Gary James' Interview With Randy Bachman Of
He's the man who's always "Takin' Care of Business," and after 35 years in rock 'n roll, he's still going strong!
We're speaking of course about Randy Bachman.
Randy was part of both The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, two groups with combined records sales of over 40 million. Randy Bachman wrote such hits as "Takin' Care of Business", "Let It Ride", "American Woman", "Roll On Down the Highway" and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet". Randy's back on the scene with a new solo album titled "Any Road" (1999). We sat down for a very long talk with this rock 'n roll veteran.
Q - Randy, the last few years you've been doing what you term "The Solid Gold thing." Does that mean you've been doing the corporate shows where you're flown to some exotic location?
A - No. What we've been doing is the Classic Rock Shows, All the Classic Rock Radio Shows around the United States for the last 7 or 8 years with that new format, have been having Summer Festivals with Classic-Rock Bands. So, I was doing that with kind of a reformed B.T.O. On the show would be Edgar Winter, Peter Frampton, The Doobie Brothers, The Bee Gees, that kind of thing. I was doing that 'til a couple of years ago, and then I got tired of it. It became a job. It wasn't exciting. There was nothing new on the musical horizon. It was just doing the old stuff. I had a demo of these songs and I wanted to get it out. I sent it out to a few labels, and got some interest and here I am.
Q - Why are you currently fascinated with Country music?
A - It's come full circle. It's so close to what I do, to 70s classic rock, that the line or wall, or veil is quite invisible. I just spent 10 days in Nashville. I can't tell you the amount of people, literally hundreds who came up to me and said, "We're so glad you're in town." They didn't say. "'Welcome to Nashville." They said "Welcome Home. This is where you belong. Please come and write songs with our band. We grew up playing your music. We think you've written the greatest music in North America history, and that you're still around to write and play and sing with us is fantastic. The songs you wrote in The Guess Who and B.T.O., we grew up on. They are our Bibles. They are our standards." I've been getting invites to write with 10 or 20 of the best songwriters or bands in Nashville. And, all I do is go in and do what I normally do. 70s kind of classic guitar riffs and they love it. All they put over is the little honky tonk piano or slide guitar or fiddle, and it's pretty much 70s rock with one more instrument added, and it might be a diffle or slide guitar.
Q - How is it that there's still a B.T.O. without you? Does your former management own the rights to the name?
A - No. I left the band in early 1977 and at that point I was going to do a solo project. Back in the beginning, I financed the band, the album, and produced it. I also had the foresight to take out and register the trademark with the B.T.O. gear and the B.T.O. logo. I said, "Look, I need my name, Bachman, 'cause I'm going out as a solo." At the time I owned everything. They said "we want to continue going as the band B.T.O." So we decided they would take the B.T.O. and I would take the Bachman-Turner Overdrive and out of that I could use my name, Bachman. It's really weird when somebody else owns your name. So that was our split. We got back together oh, 6 or 7 years ago due to the classic rock thing, the solid gold format. We joined together and toured as Bachman Turner Overdrive, B.T.O. but it got very tiring after a couple of years. When I was about to leave, we decided to lake a year off and work on some original material to hopefully do a new album and do what our buddies Aerosmith had done, Reo Speedwagon, Frampton, The Doobies...do some new product and then come out, and it makes your old stuff even more relevant 'cause you're getting all the classic rock airplay. If you can get new airplay on new product, then you've made it in the 90's as far as being a 70s band and not just being a rehashed oldies thing. In taking this time off, I went and did my demos. I got hooked by a couple of record labels who said "we love your new stuff." As I was about to get back to B.T.O., saying let's do an album together, they called me and said "We're going out on the road this summer." This was two summers ago, I said "I thought we were taking a year off." They said "the money looks too good and we're gonna go out on the road." I said "I've already got a new band and album and it's coming out." They said, "we'll tour without you." I said. "How can you do that?" They said, "We'll just call ourselves B.T.O. People will know you're not there." I said "I don't think that's fair", but they went ahead and did it anyway. They're doing it to this day. But, the problem is when B.T.O. pulls into town, the radio, the press people, call them Bachman-Turner Overdrive. It's like Coke and Coca-Cola, two names that go hand in hand. It kind of gets represented that I'm there and when they play the gig, I clearly am not there.
Q - They've got what, one original band member?
A - Well, there's my brother, Bob Bachman, who's the drummer. Fred Turner is there. They've got another guy to take my place who unfortunately is named Randy. They come out on stage and say, "Hi. we're B.T.O. I'm Fred Turner. This is Blair Thorning. This is Rob Bachman and this is Randy." They never say Randy's last name, which is Murray. So there's this inference that I'm there and I'm not there, which is disclosure to the fans. But I'm fighting it as best I can, but it's really tough.
Q - How much money do you figure you were cheated out of in both The Guess Who and B.T.O.?
A - It's way, way up there in the tens of millions of dollars.
Q - How did that happen?
A - If you look at the history of bands from the 50s and 60s, they didn't basically make a lot of money. They were ignorant, as were we, of the music business so to speak. We didn't do it for the money. We did it 'cause we loved Elvis or Sam Cooke or Little Richard. We were copying them and trying to do that music in our own way. All we cared about was making music. Our parents kept saying to us "you've got to get a real job, you can't make a living at this." We never thought we could make a living at it or that we'd be doing it 15 or 30 years later. Only after you get into it for a while and say "this is really good but something's wrong with this picture; we've sold a million records and we've only got a check for four hundred dollars." They've got 3 million dollars in the bank, 'cause they made a million a record. We only made a dime or something like that. You get smarter and smarter, coming from where we came from, which was Winnipeg, Manitoba, both The Guess Who and B.T.O. - we never had what I would call a savvy, know-it-all music lawyer to go in and fight with the sharks in L.A. and New York or Chicago and had been doing these record contracts since the 30s.
Q - B.T.O.'s former manager, Bruce Allen once said "What's rock? It's a business. Grosses mean nothing. Parties cost money. Everything costs money. We go home with money. That's what I'm in business for." That sounds like a pretty tough guy to me.
A - Yeah, he's a shrewd, tough guy. After me getting pretty much shafted in The Guess Who years, when I started it all over again and was spending my hard earned dollars I had made in The Guess Who and financing B.T.O. and having the band on a salary, producing the album myself 'cause I couldn't find a producer, renting the studio and paying everything myself. I vowed that this time through, I wasn't gonna get shafted. And even then, we didn't get our fair share of the contract. We started out with two dozen refusals. So. if somebody calls you with any contract, you take it because any contract is better than no contract; having a record out is better than having no record out at all. There's a point in your life when you're in music where you take what you can get. Your only saving grace in it is that you will get big in a year or two and be able to re-negotiate your deal or you get your deal to be as short as possible. If you're selling, you should go to some assorted devils in a town that is giving you a break, you make sure it's only for 2 or 3 or at the most 4 or 5 years, so at the end of it, you can go out and make the money for yourself. In a bad contract, you're only out there making money for other people. So, I was fairly successful in B.T.O. as far as protecting our music, our publishing, our royalties, and our road money. I did hook up with Bruce Allen. He did learn the ropes by coming on the road with us. He's become one of the shrewdest business managers around today.
Q - How did B.T.O. get a record deal?
A - In the early 70s, I had produced the album that was to become the first B.T.O. album and sent it out over a period of about a year and a half to every single record label that existed al the lime, and either got phone calls or a teller back or sometimes a telegram saying that the material isn't right for us at this time, or we pass, or it isn't good enough. I saved them all. I always read in Billboard Magazine on page 2 or 3, the Executive Turntable that told Joey A. has left this record label and he's gone to work at that record label. So, I sent to these guys again, a letter saying "Congratulations on your new appointment at R.C.A. Records, and here's my new tape. I know you passed on it at Elektra. but now that you're at R.C.A. you might be looking for this type of band for your label." When guys go to a label, they're usually looking to build an immediate roster. A lot of the passes I had said. "Your music is great, but it's not right for our label at this time." So I sent it out to the same guys at different labels. That's why it added up to 25 refusals. Even the one who accepted us, Mercury Records had previously passed on us two months earlier.
Q - You've got your son playing drums in your band.
A - Yeah. That happened by accident. My drummer broke his leg in a motorcycle accident on a Harley. He called me four days before a tour is supposed to start and said he was in the hospital with pins in his knee, you know holding it together, and after he was out, he'd need at least a year of therapy, recuperation and exercise. I couldn't get a drummer on a 4 day notice. Everybody in town was booked and didn't know my material. But my son was home. He was in college at the time. He was at home doing his own demos for his own album. He had drummed since he was 2 or 3. So here he was, now 25. Besides drums, he plays guitar, piano, bass, accordion, violin. He plays everything. He's quite a multi-talented guy. Out of desperation I said "Would you consider not going back to college for your last quarter?" He was about to get a degree in political science. Most fathers are begging their kids to stay in school and I was asking mine to lake his last quarter off to play with me. I had a major tour planned through Canada. Right after that, I was starting to record. My drummer who had played on the album, had toured all summer, and still couldn't play. So my son became a part of the band. Now, he's working on his own demo again and I have another drummer in the band. But, as soon as my son has done his demo, his wife's expecting a baby, he doesn't want to go on the road, he'll be back in the band.
Q - Was Chet Atkins one of your guitar heroes?
A - Yes, and Scotty Moore. Scotty Moore basically played in a Chet Atkins kind of style, except Chet Atkins was playing country music and Scotty Moore was playing rock-a-billy and playing the same finger style guitar behind Elvis with a rock-a-billy beat. So both of them were very big influences.
Q - Don't you have a degree from the Manitoba Institute of Technology?
A - Not quite. I dropped out two weeks before my final exams or I would have had a degree in Business Administration. I dropped out to go with The Guess Who on The Louie Louie Tour, which was in 1965. We had that song "Shakin All Over" which was Top 20 in Billboard at the time. We went down to New York, joined the Kingsmen and toured in buses. It was the most fabulous time of my life. In the buses were The Kingsmen, Dion and The Belmonts, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs, Barbara Mason and The Guess Who. It was just fabulous.
Q - You also toured with The Crystals.
A - Yeah, we did tour also with The Crystals and The Shirelles. We were their back-up band, which was pretty amazing.
Q - Why do you believe that it was a lot tougher for a Canadian band in the 60s and 70s to get recognition than it is today?
A - Well, there was no national musical flag, so to speak. Canada itself didn't have any national recognition. It's a very small populated country. The cities are very few and far between. To do a tour in Canada you basically can do it in a week or ten days. That's all the major cities. You do a tour of Texas or California and it'll take you 2 months. There's so many cities. It just isn't like that in Canada. So, consequently, that's the way the world looks at Canada. Canadians are not waving a big flag about their own bands and how great they are, as does London, England. Everybody's looking for the latest thing in London, Seattle, or Athens, Georgia. That never happened with Canada. So when a Canadian band came out, it was pretty much a well kept secret. Canadian bands couldn't afford the big L.A. and N.Y. press machines, you know, that everybody goes and hires like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. There was nothing in Canada until about 10 years ago. Then we had our own music video channel called Much Music. Since that came in, it has created a star system within Canada, just by giving a lot of the bands airplay and giving them believability in their own eyes and in their peers' eyes and in the fan's eyes. Much Music is an eclectic type of programming as compared with MTV. I know for a fact that the record labels in New York, Nashville, L.A. and Chicago all have satellite dishes on their roof and they all watch Much Music. You can basically see that latest thing that's coming from Canada or through Canada from the British Isles or something like that. Suddenly, in the last 4 or 5 years, more people are looking to Canada.
Q - You also told reporters that a Canadian group had to wait 3-4 weeks to get a US Visa, while a US or British group could get a Visa for Canada in just hours. Why is that? Did you ever find out what the reasoning is behind that?
A - No. There was another big uproar about this two years ago when they cut down the quota of Canadian musicians touring the US to something like 150 musicians. These were work visas allowing Canadians to tour the US. Well, that might be a fine figure on paper, but if you take one symphony or ballet that could be touring, it could be the Toronto Symphony, right there you're using up 80-90 of those work visas and you're hurting it for Canadian rock bands who want to come over the border. I was just as frustrated as everybody else and took up a petition as to why America was doing this to Canadian musicians. An American band can come into Canada with a 48 hour notice and get a work visa. Canadian musicians would have to wait 3-6 months, and even at that point might not get it 'cause the quota had already been filled in the waiting time. So there was a very incredible imbalance there between so called free trade between music. I didn't know why it existed. Somebody in Washington had this idea about restricting the quota of Canadian musicians.
Q - Are you the one who sang "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet?"
A - Yes, and "Takin' Care of Business".
Q - How long did it take you to write that song?
A - Well, it's a funny story. It was written in an instant but it look 10 years for that instant to happen. What happened was, way back in the late 60's, when The Beatles had "Paperback Writer" out, I wrote a song just like it. Mine was called ""White Collar Worker", but the lyrics went "They get up in morning from the alarm clock's warning, take the eight fifteen into the city." And just like they said "Sir or madam will you read my book." I thought it was so cool that these guys wrote about somebody who writes novels. I had been to New York. See, in Winnipeg, there's no commuting trains. I'd been to New York and Chicago with the early Guess Who and seen people on commuting trains and how they had to catch this eight fifteen into the city 'cause they started working at nine thirty or ten. So I wrote about that. But when I got to my hook, my hook was "White Collar Worker" just like "Paperback Writer". I played it for the band and they said this is a joke. We can't record this. It's a copy of "Paperback Writer". So this song got put back into the filing cabinet of my mind as having really good words and verses, but I needed a hook. This is something that I would then take to Burton Cummings and we would sit down and try and find the hook and make a complete song. Every time I would play the song, it was laughable and it never got completed. Fast forward about 5 or 6 years and I'm out of The Guess Who. I've now started B.T.O. and we have our first album out. We're getting ready to do our second album. We come back from our first big tour of the States and we're playing a club in Canada for a week, doing our old material like "Brown Sugar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash", just so people can dance. We're trying out our new material with the club to see how people are dancing and reacting to it, 'cause we're gonna go down and record it about a week later. In the middle of this Saturday night set, the last set, Fred Turner lost his voice and came to me and said "you have to sing the last set." Well, I was only a relief singer up to that point. I would sing a Bob Dylan song, a Neil Young song, a David Crosby song. Of course you didn't need a great voice. It was a good song and a lot of great music tracks behind it and this would give Greg Turner a chance to rest his voice. He would come out and scream all night long, a la Joe Cocker. So I went to sing this last set on a Saturday night and we were a 3 piece band at the time which was myself, Fred Turner, and my brother Rob on drums. Fred Turner basically couldn't sing. His voice was gone. So I did "She Belongs To Me", the way Rick Nelson did the Bob Dylan song. I did "Ohio", "Down By The River" and I did a couple of Bob Dylan songs. I'm doing basically all non-singing songs that you could kind of talk your way through. The crowd is yelling "Rock "n Roll." All these songs are mid-tempo and they really want to rock. Going to the club that night, there was a d.j. that said, "Hi, this is Johnny Jane. We're takin' care of business on C-Fox Radio." And he played a song by The Rolling Stones. I thought "Takin Care of Business" is a great song title, put it in the back of my mind, and then onstage that night, out of desperation - I had run out of songs to sing - I turned around onstage, and this is the instant I talked about, and said to the other guys in the band, "Play these 3 chords over and over, C, B flat, and F endlessly and when I get to the hook, help me out. It's "Takin' Care of Business". Just sing it with me. They said, What?! The crowd is wanting to dance and sing. So I start to play the song and I sing my lyrics from "White Collar Worker" exactly as they appear in "Takin" Care of Business". When I get to the hook, instead of doing this breakdown where we all do "White Collar Worker" in high voices, I say "Takin' Care of Business" and the music keeps going. And it gets to it the next time, the band sang it with me, "Takin' Care of Business." Out of the blue, I answered, "Every day. Takin' care of business, every way. Takin' care of business and workin" overtime." This just happened out of my head, out of my heart, onstage. It was just put together like that. The crowd sensed that we were jamming and making it up. They were all clapping and screaming. When the song was over they kept clapping and stomping and singing "Takin' Care of Business." So we then picked the song up and sang it for another minute or so. A week later we went to record and I wrote up the lyrics and handed them to Fred Turner. He said, "what are these for?" I said, "Just so you can sing it properly." He said, "I'm not gonna sing it, you are." I said. "What?. I don't sing on record, I just sing harmony." He said. "No, you sing it pretty well and it's a legitimate song for you to do, to give me a rest onstage." So I go into the studio and sing "Takin' Care of Business" with a sore throat and a head cold, which you can certainly hear in there, and we don't take a whole lot of care with the track. It kind of speeds up and slows down because after all, it's only an album track.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive placed 6 songs on the Billboard Top 40 between 1974 and 1976
"Let It Ride" (#23), "Takin' Care Of Business" (#12), "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" (#1)
"Roll On Down The Highway" (#14), "Hey You" (#21), "Take It Like A Man" (#33)
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection