Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Randy Bachman describes music’s time-traveling power
Ask Randy Bachman to explain the enduring appeal of classic rock and the singer-guitarist — and co-founder of both the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive — points to ... Sting?
“I saw Sting on TV a while ago, and people were asking him about his songs,” Bachman says by phone from his home in Victoria, British Columbia. “He’s one of the great guys, been around forever, and he’ll do songs from every era that he was in.
“And he said to the guy interviewing him, ‘If I asked you what you were doing 10 years ago or 20 years ago from tonight, you’d have no idea,’” Bachman says. “If I asked you, ‘What were you doing the first time you heard “Message in a Bottle” or “Roxanne”’ — both songs by his erstwhile group The Police — “or ‘American Woman’ or ‘These Eyes’ or ‘Takin’ Care of Business,’” he continues, pivoting from Sting to his own songs. “You would go back to the car, the truck or the tractor you were driving. Or where you were working. Or the girl you were dancing with or making out with.
“That song takes you back there,” Bachman says. “That’s a great thing about the music. It’s kind of like a journey through time.
“When I’m on stage, I feel like I’m 20 or 30 when I wrote and played these songs. You go back to that time when I’m on with (Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s) Fred Turner. When I’m on with (the Guess Who’s) Burton Cummings.
“It’s kind of a weird time-traveling thing,” he says.
At 80, Bachman is the only original full-time BTO band member as the group marks its 50th anniversary. Original singer-bassist Fred Turner, also 80, is mostly off the road now. Surrounded on stage by younger musicians, including his son, Tal Bachman, whose 1999 single “She’s So High” hit No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts, Bachman says he’s enjoying live performance as much as ever.
“There seems to have been a turn in the whole music business which affected me and many dozens and dozens of my friends,” Bachman says. “Where classic rock has endured decades and it’s still going. It’s almost become like blues or jazz. It’s its own genre and whoever is alive can carry on that tradition.”
Bachman is blessed, of course, with a deep catalog of hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s with two bands. A typical set might include songs such as “American Woman,” “These Eyes,” and “No Time” from the Guess Who, and hits by Bachman-Turner Overdrive such as “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” “Let It Ride,” and “Hey You.”
“I was so lucky to be in the Guess Who and write a dozen of their hits, and the same with BTO,” he says. “Now I’m finding that we’re getting a lot of BTO fans saying we’ve never heard these songs on stage, and then naming like ‘Little Gandy Dancer,’ ‘Give Me Your Money Please,’ ‘Blue Collar.’
“Almost a third of our setlist is sent in by fans,” he says. “And honestly, we’ve never even played some of these songs on stage. When you’ve done an album, a couple albums, you play the hits everybody likes or the FM cuts, and you never play some of these album cuts again.”
BTO is back
The fact that Bachman is touring now under the Bachman-Turner Overdrive name has its roots in an old family feud and a handful of recent losses.
In addition to Bachman and Turner, the original lineup included Bachman’s brothers Robbie and Tim. While guitarist Tim Bachman was replaced in the ‘70s, drummer Robbie Bachman stayed with the band after Randy Bachman left and eventually gained control of the name and its distinctive gear-shaped logo.
“In the last three years, I’ve lost three brothers,” Bachman says of Robbie, Tim and Gary Bachman, the latter of whom served as the band’s manager during the ‘70s. “They’ve all passed away from COVID and heart and all that kind of stuff.
“So I was able to get the BTO thing and just kind of tour as it,” he says. “We tried to tour as BTO for years. We always had a fight, with brother fighting brother fighting brother and all that stuff.
“Now they’re all gone. There’s no fight. Suddenly, I evolved into BTO. It took me by surprise and Fred by surprise. Suddenly, we started getting called to do gigs.”
Where past tours as a solo act or a duo with either Fred Turner or Burton Cummings played mostly club venues, Bachman-Turner Overdrive is playing medium-sized venues, and nice ones at that, Bachman says.
“It used to be a big downer if you ended up playing Vegas or you ended up playing a casino or on a cruise ship,” he says. “That was like on the way down. Now they’re some of the best gigs you can get. The casinos and the cruises, boom, all the fans go there.
“And the casinos have kind of standardized it,” Bachman says. “They all have rooms that have 3,500 to 5,000 people with a good sightline for everybody, good PA. So to go out and do a concert, it’s really fantastic.”
Not everything Bachman is working on today looks to his past. He and his son Tal started a YouTube series during the pandemic called “Train Wreck,” in which they’d each bring in five songs and challenge the other to play them as best they could without any preparation or advance.
Now they occasionally tour as the duo Bachman & Bachman, bringing live “Train Wreck” shows to fans.
“They call out the songs from the audience,” Bachman says of one such recent show. “They call out ‘Hey Joe.’ We think, ‘Hey Joe, where are going with that gun in your hand.’ And Tal looks at me and goes, ‘What’s next?’”
They might stumble around a bit, guessing at a lyric, a key, or a chord, Bachman says. Often father and son and the audience all end up singing the songs together.
“It’s like a bunch of drunk guys at a barbecue,” he says, laughing.
Bachman & Bachman are also finishing an album, which will serve as a soundtrack to a documentary tentatively titled “Lost and Found,” the wild story of how Randy Bachman managed to recover his beloved orange 1957 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins guitar some 46 years after it was stolen.
During the pandemic, a stranger wrote Bachman to say he thought he’d found the guitar by using image-recognition tools to compare the instrument Bachman was playing in a clip of “Lookin’ Out for No. 1” on YouTube.
“Then he Googled and found another guy playing the same Gretsch guitar, singing ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ in a nightclub in Japan like he’s Brian Setzer,” Bachman says.
The musician, who goes by the name Takeshi, bought the guitar from a Tokyo music shop in 2014, unaware of its history. He agreed to return it for a similar instrument, and Bachman lucked onto an identical Gretsch model made the same week in 1957 and only two serial numbers off his own guitar.
On July 1, 2002 — Canada Day — Bachman and Takeshi met at the Canadian consulate in Tokyo for the exchange, all of which was filmed as part of the 2024 documentary on the story.
“Suddenly, karma after 50 years,” he says. “There’s a magic in my Gretsch guitar because I learned to play on it. I wrote and played every song on it — ‘These Eyes,’ ‘Laughing,’ ‘Undun,’ ‘American Woman,’ ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ were all done on that guitar.
“And then it was gone. To get it back, it’s unbelievable.”
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