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Chad Allan, founding member of Guess Who and BTO, dead at 80

Allan had suffered a number of strokes since 2017
Celebrated musician Chad Allan, who carved a place in Canadian rock music history as co-founder of iconic bands the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has died. He was 80. (The Guess Who/Facebook)

Celebrated musician Chad Allan, who carved a place in Canadian rock music history as co-founder of iconic bands the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has died. He was 80.

Jamie Anstey, vice president of Regenerator Records which reissued a number of his early albums and recordings, said Allan died Tuesday but his family asked friends to delay announcing the news to give them time to grieve privately.

Allan had suffered a number of strokes since 2017 and had spent time in hospitals and a care home near his home in Burnaby, B.C.

“He was kind of a guy that never really made it in terms of fame and fortune, but he was certainly a pioneer and a founder of two huge Canadian groups, which I think is really special,” Anstey said in an interview Saturday.

Randy Bachman, a member of both bands, issued a Facebook poast in which he said he was grateful to have known and worked with Allan. He described his former bandmate as “a quiet, gentle soul with a peaceful voice.”

Born Allan Kowbel on March 29, 1943, he adopted the stage name Chad Allan over frustrations with friends calling him “cow bell” and formed his first band while attending high school in Winnipeg.

The group’s moniker, Al and the Silvertones, was a nod to the Silvertone guitar. Allan was joined in the band by keyboardist Bob Ashley on piano, drummer Gary Peterson, bassist Jim Kale and Bachman on lead guitar.

The band went through several name changes, including Chad Allan and the Reflections and Chad Allan and the Expressions, before adopting the Guess Who.

The name was created by label Quality Records to promote their rendition of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates “Shakin All Over,” which became a No. 1 hit in Canada in 1965. After the international success of the record, the name stuck.

That same year, Burton Cummings joined the group, replacing Ashley. Allan left the band shortly thereafter over concerns that his exuberant live performances had blown out his voice.

“When We crossed over from Chad Allan & The Expressions to the Guess Who, we had a couple of months of overlap with him and Burton where the music and harmonies were amazing. He was the voice of ‘Shakin’ All Over’ as a cover hit in Canada but he wasn’t made for life on the road and taught and sang locally instead,” Bachman said in his Facebook post.

Cummings, in his own Facebook post, called Allan “an inspiration to all of us in bands in Winnipeg.”

“I learned a lot from watching and listening to Chad. He was very talented and one of a kind. He will always be remembered,” Cummings wrote.

Allan’s career took a few unexpected turns in the years that followed his time in the Guess Who.

A brief stint in college led to a hosting gig on CBC-TV series “Let’s Go,” a musical showcase often likened to a Canadian version of “American Bandstand.” The series aired five days a week and Allan hosted the Thursday edition from Winnipeg.

After a number of other gigs with the CBC, Allan reconnected with Bachman, who had freshly departed from the Guess Who. Together they formed rock outfit Brave Belt, which produced two albums in the early 1970s.

Brave Belt would eventually recruit Fred Turner as a touring bassist, and by the time their second album was in production he had assumed the role of lead singer. Allan left the project as it became Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

He pursued a solo career in the years that followed, releasing the album “Sequel” in 1973 before shifting his focus to other musical aspirations.

In 1974, he oversaw “Beowulf: A Musical Epic,” an operatic production of the ancient poem with Allan in the lead part and conductor Victor Davies handling the composition and arrangement.

After getting a science degree at the University of Manitoba and a psychology degree at the University of Winnipeg, Allan moved to Vancouver in 1977.

In the early 1980s, he began teaching a songwriting class at Kwantlen University College in Surrey, B.C. and later Douglas College in nearby New Westminster.

Allan would occasionally revisit his past career successes, like in 1987 when he joined Bachman, Cummings and Neil Young at a Winnipeg nightclub for a reunion performance organized by local rock historian John Einarson.

By the early 1990s, his priorities had shifted and he was primarily devoting himself to performances at seniors facilities.

Those eventually became his main source of income, according to the 2006 book “Whatever Happened To…? Catching Up With Canadian Icons,” written by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray.

He would play accordion and piano at adult day centres and hospitals an average of four times per week, performing a diverse array of songs like Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.”

“When I was younger doing the seniors thing wasn’t all that desirable,” he is quoted as saying. “But I soon discovered it can be spiritually rewarding.”

Allan’s vocal problems persisted throughout his career, a fact he admitted caused him great struggle at times. He released the Christian rock album “Zoot Suit Monologue” in 1992 but then stopped producing new material, though he continued writing music.

“It’s a miracle that I can even speak, never mind sing,” he said.

In 2007, Regenerator Records dove into Allan’s catalogue and reissued a number of his early albums and a collection, “Chad Allan and the Reflections — Early Roots.”

“I think the thing about Chad is he’s such a humble, unassuming gentleman, and truly, the word is gentleman,” label co-founder Larry Hennessey said.

“He’s had his share of great moments in Canadian history and Canadian rock music history.”

Allan married his wife Christine, who survives him, in 1999 and they lived together in an apartment in Burnaby.

Allan was awarded the Order of Manitoba in 2015.

—With files from Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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