Randy Bachman Telling Tall Tales of How It Used to Be!

By Jeb Wright
Randy Photo on Main Page by Mary Maryanovich
Randy Photo Above by Mike Hough
Randy & Jeb by Brad Neville

Randy Bachman made rock and roll history from his home in Winnipeg, Canada, not once, but twice.  Randy ruled the world with two separate bands.  We are not talking like Neil Young and then Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, either.  We are talking two wayyyyy different bands with wayyyy different sounds and styles.  We are talking the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive different.  “Hey You” verses “These Eyes” different.  Wow, what a perfect example…I mean these were Randy’s two bands.  He was ‘the man’ on guitar and he wrote many of each band’s classic tunes. 

And it’s a story worth telling…On Randy Bachman – Vinyl Tap Tour: Every Song Tells a Story Randy is doing just that and, boy howdy, is it cool.  Bachman is a living legend of rock and roll from an era where the music went from sock hops to stadiums. 

The songs this man created are timeless and Randy opens up and tells us the tales behind his classic tunes.  Bachman discusses much more than just the music.  He talks about creating music live on stage, classic tunes like “American Woman” and “Takin’ Care of Business” that were created in the moment.  He tells us of cultural and political issues as well as funny stories and captivating moments. Its Randy’s demeanor and passion, not just his tales, that take this one from interesting to spellbinding, however. 

Classic Rock Revisited caught up with Randy to discuss how the DVD came to be as well as what Bachman’s future holds…and that’s something worth looking forward too. 

Read on!

Jeb: Anyone that is thinking of creating a DVD, where they tell stories and play songs, needs to pay attention to your latest offering… because this is how it should be done.  I have watched it twice, and I am on my way to the TV now…

Randy: That is amazing.  I've had a lot of guys, like yourself, that have been in the business for a long time that tell me that they watch this, two, three and four times. 

Jeb:  It is very genuine. You have always done great interviews, but I want to know if you were worried whether or not you would come off as genuine as you did? 

Randy: Well, thank you.  I've done it so much. I started this about three or four years ago when I got asked to do a charity event for the Canadian Cancer Society.  People were playing five thousand dollars a plate for dinner, and then they had a silent action.  They told me they wanted me to play, but that they didn’t want me to blow the plates off the table… so they asked if I would do it acoustically.  I told them that my music doesn't really go over well acoustically, but would they mind if I told a story or two. 

I had just come back from England where I saw Ray Davies do a thing called Storyteller.  It was a very similar thing, and when I went backstage to see him he said, “You could do this sort of thing better than me.”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  He said, “You've had more hits than me, and you've had two great bands that you could tell the stories about.”  So, I did that for the Cancer Society dinner and raised a lot of money. 

Many people told me that if I had put this on a CD, or a DVD, that they would buy ten, or twelve, copies and give them to all their friends.  So, I started to do that.  I've got a radio show where every Saturday night I play vinyl and tell my own stories about it.  I have done this sort of thing again and again.  When we finally got around to recording what you've seen, it was in my home town of Winnipeg, and it was at the end of a three week tour, so everything was smooth and the kinks were out of it and everyone was ‘on’. 

As the show progressed my guys came to me and said they would like to put a montage behind me of my old pictures and videos of the times.  If I’m telling a story about San Francisco, they wanted to show San Francisco and a guy with a peace sign on his chest.  They wanted to show the hippies, the cars and the hairstyles so everything would be in the time zone of when I wrote those songs.  I said, “Okay, go and do that.” 

I've never even seen it, because it is going on behind me when I do the show.  I see the faces of the people in front of me and I see the looks in their eyes of joy and wonderment, and I see tears in their eyes.  They are totally enthralled by the entire process and the credit all goes to my team.  The DVD that you've seen I have not even seen, as I was busy doing it.  They asked me if they could edit some of the stories, as some of them were too long.  I told them to do whatever they wanted.  I've seen little bits here and there, but I've not sat through the entire thing.  I am like an actor that has been through the entire movie and doesn't want to sit and go through it all again. 

Jeb: For lack of a better word, when you told the stories it was ‘spellbinding’.  You could hear a pin drop in that audience when you're talking. 

Randy: I am getting offers to take this on the road.  A lot of radio stations want to sponsor it and have it in a 1,200 seat theater.  It can't be too big as it has to feel intimate. I am basically speaking to every person in the room and their attention has to be on me.  It is like telling your children a bedtime story.  I feel like I am sitting on the edge of the bed telling them about Goldilocks. 

I am almost like a comedian.  I read the room.  If they are bored then I go right to the song.  If they are on the edge of their seat, while I'm telling the story, then I can get a little funny and I tell a little joke. 

The stories are different from night to night.  Some stories are five minutes long and some are two and some are seven, or eight, minutes long.  If they are into it then I tell them longer stories.  My manager sent me fifty, or sixty, reviews and they are from England, Germany, Holland and the States and people are thrilled about this and I am stunned by it.  It’s like Tommy James and the Shondells broke up and then a deejay started playing “Hanky Panky” and they put the band back together and he's been there ever sense.  It is almost like that. 

Jeb: When you talk about yourself it is one thing, but you said how you were inspired by Ray Davies.  In the DVD you talk about hanging out with Neil Young back in Winnipeg.  Do you ever just think, “Look at the people I know, what a ride”  ?

Randy: When you're in it...see all these guys are just guys.  I'm just a guy.  We are just guys who stuck it out and got lucky.  There are guys who play better than us and there are guys who write better than us, but they gave up for some reason. 

We all have the same issues with our girlfriends, then we got married and we have the same problems with our wife.  “Why do you play every New Year's Eve?”  We say, “Musicians get double the money to play New Year's Eve.”  They say, “Why do you play every Friday and Saturday night when we could be going out?”  You have that when you're a teenager and you're with your girlfriend and she wants you to go out, and then you have it with your wife.  We are the guys who went through it and stuck it out for the love of rock and roll. 

I see Peter Frampton and I see Neil Young and we are all the same age, we are all pushing seventy.  I see [Paul} McCartney and Aerosmith and [Mick} Jagger and I see Brian Wilson and I've known them all since we were kids in the Sixties.  I've toured with them.  Everybody says that I know all these famous guys, but to me they are just guys.

My daughter was helping me with my Blackberry once, and she was going through it…  She was going through my address book and she said, “Wow, you've got Eddie Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, Cher and all these people's numbers.”  I told her we send each other emails and texts.  I guess to the average person it is a big deal. 

Jeb:  You tell stories, and I think that is a lost art in this day and age.

Randy: I am thrilled to hear that, and hope people buy the DVD and get what you got out of it.  It would be nice to sell some product this day and age.  Nobody is selling anything anymore.  When this was taped it was the end of about 38 dates in a row.  I had been doing it every night, night after night. 

It never gets old to me, just like “Takin' Care of Business” never gets old to me.  When I start those notes, and I see the reaction from a sixteen-year-old kid, and then a guy next to him who is about 70 that looks like an ex-accountant… they both hear this song and they jump on up their chair and suddenly they are both sixteen; that is what drives me on.  I look at the faces and it has gone beyond playing guitar and being a rocker. 

I am a storyteller and an entertainer.  I've never thought about being an entertainer before.  If I tried to tell jokes I would normally fall on my face, but I am in an element here where I can do it.  I have so many stories to tell about the Beach Boys and the Beatles and Neil Young and about myself.  It is a natural thing. 

It is guys like you that got these stories out of me.  You would say, “'Undone' is my favorite song.  How did you write that?”  I'd say, “Well, I was in Seattle touring with Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper and I went down the street and I heard Bob Dylan say 'she's come undone' in a song and I wrote the song.”  I have told these stories one at a time to different deejays.  So now I am telling them one at a time in an evening.  I do my Guess Who bit and have a little intermission, and then I came back and do five or six BTO songs.  It made such a balance and such perfect sense.  We take an intermission between the two bands.  It is after “American Woman” and it is before “Let It Ride.”  Chronologically, it was a perfect kind of puzzle that when I looked at it, we saw it was a perfect balance.  I didn't have to plan an evening because it is my life in song from then right until now.  It is fantastic.

Jeb: When you have a great show, what are you like after the show?  

Randy: It is nostalgic.   The guys in the band, who have been with me for three to five years, will come up after a really good show and say, “You said some stuff we've never heard you say before.”  I go, “What?”  They say, “You said a couple of lines about Bob Dylan that you've never said before.  You should really keep that in.”  I am like, “But what exactly did I say?”  They tell me and I will try to remember to put it in the next day. 

People wait behind after the show and I will sign autographs and stuff.  They will tell me they have never had an evening like this before.  They will say, “This is the best history lesson we've ever had.  We are so glad we brought our parents and our children because we've played your music all the time.  To hear the stories behind the songs give the music more meaning for them and it gives them more meaning to us.  We are going to buy ten of these and send them to our friends and family.”  I am serious, I have seen them with ten DVD that they bought at the show and they want me to sign them and it totally blows me away. 

Jeb: You don't go into the reason why the Guess Who broke up.

Randy: That's a whole show in itself.  That is a show called Train Wreck!  There is no point of talking about it.  I left the Guess Who because I had a medical problem.  I started a new band at the urging of Neil Young.  He got me a deal with Reprise Records.  I went down there and I had a band called Brave Belt.  Brave Belt III became BTO I.  They told me to get another name and I got another name. 

I had to gloss over some stuff in the show because they didn't want it all to be verbiage.  I don't play the entire songs.  I play a verse and a chorus of each.  It couldn't be everything; it had to be what it was. 

Jeb:  I wanted to hear more—even after the long ones. 

Randy: I left out “Four Wheel Drive” and “Hey You,” and I left out a lot of stories.  I didn't want to make it...I only wanted to be positive, so I didn't want to talk about leaving the Guess Who, or the end of BTO. 

Everything ends.  I am still pissed off that the Beatles broke up.  Robert Plant won't play with Zeppelin.  But I am not going to say that in the thing.  Life is what it is and, let’s face it, all great bands break up.  After a team wins the Superbowl guys get bought, sold and traded and the team is gone.  The bands are gone, but the music lives on, and that is what is so great about it. 

Jeb: An observation from me to you would be that I found the Guess Who and BTO after the groups were out for a while, and I was teenager.  I remember being so shocked that you were the guy from the Guess Who.  It really blew me away how much you changed. 

Randy: When I left the Guess Who, we had the Number One single and album in the world with American Woman.  I started another band and it was Neil Young who said, “Whatever you do know this: you will be a second rate Guess Who because you do not have that magical voice of Burton Cummings, so you need to do something completely off the rails.” 

I went and did Buffalo Springfield and I had a pedal steel and an accordion and we did country rock and it was a real hoedown.  We couldn't get arrested—well we did get arrested and thrown in jail, but we couldn't get a booking!  As we would play music and not get anywhere...the reason we played music was getting people to dance.  This was not sit down and listen music it was get up and shaking out your cares and woes and having a good time.  We started playing cover songs and we saw people dancing to “Brown Sugar,” “Jumping Jack Flash” and stuff like that. 

We got Fred Turner in the band, who has a Harley Davidson voice and started to sing a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Our material took a 360 turn and became dance rock and roll, and then we got louder amps and they started to call it heavy rock.  The Guess Who was really a pop band like the Beatles started out.  As the Beatles were getting heavier, I left the Guess Who and I got heavy.  BTO became a heavy rock band.  The Guess Who didn't evolve into a heavy rock band as they were more pop from the Sixties.  I saw this stuff that is now classic rock which had two guitars and bass and drums.  We were in there with Aerosmith, The Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They are all still out there playing and they are all still my buddies, and I am just thrilled to still be around.  I just played the weekend in Alaska with Blue Oyster Cult and Foghat.  I played on Peter Frampton's Guitar Circus and Buddy Guy was on that. 

Jeb: You can say you're all just guys, but playing with Buddy Guy?  That's pretty cool. 

Randy: It was pretty cool playing with Buddy.  Also on the show was Peter and Robert Randolph and we were at the Hollywood Bowl.  Are you kidding?  Last Saturday night I was at the Hollywood Bowl playing with those guys; when I went out and did “TCB” the place went insane, and that was the highlight of my life. 

Jeb:  Did you know this music was going to be timeless?

Randy: No, you put them out and you hoped to get airplay.  If it happened, then you were a One Hit Wonder.  If you're lucky you get another one and you are a Two Hit Wonder.  You get another band and they tell you that you can't do it again with another band.  And you do it, and you hit Number One again with another band. 

I think the DVD is so amazing in a way.  I was very lucky to be in two bands where I was a songwriter and guitar player from Winnipeg that made it to Number One with a single and album.  There were three trades back then, Billboard, Record World and Cashbox.  We were number one in all of those trades.  This was before there were videos and before there was national radio.  Everything was station-by-station, city-by-city, town-by-town and country-by-country.  You had to work your tail off, and I worked my tail off and our hard work made it happen. 

Jeb: I have to ask about when you said you came down from Canada and the war was going on, and you were in America and actually afraid you could be snatched up and drafted. 

Randy: The late Sixties was pretty rough as far as black and whites fighting in the streets, and the government taking both black and whites out of high school and signing them up to fight in Vietnam in a jungle and they had no idea what they were fighting for.  If you didn't fight, then they threw you in jail.  America was really wild...it still is.  America is still at war, they've been at war for two hundred years. 

Jeb:  Last one: What is life beyond this DVD?  Are you writing more songs?

Randy: I have a blues album coming out next spring and, once again, at the urging of Neil Young, I am doing something different.  I have a new band and I am playing with two girls who play like Keith Moon and John Entwistle. 

I have a three-piece band playing blues… and not laid-back blues like Jimmy Reed, which I wanted to do.  It’s in-your-face 1968, 1969 British Invasion.  It sounds like Cream, Hendrix, The Who and Led Zeppelin all on one album.  My guest guitarists on it are Scott Holiday from Rival Sons, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, Jeff Healy, Neil Young and Billy Gibbons.  So, put that in your smike and pulp it! 

When that comes out next year it is going to show everybody that I am not done, and that this is the new chapter.  It is called Heavy Blues and it will be out in March.  I've got gigs all next year at the blues festivals, as I have four songs mixed that I sent to these promoters, on the promise that they wouldn't play them for anyone.  I only sent them half the song so they could hear what I am doing.  It is like the Black Keys and the White Stripes meets The Who.  

I am playing with these two girls and they are going to blow your mind.  They are absolutely amazing.  I found the girls playing in the pit at Tommy.  I went to see Tommy with Pete Townshend in Ontario and he kept saying, “The drummer sounds like Keith Moon.”  So we went to meet her and I asked her to play in a band with me, and then I find a girl bass player who sounds like Entwistle and boom, I cut the album... twelve songs in five days with no rehearsal!