Burton Cummings in rewind

Burton Cummings returns to Windsor for a gig Jan. 26 at Caesars Windsor, and it brings to mind a couple of times I rubbed shoulders, so to speak, with the legendary musician.

Cummings has a special relationship with Windsor that goes back to the 1970s at the very start of the Guess Who’s career. Rosalie Trombley, then head of programming at CKLW-AM, got behind the song These Eyes and it became an international hit, essentially providing a launching-pad for the band’s career.

Ever since, both Cummings and Randy Bachman attest to the significance of Trombley’s help. The connection continues to this day as Trombley’s son, Tim, is entertainment director at Caesars Windsor.
In 1981-82, I had a chance to interview Cummings in a hotel room in downtown Toronto to promote a new movie, Melanie.
It was one of those deals where you get your name on a list, then get assigned a time for the interview.
Most of my interviews during the 30-plus years I worked at the Windsor Star were done over the phone. This was a rare opportunity for me to do one in person, and it was at a time when the paper actually paid travel expenses.
I was a little nervous because Cummings has a huge ego and could be a little testy with the media.
When I was ushered into the room, Cummings rose to his feet and graciously offered his hand. I was immediately put at ease. And I was impressed by the music of The Police coming from a tape player nearby.
Cummings was anxious to talk about his debut in film. He’d also written a couple of new songs for it, one of which, You Saved My Soul, went on to win a Genie Award.

We got on well for the 20 minutes or so of the chat, and I told him how much I admired his music. Entertainers are suckers for compliments. But then again, aren’t we all?
My next encounter with Cummings wasn’t as up-close and personal. It was 15 or so years later when a rejuvenated version of the Guess Who were scheduled to perform at Windsor’s Riverfront Festival Plaza.
That was an ill-fated International Freedom Festival concert which some may recall for the furious summer storm that hit like a sneak attack.
The Guess Who was the climax act of a week of shows. There was some controversy about how much organizers had paid but that’s all in the past, now. At 5 p.m. that evening the skies turned a soupy green, always a harbinger of bad things to follow. The storm strafed the plaza, knocking over tents, tossing chairs like they were toys, and sending everyone into a frenzy looking for cover.
In a few minutes, it was over. But the decision was made to cancel some acts because the old onion-shaped stage that faced west took the storm face-on and was a flooded mess. Hundreds of people started drifting back, hoping the Guess Who were still on.

I’m not sure where the band was holed up all that time. Maybe they hunkered down at the casino across the street.

Most of the high-voltage equipment had been covered over by plastic sheets. But for some reason, a sole piano stood like a sentinel in the middle of the stage. It was Burton Cummings’ electric keyboard.

Unannounced and without any fanfare, the Guess Who’s support act, Chantal Kreviazuk, strolled to centre stage, and sat down at the piano. Dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, her hair tied up under a scarf, Kreviazuk began playing some of her songs.

The crowd, now diminished because of the weather, roared with approval. She won more than a few Windsor fans that evening.

An hour or so later, the Guess Who themselves showed up under clear skies and put on a somewhat shortened show of their hits. Nobody complained. The crowd had been rewarded for its patience and even got what amounted to a private performance.

In August, Randy Bachman will bring his act to the new Classic Rock Festival at Riverfront Plaza. This time, though, he’ll be under the protective cover of the permanent stage. And it faces east, away from the prevailing wind of a summer storm.