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Book Review | Wheatfield Empire: The Listener’s Guide To The Guess Who by Robert Lawson

This deep dive into the band's discography is as close to definitive as it gets.

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winnipeggers love the guess who.
no wonder.
winnipeggers live the guess who.
winnipeggers know the guess who.
their music is part of our dna.
their lives are part of our shared history.
their story is ours. our story is theirs.
and everybody in winnipeg has stories about the band / randy / burton / kale / peterson. me included.
i grew up on the same street as randy and his family.
my buddy lived down the block from burton‘s mom.
i’ve interviewed bachman and cummings umpteen times.
i’ve seen this show here.
reviewed that gig there.
hung out in the studio with randy.
jammed with people who jammed with them.
worked with people who worked with them.
drunk with people who drank with them.
so i thought i knew pretty much everything about the guess who.
turns out i don’t know shit.
not next to robert lawson, anyway.
he lived in winnipeg until he was smart / stupid enough to leave.
now he lives in toronto and writes books.
his latest is wheatfield empire: the listener’s guide to the guess who.

it’s a critical discography / biography / chronology / compendium / encyclopedia / catchall.it tells the band’s story through their myriad recordings, releases, reissues and remasters.
it covers every song on every album. every single. every cover tune. every outtake. every leftover. every live recording. every tv appearance. every major review.
it goes from their earliest days to their latest reunions.
it covers the various members’ solo careers.
it’s an insanely deep dive. as close to definitive as it gets.
it’s also clear and concisely arranged. logically and efficiently organized. cleverly and capably written. extensively researched and exhaustively detailed.
you wanna know the band’s set list from their winnipeg arena show in 1966? it’s here.
you wanna know what burton wore on the midnight special in 1974? it’s here.
you wanna know the catalog number for the reel-to-reel version of wheatfield soul? it’s here.
you wanna read about backstage drama, endless feuding and dysfunction? it ain’t here.
lawson doesn’t go there. he doesn’t need to. others have.
but that doesn’t make the book just some music-geek trivial pursuit.
there’s plenty of insight in these stories.
plenty of analysis. revelation. buried treasure.
sure, lawson mostly keeps it light, tight and bright.
but he doesn’t pull punches or sugarcoat either.
neither do the people he interviewed.
that list includes burton, peterson, key non-original members and a slew of others in their circle.
it apparently doesn’t include randy. (did i mention the endless feuding?)
bachman‘s loss. not yours.
not if you’re a guess who fan. a canrock head. a music collector.
and especially not if you are / were / have ever been a winnipegger.
whether or not you were smart / stupid enough to stay / leave.

read a chapter HERE.

Author Robert Lawson.