse.
There have been 45 years of various iterations of the band that have sullied the band’s legacy on the nostalgia circuit, including last August’s show at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota that has been described as one of the biggest COVID-19 super-spreader events of 2020.
That can’t help the band’s legacy.
Also, if the Guess Who were to be inducted, who gets to stand on the podium and show their gratitude? The musicians from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that built the success, or should all those performers from the past 45 years who have cashed in on the name get their day in the sun, too?
Does it really matter?
It’s the fans who want the Guess Who in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they don’t need a grandiose stamp of approval from an institution that revels in myth as much as music.
The Guess Who’s songs remain as beloved in 2021 as they have ever been, especially in Winnipeg. The existence of a petition campaign proves it.
In August, when Manitoba hopefully gets to celebrate its 150th birthday — after a one-year COVID-19 postponement — it will be the Guess Who’s songs, performed by Bachman-Cummings, that the crowd will be celebrating, and not necessarily the Guess Who.
It promises to be a moment far more satisfying than watching a bunch of old rockers saying forgettable thank-yous at a podium during a tedious awards show.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.