American Woman - The Guess Who
For more than a decade, despite major personnel changes, the Guess Who remained one of the world’s most popular rock bands.
They began in 1963 as Al and the Silvertones in Winnipeg, Canada. In their early days, they were heavily influenced by British musicians. They cut a few local singles, and eventually became known as Chad Allan and the Expressions, which they remained until 1965, when Chad Allan left the line-up.
It was about then that an American label, Scepter, laid plans to release some of their records in the United States. As a promotional gimmick, a contest was held in which people sent in suggestions for a new group name. Meanwhile, their version of a Johnny Kidd song, “Shakin’ All Over,” was issued as a 45, with the artist listed simply as “Guess Who?” Before a winner could be chosen in the competition, “Shakin’ All Over” became a U.S. hit, establishing the band down under as the Guess Who. The fellows figured that name was as attention-getting as any, and decided to keep it. They then began extensive American tours, starting in the summer of 1965. In the fall of 1966, the quartet got its own television show, “Let’s Go,” which ran for two years on the Canadian network. By that point, the group consisted of lead singer Burton Cummings, lead guitarist Randy Bachman, bass player Jim Kale, and Gerry Patterson on drums.
In 1968, after recording a premium disc for Coca-Cola, the Guess Who met Jack Richardson, who signed them to his Nimbus 9 label. He became their producer, and got them U.S. distribution through RCA Records. In 1969, along came the album Wheatfield Soul, and from it, a tune called “These Eyes.” It became a million-seller — their first of four such singles in a row.
The second Guess Who album, Canned Wheat, contained three more Guess Who classics. “Laughing,” another song in the same bag as “These Eyes,” was coupled on a 45 with “Undun,” and both sides became hits. Also off the same album: “No Time,” which went top five in February 1970. And then came “American Woman.”
“It started as a jam,” said co-writer Kale. “We were playing in Ontario after being on the road in the States, trying to solidify our hold in the American marketplace with ‘These Eyes.’ We were playing a two-set situation, and for one reason or another we were late getting back onstage for the second set. In order to dispel the ominous air that was hanging over the place — as we raced on the stage, one by one we picked up on just this simple rhythm. Cummings came up, ad-libbed some lyrics, and it worked. We recorded it just like that. It was an accident — completely spontaneous. ‘American Woman’ was also controversial. The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York — all these horrendously large places with their big city problems