Bachman-Turner Overdrive

TrackAlbum
Let It RideBachman-Turner Overdrive II
Takin' Care Of BusinessBachman-Turner Overdrive II
You Ain't Seen Nothing YetNot Fragile
Free Wheelin'Not Fragile
Roll On Down The HighwayNot Fragile
Not FragileNot Fragile
Hey YouFour Wheel Drive
Down To The LineHead On
Take It Like A ManHead On
Lookin' Out For #1Head On

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

I’d say the most prominent genre of articles on Toppermost has to be the “Great Artist you’ve barely, or never, heard of who I’m about to introduce you to” genre. But not all that far behind, and in many ways a bit more fascinating, is the “Pretty popular band for a period who haven’t ever gotten the credit they deserved as musicians because they did had a couple huge hits” genre. Of course that idea falls apart when I realized, while BTO was huge in Canada, had a couple decent hits that still pop up on classic rock radio in the States, they were nothing on the east side of the Atlantic, except in Germany. But in the States I’d still say they are remembered as a band that went big time for a few years in the 1970s, and not as a band that was actually very good.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive has a unique history. In 1971 Randy Bachman, who had always claimed he was blacklisted after he left The Guess Who, went out and tried to find another band. He recruited another former member of The Guess Who by the name of Chad Allen and his own brother Robbie. They called the band Brave Belt, and at first they were fairly country rock tinged. And while the band did have a single just break the top 40 in Canada, overall the sales were disappointing, causing Allen to quickly leave the group. During the tour for the first album though, Randy Bachman, at the suggestion of Neil Young, hired bassist C.F. Turner as the tour bass player. After the tour, and after Allen left, Turner joined the band full time and took over the lead vocals. Bachman brother Tim also joined the band to make it a quartet. A bit harder and more rock orientated than their initial recording, the second album did worse than the first and Reprise dropped them.

So Randy Bachman, Tim Bachman, Robbie Bachman and C.F. Turner, after recording two albums as Brave Belt, changed their name and became superstars for a period. Sure, there was a lineup change or two down the road. Tim left the band between the second and third BTO album to be replaced by Blair Thornton, And after 1977, the band became a revolving door of players coming in and out of the band. Not that it mattered really as albums two through five, essentially 1973-1975, are all you really need to know. But honestly I can’t think of many cases where the exact same lineup changed their band’s name after a couple of albums, and even a chart single, and found huge success.

The first album, creatively named Bachman-Turner Overdrive, much like Brave Belt I and Brave Belt II, did have a minor hit in Canada with Blue Collar climbing up to #21 on their charts. But it wasn’t until Bachman-Turner Overdrive II that the band finally hit their stride.

Let It Ride is a cool hybrid of blues rock with some riffs via acoustical guitars. Written by Randy Bachman and Turner about the band’s tour bus being stuck in traffic, that first hit outside of Canada was a Turner vocal. And a Turner vocal always meant a little rougher, a little more blues out of the bar scene rock and roll. They had arrived.

Their next hit, Takin’ Care of Business, is a bonafide rock anthem. The creation of the song is one hell of an interesting story if you choose to believe it. Randy had written the core of the song many years before, but never quite got it right in his mind. According to Bachman one night while driving to a gig in Vancouver he heard a DJ used the phrase Takin Care of Business. That night at the gig Turner’s voice gave out before the last set and Randy had to sing all the tunes for the rest of the night. Supposedly, he told the band to play C, B-Flat and F chords over and over again while he sang his song substituting the phrase he had just heard for the previous chorus, White Collar Worker. And of course there is the legend, often told by band members but seemingly refuted be what we like to call facts, is that the piano section which was added during the subsequent recording of the song was written and played by a pizza delivery man by the name of Norman Durkee who later had quite a career as a musician and musical director. For many years it has been the most licensed song in Sony Music’s catalogue.

Their third album, Not Fragile, provided a healthy number of great songs. And their first Canadian No.1, and their only US No.1 (and UK No.2), You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, was among them. According to Randy Bachman the song was originally an instrumental inspired by the playing of Dave Mason. The lyrics, and the stuttering part, were a joke for not a band member Bachman brother Gary, who has a stutter. They used the song as a “work track” in the studio to set up the amps and mics properly. According to band legend, and as so many songs have crazy stories from this band you kind of wonder about their legitimacy, a record exec heard it and told them it was the new album’s hit single.

The B-side of that single was a Blair Thornton penned instrumental called Free Wheelin’. It’s a blues inspired jam dedicated to Duane Allman with traded off leads by Randy Bachman and Thornton that just rock out.

The album’s other hit was Roll On Down The Highway. An odd follow up to their biggest hit to date, it’s much more a harder, tougher rock romp which was probably closer to the group’s real sound. It hit No.14 in the US and cemented them as a hit maker as it was their third straight song to make the top 15. In Canada, it was their fourth straight song to make the top 4.

The B-Side to that hit was the album’s title track Not Fragile. It was the song where the hard rock band came closest to being a metal band. A huge bass riff, and there is nothing this bass player loves more than a huge bass riff, and again those duel lead guitarists trading off with each other. It’s also one of Turner’s most growling bar band vocal performances. Great fun.

Hey You from Four Wheel Drive is about as catchy a song as BTO ever recorded. Acoustic guitars, a fuzzy guitar riff, and some of the more out front drums in their catalog, it was their last decent size hit in the US. And while they still had a couple of top twenties to go in Canada there ride at the top was over in the US.

Their string of really great albums wasn’t though. They had one more left in them with Head On. Musically it was all over the place, and I mean that in a good way. Down To The Line was in some ways one of the few BTO-like songs on the album, although they didn’t include it on the album’s initial release.

Take It Like A Man was the last top forty song in the US. It’s a roadhouse song, lots of instrumental breaks for the guys to show off, and some really fun piano by none other than Little Richard.

Finally, Lookin’ Out For #1 is as close to jazz as a hard rockin and somewhat blues influenced band can get. Breezy in the best sense of the world it really illustrates that Randy Bachman was pretty adventurous. He could have spent years writing one BTO hit after another. That formula worked for a lot of groups, but Bachman seemed much more interested in stretching. Which is why it’s odd they don’t get the credit deserved to them, they were never really a classic rock band. Randy Bachman left the band in 1977 and then seemingly got angry that Turner, Robbie Bachman and Thornton recruited April Wine bassist Jim Clench and recorded a few more albums. The band broke up in 1979, getting somewhat back together in 1984 with Randy, Tim and Turner for a really awful album. A couple years later, from 1988-1991, the classic lineup gave it another go but didn’t release anything. From 1991-2005, Robbie, Thornton and Turner played on as BTO, releasing one album with new material. The problems between them and Randy got so heated at that point, as Randy again didn’t like there was a BTO without him, even if he didn’t want to be in it. They were unable to come to an agreement about playing together for any reason. It got so heated they actually wound up not accepting induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003 because of an argument about who would be on stage.

Money won out a few years ago as Randy and Turner got back together and released the Bachman & Turner album in 2010, which is probably better than anything that band did since 1975. Of course, Thornton and Rob Bachman sued them over using the BTO name.

The band has an interesting history, and brothers that have battled as much as any musical brothers have. A recording career that stretches from 1971-2011 which was mostly mediocre when you get down to it. But from 1973-1975 these guys were pretty damn good.

 

BTO website

Randy Bachman official website

Bachman & Turner

Bachman-Turner Overdrive biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #326

3 Comments

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Jul 24, 2014

    Good work Calvin, I have an import copy of Head On with the outer sleeve perforated to unfold to a 24″ square poster of the band (mine is still intact after all these years). I have always liked Blue Collar too. As you said, the band had one massive hit single here in Blighty and then not a lot.

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Jul 25, 2014

      I remember that poster well Ian, I had it myself. BTO seemed so much bigger when I was a kid than the sales indicate, possibly as I grew up on the southern shores of Lake Erie and Canada is on the Northern Shore. And they were pretty big on the northside of the lake.

  2. Jerry Tenenbaum
    Jul 26, 2014

    We just saw Bachman-Turner in Victoria BC last month in a theatre. They were excellent and offered up BTO in all its glory. We went to hear Randy Bachman about 8 years ago or so solo with his guitar in a small church in Victoria. There were maybe 50 people there and it was superb. He is a great story teller and narrates around his songs as can be heard on one of his more recent albums. His radio show on CBC every week is a treat. He reviews a topic of one sort or another and gives each song played his personal touch. He lives in BC (Saltspring Island, a small corner or paradise in paradise) and continues to thrive. BTO serves as yet another example of Canadian contemporary contributions to this art form. They did it well and Bachman-Turner continue to thrive. (you can hear their recent work on a recent album release).

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