Burton Cummings, the founding singer and songwriter of the Guess Who, has taken an extraordinary measure to stop the band’s current iteration from performing his songs.

In October, Cummings, along with original guitarist Randy Bachman, filed a lawsuit to stop the current version of the Guess Who from performing under that moniker. At the time, it was the latest chapter in a dispute that stretched over a decade, with Cummings and Bachman fighting with bassist Jim Kale and drummer Garry Peterson over the band’s name. Though the lawsuit is still ongoing, Cummings has opted to terminate certain rights agreements on his songs to stop the Guess Who from performing them in concert.

It’s a complex strategy that breaks down something like this: Virtually every venue in the country has an agreement with performance rights organizations, commonly called PROs. These organizations collect royalties on behalf of songwriters whenever their work is performed. By ending the agreements pertaining to his songs, Cummings has made it impossible for the current version of the Guess Who to perform the material in PRO-aligned venues.

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“I’m willing to do anything to stop the fake band; they’re taking [Bachman and my] life story and pretending it’s theirs,” Cummings explained to Rolling Stone. “They’re not the people who made these records and they shouldn’t act like they did. This doesn’t stop this cover band from playing their shows, it just stops them from playing the songs I wrote. If the songs are performed by the fake Guess Who, they will be sued for every occurrence.”

Cummings' Action Will Have Serious Repercussions for All Parties

According to Rolling Stone, venues that booked the Guess Who could also face legal repercussions if the band decided to continue performing Cummings’ material without the proper licensing.

It’s a bold move that could seriously damage the ability for the Guess Who to make a profit. Cummings penned some of the group’s biggest hits, including “American Woman,” “These Eyes” and “No Time.” The band would be hard-pressed to put a show together without such classics in their set. Already, the Guess Who’s next five shows have been canceled due to Cummings’ actions.

Though the move has stifled the Guess Who, it also poses significant risk to Cummings himself. By canceling his PRO agreements, the songwriter will not be able to receive royalties for his work. In addition to live performances, PROs collect payments for material played on the radio, television, in commercials and other public spaces. As such, Cummings’ action amounts to revenue suicide – the cancelation of the PRO agreements leaves him unable to earn money off of these songs.

'The Name Is Worthless Without Those Songs'

“Yes, I’m going to lose some money, but we’re going to find out what’s worth what. I will not have this fake band going on any longer,” Cummings explained, noting the risk in his decision. “I’m going to lose some money, but … the name is worthless without those songs. So what are they going to do? ‘Hey, the Guess Who is playing but we can’t do ‘Share the Land’ or ‘American Woman,’ we can’t do ‘These Eyes.’ Nobody’s gonna be there.”

“How much is my life’s work worth? You can’t put it in dollars and cents,” Cummings continued. “It’s wrong what they’ve done and for years, nobody did anything about it. But we’re doing something now, and this may set some precedents because there are other acts out there that aren’t real either.”

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In the 2023 lawsuit, Bachman and Cummings were seeking more than $20 million in damages. The singer insists his latest move has nothing to do with money, which is why he’s willingly abandoning his revenue stream.

“This is about way more than just money. I wouldn’t have pulled the catalog if it wasn’t,” Cummings noted. “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.’ What they’re doing is fraud because they’re using real songs from the real guys to push their fake band. I’m protecting the name of the Guess Who, I’m trying to protect what we did.”

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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening