Burton Cummings has played as a piano soloist in a lounge, and he’s played before 500,000 people at SARStock in 2003. Now the Canadian music icon is set to do his “damnedest” to put on a great show in Estevan.
The Guess Who’s lead vocalist, who also released solo albums that broke sales’ records in Canada when 1978’s Dream of a Child went three times platinum, is the latest Canadian act headlining Spectra Place with a concert tonight.
Cummings spoke with The Southeast Trader Express from Los Angeles earlier this week.
Big or small, Cummings said the venue isn’t as important as the audience.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as the place is full and the crowd is with me.”
He said he never gets tired of singing hit songs. He learned the lesson early in his career to be appreciative of hits after opening for Jefferson Airplane in the old Winnipeg Arena.
“I was full of piss and vinegar, and we were tremendous. We thought they wouldn’t be able to compare to our show. Four bars into White Rabbit, (the audience) forgot we were just on stage. That’s when I learned the power of a hit record, because the first four bars made them forget about our 60-minute set.”
Now, every chance he gets to perform is something of a blessing.
“Every year it’s more special than the last,” he said, noting the number of musicians from his era who have died recently, from Levon Helm to Donna Summers.
Cummings said he feels incredibly lucky to still be performing with The Carpet Frogs, the band that has been accompanying him for more than a decade. He said their shows are tight, everybody is singing and it’s anything but boring.
He’s now working on mixing his upcoming DVD, Burton Cummings Live at Massey Hall. The footage was captured during two performances, one from 2010, and another in 2011 that he wanted to do so each performance was his best.
Cummings said the project is great for him because he’s honoured to have his name associated with Massey Hall, one of Canada’s most hallowed concert halls.
“The ghosts in there are amazing,” he said, referring to the musical greats who have graced the Massey Hall stage before him.
He considers part of his legacy, and that of The Guess Who, to be tied to the era they produced their music in, before the computer became such an important creative tool in producing music.
“We don’t even use tape anymore. With auto-tuning even Paris Hilton can make an album. It makes me prouder of what we did, without some clown helping me with a computer.”
He said if his vocals sound good on a recording, it’s because he sang the song well in the studio. Because they had no choice but to perform well during a recording session, he said, “I’m so proud of how the records have stood up over time.”
He is now dabbling in poetry, which he began doing about five years ago.
While recording his latest album he couldn’t sleep after a long day at the studio, something he said was not unusual, so he went online to his blog and put together a couple of poems. There was a positive response to the pieces, and that was the start of his poetry compilation. He’s now publishing a book of poetry, featuring 47 original pieces, with a release scheduled for later this year.
“I realized there’s a huge market for this, (which I) discovered through the Internet, and found an amazing following for my words.”
He noted writing a poem as opposed to a song is different because of how each is received by the listener or reader.
“Lyrics are different than words read without accompanying melody.”
The poem styles range from blank verse to iambic pentameter.
Cummings is comfortable marketing himself on the Internet, and he’s embraced the technology that has changed the face of music distribution since he first started recording in the 1960s. He’s even moved on from MySpace to Facebook and really enjoys the immediacy of connection that these social networks provide.
Keeping up with the technology of the times is necessary, according to Cummings, who noted, “Anybody who goes the other way is lost in the dust.”
Cummings has owned a personal computer since the 1980s and remembers writing a foreword to a friend’s book on his Apple II Plus. While writing just the foreword, he ran out of hard drive space on the computer.
He said he’s not as computer savvy as Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates and he doesn’t know code, but he can find his way around in the digital world. He now continues to blog and uses his computer to store his music.
“I used it to build a world-class music library. I have 150,000 songs in there. If we started listening to it right now, it would be June 2013 before repeating the first song again.”
Cummings is set to perform tonight at Spectra Place with his band The Carpet Frogs. The show starts at 8 p.m.