Home Read Features Read A Chapter Of Robert Lawson’s Definitive New Guess Who Listener’s Guide...

Read A Chapter Of Robert Lawson’s Definitive New Guess Who Listener’s Guide Wheatfield Empire

Take a deep dive into the band's 1970 classic with Canadian writer Robert Lawson.

350
Author Robert Lawson.

Canadian rock scribe and former Winnipegger Robert Lawson has just published Wheatfield Empire: The Listener’s Guide To The Guess Who, an extensively researched, exhaustively detailed and superbly written deep dive into the legendary Winnipeg band’s entire recorded output. He graciously agreed to share a chapter with me — fittingly, the chapter on the band’s pivotal 1970 classic Share the Land. If you like what you see (and I’m pretty sure you will), score a copy HERE. And you can read my review HERE — though you’ll certainly have a far more enjoyable time reading Lawson’s crisp prose below:

 


Share the Land

Recorded: RCA’s Mid-America Recording Center (Studio B), Chicago
Producer: Jack Richardson
Engineer: Brian Christian
Released: October 1970

Background

The follow-up to the successful American Woman album would be notable for being the first without their de facto leader, Randy Bachman.

Bachman was replaced by two local Winnipeg guitarists, Greg Leskiw from the group Wild Rice and Kurt Winter from the power trio Brother. Brother was an up-and-coming new group known for playing all original material at a time when many young acts relied on cover songs. Rounded out by Bill Wallace on bass guitar and drummer Vance Masters (aka Vance Schmidt), Brother was closely watched by Burton Cummings, who was an enthusiastic fan and occasionally sat in with the group. The influence of this trio on The Guess Who would be substantial over the next few years.

On July 17, 1970, the band accepted a rare invitation to perform at the White House in Washington, D.C. A nine-song set from this era (long thought to be the White House performance but not) included some tracks from their upcoming album Share the Land: Bus Rider, Hand Me Down World, and the title tune, described by Cummings as “a quaint little ditty.” Cummings later introduced their cover of Close Up The Honky Tonks by saying, “Anybody who digs a little down-home country pickin’, this is for you.”

In the November 2001 issue of Goldmine Magazine, Cummings was asked about this show. “In retrospect, I think that was a bad career move on the part of our manager. We took a real lambasting from the underground press after we did that. The Nixon administration was very unpopular at the time. I think we were just token members of the Commonwealth. Prince Charles and Princess Anne were the guests of honor, and I guess they wanted the Commonwealth represented in entertainment.”

Album Overview

The album starts very promisingly with a cover of the Brother song Bus Rider. Lead guitarist Kurt Winter makes his initial presence on a Guess Who album noteworthy with a ramshackle solo. Cummings’ vocal asides near the end of the track alternate between the left and right channels. Bus Rider is a perfect example of how quickly the new lineup was already gelling musically. After two incomplete attempts (takes one and two), they completed two full takes (three and four) and then completely nailed it with the version we have here, take five. Although credited as being composed solely by Winter, writing Bus Rider was a collaboration between the guitarist and his aforementioned Brother bandmates Wallace and Masters.

Bill Wallace: “Actually, Bus Rider is identical, except The Guess Who added the elongated ‘train sound’ vocals at the end of each verse.”

Do You Miss Me Darlin’? features exquisite harmony vocals from the band, Cummings on grand piano, and elongated liquid guitar lines from Leskiw, who plays lead on this number. The actual line, “do you miss me darling?” comes from another Brother song of the same name. The song finishes on a dramatic note not unlike A Day In The Life by The Beatles.

Yet another tune borrowed from Brother’s playbook, Hand Me Down World (also incorrectly credited solely to Winter) has good hard rock riffing, a gritty lead vocal, and falsetto backing vocals. Hand Me Down World was recorded on June 17, 1970 in just under six hours, including overdubs and mixes. This is take eight.

Bill Wallace: “Hand Me Down World is almost identical, except the Guess Who version is faster, and the drum break between the verses has an extra bar in it.”

Moan For You Joe is a gently swinging piece with Leskiw offering a tidy, picked guitar solo and Cummings adding some complementary jazz piano for a few bars. Winter does not appear on this track, which was composed by Cummings and Leskiw.

Burton Cummings’ earnest hippie anthem Share the Land begins with a nice showcase for both guitarists playing slightly different parts at the same time. Winter makes his axe squeal in the left channel while Leskiw turns out more grounded riffs in the right. It is an excellent example of the interplay between the two very distinct guitarists. This is take six of the future classic.

In his 2014 book Tales From Beyond The Tap, Randy Bachman states, “I can remember writing part of Share The Land with [Cummings], but I’ve never been given any credit for it. I had that line ‘have you heard the news’ and the guitar riffs.” This outlandish claim has never appeared anywhere, previously or since, and is strongly denied by Cummings.

Hang On To Your Life has thudding riffs pounding out a deep groove, while Cummings plays electric organ. Winter’s solo in the middle of the number is noisy and energetic while Leskiw ends the song with a more lyrical, melodic solo. The song finishes with Cummings channeling his inner Jim Morrison, dramatically reciting Psalm 22:13–15 from the King James Bible.

The friendly Coming Down Off The Money Bag features its composer Greg Leskiw on likable lead vocals. Just before the vocals begin, Jack Richardson’s instructions to Leskiw can be heard bleeding through the guitarist’s headphones. From the control room, Richardson says, “All right there, Greggie, let’s hear you, gonna give us a song now. Let’s hear it, Greggie boy!” Cummings plays harmonica, while Winter’s fuzz guitar solo goes back and forth between the channels. The tune has a brief detour into Cummings’ Song Of The Dog, a straight blues tune with distorted vocals (credited to his alter ego Jelly Roll Kirkpatrick, as if the lead vocal chores weren’t being shared enough) and acoustic guitar accompaniment from both Leskiw and Winter. Coming Down Off The Money Bag dates to Leskiw’s pre-Guess Who group Wild Rice.

On take four of Three More Days, the band locks into a rumbling groove behind Cummings’ earnest, pleading lead vocal. Winter lays down an outer space guitar solo while the frontman ratchets up his performance with the raspy scream: “Freedom, paint me a picture!” Things calm down again for an airy flute solo by Cummings.

Release and Reception

Released in October 1970, Share the Land (LSP-4359) (assisted by the momentum created by the strong chart showing of American Woman) entered the Canadian Top 100 Albums Chart immediately and stayed there for twenty-three weeks, occupying the number 8 position for two weeks in November. It reached number 14 on the U.S. Billboard chart.

The album was also released on 8-track (P8S-1590) and quadraphonic 8-track (PQ8-1590). A 7” reel-to-reel version (TP3-1069) omits Three More Days from the packaging, but it does in fact appear on the program.

A unique mono mix was released in Uruguay as Comparte La Tierra (LPM-4359).

The October 17, 1970 issue of Billboard Magazine reviewed the album, observing that, “. . . even with Randy Bachman gone, The Guess Who have changed for the better.”

Singles released from the album were: Share the Land/“Bus Rider (74-0388), which reached number 2 in Canada and number 10 in the U.S., spending two weeks in the U.S. Top Ten; Hand Me Down World/Runnin’ Down The Street (74-0367), which hit number 17 and Hang On To Your Life/Do You Miss Me Darlin’ (74-0414), which only managed to get to number 43 during seven weeks in the U.S. Top 40. The B-side, Runnin’ Down The Street, is from the final March 1970 sessions with Randy Bachman. The Hand Me Down World/ Runnin’ Down The Street release is notable for being the only domestic single to not include a Burton Cummings songwriting credit, but he does sing both songs. The single edit of Hang On To Your Life has been remixed, with some very noticeable, newly added (albeit unnecessary) slide guitar from Kurt Winter and fades out early just before the Biblical spoken-word portion.

The U.S. 7” for Share The Land on RCA Victor is the only Guess Who single to be released commercially in a picture sleeve in that country.

Burton Cummings: “Because we needed a strong single to follow up American Woman, we all decided that Hand Me Down World was the right one, because it was anything but a love song. The album we’d begun with Randy had already been scrapped so we could work on Share the Land, but Kale and Peterson campaigned very hard for the flip side. Runnin’ Down the Street was something Kale had submitted at a practice when Randy was still in the group, and it had been already recorded and scrapped early in 1970. Between Bachman and myself, we basically rewrote the song. Randy came up with the hooky guitar riff, and I suggested we slow it down to a heavy blues two and four. I tried to sing it like Otis Redding or somebody of that nature. With Bachman already gone and the work on the Share the Land album already underway, Runnin’ Down the Street should never have been the flip side of Hand Me Down World, but it turned out that way, much to my personal disgust. Then Kale decided to put Peterson’s name underneath it as a co-writer, probably to show some kind of warped solidarity during an already tense time within the band members. You see, Kurt and Leskiw had replaced Bachman, and both of them were more from my generation, so it left Kale and Peterson as the ‘old guys.’ All that was very misguided, and Jack Richardson should never have stood for it, but I eventually found out years later that Jack didn’t really have all that much respect for me anyhow, thought I was a decent singer but vigorously resented my ‘leadership’ or anything of that nature.”

A unique Japanese 7” E.P. (SRA-93) consisted of Share The Land, Hand Me Down World/ AmericanWoman, No Time, and These Eyes. A similar EP appeared in Brazil consisting of American Woman, Runnin’ Down The Street/ Hand Me Down World, and No Time (TP-534).

An evening show on October 10 at the Kansas State Fair included Bus Rider, Do You Miss Me Darlin’?, Coming Down Off The Money Bag, Hang On To Your Life, and Hand Me Down World from the new album. They also did We’re Coming To Dinner from Wheatfield Soul (Cummings boasts, “We played this at the White House!”) and covered Close Up The Honky Tonks. A twenty-seven-minute version of American Woman featured extensive jamming, a screaming feedback guitar solo and a seven-minute drum solo. The song then segued into an oddly snarling version of Do Wah Diddy Diddy with blasts of harmonica. Finally, Cummings starts improvising lyrics (“The man is gone, but his songs live on!”), leading the band into a version of the Jimi Hendrix song Who Knows (from the Band of Gypsys live album). Hendrix had just passed away on September 18, so this was a timely tribute to the recently fallen hero.

To promote the new album, the group appeared on the Johnny Cash Show, filmed in Nashville, Tennessee. First, they alternated playing Hand Me Down World with the host performing his new Vietnam War protest song What Is Truth. The group then got the audience’s full attention to dig into a flawless live version of Share The Land. This appearance was not without controversy, as the band proudly draped a Canadian flag over Cummings’ piano, which was seen unintentionally touching the stage floor. This “act of disrespect,” accidental though it was, was upsetting to many back home in Canada.

On November 21, the band taped a lip-sync performance for the show Upbeat in Cleveland, Ohio. The guys gamely go through American Woman (with Winter and a clearly bemused Leskiw miming to Randy Bachman’s guitar parts), Share The Land, and Hang On To Your Life. For Share The Land, Kurt Winter is positioned right up front next to Burton’s piano for prime viewing. Although not an actual live performance, it is still valuable footage to see this lineup captured on film.

Reissues and Remasters

Share the Land was first issued on CD (06192-10623-2) in 1992.

The 2000 Share the Land CD reissue by Buddah Records (74465 99762-2) has two bonus songs: Palmyra and The Answer, which had never been issued on CD before. Curiously, these two tracks are from the final March 1970 sessions with Randy Bachman and have absolutely no relation to the Share the Land album. This release comes with liner notes from John Einarson and helpful track-by-track annotation from Burton Cummings.

In 2016, Iconoclassic Records released their version of the album on CD (ICON 1044), this time with three bonus tracks: Runnin’ Down The Street, Hang On To Your Life (single version), and Moan For You Joe (take three). Runnin’ Down The Street was the B-side to the Hand Me Down World single, so is not totally inappropriate to appear here, even though it stems from the March 1970 sessions while Bachman was still in the band. This is the full album version, not the shorter single edit (74-0367), which has never been issued on CD. The single version of Hang On To Your Life is a valid inclusion, since it features Kurt Winter’s extra guitar work, which was added in post-production. Take three of Moan For You Joe is an acceptable run-through and ends with engineer Brian Christian teasing the band (“Burton, if you had gotten some sleep last night . . .”). This release comes with liner notes from Ralph Chapman and includes valuable interview quotes from Burton Cummings, Jim Kale, Greg Leskiw, Garry Peterson, Jack Richardson, and Kurt Winter.

In 2019, UK reissue label Dutton Vocalion Records issued the quadraphonic mix of Share the Land on CD for the first time. This single disc (CDSML 8564) also included the American Woman quad mix with new liner notes by David Zimmerman.

Copyright © 2020 by Robert Lawson