Days Of Future Past – Burton Cummings Continues To Shine

Burton Cummings is asked why he’s always being questioned about his past, the Deverons, The Guess Who, his past solo hits. No one it seems cares too much what he’s doing at present.

“It’s people like you who keep asking those questions so I feel obliged to answer them,” he laughs chatting on the phone from his Los Angeles home.”

“Not me,” I defer as I question him about his upcoming DVD “Ruff” which, surprise, surprise is the first installment of what constitutes an autobiographic video look at his historical past. “Yes, the first DVD deals with the early Guess Who, we go back to New York where we recorded songs like `These Eyes’ and `No Time’, there’s footage of me performing with the Carpet Frogs at Massey Hall last year and there’s some vintage footage of when we reformed the original Guess Who back in 1983.

When it is suggested that this could be the first of a series of DVD’s, Burton allows that he has enough footage for at least another nine discs, depending on the public’s reaction to the first release. “I’ve been collecting film clips on the band from the very beginning and I was one of the first people to realize the value of digital tape,” he notes. “Yes I have archived my musical history so I have lots of content at my disposal,” explains Cummings.

Another new venture which Burton has been planning for some time is the release of a book of poetry, titled “The Writings of Burton L. Cummings. “I believe the writing of poetry is becoming a lost art in this digital age but I think there is nothing more moving than the written word,” he notes. “I’ve had University professors and other professional people praise my poems so I do take pride in what I have written. It’s just something I have wanted to do for a long time.”

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Despite more than 50 years in the music business, Cummings has yet to write a definitive autobiography of his life and career and claims he has no desire to do so. “I write about my life and my career in my blogs, that’s an on-going form of communication I have with my fans,” Cummings explains. “One lady has downloaded all my blogs and has something like 15,000 pages of material. My attitude is; bind that – there’s my book.

“I have talked to publishers in the past but all they want is the dirty and the controversy,” explained Cummings. “I want to keep what few friends I’ve got” he laughs facetiously. “I have no desire to air my dirty laundry and they talk about having `ghost writers’, no thank you. I know the alphabet; I can use a computer keyboard if I want to. But I much prefer to go on-line and communicate that way. Anyone who wants to find out about me can do so, I’m easy to reach.”

Cummings is proud to announce he’s about to turn 66 December 31st and he’s never been busier, slotting in a series of festival dates in both Canada and the United States with a slew of top name classic rock stars as well as hitting the casino circuit and even doing one-man shows to pad out his itinerary.

“People keep asking me when am I going to record another album, but I honest don’t know when I can fit in the time, we’ve been so busy,” he enthuses. “I am booked to play in the Orleans casino in Las Vegas in January. Casinos are great places to play and Vegas has changed so much. Now it’s an entertainment mecca. It used to be that stand-up comedians like Shecky Greene and all those characters used to dominate the place. Now it’s Celine Dion, The Moody Blues, Shania Twain, Elton John, it’s such a great place to play.

Cummings concurs that there is a Canadian classic rock resurgence going on and that he personally has never been busier. “Classic rock radio is keeping this movement alive, playing all the old hits which is great for me,” he notes but does agree that it is difficult to get these stations to play new material by established artists. “I keep writing all the time but it is hard to justify recording a new album that isn’t going to get any airplay.”

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When asked if he was planning on releasing a follow up to his 2008 release “Above The Ground”, Cummings informs he always has two or three albums worth of material on hand but it’s the motivation to take the time to go into the studio that becomes a problem.

“Yes I write all the time and am thinking about recording another album but I just might go the iTunes route and release just one or two songs first and see how they go,’ he explains. “That seems to be the route to go these days.”

When asked about the trend to auto tuning vocals and computerizing recording sessions, Cummings shrugs and allows that this method of recording is becoming more prevalent these days.

[quote]“Critics have written me off so many times, according to them I’ve been on a comeback since 1973 but I love what I do and it’s great that the people encourage me to keep playing.”[/quote]“I was talking to Joe Vannelli who co-produced my “Above The Ground” album and he said that the human ear had become so desensitized that it demands perfection. Listen to any new recording these days and it is so perfect, it has to sound that way to get airplay. “In my day,” noted Cummings, “there was no such thing as `auto tuned vocals’. |Especially when you were recording 45’s and 33’s, there wasn’t the studio capability to fix things and filter things. What you sang is what you recorded.

“I was listening to a new Beach Boys album ( “That’s Why God Made The Radio”) and it was so obvious the vocals had been auto tuned,” fumed Cummings. “Obviously I was not impressed. I mean this is the same Beach Boys that recorded Pet Sounds and all those great vocal harmonies yet they felt they had to resort to auto-tuning!

Cummings acknowledges that the record industry has changed drastically and that artists like him have to adjust to a world of downloading singles and records. “I was watching a David Letterman show one night and LeAnn Rimes was singing a song,” explained Cummings. “I am not a big country music fan but I really liked this song, so I went and downloaded it and the song was on my computer before she’d even finished singing it on Letterman. So I guess I’m as guilty as the rest – but I did pay for it.”

Cummings is proud of his past with the Guess Who and as a solo artist and notes proudly that he has recorded over 30 albums. “Some artists’ record only three albums in their entire career but the Guess Who recorded three albums in one year (1972),”

He has been awarded The Order of Canada, got two stars on Canada’s Walk Of Fame (with The Guess Who and as a solo honour in 2011), is in the CARAS Hall Of Fame yet still performs with the vitality and energy of a young performer.

“I just love being on stage and performing for the people,” concludes Cummings. “I am blessed with so many options. I can do concerts, festivals, casinos, one man shows (his gig in New York earned rave reviews) and even corporate events. “Critics have written me off so many times, according to them I’ve been on a comeback since 1973 but I love what I do and it’s great that the people encourage me to keep playing.”

Photography by: Ted Van Boort

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