Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings sue former bandmates, allege 'imposters' touring under Guess Who name

Randy Bachman, left, and Burton Cummings are seen in a file photo. The two are suing their former Guess Who bandmates, claiming that they have been falsely advertising a 'cover band' as the original. (Submitted by Manitoba 150 - image credit)
Randy Bachman, left, and Burton Cummings are seen in a file photo. The two are suing their former Guess Who bandmates, claiming that they have been falsely advertising a 'cover band' as the original. (Submitted by Manitoba 150 - image credit)

Nearly 50 years after the Guess Who broke up, the band's two best-known members are suing their former bandmates for more than $20 million US, alleging the group currently touring under the name has been passing off a cover band as the real thing.

The iconic Winnipeg band behind hit songs like American Woman and These Eyes became the first Canadian group to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1970.

However, the group disbanded five years later, after Cummings left. Both the singer and guitarist Bachman went on to successful careers beyond the Guess Who.

Now, they're suing former bassist Jim Kale and drummer Garry Peterson, alleging they are deceiving fans with a band they've hired to perform Guess Who songs at venues across the United States under the name.

Kale has not performed with the latest incarnation of the band — which the suit refers to as "the cover band" — since 2016, and Peterson makes infrequent appearances with the group, according to the suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in California.

The two are also accused of removing images of Bachman and Cummings from the band's pages on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, replacing them with pictures of the now touring band in order to boost ticket sales.

As a result, Bachman and Cummings have been "alienated from their fans," and the band touring as the Guess Who has hurt their reputations and ability to book shows, according to the suit.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. CBC News was not able to reach either Kale or Peterson for comment prior to publication.

In addition to the monetary damages, the suit says Bachman and Cummings want an order for Kale and Peterson to stop using "false and/or misleading advertising and promotion" in connection with the touring band.

They also want the band prohibited from performing any songs originally recorded by the original Guess Who group without indicating the touring group is a "tribute band" in all advertising and promotion.

Lawsuit to 'set the record straight': Cummings

In a Monday press release, Bachman called the touring band "clones," who are scamming fans and ruining the Guess Who's legacy.

"It's Burton's voice and my guitar playing on those albums," he said.

The lawsuit is a way for the two musicians to preserve the band's legacy ad "set the record straight and protect fans from imposters trying to rewrite history," Cummings said in the release.

Bachman, Cummings, Kale and Peterson performed about a dozen reunion shows together after the Guess Who's initial split, according to the lawsuit.

They planned a second reunion tour in 2005.

The suit says Kale was replaced due to substance abuse issues. However, CBC reported in 2005 that Bachman and Cummings were unable to secure permission to tour under the Guess Who banner because Kale owns the name.

Kale told the Winnipeg Free Press in 2012 that Cummings signed off to give him ownership of the name in 1977, which allowed him to earn a living after the band split.

"I'll have a band of trained monkeys out there just to piss [Cummings] off. I'm prepared to be that petty… I'm really, really sick of it," Kale was quoted as saying in the Free Press story — a quote included in the lawsuit.

"I'd love to take the high road, but I'm not going to. I'm his karma."

Cummings, Bachman to 'take this to the end': lawyer

The lawsuit says Kale later registered the trademark of the Guess Who's name with the U.S. patent and trademark office in 1986 without Bachman and Cummings' knowledge, and made false misrepresentations while doing so.

Kale also allegedly formed a partnership with Peterson involving the American trademark in 2005, applying for three more trademark registrations of the band's name for entertainment-related goods and services between 2000 to 2012, the lawsuit says.

In addition to touring under the name, their version of the band released albums in 2018 and 2023.

Fans have expressed confusion and outrage on social media about the band's recent performances, the suit alleges.

"It's really a question of what they're doing with the trademark and how they're using it," James Weinberger, the New York-based attorney representing Bachman and Cummings in the lawsuit, told CBC News.

The two musicians would be willing to have a discussion with Kale and Peterson, he said, but have not heard back from them.

"Bachman and Cummings are serious about this. This is incredibly important to them, and if they have to take this to the end, they will."

John Einarson, a Winnipeg music historian who has written extensively about the band, said the situation is both sad and ridiculous, describing it as "two nostalgia artists arguing with a nostalgia cover band."

Bachman and Cummings should "ride off into the sunset" with their reputations still intact, he said.

"If we're talking about harming the name, this does that too."