Legal News

The Guess Who's Burton Cummings Will Give Up His Royalties to Stop Alleged 'Cover Band'

The Canadian musician has cancelled performing license agreements for all of his songs, which will prevent the act currently performing under The Guess Who name from playing hits like "American Woman" and "These Eyes."

Burton Cummings

Burton Cummings


Canadian musician Burton Cummings is giving up his royalties to protect his legacy.

The "American Woman" singer and co-founder of classic Winnipeg band The Guess Who has cancelled his performance license agreements, Rolling Stone reports, in an effort to prevent the current iteration of The Guess Who from performing.

The move is an escalation of a legal battle that's been ongoing since last fall, when Cummings and fellow Guess Who songwriter Randy Bachman launched a lawsuit against what they're calling a "cover band" and claiming they're engaging in false advertising, attempting to juice concert sales by giving the impression that Cummings and Bachman are still part of the band. This iteration of the band owns the Guess Who trademark, and features original drummer Garry Peterson.


While that lawsuit is still ongoing, Cummings is taking a new approach to halting the alleged cover band's activity. The vast majority of concert venues in the U.S. have licensing agreements with performing rights organizations (PROs) which allow them to host live performances of any music in the catalogue of those PROs. Cummings has spent the last several months cancelling his agreements with those PROs, so that his music is no longer licensed for performance in live venues — a move Cummings can only make because he owns his publishing rights.

The move is drastic and relatively unheard of, as it will cause Cummings to forfeit potential royalties. He'll lose out on payments not just for live performances, but for radio spins, TV placements, shopping mall playlists, and more. The loss applies not just to recordings Cummings played on, but recordings of any songs he wrote, which includes Lenny Kravitz's popular cover of The Guess Who's "American Woman."

Cummings says it's a sacrifice worth making.

“I’m willing to do anything to stop the fake band," he told Rolling Stone. “They’re not the people who made these records and they shouldn’t act like they did."


While Peterson and original bassist Jim Kale are credited alongside Cummings and Bachman as writers on "American Woman" — the band's only Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 — Cummings and Bachman were The Guess Who's primary songwriting team. They are the sole writers credited on such popular songs as "These Eyes," "Laughing" and "No Time."

Kale took ownership of the band's trademark in 1986. He toured under the name, with Peterson joining several years later. Kale retired in 2016, and the alleged "cover band" continues on, with Peterson the last remaining original member, though Bachman and Cummings allege he performs only intermittently.

Since Cummings terminated his licenses, The Guess Who have already cancelled five concert dates in Florida and Alabama.

“This is about way more than just money, I wouldn’t have pulled the catalog if it wasn’t,” Cummings explains. “This is about the legacy of the songs and the fact that the cover band is doing anything they can to erase me and Bachman from the history of the group. I see advertisements for their shows, and it’s me singing ‘American Woman.’"


Cummings is also claiming the band has threatened to sue him if he says he was a member of The Guess Who.

“You know how ridiculous this is?" Cummings asks. "What next, can I not say I was born and raised in Winnipeg? That I’m Canadian?”

For his part, Cummings is still actively performing and touring. He'll participate in a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot at Toronto's Massey Hall on May 23, before heading out on a series of North American dates this summer. "Burton Cummings, of the original Guess Who," reads the tour poster.

Find out more about his tour dates here.


Gordon Lightfoot
Country Music Association of Ontario

Gordon Lightfoot

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