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Chad Allan, founding member of The Guess Who, dead at 80

Chad Allan is seen hosting Let's Go on CBC-TV in 1967. Allan, a founding member of the bands that went on to become The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, died last month at the age of 80. (CBC Archives - image credit)
Chad Allan is seen hosting Let's Go on CBC-TV in 1967. Allan, a founding member of the bands that went on to become The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, died last month at the age of 80. (CBC Archives - image credit)

Chad Allan, a Winnipeg-born, multi-talented musician who shared a stage with some of Canada's rock greats and hosted CBC's Let's Go music program, has died at the age of 80.

Allan, a singer and songwriter who played multiple instruments, was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2015 for his contributions to Canadian music and his "pivotal role" in the genesis of two very well-known bands from his hometown — first with The Guess Who and later with the future Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Yet despite being a member of a pair of high-profile bands that went on to be radio hit-makers, Allan's name is not as well known as former bandmates Burton Cummings or Randy Bachman.

"He was just such a wonderful, happy and positive person who never really got the credit he deserved," publicist and friend Jamie Anstey said in a recent phone interview discussing Allan's life and musical career.

Ties to big bands

Born Allan Kowbel, he took the stage name of Chad Allan — a nod, according to an obituary published Friday, to a singer he admired named Chad Mitchell.

But it was Allan whose name fronted Allan and the Silvertones in 1958. The band later changed its name to Chad Allan and the Expressions before finally becoming The Guess Who.

Allan's voice will be familiar to those who have heard the band's cover of Shakin' All Overon which he sang the vocals.

Music historian John Einarson said that particular recording is the one that "put Winnipeg on the musical map across Canada."

"As soon as the needle hits the vinyl on that track, you knew it was a great, great song," Einarson told the CBC's Nadia Kidwai during an interview that aired on the Weekend Morning Show on Saturday.

Allan played with the band until the mid-1960s — a few years before American Woman, These Eyes and other signature Guess Who tracks became hits and eventual staples of classic rock.

"He left The Guess Who when they were on the cusp of their fame," Anstey said.

Chad Allan, with his wife Christine, received the Order of Manitoba in 2015 for his contributions to the Canadian music industry.
Chad Allan, with his wife Christine, received the Order of Manitoba in 2015 for his contributions to the Canadian music industry.

Allan is shown with his wife, Christine, after receiving the Order of Manitoba in 2015 for his contributions to the Canadian music industry. (Bill Hillman)

Cummings posted a tribute to Allan on Facebook, saying his late friend "was an inspiration to all of us in bands in Winnipeg."

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

A few years after leaving The Guess Who, Allan helped launch another band with breakthrough potential but whose true fame — once again — came after his departure.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) started out as Brave Belt — a band Allan co-founded with Randy Bachman, who was also his bandmate from The Guess Who. Allan played on its first two albums, but the group saw far more success as BTO.

Bachman shared some memories of Allan on social media on Friday, describing him as "a quiet, gentle soul" and someone who'd been part of his own early start in music.

"I'm grateful to have known & worked with him," Bachman said in a post shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In addition to Allan's work on CBC-TV's Let's Go in the late 1960s, he also made appearances on Music Hop and Where It's At.

'A life of music'

Allan eventually moved to Canada's West Coast and released occasional solo albums over the years while also playing local gigs and living life outside of the rock spotlight.

Media coverage of his later music career seems to have frequently reminded readers of his musical past and the fame that he missed out on.

"He's always been there, right back to the pre-Beatle era, composing, playing, singing, leading Winnipeg-based groups and being almost a seminal influence on Canadian pop music," journalist Alan Edmonds wrote in the Toronto Star in June 1975, nonetheless noting that "somehow Chad Allan wasn't around" when The Guess Who and BTO hit it big.

Allan had continued to perform until he suffered a stroke six years ago, his obituary said.

"He basically lived a life of music," his publicist, Anstey, said.

Allan, who died on Nov. 21, is survived by his wife, Christine. He was predeceased by his parents.