Hand-me-down world: Old tapes of The Guess Who found in Winnipeg garage
WINNIPEG -- A trove of The Guess Who tapes recently saved from a Winnipeg garage are stoking speculation there might be unfinished songs from the legendary Canadian rock band that have never been heard before.
"There's lots of boxes marked in the '70s that say 'Rehearsal tape: Guess Who' that are of great interest to us," says Tom Kowalsky, a longtime veteran of Winnipeg's music scene who donated the approximately 100 tapes to a small museum in the city last week.
The dates on the labels run from 1971 up to 1996. They include masters recorded at studios in Winnipeg, videotapes of performances on public television in Iowa and live recordings of tour performances through the U.S. Midwest. There's a Brave Belt tape, which was Randy Bachman's band after he'd left The Guess Who, before he formed "Bachman-Turner Overdrive."
According to Kowalsky, they belonged to an employee of The Guess Who who got them from a band member, but ended up needing to store them in the garage of his sister and brother-in-law for a few months. A few months turned into more than 10 years, and Kowalsky says the relatives were about to throw them into the trash.
"I don't understand the circumstances how he secured them from a band member, but of course, in the topsy-turvy rock 'n' roll world, we don't all live in comfortable three-bedroom bungalows. Sometimes you gotta bug out, as it were, and move, and that's what happened and things get lost."
"Literally, the day before they were going to throw them into a Dumpster, they just couldn't sleep over what they knew they were tossing away. But an abandonment order had been written up and there was no reply, and really they needed to get this huge plethora of stuff out of their garage."
Luckily, they called Kowalsky, who picked them up and donated them to the St. Vital Museum, which has a collection of Winnipeg rock memorabilia.
The Guess Who, under the leadership of guitarist Bachman and vocalist Burton Cummings, was formed in Winnipeg and became Canada's leading rock band of the late '60s and early '70s with such million-selling hits as "These Eyes," "Laughing" and "American Woman."
Bachman split with the band in 1970 and the group broke up a few years after that, although several reconstituted versions would surface later. The original group reunited for an appearance at the closing ceremonies of the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, then followed up with highly-successful national tours.
Kowalsky hasn't heard or watched any of the tapes yet because they're on a variety of obsolete formats and he doesn't have the machines to play them. There's 24-track, DAT, ADAT audio tapes and large-format Beta video cassettes.
But the city's music community has stepped up with their own vintage players and are bringing them to the museum next weekend. Former Guess Who guitarist Dale Russell will be there -- he's bringing an ADAT player.
"My heart will be pounding. I'm trembling just thinking about it," Kowalsky says.
Will the tapes still be in a condition that they can be played? Kowalsky is hopeful, saying they were off the ground and were covered, but were exposed to extreme heat and cold.
Even one song would be incredible, Kowalsky says.
"What more could you hope for than you look at the display in the St. Vital Museum of all The Guess Who stuff and you're actually able to put some headphones on and listen to at least one song that we saved."