A true icon in every sense of the word, Randy Bachman’s music roots go back to the mid- fifties. Along with school friend Chad Allen, he formed The Silvertones, then The Reflections, then The Expressions and cut their teeth early playing dances, all the while quietly becoming one of Winnipeg’s best-kept secrets. Because Canadian content regulations hadn’t been implemented yet, The Expressions found it tough going trying to expand outside of the local scene and released “Shakin All Over” to the local radio stations without telling them who they were. The anonymous group was dubbed “The Guess Who” and Canada’s first supergroup had been born.
Bachman stayed with the group during their most illustrious period, penning such classics as “New Mother Nature”, “Laughing”, “Undun”, “American Woman” and 1969’s “These Eyes”, the first Canadian single to reach Number One on Billboard. Personnel problems caused Bachman to take a break from the group and released the instrumental Axe, his first solo record in 1970. Among others, featured on the album was “Tally’s Tune”, a song written for Randy’s son Tal, who would go on to score big on his own in 2000 with “She’s So High”. But saying Axe didn’t light the critics’ typewriters on fire is an understatement. Regardless, the album would go on to become a true collectible among his legions of fans, showing his jazz and blues roots. He officially announced his departure from The Guess Who that same year after putting on the final touches in the studios for Share the Land.
He reunited with Allen in 1971 and recruited his brother Robbie and to form Brave Belt, and released two records, Brave Belt , which features C.F. Turner on the jacket despite joining the group literally only days before the record’s release, and Brave Belt II over the next three years. Because critics expected basically a generic version of The Guess Who, Brave Belt’s heavier sound was initially unaccepted. The band was fledgling at best until Allen was replaced by Randy and Robbie’s brother Tim. Now under the guise of Bachman Turner Overdrive, a new bona fide Canadian supergroup was in the making. Though staying true to the path set forth by Brave Belt, BTO quickly found radio play with the hits “Give Me Your Money Please” and “Blue Collar” from their self-titled debut in 1973. Countless awards and praises followed as they lit up the charts time and time again with such classics as “Takin’ Care of Business”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”, “Four Wheel Drive” and “Let It Ride”.
Disputes over where the band was headed spelled the end of the road for Bachman and he left in 1976, re-emerging with his second solo record, Survivor, that same year. Again the critics shunned the solo effort, suggesting he had to have a strong supporting cast to make it. He also served as producer for Trooper’s debut album that year. He formed Ironhorse the next year with Washington State-born Tom Sparks and drummer Chris Leighton. A heavy, thunderous sound but nothing that really stood the test of time was the result on both the group’s records on Scotti Brothers Records. The self-titled debut was released in 1979 and Everything is Grey came out the next year, featuring ex-Trooper keyboardist Frank Ludwig replacing Sparks. Despite a total of four singles being released from the two records, sales were slightly better than dismal and the group called it quits in 1981.
Bachman re-emerged on Portrait Records later that same year with his new outfit, Union, with fellow Brave Belt and BTO’er C.F. Turner, Tom Leighton and Frank Ludwig, formerly of Trooper and Ironhorse. Though On Strike produced two singles, neither were hits big enough to keep brass happy. Sales were less than hoped for and Portrait released the band from any further commitments.
Bachman displayed his “before its time” trend-setting in 1983 when he re-united with Burton Cummings, Jim Kale and Gary Peterson for a Guess Who reunion. What initially was meant to be a few outdoor concerts blossomed into a re-birth of one of the rock world’s greatest groups. Three singles were let loose on the airwaves to celebrate their reunion “C’mon and Dance”, “Let’s Watch The Sun Go Down” and “Creepin Peepin Baby Blues” as well as the album, appropriately entitled Reunion. Little known fact is just prior to their reunion that same year, Bachman briefly reunited with brother Robbie and C.F. Turner to re-form BTO. But because Robbie wanted Blair Thornton to fill out the quartet and Randy wanted brother Tim, dissension caused Robbie to walk away from the drums early on during the reunion. He was replaced by Peterson briefly before he and Bachman hooked up with Cummings and Kale again. Again BTO would form and would stay together this time for the better part of three years until 1988, when Bachman bailed out of the fledgling attempt to recapture the fire of the seventies.
Bachman would go into seclusion for the next five years, concentrating on running his own label and helping develop other budding stars. He resurfaced in 1996 with Any Road, on BMG Records. Notably, it had two versions of the same song, “Prairie Town”. As the lead off track, the heavy version featured Neil Young and sounded as if you’d turned the hands of the clock back twenty years, complete with searing guitar solos. The melodic version rounds out the album and features Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies and further cemented the return of one of Canada’s rock and roll forefathers. Fittingly, both copies epitomize Bachman, rough on one side but smooth on the other side, both digging deep into his earliest roots. Also on the record were the title- track, “Why Am I Lonely?”, penned by his son Talmage, and his daughter Callianne providing backup vocals on “Overworked and Underpaid”, three more bare to the bone rockers. Bachman’s sassier, jazzier side also shone through on “I Wanna Shelter You”, co-written by wife Denise McCann and “15 Minutes of Fame”, an insider’s rather cynical view of the recording industry. The subsequent tour saw the release of a five-song live EP recorded on Sony. Taped during a Seattle concert in the spring of 1993, it was distributed only in the US and contains live versions of five of Randy’s biggest hits recorded with The Guess Who.
Bachman kept busy in 1996 by recording a ten-minute epic with Neil Young called “Made In Canada”, which had a four-minute radio-play version to celebrate the occasion. He also contributed to a charity album called Jets for Kids, a collection of tracks which in part mourned the loss of the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes for those who don’t know). The new lyrics to “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” were “That’s One Hot Russian”, a tribute to forward Alexei Zhamnov. Later that same year saw the release of Merge. Though not a bad record overall, including a remake of the BTO classic, “Bad News Travels Fast”, it didn’t seem to contain the energy of Any Road, and thus didn’t generate the sales his label had hoped for.
Songbook came out in 1998, and featured remakes of various Guess Who and BTO classics. The world was ecstatic that same year when Bachman reformed with The Guess Who to play a benefit concert for the victims of The Red River flood disaster. Less than a year later, the band again reunited, this time for a three-song set during the opening of the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. All the hype reached a climax in 2000 when it was announced that The Guess Who was reuniting for a full cross Canada tour, including the half-time show at The Grey Cup in Calgary that November. The result was one packed show after another. From the reunion sprang Running Through Canada, a double-live album highlighting some of the best moments of the tour.
Bachman’s currently filling up much of his spare time helping out on other projects, including contributing songs to three tribute CDs focusing on Del Shannon, Jeff Lynne of ELO and his rendition of “The Boys Are Back In Town” for the Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy tribute, Songs of The Black Rose.
Still scrapping with Jim Kale over the name of The Guess Who, Bachman and Burton Cummings released The Cummings/Bachman Songbook in 2006, a retrospective of their individual and collective recording careers, and began a series of North American gigs to promote it.