Chad Allan Years
Part V
Guess Who's Playing Seniors' Homes?
By John Mackie ~ CanWest News Service: Vancouver Sun ~ December 10, 2005

                                                       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 Vancouver.

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 by 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 ancient songs.

"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 as beautiful.''

"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: "No, really?''

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 on end.

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 and things.''

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 Vee songs.''

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 an accordion.''

Chad Allan and the Expressions scored a hit around North America with Shakin' 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 quit again.

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 in 1987.

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 that.''

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 now?

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

                                                                                  Vancouver Sun
Chad Allan with his former band The Guess Who, circa 1967-68. 
From left to right: 
Burton Cummings, Jim Kale, Gary Peterson, Chad Allan, Randy Bachman.

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 1965.

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 washer.

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 highlight.

John Mackie
Vancouver Sun
© CanWest News Service 2005


CHAD ALLAN: 1. Anecdotes 2. Interview 3. Discography 4. Reflections 5. Clipping
PHOTOS/SCRAPS: 6. Photos I 7. Photos II 8. Photos III 9. GW Bios Clips 10. GW Degrees
ORIGINALS: 11. Jim Kale 12. Kale/Peterson . . .


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