George Johns is someone to be admired. He is largely under-credited with station-crafting in Fairbanks’ legendary stations in Dallas, Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and West Palm Beach, then later developing the “Class FM” concept with brother Reg. Like some of the talent he helped nurture, George continues to be an epic story teller. Worth retelling, he shared the following with me. Important to note, before coming to the states for Fairbanks Communications, George had tremendous radio success in his native Canada. Raised near Winnipeg, George can relate to the unusual ethos of Canadians, and apparently those cast from the “Wheatfield Soul” of Winnipeg.
George replays his reunion with good friend Burton Cummings a few years ago while Burton was doing a one-man show in Boston. While the Boston Globe was interviewing Cummings, Johns was hanging out in Cummings’ dressing room. George relates, “All of a sudden Burton turns to me and says, ‘George, you will understand this, you’re from Winnipeg and you know how it is. Back when I was about twenty-one we had the number one record in the world, American Woman. Not only that, we were scheduled to play Carnegie Hall in New York, and from that performance we were going to release a live album, The Guess Who Live From Carnegie Hall. Can you believe that George…someone from Winnipeg playing at Carnegie Hall, captured live forever on an album?’ Then Burton Cummings looks down, shakes his head and says to me, ‘have you ever heard the album George’?”
“Wow, no! I never even knew it existed!” Johns replied. Cummings shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s because it doesn’t. Come on George, we’re from Winnipeg; you know the drill, what the hell were we thinking…Carnegie Hall? No way. We know our place… nobody ever really gets out of Winnipeg.”
Johns asked the inevitable: my God, “what happened?” Cummings recounted his squandered opportunity. “I was so excited I stayed up and partied all night…slept right through it! Never made the gig, man! Can you believe that? I never made the #%@ gig. Randy Bachman and the guys got up, I didn’t. No matter what happens, I can’t get that precious moment back. But hey, I’m from Winnipeg, maybe it was never meant to be.”
With much reverence for Burton Cummings and The Guess Who, and with apologies to Winnipeg (I’ve always loved the city), we benefit from an insightful life lesson: Winnipeg, Hollywood or the Sports arena, Cummings’ story goes right to the subconscious and the power can hold over any of us. When people are conditioned to “deserve” success, more often than not, they find success. Those who from an early age may be programmed into the “awe man, that’s just not me” mindset see their lot differently-subconsciously of course-setting up reversals that keep them forever in a world of disappointment, sometimes failure.
Ball players, CEO’s, politicians and film stars, right along with some of the rest of us often can’t stand repeated attacks of good fortune, finding a creative way to trash our trophies.
Burton Cummings deserved to play at Carnegie Hall. He possessed the talent, work ethic, and the limelight of the moment. The only reason Burton Cummings and The Guess Who didn’t record that Live at Carnegie Hall album was because deep in the pantheon of the subconscious, Burton Cummings may not have believed he belonged there.