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THE GUESS WHO
The Guess WhoTiming is everything in the music business.  Summer of 1977 - Burton was on the road with a full slate of dates through to the fall, promoting his latest solo album.  His drummer, Jim Gordon, left the band in the middle of the tour, with no notice whatsoever.  The only drummer Burton felt was capable of learning the entire show in less than a week, and saving the tour, was Vance Masters.  Burton couriered a tape to Vance, and three days later, arrived in Winnipeg with what was left of his backup band.  They rented the Playhouse Theatre for a couple of hours one afternoon, and the following day, Vance was on stage in Edmonton.  Vance played with Burton throughout the States that summer, ending up the tour at the CNE in Toronto, Canada.  When he returned to Winnipeg in the fall, Jim Kale, Donnie McDougall, and Kurt Winter approached Vance to enter into a new version of The Guess Who, as a full partner with a 25% share of the company.

The band rehearsed in the basement of the St. Vital Hotel, just around the corner from Jim Kale’s then-residence on Clonard.  Donnie has one of the most powerful voices in the industry, and that, coupled with his ability to sound remarkably like Burton, caused a substantial number of people to not even notice that Burton was missing from the line-up until newspapers began reporting the fact.  They booked time into Roade Studios to record a demo tape in the early months of 1978.  To the band’s surprise, when the tape was presented to Aquarius Records, the label felt it was not simply a demo - it was a finished product, ready for pressing.  The album, Guess Who’s Back, was released immediately, and a cross-Canada tour was quickly put together to re-introduce the band after their long hiatus from the public.  American agents and promoters caught wind of what was happening up in Canada with the new version, and offers began flooding in for dates from virtually every state.

The extensive touring began to take its toll on the individual members.  Kurt was the first to succumb to the pressure and Dave Inglis was brought in as back up towards the end of 1978.  They recorded another album, All This For A Song, and signed an international record deal with Hilltak Records.  Shortly after the release of the second album, Kurt was replaced by Ralph Watts.  When Jim could no longer handle the rigors of the road, Brian Sellar stepped in on bass.  At the same, The Guess Who added a keyboard player, Jimmy Grabowski.  Jim Kale retained his 1/3 of the partnership and was still collecting a stipend, even though he no longer went out on the road.  Next to go was Dave Inglis, and when Ralph landed the house engineer position with Century 21 Recording Studios, Bobby Bilan took over as lead guitarist.  Donnie and Vance were now in control of both the band and the business of The Guess Who Ltd.  Under their leadership, the group was once again reaching the same heights of success enjoyed by The Guess Who in the early 70’s.  By the fall of 1980, they were commanding top dollar and selling out shows all over the States and Canada.

And then it all came apart.  Jim Kale played a pivotal role in wresting the leadership reins from Donnie and Vance.  To initially get the band into the studio and back on the road did not come cheap and financing was arranged through a bank.  While each of the partners, and some of the wives, signed personal guarantees, the bank still required tangible collateral.  That security came in the form of Jim’s house.  When Jim saw the amount of money that was beginning to flow into The Guess Who coffers, he made the decision to step back into the band on a full-time basis.  His trump card was the operating line held at the bank.  Without it, the band could not continue.  And without the house as collateral, the bank would not maintain the line of credit.  In the early part of 1981, he issued an ultimatum to Donnie and Vance - either he be allowed to play on stage with the group, or he would pull out of the partnership entirely, leaving his two partners with no ready means to keep the band going.  Virtually all profits coming into the business were being diverted to pay down the debt, with little left over to launch a defense against the hostile takeover. 

They had a choice to make.  Get involved in what could turn into a lengthy legal entanglement, which would take them away from writing and performing, and in turn, bring the momentum the band had built up to a screeching halt.  Or, allow Jim back on stage.  They chose what they believed at the time to be the lesser of the two evils.  Vance and Donnie formally dissolved the partnership in the spring of 1981, giving their shares to Jim in exchange for their release from their piece of the debt at the bank.  An interesting side note to this story is that since the last album on which songs co-written by Vance appeared, All This For A Song, there has been no new material from The Guess Who that has met with any kind of success.

Post-script:  Fifteen years later, on the August long weekend in 1996, Vance rejoined Donnie, Bobby and Bill Wallace for one last show at the Minnedosa Rock Festival, with Bill’s wife, Debbie, ably handling the keyboard position for that event.

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