Interview: Randy Bachman

Few artists can claim to have made a bigger impact on popular music than Randy Bachman. He’s widely regarded as the “architect of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll.” Responsible for hits like “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “American Woman,” “Let it Ride, “Taking Care of Business,” “No Sugar Tonight” and “These Eyes,” his songs have become part of the Canadian fabric. Bachman co-founded iconic bands The Guess Who and Bachman‐Turner Overdrive, earning over 120 gold and platinum albums/singles around the world as a performer and producer, and amassing more than 40 million in record sales. He’s also charted #1 spots on radio playlists in over 20 countries. In addition to his induction into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Bachman has the distinction of being the only Canadian to be inducted twice into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, most recently alongside his fellow original Bachman‐Turner Overdrive members in 2014. He’s also a recipient of the Order of Canada, acknowledged in 2011 by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), has his own radio show on CBC “Vinyl Tap”, new records, new tours… and he shows no signs of slowing down. I caught up with him by phone and finally got an answer to one of rock’s biggest questions….

Mb: Hey Randy.
Randy: Hi. Ready to roll!
Mb: A 9 am interview! Not many musicians up and willing to talk at this hour!
Randy: I’m usually up about 7. I swim at this time, so I’m giving you my swim time. (laughs)
Mb: So jeez, where do I start? How about way back? As a young musician I cut my teeth playing Taking Care of Business. Did you ever imagine that was going to be such a huge anthem?
Randy: No. You never know ahead of time. You have a really good feeling about a song, but, if you’re a musician you know this; you write a song and it’s the greatest thing in the world and you play it for your mother and your father, your girlfriend, your brother… and if they like it, that’s called a living room hit. When other people start to like it, it’s amazing. And obviously the key to the whole world, at least it has been in the past, is radio. DJ’s liked it and played it, then the world knew you had a song, and if the phones lit up, they played it and people bought it. Now it’s all internet, but it’s the same keyhole to the world. And then you’re stunned that something you thought was pretty good… eight songs you thought were fabulous, just go by the wayside. And one or two that are throw-off kinda jokes, are the ones people latch onto. Because you can sing to them, dance to them, play air guitar… you can do anything. Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and American Woman, and things that I’ve written in an instance on stage, that are just gifts of explosions and musical things. Some angel shoots me in the chest with an arrow and says “Here’s a song” and people resinate with that. It’s baffling which songs resinate. I’ve been lucky over the years to have a lot of those break through.
Mb: And was Taking Care of Business just one of those songs that just came to you? Picked up a guitar and there it was?
Randy: Well, no. Taking Care of Business, I wrote over 5 or 6 years. I wrote it in the late 70’s as a copy of Paperback Writer. Paperback Writer was the copy of Johnny B Good. “The kid in the cabin of earth and wood and he got a guitar”… and then Paperback Writer is, “Hey madame won’t you read my book”… and mine was, “Get up in the morning from the alarm clock’s warning, take the 8:15 into the city”… and that was written about a music engineer in New York city who would take the 8:15 train into Grand Central Station and come into work at the studio. I was working in the studio with the Guess Who. So I wrote about him. I was originally called White Collar Worker because, everyday to work he wore a white button down collar shirt and tie, a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, wool pants… and he was blind! I kept saying “Why do you dress this way? Because it’s August and it’s 90 degrees outside and we’re all wearing flip flops and cut-offs and you’re wearing these tweed clothes from England?” And he says “I want to be like George Martin. I want to be the best producer/engeneer in the world.” He took the train home every night and I’d walk to the train station with him around 10:15 at night and the streets were empty… But I’m walking with him to Grand Central Station to see how he gets there and want to write a song about him, but I say “Stanley there’s nothing I can write about here and so good night… and, when do you come in, in the morning ?” And he says “I take the 8:15 into the city!” And there’s girls bustling everywhere and getting ready for work , so I go back and meet him the next morning and I write White Collar Worker. And every guy in the band hates the song because in the middle I go (sings) “White Collar Worker” just like Paperback Writer and they say “The verses are great, but you need to change that hook in the middle.” I couldn’t change it for years and years and years, because when you write something it’s your baby… Fast forward 6 years…. I’m on stage with BTO now, and Fred Turner loses his voice and I have to sing a couple of songs. It’s the last set on a Saturday night and I don’t know what to sing. So I sing She Belongs to Me, the Bob Dylan song, the way Rick Nelson did it… and nobody’s dancing. The club owner is giving me the signal like “Get them up dancing. I want everyone sweating and buying beer…” So out of the blue I turn around and say to the band “Play these three chords and just follow me.” On the way to the gig that night a friend of mine was on the air and he said “This is Darryl B on C Fun radio and we’re talking care of business!” I went, “Wow, what a great song title.” So that night I say, “Follow me” and when we get to that part I go “Talking Care of Business!” It worked. Doing it on stage with 350 people dancing and I kept sending signals to my brother and we keep the song going and going and then the next time we get to the hook the band sings it with me and I answer (singing) “Everyday! Talking care of business… everyway… it’s all mine… and working over time.” I went “Wow.” It’s the same way I wrote American Woman on stage. It just comes out of you, and a desperation and willingness to channel whatever is coming out of you. It’s like flapping your wings and hoping you can fly. The show I’m doing across Canada is called Every Song Tells a Story and it’s how I wrote the songs for the Guess Who and BTO. And my encore is a special moment because, I have new album coming out called By George and it’s all songs written by George Harrison. Eleven of his songs re-envisioned by me. For example, Here Comes the Sun is a cute little song in D major. I did it as a rough reggae song in D minor! I’m premiering that at B.B. King’s, on George’s birthday weekend February 24th, 25th, in New York city. I’m doing 3 one hour specials on the Sirius XM Beatle channel to plug that, and when I come to Canada I’m going to do Every Song Tells A Story, take a 15 minute break and when we come back do half the songs on By George in a giant medley. What’s amazing about it is, the songs are so unrecognizable, because I rearranged them in such different keys and tempos that you don’t know what the song is until I start singing! There’s no recognizable music, it’s all my own. I got a message from George’s manager saying, his son Danny and wife Olivia love the album. They are thrilled and honored. I signed with Universal and the album will be posted late February and available early March for download.
Mb: So you having fun yet? (laughs)
Randy: I really am having fun. I’m looking forward to this gig because it’s a challenge. When you do your own songs… and you forget the lyrics (laughs) you can just make them up, or you sing the same verse over and over. Nobody cares. Everyone is in the frenzy of the moment and they don’t go “Wait a minute. He’s suppose to be going ‘Sweet Caroline.’” They don’t think of that. They’re just singing along with whatever is going on. I’ve seen Neil Young on stage with a tele-prompter. I saw Neal Diamond’s comeback about 5 years ago and I was side-stage and backstage and I realized there’s a projector on the stage projecting his lyrics onto the front of the balcony, which no one can see! Everyone’s facing him. Literally, you’re running around, tripping on cables trying to smile and look nice… everyone remembers the first verse of every song they ever wrote, because that’s what you write. That’s how you build your song. When you’re in the studio you go “Oh, maybe I’d better finish this story. I think I’ll write a third verse that’s conclusive or take half the first verse and half the second verse… ” So you sort of forget them. When they are your own songs you can make them up. To go and do George Harrison’s songs, you can’t make anything up. When I do the Travelling Wilbury’s song, Handle Me With Care, where Bob Dylan is singing the verses, all those Bob Dylan rhymes are nuts. I’d never do those in a song. When Roy Orbison comes in, it’s easy. “I’m so tired of being lonely…” and when George comes in it’s “Everybody, needs somebody to lean on…” The Bob Dylan verses are killer so I’m having to write those out! So there’s a bit of “I’m 16 and going on stage for the first time and I’m really nervous I’m going to mess up”. It’s good to have that feeling because other than that, it’s “Yawn and HoHum. I’m going to play Taking Care Of Business again” which I could play at 3am in the morning if you woke me up and put a black bag over my head and tied one arm. So it’s “Get on your toes!” And my son Tal is joining the band as well and as part of Every Song Tells a Story he’ll be telling the story behind his hit She’s So High and singing that, as well. It’s an evening of the Bachmans’ past, present and the future.
Mb: Randy, you’re making my head spin. I’m blown away by the amount you have going on at this point in your career.
Randy: Oh, and I have a stage-play in the works… and a movie in the works. The stage play is called Prairie Town, my song with Neil Young, and it’s all about Winnipeg. All the music that came out of Winnipeg… Burton Cummings, The Devrons, The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive and Neil Young. It’s all of our music intertwined in the story.
Mb: I see you’re playing in Winnipeg in March. Must be fun to play your hometown, no?
Randy: It is, but mainly it’s free tickets! (laughs)
Mb: You don’t need the money, do you?
Randy: I do! I have 12 guys on the road! And a tour bus and hotels and… I have so many cousins and friends there and they’re like “Hey man, see you there. Put my name on the list!” and they’ll bring me some Pierogis or something!

Randy Bachman appears
Wednesday Mar 7, 2018 at Showplace.