In an animated episode of Great Big Story, legendary guitarist Randy Bachman of the Canadian band The Guess Who explained how he came up with the immediately recognizable iconic riff while lead singer Burton Cummings came up with the lyrics on the fly at a last minute gig in Waterloo, Ontario, after a long day trying to cross the border from North Dakota.
We were playing a three-hour dance and in the middle of one song I broke a string and our lead singer Burton Cummings said ‘Well Randy’s broken string, we don’t have a spare guitar, we’re going to change the strings, so we’re going to take a break.’ So everybody was kind of sitting around talking so I had to get that guitar in tune for, so as I was on stage playing that E chord, a B chord, and another E chord with the strings just ringing. …I was just like, oh my god, I don’t want to forget this riff. So I stand up and I start playing. I turn my guitar up, playing it louder and I look into the audience and came running up was Burton Cummings and I yelled out sing something, sing anything. The first thing he sang was ‘American Woman’.