WHEATFIELD EMPIRE by Jaimie Vernon


Last week the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did a virtual induction of its 2020 nominees that included Whitney Houston, The Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex. Typical of past years during the induction process, the public and media got their panties into a bunch over how their favourite artist has been snubbed.

With the exception of an online voting portal for the ‘fan favourite,’ the process by which the RRHOF inducts its nominees is forever shrouded in a veil of Free Mason/Luminati/Witches Coven/Hellfire Club mystery. Only the members of the Hall know for sure, but it’s safe to say that the entire thing is driven by money and the need for the Hall to make as much of it as possible. And when your nominating committee is filled with music industry weasels who have vested financial interest in the artists in question, one can be sure their nominees will be the first to make their way to the podium to blather on about God and the righteousness of the award.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have an advocate on the committee whipping up a nomination campaign on your behalf, your chances of getting into the RRHOF – regardless of being a major pop culture influence or not – is unlikely. To that effect it was millions of fans of Rush that finally got them their 2013 place in the Hall after being shunned for the better part of 35 years and publicly vilified by Rolling Stone magazine editor and Hall CEO Jann Wenner during their entire career. Guitarist Alex Lifeson’s induction speech may have been the greatest awards speech of all time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px57H2bX9HI

Sadly, Rush has the distinction of being the last Canadian artist inducted into the Hall. They were preceded by The Band (1988), Neil Young (1995), Buffalo Springfield – which included Canadians Neil Young, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer (1997), Joni Mitchell (1997), The Rascals – which included Canadian Gene Cornish (1997), The Mamas & The Papas – which included Canadian Denny Doherty (1998), The Lovin’ Spoonful – which included Canadian Zal Yanovsky (2000), and Leonard Cohen (2008).

As you can see by the list, there’s a whole lot of famed and storied Canadian acts missing from the Hall of Fame. One can argue about the acts we know and love here in Canada, but if you’re playing on a field of American and international fame with others already inducted, that narrows the field of Canadian who are no less deserving: The Diamonds, The Crew Cuts, Paul Anka, Jack Scott, Ian & Sylvia, Lighthouse, April Wine, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Steppenwolf (who were nominated, but lost) and Gordon Lightfoot among so many others. And among those others is one of the most glaring omissions of all:

THE GUESS WHO.
Not only is the Guess Who and its two most visible (and productive) members Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but their most iconic signature song “American Woman” has never been put forward to be included in the RRHOF jukebox (while Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” is).


No one is advocating for The Guess Who’s induction. It’s that simple. One cannot expect that among all the committee members there is anyone remotely invested in the Guess Who legacy. The Guess Who never laid down roots in the United States though Burton and Randy have both had residency there. Original producer Jack Richardson – the band’s biggest cheerleader – has long since passed, and the band’s record label – the mottled and identity-less RCA/BMG – has barely acknowledged the band beyond the requisite greatest hits package every 5 or 6 years.

Advocacy must start at the grassroots level. Author John Einarson has been a major supporter and historian to many of Canada’s iconic artists already in the Hall, Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young among them. He also wrote a great introduction to The Guess Who in his 1990s with his biography American Woman: The Story of the Guess Who. Currently it is out of print, and where there is a vacuum there is a need.

Author Robert Lawson has picked up the ball and is running with it. His new book is called Wheatfield Empire: The Listener’s Guide To The Guess Who. Lawson’s best known for his two previous books – Still Competition: A Listener’s Guide To Cheap Trick and Razam-Snaz! A Listener’s Guide To Nazareth and just like those best-sellers, the new book is a fantastic, in-depth overview of the Guess Who’s recording legacy.

In exquisite detail that serious fans will appreciate, Wheatfield Empire: The Listener’s Guide to The Guess Who, goes through the band’s evolution, album by album and song by song. No stone is left unturned as Wheatfield Empire covers the complete discography including compilations and ‘best of’s’, singles chart action, international releases, important concerts, significant TV appearances, radio broadcasts, and even a selection of unofficial live bootlegs. The book also discusses the solo careers of both front man Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman.

Lawson peppers the historical prose with sides of humour and the book’s encyclopedic detail is supported by new interviews by band members (with the exception of Randy Bachman who turned down the offer to be interviewed) and input from Canadian music industry professionals.
Lawson digs deep into the minutiae that fans will love. He dissects in great detail the different versions of songs on various releases – whether they be re-recorded or taken from different master tapes. He gets into session info where it was available and annotated by the various Guess Who members that were involved. And he gives subjective overviews of the efficacy of the band’s albums – from hit records, to the less successful outings. It’s a study of an entire band’s output only seen in collegiate styled books about artists like The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. You can grab the book here:
https://www.amazon.com/Wheatfield-Empire-Listeners-Guide-Guess/dp/1525581163

Wheatfield Empire could be the key that unlocks The Guess Who’s access to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Aside from fans who will dig this, the book needs to be in the hands of rock critics worldwide and Hall committee members like Jann Wenner who probably have no idea the lengths to which the Guess Who went to break into the US and beyond. They were more than just “American Woman” (hell, they charted on Billboard’s Top 200 a total of 24 times) and their legacy has lived on in both Randy and Burton’s solo careers (Ringo Starr had them sing each of their hits on subsequent Ringo And His All-Starr Band tours), and innumerable cover tunes by artists like Richie Havens, Lenny Kravitz, Krokus, and more). It’s time The Guess Who get inducted in 2021.

=JV=

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 41 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 24 years. He is also the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and editor of “Sunny Days: The Skip Prokop Story.” Available through Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Jaimie+Vernon

 

One Response to “WHEATFIELD EMPIRE by Jaimie Vernon”

  1. Damon Hines Says:

    That speech by Alex!! Talk about commitment!! What a trouper! Cheers, Jaimie. 8>D

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