The Guess Who

Most of those who know me know that I am a tireless defender of the music of Domenic Troiano. I noticed some recent internet postings inquiring as to what of Dom's music is available on CD. I was in Toronto this summer and found the compilation Triple Play still in stock at Sam The Record Man. Triple Play is an overview of the 3 albums he released in the late '70s after the Guess Who broke up. When the Guess Who disbanded in 1975, Domenic put a band together with a distinct rhythm and blues style. With 2 keyboard players, the first release, Burnin' at the Stake, was the most mellow effort of Dom's career. Some outstanding songwriting such as "The Outer Limits of My Soul" as well as the jazz flavoured contributions of the Brecker Brothers still made this album a worthy effort. In contrast, 1977's The Joke's on Me revealed a more solid rock flavoured sound that was more reminiscent of Troiano's earlier efforts. The title track along with "Maybe the Next Time," "War Zone," and "Road to Hell" certainly emphasized a more progressive rock sound; driving rhythm under sophisticated harmonic structures, topped off with terrific guitar artistry. One could only wish Burton was around to sing the vocals... the album also contained an instrumental "Spud" that was a number the Guess Who jammed between songs during their final tour in the summer of 1975. By 1979, The Domenic Troiano Band was now called simply "Troiano" and the corresponding album Fret Fever was the most commercially successful of this trio of releases supported largely by the hit single "We All Need Love." More important and better songs such as "South American Run" (featuring former Bush/Mandala vocalist Roy Kenner) and the bluesy "Achilles" were unfortunately overshadowed by the quasi-disco flavoured numbers.
The Toronto Sound is still available as well. It consists of Dom's 2 Mercury solo albums (1972-73) that he did prior to joining the GW. Both albums fit in their entirety on 1 CD so it is good value for money. The music on both of these albums was extraordinary, probably Dom at his best. Great numbers like "Repossession Blues," "Writing's on the Wall" and "The Wear and the Tear on My Mind" make seeking out this music well worth the effort.
A terrific CD that was available a few years ago was the Bush album from 1970 (no, not the British band of the same name). Bush released one fantastic album in 1970. They opened for Three Dog Night and the "Dogs" even recorded one of Bush's tunes "I Can Hear You Calling (Troiano)" for the flipside of "Joy to the World." If you can find the Bush CD, buy it. It also contains 20 minutes of bonus material from a 1970 concert at the Bitter End in L.A. One of the tunes from this is a piece called "Wicked Woman" from which Dom would steal the riff to "Rich World-Poor World" a few years later.

Prior to Bush, Dom was an integral member of one of Canada's greatest bands of the 1960s, The Mandala. The Mandala was a Toronto rhythm and blues outfit featuring George Olliver on lead vocals. Interestingly, Domenic wrote most of the material (as he would in every one of his various ventures). It is a crime that their album has yet to be released on CD. I have spoken to Dom about this and he would love it to happen as well.
Between Bush and The Guess Who, Domenic joined the Cleveland based rock trio the James Gang (replacing Joe Walsh) and contributed on 2 albums, "Passin' Thru" and "Straight Shooter," both of which are available on CD.
Many Guess Who fans first encountered Troiano as a sideman on Randy Bachman's 1970 instrumental solo album, Axe. Although it is hard to imagine two guitarists with a greater contrast of style, Domenic has a great respect for Randy's musicianship and has spoken highly of Randy on a number of occasions. It is rumoured that Randy will be re-releasing this album on CD sometime in the near future.
Another rare recording featuring Domenic is an LP from 1981 called "Changing of the Guard." Dom formed a power trio called Black Market for this venture. One can definitely hear the same sound as Dom achieved producing Greg Leskiw and Bill Wallace in Kilowatt around the same time period. None of this is on CD as yet.
In the mid-80s, Dom went into television soundtrack writing. He did the music for the show Night Heat as well as Diamonds. The theme for Night Heat was released as a single as well.
Dedicated fans will find Domenic playing as a sideman to such artists as Donald Fagen, David Clayton Thomas, and even rockin' Ronnie Hawkins. His playing is distinct and unmistakably recognizable. The die-hard Canadian rock fans may remember a Toronto group from the '60s called the Five Rogues. A number of singles were released where Domenic's playing was prominently featured.
The music he recorded as a member of the Guess Who was as different from Kurt Winter as Kurt Winter's was of Randy Bachman. Kurt helped turn the music of the Guess Who from a "pop/rock" sound to a more serious FM radio hard rock sound. It was a deliberate decision of the band to go in this musical direction as Burton craved the acceptance of the rock establishment of the day. By 1974 however, things had soured. The band was still considered a pop band (almost novelty act considering the recent and rare hit on the radio in the form of "Clap for the Wolfman") in the U.S. Although there was a genuine respect and impressive following throughout the mid-west, the Guess Who were still nobodies in NYC and L.A. Salt in the wound was added in the form of the stunning success of Burton's rival Randy Bachman whose band Bachman Turner Overdrive was cresting an incredible wave of popularity and record sales at the time.
Burton had to do something. If he couldn't achieve the same commercial success as Randy, at least he could show up the simplistic 3-chord formulaic rock that Randy was churning out by raising the musical quality bar several notches and go for "respectability" through a more "sophisticated" sound. Certainly the musicians, Cummings, Wallace, and Peterson were capable of all kinds of musical versatility and diversification. Add a proven musician of the caliber of Domenic Troiano, and the band would earn instant respectability. At least that was the plan. Other bands at the time such as the Doobie Brothers had undergone similar transformations and had garnered significant success. Remember at the time that artists such as Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan were also hitting their stride. In that context, the decision to bring in Troiano with his jazz/blues rock style was a reasonable choice.

Make no mistake, everyone in the Guess Who at the time knew exactly what they were doing. They had just recorded a soundtrack for a movie (that was never released) with Dom taking all of the guitar parts on 5 songs ("Sona Sona," "Fool, Fool, I Met a Fool," "Your Back Yard," "Roll with the Punches," and "Save a Smile"). (Burton would of course re-record "Punches" and "Backyard" on his '70s solo discs and even perform "Fool Fool" during the European leg of the Ringo Starr All-Star tour of 1992)
Unfortunately, the fans did not appreciate the dramatic shift. Ticket buyers in the summer of 1974 expecting a showcasing of the recently released Roadfood album were subjected to something entirely different as the band tried to introduce them to the new Guess Who sound of the Domenic Troiano influenced Guess Who featured on such songs as "Dirty" and "Long Gone" that were true departures from their musical past. "Dancin' Fool" didn't seem that different but fans and reviewers were still confused.
Musically, the material on Flavours and Power in the Music is as sophisticated as the Guess Who ever would be. Flavours was released in late 1974 and was powered by the single "Dancin' Fool." However, numbers like "Dirty," "Diggin' Yourself," and "Long Gone" which featured extended jazz inflected soloing by Troiano were very different indeed to what had been standard Guess Who fare ("Long Gone" is still an unquestionably strong instrumental tour-de-force). The band still had great harmonies though on numbers like "Hoe Down Time," and Burton still could wail out crooners like "Loves Me Like a Brother" and sing convincingly on ballads like "Eye" and "Nobody Knows His Name." There was even a country influenced tune "Seems Like I Can't Live with You" that had Domenic taking a mandolin solo. There was no question among the fans who were used to the meat and potatoes rock of Kurt Winter. This stuff was different.
Power in the Music, released in the late spring of 1975, had no hit single to save it. It started out promisingly enough with the rocker "Down and Out Woman" (which the band would use to open their shows during the summer of 1975), but it simply did not catch on. All the same, there is an excellent selection of music on this album. The ballad "Dreams" (based lyrically on various dreams that Burton documented each morning when he would awake) to which Burton refers to this day as one of the best songs he ever wrote. "Women" was a song that was written spontaneously as Dom strummed his guitar and Burton started to sing. "When the Band was Singin' 'Shakin' All Over'" rocked out like the traditional Guess Who sound that people loved; great hooks, terrific licks and Burton screaming like a mother. "Rich World-Poor World" has been labeled pretentious by some. Lyrically, that may be a fair comment, however the musical changes are still extraordinary. "Rosanne" (about Gary Maclean's girlfriend) was pegged by the band to be the next hit single. It never made it. Quite frankly, it is one of the weaker tunes on the album. "Coors for Sunday" is an incredible jazz/blues number that showcases the band's musicality in a magnificent manner. The album finished with the slower "Shopping Bag Lady" (a respectable piano-ballad in the style one would soon associate with Burton's upcoming solo career) and the title-track "Power in the Music." "Power" featured lyrics that were lame and a verse/chorus that was all too predictable. The song is saved however by the instrumental coda at the end that simply cooks.
For the fans however, it was simply all too much. Ticket and record sales dropped considerably and Burton quickly tired of the new experiment. At the conclusion of the summer tour, he pulled the plug, and the Guess Who were finished.
Looking back, despite the lack of commercial success, the Guess Who produced some remarkably great music with Domenic Troiano. Their shows were fantastic. (Several excellent bootlegs exist from that time to prove this.) Burton's piano playing was never better. (I suspect that Burton may have felt intimidated by Troiano and decided that no one would upstage him in performance! Burton's resultant musicianship was a huge improvement from that of recent years.) Domenic forced the band to rehearse more than ever. Consequently, their live shows were indeed almost flawless.

After the break-up of the band, Cummings did the usual disparaging remarks routine, and this did not help the historical perspective of the 2 Troiano GW albums. Indeed, Burton to this day has yet to play a single song in live performance from either Flavours or Power either as a solo artist or in the Guess Who.
Bill Wallace recently reflected that although Domenic is a great musician, the music they produced was "not Guess Who." Garry Peterson speaks glowingly of Domenic and the music they did and laments that Burton didn't give the experiment a greater chance to succeed. Plans for a 3rd Troiano/Guess Who album that was mostly written were abandoned with the break-up in 1975.
I have spoken with Domenic several times in recent years. Despite the remarks by Burton in the press, Dom is philosophical and forgiving; quick to point out that Burton did the same when Randy Bachman, Greg Leskiw, Kurt Winter, and Donnie McDougall conducted their various respective exits from the band, and as such, his comments should not be taken too seriously. Indeed, Troiano and Cummings have met and spoken together from time to time throughout the decades since 1975 and get along well. Dom once told me that if he and Burton both came into the same room unexpectedly, they would be hugging each other shortly thereafter. It should be noted that even Burton has been kinder in the media when speaking of Dom. In fact, during the "Running Back thru Canada" Tour of 2000, while in Toronto Domenic got together with the band in a private social setting. It had been rumoured that he would be on stage at the Molson Amphitheatre to do a rendition of "Dancin' Fool" but given the careful preparation that had gone into this show, such an idea was too risky... it was particularly gratifying to note that both Domenic and Kurt were mentioned for their contribution to the Guess Who during the "Walk of Fame" ceremony in Toronto held in June of this year.
For a number of years now, Domenic Troiano has been living with prostate cancer. Thankfully, he has been in relative good health and continues to produce new artists and work to see his earlier music re-released. It is Domenic's hope that some day, Flavours and Power in the Music will make it to CD. Then, just maybe a fuller appreciation of the fine music of these albums will occur.

by Mark Doble, August 2001

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