Burton Cummings

Burton Cummings. Singer, pianist, songwriter, b Winnipeg 31 Dec 1947, honorary D MUS (Guelph) 2001. Cummings studied piano as a boy and sang tenor roles in Gilbert and Sullivan productions at high school.

Cummings, Burton

Burton Cummings. Singer, pianist, songwriter, b Winnipeg 31 Dec 1947, honorary D MUS (Guelph) 2001. Cummings studied piano as a boy and sang tenor roles in Gilbert and Sullivan productions at high school. After playing keyboards and saxophone locally ca 1962-5 with the Deverons he joined the Guess Who, serving as its leader (succeeding Chad Allan), singer, and pianist 1966-75. Cummings wrote or, with Randy Bachman, co-wrote most of the band's biggest hits - eg, "These Eyes," "Laughing," and "American Woman."

Solo Career
Based thereafter in Los Angeles, Cummings began his solo career with the album Burton Cummings (Portrait PR-34261) and a performance 8 Nov 1976 at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall. His song "Stand Tall" was an international hit in 1976, and was followed by the Canadian hits "My Own Way to Rock" (1977, from an LP of the same title, Portrait PR-34698), "Break It To Them Gently" (1978) and "I Will Play a Rhapsody" (1979, both from Dream of a Child, Portrait PR-35481), and "Fine State of Affairs" (1980, from Woman Love, Epic XPEC-80040). Cummings' fifth LP, Sweet Sweet (Epic PEC-80054), included a second, lesser US hit, "You Saved My Soul" (1981), and was followed by the albums Heart (Epic PEC-80100) in 1984 and Plus Signs (Cap C-93938, cass and CD) in 1990. The latter included the popular "Take One Away."

Cummings, who brought a rich, sculpted voice to a range of plaintive ballads (eg, "I'm Scared," "Break It to Them Gently") and vigorous rockers ("Your Back Yard," "My Own Way to Rock," etc), enjoyed his greatest popularity at the turn of the 1980s. He headlined concerts in Canadian stadiums and arenas (eg, annually 1978-81 at the CNE Stadium), and toured in the US opening for Seals & Crofts, America, Alice Cooper, etc. He continued through the 1980s to appear in Canada in nightclubs, in smaller concert halls, and at charity events. His repertoire included Guess Who material and his own hits. Cummings participated in a reunion of the Guess Who in 1983 and toured with Randy Bachman in 1987. He was seen on his own CBC and PBS TV specials, was host or co-host for the televised Juno Awards ceremonies in 1979, 1980, 1982, and 1983, and starred in the Canadian feature film Melanie, released in 1982.

In the following decades, he pursued his solo career, playing concerts and recording the 1996 album Up Close and Alone, which featured Cummings alone on piano. Briefly, he was pianist for Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, touring Europe. Cummings again appeared with the re-formed Guess Who in 1999 for the Winnipeg Pan Am Games, and for reunion tours of Canada and the US in 2000 and 2001. Cummings and Bachman also performed as a duo, releasing the albums Bachman Cummings Songbook (2006, Sony BMG 82876 81247 2) and Jukebox (2007, Sony BMG 88697112982). The 2008 album Above the Ground was Cummings' first solo recording of new material since 1990.


Cummings himself received Junos as most promising male singer (1977) and best male singer (1977, 1980), and for best-selling album (Dream of a Child, 1980). Canadian sales of his first four LPs exceeded 200,000 each. In recognition of his work with the Guess Who and under his own name, Cummings was the recipient in 1989 of PRO Canada's William Harold Moon Award for international achievement. In 2001 Cummings accepted SOCAN Classic awards (representing over 100,000 airplays) for "Follow Your Daughter Home," "My Own Way to Rock," and "You Saved My Soul," as well as citations of achievement, jointly with Bachman, for "These Eyes" and "No Time" (three million and two million broadcast performances, respectively).

Cummings retained ties in Winnipeg, appearing at functions such as a 1997 flood relief concert; a theatre (which houses the Prairie Music Hall of Fame) and a community centre there are named for him. He was featured on CBC TV's Life and Times series in 1997, and was invested in the Order of Manitoba in 2001. In 2005 he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2009 was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Cummings received numerous additional honours as a member of the Guess Who; together they are credited with laying the foundation for Canadian successes in the music industry.

Selected Discography

Live from Montreux: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. 1993. Ryko RCD 20264

The Burton Cummings Collection. 1994. Rhino R2 71717

Burton Cummings: Up Close and Alone. 1996. MCASD81010

My Own Way to Rock. 1999 (1977). Epic EK 80351

Dream of a Child. 1999 (1979). Epic EK 80352

Woman Love. 1999 (1980). Epic EK 80353

Burton Cummings. 2000 (1976). Epic/Legacy EK 65972

Above the Ground. 2008. Sony BMG Music 88697396452

Further Reading

  • McRae, Earl. "Burton's back," The Canadian, 25 Jun 1977

    Sharp, Keith. "Burton's own way to rock," Music Express, Sep 1977

    "Beginnings: Burton Cummings," Today, 4 Apr 1981

    MacInnis, Craig. "A second Cummings for Burton," Toronto Star, 3 Mar 1990

    Einarson, John. American Woman: The Story of the Guess Who (Kingston, Ont 1995)

    Dafoe, Chris. "Guess Who: One more time for homegrown hit machine," Globe and Mail, 3 Aug 1999

    Kendle, John. "The rocker theatre," "Cummings cleans up his act after throat scare," Winnipeg Sun, 10 Aug 2002

    Dymond, Greig. "A fine state of affairs: Burton Cummings talks about his first solo disc in 20 years," CBC News, 17 Nov 2008