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Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman are suing The Guess Who for $20 million. This requires an explanation.

Randy Bachman was with the band that would become the Guess Who since 1962. Burton Cummings joined the group 1965. Together, they led the band through hit after hit between 1968 and 1970.

Bachman was the first to leave when he couldn’t reconcile his personal beliefs with the hedonism of the rock’n’roll life. After some fractious lineup changes, Cummings broke things up in 1975. Unfortunately, there was important loose end. After 1975, who had the right to the name “The Guess Who?” This is where it gets a little complicated.

Bassist Jim Kale was a founding member of the band and ended up owning the name even though he left the group in 1972. In 1977, he asked Cummings if he could use the name for a reunion show, thinking that since the band was inactive, no one would mind. That’s when he discovered that no one had trademarked the name; it was free for anyone to use. Seeking to protect that legacy, Kale trademarked “The Guess Who” in 1986 and became owner of the name. He seems to not to have alerted anyone else.

A version of The Guess Who toured with a rotating lineup through the late 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. When Kale retired in 2016, the only remaining original member was drummer Garry Peterson. He continues to tour with a group under the name “The Guess Who,” although there have been many appearances where the band has appeared without a single original player.

This has always annoyed Cummings and Bachman, calling it “fake.” Even Jim Kale has called whatever The Guess Who is now as a cover band made up of “trained monkeys.” This also explains why Cummings and Bachman have been forced to tour and record under the name “Bachman-Cummings.”

After numerous cease-and-desist orders, Cummings and Bachman have brought out the big gun: a $20 million lawsuit against Kale and Peterson. They claim “false advertising,” saying that the current band has been peddling itself as the real thing, including the use of promo pictures that feature both Cummings and Bachman.

I quote from the press release: “[Kale and Peterson] ) are being sued for allegedly concocting a deceptive scheme that has falsely led fans into buying tickets for the cover band’s live shows and implying that Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman are performing at the shows when, in fact they have no affiliation with the cover band.

“The lawsuit also claims that Kale and Peterson have been removing images of Cummings and Bachman from the landing pages of music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music and replacing them with pictures of the cover band in an effort to boost sales of tickets for live performances. The suit additionally states the defendants have been using songs written by Cummings and Bachman to promote the cover band without obtaining proper licenses.

“The cover band’s actions are alleged to have impeded both Cummings’ and Bachman’s own ability to book live performances in the United States and tarnished the band’s legacy. The plaintiffs seek in excess of $20 million in damages as well as a court order directing Kale and Peterson to take corrective measures notifying the public and all venues where the cover band is playing with truthful advertising.”

Here’s Cummings: “With this lawsuit, Randy [Bachman] and I hope to set the record straight and protect fans from imposters trying to rewrite history. Even after we’re gone, the legacy of The Guess Who will live on, and we want to make sure that legacy is restored and preserved truthfully.”

Says Bachman: “Burton [Cummings] and I are the ones who wrote the songs and made the records. It’s Burton’s voice and my guitar playing on those albums. Anyone presenting and promoting themselves as The Guess Who are clones who are ripping off our fans and tainting the legacy of the band. It’s about time for the real story to come out.”

This will be interesting. Meanwhile, if you’re in a band, make sure you know who owns the name.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38165 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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