Bachman-Turner Overdrive – And this isn’t all they do

“WHEN I’M TRYING to do a solo, I’ll try and play what Jeff Beck would play, or I’ll try and play what Eric Clapton would play. One time that didn’t work, so I played what I thought Hank B. Marvin would play, and that worked out fine. Neil Young – with whom I was at school – was very much into Hank B. Marvin.” Randy Bachman

Fred Turner is a real sweathog of a bass player. Whether he’s hungrily engulfing chip sandwiches in a Glasgow hotel under the lights of a documentary film crew, or bouncing all over the Apollo stage until the lighting towers begin to develop major instabilities, you gotta admit the dude is, like, heavy, man. He ought to do a seesaw act with Leslie West.

This man is clearly built for comfort rather than speed, but when he’s encased in fringed buckskin and stomping all over the stage like a cowboy Falstaff, he’s almost an impressive figure, especially when standing next to Blair Thornton, a slender John Kay lookalike in baby blue satin and regulation Gibson SG; but no matter how much he careers around the stage with hippopotamoid abandon, it’s plain to see that the real heavy in Bachman-Turner Overdrive is none other than Randy the B.

A stern, bearded figure in standard-issue L.A. black-with-white-piping cowboy duds and super-clean white Stratocaster, his bearlike presence dominates the stageHe drives the band like a ’56 Dodge pickup truck, taking all the corners without stripping the gears but taking special care with the clutch; this ain’t no joyride, it’s a business trip. A solid, hardworking man for a solid hardworking band.

There’s no golden curls, behind-blue-eyes Adonis number with tight pants, corrugated torso and hot mike moves For this band: it’s double-stressed, concrete-reinforced burly-sweat-and-undershirt music. No surprise at all to hear that they chose the name when Fred Turner saw a copy of Overdrive, a truckdrivers’ magazine in one of the truck-stops that they eat in on the road.

It’s natural-born truckdriver music.

Bachman-Tumer Overdrive (which used to be three Bachmans – Randy and bro’ Tim on guitars, bro’ Robbie on drums – and Fred Turner, and is now two Bachmans, one Turner and a Blair Thornton) is one hell of a big deal in the States and in their native Canada. Less than a year ago, they were playing third on the bill to Mott The Hoople and Aerosmith at Winterland in San Francisco (Ian Hunter commented later that they were “big fat blokes who needed a good tailor”), but now they’re a fully qualified Success. And the way they’ve done it is by Giving The Kids What They Want.

And what is it, you may well ask, that the Kids Want? You guessed it: the band shout, “Rock and roll!” and “Yeah!” at the audience every so often just to remind them what it’s all about, and at one point Robbie Bachman even delivers a portion of Bro’ J. C. Crawford’s exhortation to the Grande Ballroom Detroit audience from the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams album. You know the one – “I wanna see some hands in the air! I wanna hear some noise out there!” The only real difference is that Crawford had said, “I wanna hear some revolution out there!” Still, it’s a good riff, and if there’s a good riff around which ain’t nailed down then you’ll hear it on a BTO album some time in the near future.

“When I started this band, we all sat down and listened to what we considered to be the really great rock bands – the Who, the Stones, Free – and tried to work out what made those records great. We discovered that they all had good hook-lines, and that most of them started out with guitar riffs, so we started writing songs like that.”

Where BTO really scored is that they provide exactly what their audience wants. Their songs are almost familiar; everything bears at least a distant family resemblance to something that you’ve dug before. ‘Let It Ride’ over-dubs the kind of harmonies that made the Doobies’ ‘Listen To The Music’ and the Eagles’ ‘Take It Easy’ summer hits on top of BTO’s standard sub-Creedence chugalug, while ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ recycles the stuttering gimmick that’s been a staple from Ian Whitcomb’s ‘N-N-N-Nervous’ to good ol’ Pete T.’s ‘My Generation’ with an artfully-placed Lou Reed ‘Sweet Jane’ riff under the hookline.

They run a tight show; new guitars appear at the snap of a string, everybody’s always in tune and there’s never any dithering over what number the ensemble is going to play next. “I went to see Dave Mason – who I admire a lot and whose style of writing guitar songs I copy a lot of the time – and there were always long pauses between songs, and so on. I thought, ‘that’s not the way to do a show.’

Randy Bachman’s very concerned with taking care of business. The band even have a song called ‘Taking Care Of Business’, a phrase that Randy heard a DJ using once, wrote into a song, and credits himself with introducing into mass hip-speak.

Bachman can run through the whole story of how Bachman-Turner Overdrive (formerly Brave Belt, a name selected because “it sounded a little like Buffalo Springfield”) were dropped by their then label Warner Brothers, and how a revamped version of Brave Belt 3, their planned next album, was carted around the record companies by Bachman during weekdays while the rest of the band, who then included once and future dentist Timmy Bachman on guitar, practised ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘All Right Now’ at home.

He remembers exactly which A&R man from exactly which company rejected the band. He can remember the date that he submitted the tape, and the date on which it was returned. He used to have a neatly drawn-up wallchart of the tape’s progress, and if you’re prepared to sit still for it, he can tell you the whole thing from top to bottom. He sits in his hotel room hunkered up in his chair in an anorak with a tiny Canadian flag on it, and he looks like he ought to have a knapsack on his back and be asking you how to get to the National Gallery.

Bachman is a Mormon. Mormonism and its attendant ascetiscism (no booze, no dope, no tobacco, no adultery, no Coca-Cola, no coffee) fits in quite nicely with the whole squeaky-Kleeno Osmonds trip, but it seems fairly incongruous when racked up against the sweaty armpit heavy aluminium-alloy rock that BTO play.

Doesn’t a quiet, abstemious life-style run a little contrary to the band’s music?

“Well – uh – if you spent an hour or so with Blair or my brother Robbie, you wouldn’t find them quiet or – uh – dull.”

And for a moment Randy Bachman, who is after all the leader of a very successful rock and roll band, even if they are a band whose principal asset is the brilliance and professionalism of their mundanity, seems unutterably pathetic, like the guy from the local Baptist youth club telling you that even though it’s a clean-type establishment, you can still have jolly good fun there.

“I’m kinda dull, I guess.” He lifts his hand for a moment and then lets it drop back to his knee. “Look, I could try and come on very hip with you, but I just can’t be bothered to do that any more.”

© Charles Shaar MurrayNew Musical Express, 17 May 1975

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