He’s spent more than 50 years thrilling arena and festival crowds with rock ‘n roll shows. Now Burton Cummings is toning things down a fair bit for his fall tour.
The Up Close and Alone tour is just him and his piano in the cozy confines of the Mary Winspear Centre, Oct. 8 and 9. But don’t expect this veteran performer’s enthusiasm to wane just because the overall volume level will be lower.
He’s excited to share his musical hits with people in a way that gives them a glimpse into the creative process.
“What people like about it is the intimacy and the fact I do the songs they’ve heard,” he said from Winnipeg. “I get to talk about the songs and how they evolved and people like that very much.”
If you’re accustomed to cranking your media player up for old Guess Who tunes or Cummings solo hits, think hanging out with a buddy, talking music: “It’s more like when [the songs] were written … It’s sort of like inviting the crowd into my living room for a while.”
Speaking of living rooms, he vaguely answered a question about being a part-time resident of nearby North Saanich – “I do spend some time on the Island, I like the Island very very much.” But he marvels at changes he’s seen in Greater Victoria over the years. “When we used to come there in 1966 and ‘67, it was just a sleepy little town. It’s not the same as it was, but I’ve always enjoyed coming there.”
While he admits to having “a hundred songs that nobody’s ever heard,” Cummings isn’t anxious to put out another album after recording 30 or so. He uses Spotify on occasion, but laments the loss of record stores, from which millions of copies of his previous material were sold. “Even people as big as Paul McCartney and Elton John are not showing big numbers,” he said.
He keeps himself busy in other ways. He has a second book of poetry coming out, following up the highly acclaimed The Writings of B.L. Cummings (2017).
“And I have a monstrous music collection. I have 500,000 MP3s in my computer; it’s literally years and years of music I’ve accumulated over the past 20 years. I can get lost in my music library,” he said. He also reads a lot and still has his prized comic book collection, some of which date back to the 1940s.
At 71, he still spends a significant number of days on the road, with the fall tour two solid months. While the travelling is a slog – he prefers buses to flying, as he can sleep in a bunk – he continues to relish the two hours he spends on stage.
“I’ll be doing shows as long as I can get my notes and people still want to see me,” he said. “I want to extend my career another 10 years.” He points to older artists still touring, such as McCartney and the Rolling Stones.
Cummings and his band packed summer shows at the PNE and CNE, the latter of which saw former Guess Who bandmate Randy Bachman join him for three numbers. “And I believe the crowds went home happy … I just want that to continue,” Cummings said.