Randy Bachman (left) and Fred Turner. Photo supplied.
After all these years, the boys from Bachman Turner
Overdrive are taking care of business, Tom McKinlay
Hard-rocking Canadian Randy Bachman is on the phone from
That's pronounced ''back-man'' he confirms, not ''Bach-man''
as he gets in the US, where the first part of the name is
given the German-composer treatment. It's different again in
Germany, he says, where they follow something closer to the
US habit, but give it a bit more Teutonic steel: ''Bachman,
Bachman,'' Bachman chants, giving each syllable equal
emphasis. Those German crowds must be quite something.
Bachman has played to them all, in a career that stretches
back into the early '60s, back even before he formed the
group that has carried his name - his name and the name of
Fred Turner - these past four or five decades. Now the two
men who formed the heart of Bachman Turner Overdrive are
coming to New Zealand, in February, for a tour with Pat
Benatar and classic rockers America.
''I understand downunder we have a good dozen or so gold and
platinum records waiting for us, which they do not send to
you,'' Bachman says, putting local record executives on
notice. Time to check some of those dusty cupboards, boys.
''These are way back from the '70s, they probably don't exist
now,'' he adds, letting them off the hook.
Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO) - which included several
members of the Bachman clan in its original guise - hammered
a dent in the Kiwi charts back in the day. Songs such as
Let It Ride, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet and
Takin Care of Business thumped their way up the charts
then and continue to get airplay now if you are on the right
part of the radio dial.
Earlier still, Bachman tasted success with The Guess Who,
whose tune American Woman hit No 1 on the US
Billboard charts in 1970, a first for a Canadian band.
The guitarist left that line-up shortly after, hooking up
with Turner. Fellow Canadian Neil Young helped them score a
record deal but their early country-rock efforts were
''blase'', says Bachman, in matter-of-fact fashion.
Country-rock was ''kind of over''. It was time for a change
and Turner's ''heavy, heavy voice'' provided the key.
''He always sang as a kid, I remember, House of the Rising
Sun, the way Eric Burdon and The Animals did it. He had
this big Eric Burdon kind of voice, so we switched from
playing country-rock more to like Creedence Clearwater rock,
then we started to write our own and had a really nice string
of hits,'' Bachman says, friendly and earnest down the phone
line in a very Canadian way.
''We were pretty much meat and potatoes, blue-collar
rock'n'roll and somehow at that time it worked really well.''
There were no gimmicks. They couldn't afford any.
''We weren't skinny, we didn't wear girls' tights or make-up,
we were the guys next door who mowed your lawn or took out
your garbage, that kind of thing.''
In fact, so rugged were these rockers from Canada that the
German press decided they must have been loggers who just
happened to stumble into rock'n'roll.
''We just let it roll, because in Germany and Denmark and
Sweden they loved the big Viking kind of look and that's what
we looked like. We were big guys.''
That's not so much the case these days for Bachman and
''In the last year I've lost 140 pounds and so has he,''
Bachman says. They eat well and exercise. And play music.
Music has been Bachman's life, starting with the violin at
''I played classical violin until I was about 13. Absolutely
hated it because it was real British Royal Conservatory of
Music, that kind of Chopin, Tchaikovsky kind of stuff. Then I
saw Elvis Presley on TV and said, 'What is that?', and 'Why
is everybody going crazy?'. They said, 'That's a new thing
called rock'n'roll'. Well, what is that music? They said
'Well, you do whatever you want, here's three chords, you can
play them any way you want and scream and yell and everybody
loves it'. I love this.''
So Bachman learned to move like Elvis, then the Beatles, then
''When I am on stage, I still do John Lennon at the mike.
When I sing on the mike I bounce up and down just like John
That's for the same reason Lennon did it, he says. To keep
the drummer in time. His brother Robbie, BTO's original
stick-man, tended to speed up, just like Ringo.
Beyond Turner's big gruff voice, the other impetus for BTO's
move into the heavy lane was pragmatic. They needed to get
some radio airplay to get gigs, and what was increasingly
spinning the turntables was the heavier sounds of Creedence
Clearwater and '70s Stones, Bachman says.
BTO got in on the act, joining the likes of Peter Frampton,
Lynryd Skynryd and the Doobie Brothers, belting out rockers
with catchy choruses.
If that sounds just a tad calculating, it's hard to hold it
against the man. Bachman talks about rock'n'roll with a
genuine Jack Black School of Rock enthusiasm.
''We played because we like it. It was not for love, or sex,
or drugs, it was for rock'n'roll. We just had a dream of
being a rock band. Even if we had a bad gig and the guy
stiffed us and we never got paid afterwards, we still enjoyed
it. And that was the most important thing. Everything I've
done, every flat tyre, every blizzard I have driven through,
every snowstorm, every cancelled airplane flight ... it's
always been fun.''
There were plenty of miles of tarmac back then for the
hard-working blue-collar rockers, but that had its advantages
too. More than a few of those catchy BTO lyrics came straight
from the street.
''Most of my song lyrics I have heard other people say,''
''I heard a trucker say 'Let it ride'. I went to Fred Turner
and asked 'What does that mean?'. This was 1972, this was
BTO's first hit.
''Later I heard someone else say, 'Taking care of business',
'Let's take care of business'. I went, 'Wow, if people are
saying that on the street and I make a song with that title,
it's bound to be a hit'.
''And I heard someone else say, 'You ain't seen nothing yet',
I've heard other people say 'Hey, you' and I wrote Hey
You. I've heard people say 'Lookin' out for number one'.
''Every song title I have got from things people have said,
either live or on the TV or on the radio.
''I write these things down all the time.''
Bachman modestly deflects the suggestion he has a talent for
picking up on winning words.
''I need a little catch phrase that I can fit around a guitar
hook or riff and then suddenly the whole thing flows out of
me,'' he says.
So that was then. What about now? What's the state of
rock'n'roll in the new millennium?''I think it's on the
upswing. I think there's a majority or a growing majority out
there who are quite sick of the rap and the hip-hop and the
singing to tracks and all the dancers and all that s . . .
They just want rock'n'roll guys.''
Bachman nominates Canadian rockers the Sheepdogs and
Californian band the Rival Sons as examples of the ''new old
''Kids are going back to rock'n'roll. The guys playing on
stage, breaking strings, making mistakes, singing wrong
lyrics, showing the human side of rock'n'roll. Because
rock'n'roll is not machines, it's a bunch of guys who can
hardly play, playing their hearts out and calling it blues
and putting a beat behind it and calling it rock'n'roll.''
The two of them, Bachman and Turner have been back together
for a couple of years, after a break of more than two
decades. BTO played on over the years with various line-ups,
but has not for the most part included the two headliners at
the same time.
Although there's no ''overdrive'' in the band name now, just
Bachman Turner, and the other band members are not originals,
Bachman says the boogie they will bring to New Zealand is in
''We got to our first rehearsal and it was like, 'What shall
we do?' I said, 'Here we go'. And I started to play the
little guitar intro to Let It Ride and when he started
'You can't see the mornin', but I can see the light',''
Bachman says in his best Fred Turner voice.
''I just looked at the band and we both smiled. And it was
• Saturday, February 16: The Amphitheatre, Taupo
• Sunday, February 17: Matakana Country Park, Matakana, North
• Saturday, February 23: Gibbston Valley Winery, Queenstown