‘THESE EYES’…HAVE SEEN A LOT OF TWEETS!
GEARING UP TO HEADLINE IN LAS VEGAS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN JANUARY, LEGENDARY ROCKER BURTON CUMMINGS DEVELOPS A DYNAMIC PRESENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH MULTIPLE GENERATIONS OF FANS—WHO POST (VIA TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND YOUTUBE) COMMENTS AND LIVE CLIPS ON HIS BOOMING HOMEPAGE
A Two-Time Recipient of Stars on Canada’s Walk of Fame, The Former Guess Who Frontman Released His First Full-Band Live Album ‘Massey Hall’ in 2012, and Is Soon Releasing ‘RUFF, Volume 1,’ The First In A Series of DVD Documentaries Chronicling His Personal Life and Extraordinary Career
Burton Cummings (www.burtoncummings.com) recalls sitting in his high school class one day, doodling pictures of records he dreamed he would someday make with his band’s name on them. Just a few years later, when the legendary frontman of The Guess Who was 21, he found himself in the backseat of a limo, crossing the famed 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan, on his way to a photo session with Randy Bachman. As the two band mates gazed in awe at the unfolding cityscape, their first hit song song “These Eyes” came on the radio.
“I’m this guy from Winnipeg looking at all these skyscrapers and suddenly hear the DJ say, ‘There’s that great song by Canadian rockers The Guess Who,” the singer/songwriter says. “It was a tremendous moment for a kid from the prairies listening to my first gold record. I thought, ‘Am I dreaming this?’”
That dream is still alive and thriving in the digital age. Cummings is still performing classics like “These Eyes,” “American Woman,” “Undun,” “No Time” and “Share The Land” and his biggest solo hit “Stand Tall” —among countless others—on tour every year across the U.S. and his native Canada, where The Guess Who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987. The singer is also a two time recipient of stars on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto—as frontman for The Guess Who and as a solo artist.
Enthusiastic, creative and fully embracing social media to stay in day to day touch with several generations of fans, Cummings is looking forward to wrapping his busier than ever touring slate this year with a batch of East Coast dates in mid-November, then launching 2014 with his first ever headlining shows in Las Vegas, January 17-18, 2014 at the Orleans Hotel and Casino.
“I played a private performance for Universal at the Hard Rock in Vegas once, but I’m excited about setting a new precedent in my career doing these first official shows there,” says Cummings. “I’ve seen pictures of the showroom and they’ve got this cool IMAX type seating with a slanted floor. The cool part about playing rooms like this is that our shows turn them into ‘outdoor’ festival experiences with a real party atmosphere.”
Cummings, who plays keyboards, piano and guitar, continues to work with an explosive five piece band of two guitarists, a bassist, and a standup percussionist—all of whom are singers. “I grew up on The Beatles and Beach Boys, so I’ve always been a stickler for everyone onstage being a vocalist,” he says. “The challenge is that my shows are usually two hours or longer and you can’t do that in Vegas. It’s 65-70 minutes tops, so I’ll have to leave out some notable material – but that’s great for the fans because that means I’ll focus on the hit records! Having that many songs that have stuck around for so many decades is a problem most musicians wish they had, and I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
No doubt, Cummings’ loyal fans will be sharing photos and videos from concerts on his new real-time website, which has been filling up quickly with live performance photos and videos (from recent shows and over the years) via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram since Burton sent out a recent Tweet encouraging fans to take photos and videos during concerts and to share them on social media using the hashtag #BCLIVE. Photos and videos shared using these social media platforms are displayed in real time on the homepage of BurtonCummings.com, creating an exciting sense of immediacy and community among excited fans. The response to #BCLIVE has been overwhelming. Since it was introduced recently, content has been coming in from all over the world and fans have begun sharing it amongst themselves and creating a fresh new buzz for the site and about Cummings’ activities.
Unlike a lot of rockers from his era who stay stuck in old school marketing models and only reluctantly embrace social media, Cummings has long been on the cutting edge of all the emerging technology, reaching out to fans since theMySpace era via his personal blog. Cummings recently launched an inaugural newsletter via his site, which combined with performance posts on his home page and regular updates on his Facebook fan page, is creating a vibrant interactive real-time community whose excitement extends to their support of his many live performances.
Now a part of his own website, Cummings’ interactive blog often gets personal about his life and music, filling fans in on details from his childhood growing up in Winnipeg without a father and being raised by his mother and grandmother.
Fans may learn a lot about Cummings extracurricular activities, from visits to his house in the forest on Vancouver Island with his wife (where he goes to “recharge his batteries”) to his monstrous comic book collection; DC Comics heroes like Superman, Batman, The Flash and World’s Finest are his favorites – and yes, he’s been to Comic-Con a few times!). He is also an obsessive music collector with over 185,000 mp3s in his digital collection – and he keeps the vinyl albums and CDs these are burned from! Rummaging through record stores in every city he visits – while also spending hours at a time at Amoeba Music in Hollywood – he has built a Smithsonian sized library of recordings that date back to 1909.
“A lot of celebrities hire people to write their blogs and maintain their sites, but this is really me,” he says. “Comparing it to The Guess Who’s halcyon days in the early ’70s is interesting. Back then, fans would write a letter to someone running our fan club, who would send them a picture stamped with autographs. Today, I put up my blog and there’s a guy from New Zealand checking in, commenting on what I’m writing. And I can talk right back to him. It’s all interactive, instant and worldwide.”
Fans are having a blast posting and viewing the videos on Cummings’ home page, but those looking for a more permanent record of the singer’s recent live shows can pick up Massey Hall, his first ever live CD recorded with a band, which was released in 2012. It features performances from two shows (in 2010-11) at Toronto’s iconic venue.
Cummings note that Massey Hall is “known as the Royal Albert Hall of Toronto, where Winston Churchill rallied troops and everyone from Bob Hope to the Marx Bros. performed in the early days. Sharing a similarly iconic history is the Winnipeg venue named after the singer, The Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts. Originally The Walker Theatre, the 106-year-old showplace, re-christened after its native son in 2002, has hosted everyone from Houdini andChurchill to Louis Armstrong and Vladimir Horowitz. It remains a popular regional music venue.
Cummings has been asked many times about writing an autobiography over the years, and while he loves writing his blog, he has found what he considers to be a more dynamic way to document his fascinating life and career: through a series of DVD documentaries called “RUFF.”
The soon to be released, 86-minute “RUFF, Vol. 1” includes concert and sound check footage, including clips from his 2000-2001 Guess Who reunion with Bachman and original drummer Garry Peterson; a clip of Cummings receiving his honorary high school diploma a few years ago; stories about his rocky childhood; and a mix of “silly shenanigans and serious emotional stuff, all of which are very interesting.”
Volume 1 will be released in November and Volume 2 is already deep in the assembly stage.
Another creative project dear to Cummings’ creative heart is his upcoming book of original poetry, “The Writings of B.L. Cummings,” inspired by his love of the works of Kipling, Keats and Edgar Allen Poe.
“Making music is still so much fun for me and I’ve definitely got an attitude of gratitude for the life I have had and the loyal fans who have stuck with me for so many years,” he says. “But if I had to pinpoint my favorite part of this career, it would be having had the opportunity to meet, interact and sometimes even work with some of my own musical heroes, from Frank Zappa and Paul McCartney to The Doors, who I saw perform live twice. How many guys can say they drove Jim Morrison around all night in his GTO? Or opened for Gerry and The Pacemakers and Roy Orbison, which I did in Winnipeg when I was 16 years old. I never take any of it for granted – and maybe that’s why things have worked out as well as they have.”