Bachman Turner Overdrive

AMERICANS tend to pronounce the word “boogie” with one “u” and a couple of “g’s”. It comes out sounding “buggie” and it’s heard a lot at rock and roll concerts, especially outside the big cities where the more sophisticated forms of today’s rock don’t often reach.

If you can “buggie,” you can be enormously popular in the mid-west of the US and also down south.

The best example of this form of popularity is a band called Z.Z. Top, a trio from Texas whose speciality is stomping rock and roll, rather akin to our own Status Quo.

Brownsville Station are another with a similar background and similar music. They broke with ‘Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room’ earlier this year, and are now moving towards the cities.

Canada has a representative in Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a band from Vancouver whose second album went high in the US album charts. Only their story is a little different – their leader was the leader of Canada’s top band, the Guess Who, for ten years.

Randy Bachman quit the Guess Who and started from the bottom again with BTO, one of the heaviest of the “get down and buggie” bands touring the States.

Randy, who formed the BTO initially with his brothers Robbie and Tim, is a giant of a man. And his partner Fred Turner is equally large. More like Canadian lumberjacks, in fact, who generally appeal to the kind of guy who considers the likes of David Bowie for faggots only. Brute force is the name of the game.

Randy Bachman has an interesting story to tell, beginning with his part in forming the Guess Who in 1960, splitting from them in 1970 because, among other things, the rest of the band were at odds with him because of his Mormon religion, and ending with his struggle to surface again with a second band.

The original influence for the Guess Who was, believe it or not, Cliff Richard and the Shadows and other contemporary British pop music.

“Yes, I was a Hank Marvin freak in those days,” says Randy. “Every dollar we earned we sent off to England to order those records by the Shadows, Cliff, Shane Fenton and Billy Fury. It was all American pop on the juke box and other bands were playing American pop. The English thing set us aside from the other bands.”

In 1964 they had their first hit – a cover version of Gene Vincent’s ‘Shaking All Over’, and became prosperous for a short time. They made other records but none matched this, and soon they hit what Randy calls their “dry spell.”

“We weren’t sure of our direction and others that were around were. ‘Shaking’ sold almost half a million in the States, which was unheard of for a Canadian group.

“We were writing about half our own material in those days, which was also unusual. The only other band around who did that in the States was the Beach Boys, but we played live absolutely everywhere, clubs, dives, concerts, high school dances, colleges, the lot, all on the strength of that single.”

The dry spell lasted until the late sixties when the Guess Who had another enormous hit with ‘American Woman’ and suddenly became fashionable again.

Randy quit the Guess Who when they were on the crest of a wave. It seemed an odd time to depart, just when they were making it for a second time after a great deal of hard work and poverty, but his health was the prime factor in the parting of the ways.

“We were on the road for a 93-day tour and many things were bothering me, the lousy hours and the rotten food, and I became very ill. I had gall bladder trouble and I was vomiting every night and I hadn’t a clue what was wrong. Finally I got the group together and told them that after ten years I felt like I was dying. They hired a temporary replacement and I spent two or three months in hospital.”

The temporary replacement became permanent, however, for Randy discovered he liked the rest.

In fact, the separation suited the rest of the group too. Randy explains: “I was a quiet guy while the rest of them had a wild time, and I suppose my presence tended to suppress the parties. Without me they enjoyed themselves more, even if they weren’t as organised.”

There was some bad blood. “When a guy leaves a group there is always a winner and a loser,” he says. “I was the loser. I know I had the ability to make some good music, but nobody really wanted to know. The Guess Who were getting bigger and I felt useless.”

Randy spent six months doing nothing. He’d made a good sum from the Guess Who and could afford to do nothing for a while, but soon he became restless and started putting together a band. He had the itch to get back on stage again, so he formed Brave Belt who played country rock in the CSNY/Poco mould. But audiences wanted something heavier.

Brave Belt united Randy with his two brothers for the first time. He tried to get Gary Peterson from the Guess Who on drums, but couldn’t, and ended up with his 17-year-old kid brother Robbie.

After two weeks of tuition, Robbie played on the sessions for Brave Belt’s first album. Also in the band were brother Tim (on guitar) and bassist Fred Turner. It was the beginnings of BTO.

They had done a couple of albums with Warners but the company released them from their contract. They changed their name to Bachman-Turner Overdrive and signed with Mercury. “BTO’s first album is really Brave Belt’s third,” says Randy. “Mercury bought the masters and released it under the new name.”

Another change in personnel took place just a couple of months ago. Randy’s brother Tim left the band to learn engineering and production, to be replaced by Blair Thornton, a Vancouver guitarist who often sat in with the band on local dates, and Randy is more than happy with the situation.

“We wanted to come over to Europe earlier this year but the energy crisis was happening and we had a chance to make some good money here at home. We would have lost a fortune if we’d gone then, but we are hoping to make it in October.”

BTO, says Randy, rely on brute force for their appeal and this tends to be with the same kind of fans that follow American football. “Fred Turner weighs about 240 lbs and I don’t weigh much less so we look like footballers on stage and not like David Bowies. Mid-America identifies with us because we look like the captains of their local football team.”

© Colin IrwinMelody Maker, February 1974

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