Eulogy for a ‘Shy Guy’

Remembering founding Guess Who singer Chad Allan

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

In music, there are many people who leave an indelible mark on the culture but, due to various circumstances, do not become household names. The Canadian music industry lost one such person when Chad Allan died on Nov. 21, 2023 at the age of 80.

Allan was a founding member of The Guess Who, the Winnipeg rock-and-roll band that went on to sell millions of records around the world. While most of their success happened after Allan had left the group, they scored their breakthrough single “Shakin’ All Over” while Allan was still leading the group.

The success of “Shakin’ All Over” is notable. At the time, there was hardly any Canadian music industry to speak of, and Canadian-content rules were not yet in effect to support Canadian artists at home.

Follow-up singles to “Shakin’ All Over” didn’t do as well outside of Canada, and, after recording three full-length LPs with the band, Allan left. His lead-vocal duties were assumed by the group’s new keyboard player, Burton Cummings.

Allan was later hired by CBC to host a weekly music program, Let’s Go, where he sang the hits of the day. By some strange coincidence, the house band hired by the program was his former group, The Guess Who.

Let’s Go was cancelled after two seasons, and Allan continued to try at a solo career until 1971 when Randy Bachman, who also left The Guess Who in 1970, was looking for a singer for his new group, the folk rock-leaning Brave Belt.

After two LPs and one minor, underrated hit single called “Dunrobin’s Gone,” Allan left Brave Belt. The remaining members changed their name to Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO), became a hard-rock band and went on to have incredible success throughout the rest of the 1970s.

Allan again attempted a solo career, releasing the album Sequel in 1973. Few noticed, and Allan didn’t record a follow-up until 1992’s Zoot Suit Monologue.

Allan remained active within music to varying levels of success and eventually settled in Vancouver, where he lived out his remaining days making, performing and teaching music.

While Allan’s story is one of near misses and what some might deem little success, his impact is far greater than it appears. He was the voice and face of The Guess Who during the period when the group toured relentlessly, working up their chops as a live act and songwriters.

The group went from being the most beloved sock-hop cover band in Winnipeg to being the first Canadian group to score a number-one song on the Billboard Chart in the United States with “American Woman” in 1970.

Other Canadian artists, such as Joni Mitchell and fellow Winnipegger Neil Young, only found success after moving to the United States. On the back of Allan’s frantic vocal performance on “Shakin’ All Over,” The Guess Who broke through while staying firmly rooted in the local community in Winnipeg.

Musicians in Winnipeg and the rest of Canada owe Allan a debt of gratitude for his contributions on stage, on record and in the classroom as a pivotal figure in the history of Canadian music.

Thank you, Chad.

Paul Hodgert is the business manager for The Uniter and once paid way too much for a first pressing of the Shakin’ All Over LP.

Published in Volume 78, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 10, 2024)

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