Guess Who's Playing Seniors'
By John Mackie ~ CanWest News Service: Vancouver Sun ~ December 10,
Ian Lindsay, CanWest News Service
Chad Allan, former member of Canadian rock greats
the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive,
performs for seniors at Marpole Family Place in Vancouver.
He now makes his living with such performances.
VANCOUVER - Chad Allan, Canadian rock 'n' roll legend, straps on the
accordion his parents gave him in the early '60s and starts to play It's
a Long Way To Tipperary.
It may seem a bit odd that the original singer for both the Guess Who
and Bachman-Turner Overdrive would open a show with a music hall song made
popular by British soldiers in the First World War, but it goes over well
with the 20 people in the audience at the Marpole Place for Seniors in
That's right. Chad Allan, the voice on the garage rock classic Shakin'
All Over, is now playing seniors' homes.
But he doesn't seem to mind. At 62, with snow-white hair, he's not that
far away from senior status himself. He admits it was a bit weird when
he first started playing for seniors, but he discovered it's spiritually
rewarding, although not all that lucrative.
"Not so long ago I played Tsawwassen and this woman came up to me and
said, 'Chad, thank you very much,''' he relates.
"I said 'What for?' She said `My mother hasn't sung or laughed in a
year. And today she's singing, she's laughing. Thank you for that.'
"It's interesting. Music has a way ... you could have the sickest person,
mentally distant, not talking, but when the music starts, it brings back
memories and the words. They start singing, the words come back. It's really
quite amazing to see.''
He's right. When he starts to softly sing Bye Bye Blackbird at
Marpole, the seniors pick it up and start to sing along. He picks up the
tempo with a medley of the Beer Barrel Polka and The Pennsylvania
Polka, which gets everyone clapping. An accordion version of Jambalaya
Hank Williams incites a couple of people to get up dancing.
For a seniors gig, it's rather musically sophisticated. After he switches
to piano, he does a lovely version of Floyd Cramer's instrumental hit from
the '60s, Last Date. Later he does a beautiful instrumental rendition
of Henry Mancini's Moon River. He even shows off some of his rock
'n' roll roots on rollicking versions of Big Joe Turner's Flip, Flop
and Fly, Ray Charles' What'd I Say, and Jerry Lee Lewis' Great
Balls of Fire.
It may seem a bit much to do Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis at a seniors
centre, but he finds it goes down well. Besides, you don't want to do all
"When I go into certain care homes and do a lot of 1920s stuff, early
stuff, I have people come up to me and say, `Listen Chad, these songs are
really nice, but they're kind of old for these people now,''' he said.
"Even the seniors I'm playing for find those songs kind of old for them.
So we're looking at (songs from the) late '30s into the '40s and '50s now.
As the population matures, now I can do the Beatles. I could probably even
do a Rolling Stones song for some of them and it'd be OK. Certainly Jerry
Lee Lewis works.''
The audience at Marpole Place seems to like whatever he plays.
"Oh it was great,'' said Gladys Butler, 95. "I'm listening to one and
I think, 'Oh, that's beautiful.' Then the next one comes on and it's just
"I like him, he's a nice guy,'' said Margaret Robbins, 87. "He sings
lots of songs we know.''
Asked if she knew Chad was a famous rock 'n' roll singer, Robbins replied:
She was told he was in a band called the Guess Who. They had a song
called Shakin' All Over.
"He's quite the boy,'' she said. "I like something old.''
Allan has been playing seniors facilities on and off for years, but
now it's his main source of income. His period of rock 'n' roll fame did
not make him rich: he quit both the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive
(then called Brave Belt) before either had any sustained success. Hence
he now lives in a small rented apartment in Vancouver instead of a mansion.
Making more money would have been nice, but it doesn't seem to bother
him that both bands he co-founded became wildly successful after he left.
Besides, there are physical reasons he quit. He basically blew his voice
in the Guess Who by going out and screaming loud rock 'n' roll for years
Forty years later, his voice is still shot. When he sings, it's in a
strained whisper. Even his speaking voice sounds frail.
"I consider it a miracle right now that I can even speak, never mind
sing,'' admits Allan, who grew up in Winnipeg's East Kildonan area and
who has lived in Vancouver since 1977.
"What really really did it to my voice is we had no monitor speakers
(onstage), you couldn't really hear yourself singing. In order to hear
yourself you'd push yourself, push your throat and push and push. I'd end
up blowing my throat.
"Every weekend we'd be playing rock 'n' roll and by the time Sunday
morning came after the jobs I was just wasted. My voice was just shot.
Then I'd recuperate from Monday to Thursday or Friday, when we'd play again.''
Unfortunately, he compounded the problem a decade ago.
"I had this crazy accident, actually. I was trying to heal my throat
and swallowed this big hunk of honey on a spoon and I choked on it. That
really did it to my throat. After that incident my voice was just shot.
I was emotionally, psychologically, vocally shot. I became a bit of a hermit,
actually. I was living with my parents at the time and playing restaurants
His hermit stage ended when he met and married his wife, Christine,
in 1999. But the gigs dwindled as he got older. He used to play restaurants
and teach songwriting at Vancouver's Kwantlen University College, but now
he only does seniors' shows.
Still, he considers himself lucky that he's always been able to make
his living from music.
He was born Allen Kowbel, but tired of his friends calling him "cow
bell'' he adapted the stage name Chad Allan after '50s singer Chad Mitchell.
He had a number of successful bands in Winnipeg, but really began to click
when guitarist Randy Bachman joined his group the Silvertones.
"He was a really great singer, had great phrasing,'' recalls Bachman
from his home on Salt Spring Island.
"He sang the Paul McCartney songs, the Cliff Richard songs, the Bobby
Allan and the Silvertones became Chad Allan and the Reflections and
then Chad Allan and the Expressions. Their uncanny ability to replicate
the hits of the day made them the top band in Winnipeg. When girl groups
became popular, they added a female singer, Carol West, to sing a few songs.
Which sparks one of Bachman's favourite memories of Allan.
"Carol West wanted to sing The Locomotion by Little Eva, which
starts out 'da-da,' with saxes,'' Bachman said.
"We didn't have saxes, so we had the idea to amplify Chad Allan playing
the accordion, because the bass notes on the accordion have that air moving
through them. But Chad was embarrassed to play accordion onstage. So we
got a big cardboard box and wrote on it 'Locomotion Machine.' You couldn't
see the accordion, and we hung a mike over the top.
"The audience is looking at this thing that has printed on the side
in crayon, 'Locomotion Machine.' And Chad starts up the accordion - da-da-da!
- and she sang The Locomotion. Nobody knew that in this box was
Chad Allan and the Expressions scored a hit around North America with
All Over in 1965. The problem was, no one knew them as Chad Allan and
the Expressions. The original radio station copies of Shakin' All Over
read Guess Who? with no band name, and DJs were supposed to "guess who''
it was. So everyone called them the Guess Who, and it stuck.
Allan quit the Guess Who in 1966 because of the problems with his voice
and because he hated travelling. Ironically, a year later he became host
of the Let's Go show on CBC, singing the hits of the day with the Guess
Who as his backing band. After Randy Bachman left the Guess Who in 1970,
Allan and Bachman formed Brave Belt, which recorded two albums before Allan
Last spring when the Juno Awards were held in Winnipeg, longtime Guess
Who associate Marty Kramer had the idea of getting the original band back
together for a show, with all the proceeds going to Allan. Everybody agreed
to do it, but all the venues in Winnipeg were booked for Juno-related shows
and the gig never happened.
"I don't know if I was up to it vocally anyway,'' said Allan, who hasn't
been to Winnipeg since the Shakin' All Over rock 'n' roll reunion concert
Allan has thought about reproducing some colourful Guess Who posters
he collected from the band's early years, but his dad, Bill Kowbel, recently
died and he has put the idea on hold.
He also would rather keep the focus of this article away from his storied
history, and towards his seniors' gigs.
"There's all kinds of budget cuts in those areas,'' he said.
"Generally they're lacking in money, there's a lot of volunteers and
this and that. So I personally would like to focus on that, the seniors
thing. Let people know there is a need there for people to help out, and
for money. That area needs help, it's largely neglected by the government
as far as funding and stuff. I think I would rather keep it focused on
When the good Lord gave out humble pie, Chad Allan had seconds.
There were five members in Chad Allan and the Expressions when they
recorded their breakthrough hit, Shakin' All Over. Where are they
Chad Allan (vocals, rhythm guitar) lives in Vancouver and makes
a living playing music at seniors homes.
Randy Bachman (lead guitar) lives on Saltspring Island and continues
to make records and tour, both solo and with Allan's replacement in the
Guess Who, Burton Cummings. He also has a CBC radio show, Randy Bachman's
Vinyl Tap. Bachman bought the Guess Who's early material off Selkirk Communications
several years ago and has been reissuing Guess Who CDs on his own label.
Jim Kale (bass) still lives in Winnipeg. After the Guess Who
broke up in 1975, he copyrighted the name and has gone on tour as the Guess
Who with a variety of sidemen. Health problems forced him to bow out of
the Bachman-Cummings Guess Who reunion in 2001, but he still received a
cut of the gate because he owns the band name.
Gary Peterson (drums) lives in Greensboro, N.C.. The only band
member that lasted from the Chad Allan era to the end of the Burton Cummings
era, Peterson now plays with Kale in the latest version of the Guess Who,
sans Bachman and Cummings.
Bob Ashley (keyboards) is missing in action. Longtime Guess Who
associate Marty Kramer said Ashley was last heard from playing piano in
the touring version of Phantom of the Opera about a decade ago. He was
living in Calgary at the time, but when Kramer tried to find him for a
proposed reunion of the original band, he was nowhere to be found. If you
know where Ashley is, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chad Allan with his former band The Guess Who, circa
From left to right:
Burton Cummings, Jim Kale, Gary Peterson, Chad Allan,
Chad Allan's greatest hits, and misses:
Shakin' All Over, the Guess Who, 1965. A cover of an English
hit by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Notable for Bachman's classic guitar
line and Allan's great rock 'n' roll screams. Made it to number 22 in the
Billboard charts in the U.S., an unheard of feat for a Canadian band in
Stop Teasing Me, the Guess Who, 1965. The Guess Who were known
for doing spot-on covers of the hits of the day, and on this Bachman song,
the band sounds exactly like the Beatles. Exactly.
Hey Ho (What You Do To Me), the Guess Who, 1965. A rollicking
number recorded in New York and co-written by R&B greats Nickolas Ashford
and Valerie Simpson.
Hurting Each Other, the Guess Who, 1965. Written by Peter Udell
and Gary Geld, this melodic ballad was later a big hit for the Carpenters.
But the Guess Who did it first, and Allan's understated vocal was perfect
for the lyric.
Rock 'n'Roll Band, Brave Belt, 1971. After reuniting with Bachman,
Allan wrote and recorded this laid back, funky country-rock song.
Dunrobin's Gone, Brave Belt, 1972. Dunrobin's Gone is arguably
Chad Allan's finest recording, a stirring lament for a lost love. Dunrobin
is a street name from Allan's old Winnipeg neighbourhood, East Kildonan.
It was a minor hit, but Allan had already left the band by the time it
was released. It was co-written with Barry Erickson, another ex-Winnipegger
living in Vancouver. The last time Allan saw Erickson, he was a window
Another Way Out, Brave Belt, 1972. Sublime pop with a brilliant
production by Bachman. Lyrically it's similar to the Guess Who hit Undun.
Movie, Chad Allan, 1973. After leaving Brave Belt, Allan recorded
a solo album, Sequel, for GRT records. This moody piano ballad was the