We take a break from counting down Huffington Post’s Canada’s Best 100 Songs Ever to acknowledge yesterday’s news that the building from the cover of The Guess Who’s 1971 LP So Long, Bannatyne has been lost to a substantial blaze. Now, I’m born and bread in Winnipeg, and although I don’t reside there I have an abiding fondness for it: for the city; for the people, who tend to be warm and kind despite enduring the -50 winters time and again; for the rich social, architectural, and musical history; for the neighborhood called the North End and its storied immigration waves and blue collar sensibilities. This is the home of The Guess Who, the band which first put Canada on the US charts; the band that showed the world that Canadians could rock, and do it well. We’ll undoubtedly talk about Winnipeg a lot more as we go.
For now, though, we pay respects to a neighborhood that’s suffered a(nother) black eye, and a piece of music history lost. To be sure, Bannatyne Avenue between Kate and Juno Streets is probably not a block your realtor would try to sell you on. Its reputation is rough, perhaps owing to its situation between a large hospital complex and the massive rail yards that run through the heart of the city. Regardless, Guess Who guitarist Kurt Winter resided at 543 Bannatyne, and that building became the stuff of legend when featured on the album that was released as he relocated to his Chevrier home in the south end: “So long Bannatyne, hello my Chevrier home.” So Long, Bannatyne was released at the crux of the band’s fame; in 1971 The Guess Who were amongst the biggest groups in the world, although this album featured only one hit in the form of “Rain Dance.” “So Long, Bannatyne,” the song, despite lyrics that are stunningly politically incorrect, is a 12-bar blues made jazzy by Burton Cummings’ brilliant piano. It wasn’t a hit, but it’s enjoyable enough, and vividly captures a moment in time. Thankfully, no one was injured in last night’s fire. The building, which was vacant and undergoing renovation, will be examined for the source of the blaze and for the possibility of being saved, although the latter seems unlikely. Kurt Winter, the guitarist who bid Bannatyne farewell in 1971, himself passed on in December 1997 of kidney failure. As to the gorgeous red Chevy on the cover, complete with its bison-bearing Manitoba license plate and block heater plug dangling from the grille? It’s fate is uncertain, too. If it’s still functioning, it’s presumed to be in the western Canadian province Alberta, or in England. Either way, it too has bid Bannatyne farewell.