Canadian Gold – In Conversation With Randy Bachman

There have always been precious metals coming out of Canada in the form of hit records.  Gold was first discovered in Canada in 1960 and it’s name was Randy Bachman. Bachman, who founded both The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive is currently on tour promoting his latest album By George By Bachman. His live show gives one of the most informative and entertaining retrospectives of his illustrious career.

A short time ago, Randy Bachman rolled into town here in Los Angeles and the results were nothing less than stellar.  Playing to a packed-to-the-gills house at The Troubadour, the energy and enthusiasm of both band and audience was palpable.  I do not think Randy could have chosen a more perfect place to showcase his talents, because as he said, “The Troubadour is great because it has hardly changed over the past fifty years and I hope it stays that way!”


The same can be said about Bachman in terms of his guitar playing and vocals.  He is a leaner looking performer these days, and it suits him well.  As for his guitar playing, it is as light-dark as it has always been.  He moves from the riff-laden BTO hits to the wonderful mix of finger-picking you will at once recognize from hits such as “Blue Collar and “Looking Out For Number One.  If you are lucky enough to be in one of the cities that he has not yet played in, this is a show you do not want to miss.

Titled “Every Song Tells A Story,” his show is a wonderful peek behind the curtain where he explains some of the more intricate details of how many of his songs came to be, how they were constructed, and even how he lifted (was inspired by) other artists, some of whom returned the favor.  Have you ever noticed a similarity between the opening chords of “Hey You and “Long Train Running by The Doobie Brothers?  Did you ever wonder what the song title, “No Sugar Tonight” meant?  I did too until I saw the show.

On his latest disc “By George By Bachman” he covers a collection of “George” Beatle songs, a Traveling Wilbury song, and a solo George Harrison song.  It takes a lot of guts to approach these sacred cows, but Randy has got plenty of guts, he always has.  This is the man after all who left the Guess Who at the peak of its success, to form his own chart-busting band BTO, which ruled the Canadian musical landscape for a good chunk of the 1970s.  Some may think that The Beatles can never be improved on, but I say otherwise. I think it is great to have a fresh take on George Harrison and I think it is even better when mixed with that unmistakable Randy Bachman style and tone.

If you grew up in Canada as I did, you know that Bachman and Cummings were Canada’s answer to Lennon/McCartney or Jagger/Richards.  As is almost always the case with a pairing of musical geniuses like that, there’s usually another musician being eclipsed by the dominant pair.  In The Rolling Stones it was Brian Jones, and in The Beatles, it was George Harrison.  With that in mind, Bachman has recorded a new track acknowledging the genius that existed in The Beatles but was overshadowed, and the track is called “Between Two Mountains.”

Not since George Benson did “The Other Side of Abbey Road” where he covered The Beatles’ Abbey Road album has someone really hit the mark the way Randy’s album does.  Funny since I find such similarities in Randy’s and George Benson’s playing.  I have always wondered where Randy picked up that Les Paul/Chet Atkins kind of mix between rock and jazz playing that I grew up listening to, and fortunately, Randy was nice enough to oblige me with an interview following his shows here.

What followed was a very detailed look at some of those songs and techniques.  I do not think a written interview can fully convey the enthusiasm and excitement that Bachman has for the guitar or performing live.  To sit with him is to see him getting excited about what he has does the way a young boy gets excited over baseball.  He gestures and plays air guitar to show his point, naming chords and singing along to explain himself.  In a way, it is a pity that interviews are printed and not put online as audio.

When you decided to embark on this project, did you have any trepidation about touching something that people view so sacredly?

Yes, that’s why you don’t recognize any songs. My trepidation was, “How do I get the magic of putting these four guys with all these ideas into a bottle, shake it up and uncork it?” With The Beatles, every song was different and every album was different. Everything The Beatles did was done and redone with different styles and tempos until they were satisfied with it. How can I do that without falling short? There’s no way I can. All I can do as a songwriter is to do the songs the way other people did my songs.

Junior Walker did a version of “These Eyes” that was very Motown. Lenny Breau did “American Woman,” Kelly Clarkson did it in a kind of Aretha Franklin/Country style for her new single. I’ll just take every song as a songwriter and try to do it in a different way. For instance, if the song is in a major key, I’ll do it in a minor key. That’s what I did with “Here Comes The Sun”, and it gives it a strange kind of feeling. A lot of songs influenced me. I have seen The Gypsy Kings three times in the last year. At the end of “Here Comes The Sun” I do a kind of Gypsy Kings thing, in “You Like Me Too Much” I wrote the whole front piece to be like The Gypsy Kings. When I finished recording it I just started to sing, and thought, “I’ll make that the intro.”

George’s songs are very short, like one or two verses. Beatles’ songs are typically two minutes long and I wanted to make something substantial of them. I had a lot of fun doing it. I spent a lot of hours with my Mac computer and Garage Band. I printed out the lyrics to about thirty or forty George songs and I would sit there with drum loops, listening to the tempo and thinking, “Can I sing this song to this tempo?” Some of the songs are very hard, some of them I had to reinvent. One of my favorite ones is the second song, “If I Needed Someone”. It’s like Earth Wind and Fire, I get to play some jazz guitar, and I was like “Wow, this would fit in great,” because if everything was rock and roll it would be completely boring and The Beatles weren’t boring. They did ballads, they did psychedelic, and they did this kind of barrelhouse sing-along kind of stuff like “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.” So, we just had a lot of fun with the album.

I also had fun superimposing a guitar solo of George’s into the wrong song. In the song “Between Two Mountains” the solo is from “And I Love Her”. A lot of people ask me, “What is that?” and I just tell them to sing it over and over and then they have an ah-ha moment. Guitar players are really digging into it, these “differently placed solos.” When we are playing live, people start singing along immediately because they know all the lyrics, George’s lyrics were really simple. We previewed the album on George’s birthday, over the February 24th and 25th weekend at B.B. King’s in New York, and then we went to Beatlefest after that, and we are doing it everywhere now, one city at a time.

I thought I could hear the riff from “Day Tripper” in “I Need You.” Did I hear that correctly?

Yes, and Day Tripper has the Taxman solo (sings it).

It is a great album because in a way you have taken songs that have been beaten to death, and you have breathed new life into them.

One of his songs that had the most chords; they do it with a Ukulele (sings give me love, give me hope, give me peace on earth). There are a lot of chords in that one. I made it into a three-chord song, like The Who doing “I Can See For Miles”, which give the lyrics much more meaning. There’s the chord changes and the melody, and we are just chanting, “give me hope, give me love” and there is this powerful thing underneath, an Indian raga beat, and the lick I play in that, which nobody has found out yet, is from George’s soundtrack album called Wonderwall where it’s him and Clapton going playing their part. Once you hear it, it is like a mantra that keeps going over and over. It gets you in a trance and it is really cool.

Yeah, The Beatles did something like that, putting part of one song in another. At the end of “All You Need Is Love” they stuck in part of “She Loves You.” Who did the slide guitar on “You Love Me Too Much”?

My guitar player, Brent Knudsen, and my son Tal. There are two slide guitar parts that are done in harmony. Tal also doubles my vocals so I get that ADT, Automatic Double Tracking. He’s been in the band for about a year. My son sounds like me when he talks or sings, so he can easily double the vocals.

How did you end up with Walter Trout on your album?

I would be in England or Germany on tour and I would be scanning the radio, because I am just sick and tired of pop radio, it is the same thing every two or three hours. I would pick up the BBC channels and they had one that was all blues at night. I would hear these incredible solos that would start out and keep going, and going, and going. It would get higher and busier and frantic. This wasn’t just a guitar solo, it was an epic journey that seemed … composed. It was like eight or ten solos in a row. And then the disc jockey would say, “That was Walter Trout”, and I said, “Wow, I’ve got to look this guy up”.

I did a blues album a couple of years ago called “Heavy Blues” where I was doing a tribute to the British power guitarists, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Cream. I had guest guitarists play on the album. I had Neil Young on a track; I had Scott Holiday from Rival Sons on a track, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph. Then I asked Jeff Healey’s widow if I could take one of his solos and put it in a song. He was doing “Early In The Morning” which was a B.B. King song.

So, I wrote this song and Jeff Healey played on it posthumously. It was amazing, it sounds like he’s there. Then I got asked to play Jeff’s 50th birthday celebration. He passed away many years ago, so it was a celebration of what would have been his fiftieth birthday. I said “Yes, I’d like to play, and I’d like to play the song “Confessing To The Devil” with him playing on it, and I’m just gonna do a really light track with a click track so your drummer and I can play to it and at the end I’m just going to leave a solo, and I want to bring out his Strat and put it on a chair with a spotlight. Just leave it in the darkness, and when I’m all done singing I’m just going to point to his guitar and then Jeff will come in on the solo that they had given me.” The place was in tears; it ends with his solo fading out, with the spotlight, and then its just intermission.

At that show, I met Walter Trout and Sonny Landreth and a couple of the other blues guys who came to play at the show. When we were done, Walter came up to me and said, “I just love your playing and your singing, and I’m doing an album. Can I send you a track?” I said “Sure!”, so he sent me the lyrics. I played and sang on a track and about a month later I got a note from him that said, “My album came out and its number one on Billboard and they’re playing our track, it’s the number one track off the album”. So, I said, “OK, you owe me a song then!” we were just joking with each other. So, he said, “OK, I have this song, and I will make the solo extra-long, I’ll just add on bars, and you can just play your ass off and do a couple of takes.” He was on tour at the time, so he gets his laptop and a Mesa Boogie amp and his Strat and ended up getting thrown out of his hotel because he was so loud. With a Mesa Boogie, you have to crank it to be loud, and he played this solo. When I got it back I said, “I don’t want to edit any of this”. It is so mind-boggling and heart-rending because he’s playing with such soul.

At the end when he’s playing his solo it sounds like Hendrix just landed in the street, and then when he quiets down and I come in playing really slow like Clapton and he’s playing fast like Hendrix and then suddenly we just play together in the end, it just melts my heart, it brings tears to my eyes. It’s a very emotional album, so to have him on there was fun. I wanted to get him to play the gig at The Troubadour but he’s on tour right now in England. So, I got Philip Sayce, who was also in Jeff Healey’s band for nine years, and he was at the fiftieth birthday celebration, so that was really great. If we tour England in November, we’re gonna get Walter Trout because he’s kind of legendary there. He’s the next Joe Bonamassa.

Yes, he is great, he’s local here in Los Angeles and I have seen him play several times. There was a GoFundMe when he had liver problems, and his fans all banded together to help pay for his hospital bills. I think he ended up getting more money than he needed and had to stop the funding campaign.

Yes, exactly! He died and they revived him, and they could not get him the care he needed here, so his wife took him to New Orleans or Baton Rouge and cared for him and ended up writing a great book about it. He and I have a lot in common, we’re like brothers in life. He and I have both had our share of health issues. He’s been dead three times; I’ve been dead three times.

Are you influenced at all by George Benson, I have always wondered about this because your music has a very unique, jazzy kind of quality to it, like in Blue Collar and Looking Out For Number One?

I was very lucky when I was a teenager, I played classical violin, which is really a lead instrument, until I was fourteen. And then I saw Elvis on TV and rock and roll and Elvis became everything. Through Elvis I discovered Gene Vincent, Rick Nelson, Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and everything, that was kind of like my learning ground.  I’ve got a guitar, and I know three chords, “Bye Bye Love and “I Walk The Line.”  And then one day, this guy moves to town by the name of Lenny Breau. Lenny had been playing since he was six years old and quit school when he was ten to concentrate on playing in his parent’s band.

His father was Hal Lone Pine and his mother was Betty Cody, and he billed himself as Hal Lone Pine Junior.  They wore Roy Rogers and Dale Evans shirts with the fringes, and the hats and the studs and they played Web Pierce and Johnny Cash songs.  His mother did June Carter and he was playing Chet Atkins and Merle Travis kinds of stuff behind them.  Then, his dad started to do Johnny Cash and Elvis songs and he starts playing finger-style guitar.  They did a live radio show in Winnipeg where they would go to a used car lot on a Saturday and they would have coffee and doughnuts, it’s like “Come on down to Joe’s Motors, we have the Mustang or whatever,” and they would play country music to get people there.  Halfway through the show they would say “Now we’re gonna take a break and let junior play.”  I would listen out of my tiny little radio and out of it would come this most wonderful guitar.  I thought Junior was a band!

One weekend they announced they were playing in my end of town, so I get on my bicycle and I ride over there. This little kid is playing this beautiful orange Gretsch like Eddy Cochrane and Duane Eddy played, and then they take a break to let Junior play, and I’m waiting for the band and it’s just one guy!  He’s playing finger-style, he’s playing “Caravan,” and he’s playing the bass line and the chords and the lead on top of it.  He’s got a little echoplex on his amp like Scotty Moore had backing Elvis, and I’m watching and listening and I think “Wow, that’s amazing!”

When he stopped playing, I went up to him and asked, “Where do you live?” and he said, “We don’t live anywhere, we just moved to town and we live in a trailer.”  I asked him “You don’t live anywhere?  Don’t you go to school?” and he said “I quit school when I was ten, because my parents wanted me to play in the band.  I make money playing in the band.”  I immediately started to idolize this guy and I wanted to quit school too.

So, then I see him a couple of weeks later and he says, “We got a house, we live in a house!”  I ask him “Where do you live?” and he gives me the address and it is across the street from two girlfriends of mine who were twins.  We went to the same church, we were Lutherans and they were German.  They lived right near my school, two blocks away, and I lived about two miles from the school.  This is Winnipeg and they don’t have luncheons in the school, everybody had to go home at lunch.  I’m not going to go home in minus forty weather, eat lunch and then come back.

So, my mother and I made a deal where I would go to their house for lunch and then go back to school in the afternoon.  I would go across the street to where Lenny Breau lived.  He’d be putting on Chet Atkins, Elvis, Howard Roberts, George Benson, and Tal Farlow. He stuttered a lot so I really couldn’t talk to him. I had a brother who stuttered and you cannot help them by saying the word that they are trying to speak, you don’t interrupt them.  You have to sit there quietly and let them speak, and then when they get comfortable they can talk to you normally. So, I would just sit there silently and watch him doing the record. I would watch his fingers and inspect my fingers, so I learned how to play in that style.

Out of that, Lenny was evolving and playing country and western music like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.  The thing about Chet Atkins if you listened to his albums was that he was playing things like Broadway standards, in finger-picking style, and he was playing some jazz stuff and some rock and roll.  Chet Atkins played on some of the Everly Brothers early stuff like “Bye Bye Love”, and “Dream Dream Dream”. He played all the guitar parts, Chet Atkins was kind of a pioneer too.

There’s all this Lenny Breau stuff, so I said to him, “I want to play jazz like you, but I don’t want to be a jazz player” because I liked the tone. I said “When I’m playing a blues song, I play the same chord for every eighth note and when you play, you change the chord for every eighth note.  I want to learn that.” So he said, “Go and buy the Mickey Baker Jazz Guitar Book. He’s got three of them but don’t get number one and don’t get number three, get number two, its black and yellow. That book will show you the standard eight-bar blues and twelve-bar blues, and the chords.  G, G7, C, C9th, whatever. It will also show you all the in-between chords, G, Gmajor7th, Gmajor6th, Gminor7th, Cminor9th, and you’ll be able to play on every downstroke, every eighth note will be tuned to a different chord.”

So, I learned all of that, and then I wrote “Undun” from all these jazz chords, I wrote “Looking Out For Number One” from all these jazz endings.  “Looking Out For Number One” is two jazz endings that Lenny Breau taught me. I never had a tape recorder, I couldn’t read or write music, and neither could he, so whatever I learned from him, I had to remember it while I was there at his place. I went to his house every afternoon for two years.

I flunked grade ten, then repeated grade ten, I flunked grade eleven, I repeated grade 11.  Those were the greatest years of my life, to have kindergarten through master class with Lenny Breau.” He then got a seven-string guitar and started to transpose Bill Evans’ piano stuff onto guitar, playing a walking bass line and chords in the middle. He had long fingernails, and the seventh string wasn’t a low string, it was a high string.  He would play all the high parts and then he did all these false harmonics like Tal Farlow did.  He was the most amazing guitar player.

He moved to L.A. and got killed by a drug dealer, it was a very unfortunate thing. But he was my mentor, so if you hear any George Benson or Tal Farlow or Barney Kessel, I’ve learned that not from them, but from Lenny Breau because Lenny was putting that into his playing. There is no way I could play like George Benson; the guy is a monster maniac wonderful incredible guitar player.  I can’t even play “On Broadway”. I play a limited amount of jazz, I play just enough.

I did some on “In Between Two Mountains”, there’s a couple of things in there.  On “If I Needed Someone.” When I played that I said, “Wow!”  I haven’t played a lick like that since “Blue Collar” or “Looking Out For Number One”. When my band heard it they said, “Yeah, leave it in and just correct one note.”  It’s fabulous, it’s great to play like that on the album because I get to show them that I can still do it.  Most guys now do bluesy stuff, I’ve already done my blues album with the girls-heavy blues, so now I went back to cute little jazzy guitar licks.

That “jazz sound” is my favorite part of your style of guitar playing. When I heard “Looking Out For Number One” it changed the way I listened to music. I realized that jazz could be a part of rock music. It was a game changer for me.

Well, George Benson told me “I was driving to Detroit and I heard Blue Collar on the radio and it blew me away.  It had everything in it, it had echo, it had Jimmy Page, it had Les Paul, it had … me!  It had Barney Kessel in it.  Oh, we all know Lenny Breau, from when he played at The Baked Potato, we’d all go there to see him.”

I started a label called “Guitararchives”, from all the Lenny Breau stuff people had given me. I have eight Lenny Breau albums on this label, all I sell is Lenny Breau CDs to other guitar players.  Go to the website and you can buy all the CDs there.  I never had a chance to thank him.  He wasn’t a teacher, he was like my buddy and mentor, I would go to his house all the time.  One day I went over there and he opened the door and he had on a Zorro hat and vest, a white, flowery shirt, and flamenco boots.  I said to him, “What are you dressed like that for, are you going somewhere?” and he says “No, I’m studying flamenco guitar.”  He would sit in front of a mirror and would dress the part.  He’s playing like Carlos Montoya, and the next day he would be playing like Andres Segovia and he’d be wearing a Segovia suit, so he was like an actor, and he would get into the role.

He was an amazing player, he mastered so many different styles of playing.  He’s the one who taught me to use my pinkie finger.  We would do these exercises in school.  You would lift one finger at a time on your fretting hand, without lifting the other fingers. Most guys aren’t using their little fingers. When you are doing natural harmonics, you’ve got to use your little finger, you’ve got to use your thumb.

I guess it helps if you want to play some Chuck Berry, you need the little finger for that.

Actually, you don’t. When I wanted to play Chuck Berry, I would say to him, “How do you do Chuck Berry?” and he said, “Easy, just get Gretsch strings, they have two extra strings.  You put on two B’s.”

What do you mean?

Put on two B strings, see what happens.  You can go “Doot, dat, doot, dat,” because your B is tuned down to a G, you put your extra string on as a B string on as a G. Normally you have to buy two sets of strings, but if you buy Gretsch strings in the round box, they always give you an extra E and an extra high B string. I would put on an E, a B, and then another B, instead of a G string, from high to low (G D A E B E B) so you can do that Chuck Berry thing, that’s what Chuck did.

Really?  I didn’t know that, I always assumed he played with standard tuning.  I’ve been trying to pull off that Chuck Berry stuff for years and could never figure it out.

That’s how Chuck Berry did it, try it some time.

This is all very interesting because with your jazz kind of sound, I always assumed you were classically trained as a jazz guitarist.

Lenny told me, “It doesn’t matter how good you get on guitar, some kid is gonna show up that’s ten years younger than you and show you up, so here’s what you’ve got to do Randy, write really good songs, they’ll last forever.” From that point on, I started writing songs, my guitar playing became like an addendum or gravy on my song. It became the hook I played, or the solo I played but I really concentrated on writing great songs. You would get a Clapton album, and maybe you would learn twelve licks and maybe learn to play them your own way, or maybe you don’t learn them in their entirety, you just learn where he’s playing on the neck, and you just play in your next song that way.

Brian Wilson taught me the same thing when we were on tour with The Beach Boys.  I asked him “How do you get the chords in your songs?” and he told me, “My dad had a fake book.”  It’s a book with all these Broadway songs in it, and it’s the quickest way to learn the songs.  So, I said, “Tell me how you do that.” and he said “OK.  You have a song like five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five feet could do, has anybody seen my gal.  You take those chords and you make them twice as long, so instead of going G G G, E E E, you just go G G G G G G. So, you get I get around, G G G G G, my side of town…

There you are, there’s your song, that’s how we did it, we stole it from George Gershwin, or whoever wrote “Five Foot Two.”  He said, “If they go two bars, you go half a bar.”  So, you learn from these guys which chord goes into the next chord, and how to get back to your beginning, otherwise you are going to get lost, your chords could end up in the wrong key, and then you can’t sing your next verse. So, we learned how these guys started, where they go, and how they come back in a song.

It sounds almost technical…

Well, it is. I used to hear that John Lennon would get somebody to write him up classical music or chords and then he would play them backwards, and then they would become John Lennon songs.  It ends in E-minor and before it is the B7-9th sustained.  You change what you’ve got to change to make the melody work, but it becomes your inspiration, rather than the basic E, A, and D.

I wonder if many people are aware of this or are even doing this today.

I don’t think so, you’ve got to be an old John Lennon fan to do that. They also say that he used to listen to classical music, stockpiles of it.  I go and buy a Phillip Glass album and it’s a guy smashing a piano with a sledgehammer.  I don’t like that. I get Stockhouse and its very heavy-duty, thick German baroque kind of music, and I don’t like that either. I’m in a record store and I say, “I don’t want to waste my money buying a classical album,” and they say, “there’s a bin where everything in it is ninety-nice cents,” and I go and buy a classical album and its Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Concerto in D. One side is an entire movement.  I played it, it’s very boring.  When I get to the end of the second side, I hear (hums).  When I turned it into a guitar chord, it turns into (da-da-da, dum da-da, dum-da-dum), which turns out to be the opening to “Let It Ride.” I show it to Fred Turner and we write “Let It Ride.”

The break in “Let It Ride” sounds a lot like “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin.  Are the two songs related?  Did you borrow a riff from it?

Well, if you take the riff from “Immigrant Song” and make it just a little bit different… If you look at some of the greatest hit songs like “American Woman”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “My Sharona”, “Gimme Some Lovin”, “I’m a Man”, they are all very similar. It’s the same bunch of notes, you just play them in a different way.  It’s the same scale and the same notes. So yeah, everything is from everything.

Speaking of “American Woman”, is it true, that The Guess Who were at The Broom and Stone in Toronto and Burton was outside trying to buy an album from a concertgoer when he heard you warming up with the riff from the song, which hadn’t been written yet?  He heard you playing the riff, ran back in, and wrote the lyrics right there on the spot? 

I don’t think he was buying an album, he was buying something out of the trunk of some guy’s car, something that came in a little plastic bag….

How long was “By George By Bachman” in the making?

The actual recording of the album took about a week, with the band.  The actual idea I got after going to John Lennon’s 75th birthday celebration in Liverpool and then wanting to do something for George’s 75th, because George was my favorite Beatle, I always sung all the George songs. Burton Cummings and the rest of the band always liked to sing the John and Paul songs, but my voice is not good enough to sing those songs. The concept was, I have to get George songs, I know my band can do them, they have got all the harmonies and they know every Beatles song. I knew I could not outdo George and The Beatles, so I have got to find my own arrangements. So, I picked maybe forty songs, printed out the lyrics, got Garage Band, some drum loops, and my guitar, and looked for a way to fit the lyric in there. I got a loop called “Bonzo”, which was John Bonham and I start doing the song, “I Need You” over top of it.

I think I know that loop, it’s the drum track from “When The Levee Breaks”.

Yes, that’s the one! So, when we went into the studio, I said to my drummer, “Just play that loop”, and he played it and it sounded great, it had a great drum sound. A lot of the stuff on the record is stuff that I did at home in Garage Band. My vocals, I just doubled some of them and the band sang to them. I was heartbroken at the time, I had just broken up with a lady I had been with for six years, we were set to have been married. We had a big thing and we broke up, I was going through an emotional trauma. My guitar player had been diagnosed with cancer of the cervical spine and he was getting radiation treatments in his neck and his throat was all burned and couldn’t sing. My other guy’s girlfriend also had cancer, we were in really dire straits doing this album.

So, could we just sit down and put away all the pain and the heartbreak and just get joy out of doing a bunch of Beatles songs, which every guy my age likes to do?  When you go to a party, everybody sings Beatles and Beach Boys songs, or The Eagles, nobody ever sings Dylan or rap!  I just wanted to make the songs totally different, I’d bring them to the band and ask, “What do you think of this”, “What do you think of that”?  We had a great deal of fun doing this.  I think you can really hear it in the album.  Mixing it was fun too, “Let’s put this backwards thing in, let’s do what George Martin did, let’s do whatever we want because we’re not going to get any radio airplay, let’s just have fun.” We were just like kids in a basement; we were like Wayne’s World.

Why do you think you won’t get any airplay?

Radio will not play anything new, I could tell you but you probably know. Fifty albums could come out and classic rock radio will not play any of them. Heart, Steve Miller, Me, Steve Winwood, John Fogerty, these guys play don’t play the new music from them, they play all the hits between commercials. Radio is making money off all the commercials.

I’ve gone to these radio clubs in Washington DC, where there are like 800 radio stations there, and they say to me “What’s wrong with radio?”, and I say, “You know what’s wrong with radio?  Radio!” The disc jockeys have no personality.  I listened every night to Wolfman Jack, Cousin Brucie when I was in New York, Dick Biondi when I was in Chicago. It doesn’t matter who you have on the air, every third hour they play the same track. The DJs have no personality anymore, they cannot bring in their favorite records that they have discovered on tour in Australia by some obscure band and play it anymore and get everyone excited.

No one discovers new music anymore, it is all bought and paid for by these guys who program eight-hundred radio stations across the USA, how can that reflect the personality of the people in La Jolla or Long Island or Dallas Texas? You have a little bit of shuffle or a little bit of twang, but everything is so homogenized now, it is amazing. So, I don’t think I’ll get any airplay.

How about in Canada, with all the Canadian Content laws? That doesn’t help anymore?

Brian Adams has a new album out and he can’t get any airplay. Bruce Springsteen has a new album out, no airplay, Heart, no airplay, Steve Miller, no airplay. I’ve asked them, “Why don’t you play “Then and Now?” There’s Steve Miller and you’re playing Big Old Jet Airliner, why don’t you play a new track and give the guy a break? He’s coming to town and he’s sold out three nights in your arena, and you’re not playing his new record. You guys are missing the boat, you guys should be presenting Steve Miller or me at the arena, and giving part of the income to getting your station out there and playing our new record. You are playing our old records and making a fortune off the commercials, playing to your demographic. The demographic is guys who are up to seventy-five years old who still love classic rock.”

I would love to hear a new Steve Winwood track. I was in England the other week and Winwood played with Eric Clapton and Santana and he did a new song, are you kidding? I went to see Cream in England with Adam Lambert and they played two new songs. I am dying to buy those new songs and I don’t know where to buy them. You can’t hear them; radio is not playing them.

That speaks to why I think your album By George By Bachman so great. I stopped listening to The Beatles years ago because their songs have been played to death. I cannot listen to the same songs year after year. Then you came out with this album of George songs and it is a whole new take on them, you have breathed life into these tired old songs. 

So, you get it then, that’s great!

That is exactly why I liked the album, it is a fresh take on something old. And a lot of people think that The Beatles are sacred and should not be redone, and I think the opposite. This is how you keep this music alive. If people found the classical composers sacred and never performed that music, it would have died over a hundred years ago. You keep music alive be re-interpreting it. 

I agree, it is sacred and that’s why I’m paying tribute to it. George Harrison wrote some great songs but I’m tired of hearing them. I am tired of hearing Taxman the same way. I listen to Jazz FM in Toronto and you know what I’m hearing? I’m hearing Don Pizzarelli doing Joni Mitchell, or doing “If I Needed Someone” or “Day Tripper.” They’re doing Joni Mitchell. I hear “Free Man In Paris”, all these people are doing the new jazz standards which are The Beatles and The Stones. The other day I heard “Satisfaction” by Diana Krall. It’s incredible! Some of this stuff is just amazing, it’s the new standard. That’s what I’m doing with George’s stuff, I’m treating them as standards and putting them out there.

I was at a Rod Stewart concert a couple of weeks ago, and Rod kind of sheepishly started to introduce a new song, and he told the audience to pretend like they had just heard Hot Legs and to cheer and applaud for the song after he performed it. He knows that the audience shows up and wants to hear all the hits and don’t really want to hear new music, and you know what? That song was great! I loved it. I thought the same thing as you; where is the new music? He had it. He played it. I loved it. I think a lot of people are not accepting of older artist’s new music and that’s sad.

When I saw Queen, they did four new songs with Adam Lambert, and they did four new songs with Freddie. Freddie Mercury did a German soundtrack once with Giorgio Moroder. Brian May went and got the tracks from Giorgio and licensed them and wrote new Queen stuff behind Freddie, so the new Queen album is going to have five or six new Freddie tracks, five or six Adam tracks, and a couple of live tracks with both of them singing together. Adam sings while they project Freddie onto the screens, its heart-rending and beautiful, it’s a wonderful thing.

The Beatles did the same thing back in 1995 with “Free As A Bird” and “Reel Love”

Yes! Right now, the whole Abba thing is going on, and they are going to do the same thing with The Beatles using John and George. They are going to do the same thing with Elvis, everyone is going to be going to avatar concerts.

Oh, with the hologram thing, like they did with Tupac?

Yes, exactly. A new Abba single is coming out in December with a double A side and they have already got forty-million orders for it and its not even out. Mama Mia comes out with Cher, and then Cher comes out with a new album where she is doing all Abba tracks. Twenty million orders on it already, that’s great!

I would think though, with your background writing all these great hits that any album you make would just fly off the shelves. 

Well, I hope that. Somebody said to me “What do you hope for this album? and I said, “One of the songs on the album I like the best is what they call “The la-la-la song” which is, “You Like Me Too Much.” I said, “My dream is to be playing this song on The Grammys with The Gypsy Kings.” because they were what inspired me to write the whole intro to that song.

Are there any George songs that you found too hard to do or didn’t think you could do justice to?

I did not want to go near “My Sweet Lord”, that is like trying to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer, it’s impossible. So, I took that lick and I put it into another song, which Brent Knudsen plays. I said to him, “Do you know “My Sweet Lord?” I told him to play the solo this way (sings) and he said “What are you? Nuts?” I said, “Just play it and I’ll move it around inside the song, I’ll fit it in somewhere.” So, he played it over and over and he did the whole solo and we just took bits of it and made it a reoccurring thing instead of a whole solo. He just does it once in a while. It’s really nice when it comes in.

I hear a lot of that on this album, there are little bits of other songs placed everywhere, it’s like playing “spot the solo.” Did not having to write lyrics become a liberating experience?

I wrote some new lyrics for a few of his songs, just to make them a bit longer. Some of them I wrote new lyrics for because I thought that Wikipedia had them wrong and I wanted to correct them, it’s like some drunken goon is sitting there and typing out the lyrics on line. I took a few liberties but it is about ninety-eight percent true to form.  “If I Needed Someone” was a great example of me wanting to make this work as a kind of acid-jazz-rock, I wanted to play some cool guitar in it, and it didn’t have a popular rock beat or a shuffle in it. It kind of sounds like a Holiday Inn lounge or somebody in a jazz club doing it. I did it in my own octave and when I was done I thought, “Wow, that sounds really cool.”

How do you pick the rhythms that you’re going to use when you redo these songs? For instance, “Taxman” sounds like it’s got a ZZ Top feel to it.

I wanted something different for “Taxman” and I really wanted to do it because I think it is a really cool song. I could sing it, it’s really easy to sing but it doesn’t have a lot of lyrics and let’s face it, we all hate the taxman so it’s a very relevant song. You’re always falling in to love, falling out of love, and while you’re doing that you’re paying taxes. I had just done some gigs with ZZ Top, I’ve known them for years; I love that kind of fast “La Grange” kind of thing. There is a song I wrote way back in the mid 1960’s when I was with The Guess Who that’s called “Believe Me”, it’s on the It’s Time album. So, I just took that song and overlaid the lyrics for “Taxman” over it, so I’m stealing from my own song.

I guess it’s ok then.

Yeah, it is!

It’s ironic that the cover of this album has an eclipse on it, because George was always being eclipsed by John and Paul.

But in the end, he eclipsed them. When you see the George Harrison documentary that Martin Scorsese did, he was the most successful Beatle of all, considering that he was tag teamed by the other two guys. He eclipsed them in the end and he became the third mountain. People asked me if I wanted to do this album, and I said, “What am I supposed to call it? The Other Two Guys?” Everyone is done Lennon and McCartney songs, but nobody’s ever done all the Harrison songs. Everybody’s done something and everybody’s already been done. Did you hear the way I did “Something” in there? It’s like a tribute to Robin Trower, it just totally took everything out of it. I do a nice shuffle and some really cool Robin Trower guitar licks, and I even changed the melody line and kind of took some liberties with that.

I can still hear you coming through it all though, it sounds like classic Randy Bachman. You named your publishing company Twelve Hit Wonders, is that the number of number-one hits you’ve had?

Yes, “These Eyes”, “Laughing”, “Undun”, “No Sugar Tonight”, “No Time”, “American Woman”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “Takin Care Of Business”, “Looking Out For Number One”, “Let It Ride”, “Four Wheel Drive”, and “Hey You.”  There is a guy in Vancouver who wrote one song called “Wildflower”.  The band was Skylark and the song was a big hit in Canada. David Foster was their keyboard player. He drives around with a thing that says, “One Hit Wonder” and I said to myself, I’m going to call it Twelve Hit Wonder, that’s my publishing company.

I cannot wait to change it to Thirteen Hit Wonder! Maybe with “Between Two Mountains.” It’s a very spiritual song and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written, it’s a very spiritual song. That’s how I felt when I wrote it and that’s how I think George would have felt. There was definitely something in the room helping me write these lyrics and I think it was the spirit of George. When it was all done, I looked at it and said “Did I write this? It’s pretty amazing!” I get goose bumps when I play that song live.

One last question for you; Is your name pronounced BACK-man or is it BACH-man? 

Well, in Canada its normally pronounced BACK-man, and in the states its BACH-man.

Funny, I grew up in Canada and I always pronounced it like BACHman.  Must be a regional thing.

 It can differ from country to country, it can have the weight on different syllables.

Click here to read Bob Lee’s review of his 2015 show.  You can find more information about Randy by visiting www.randybachman.com or by visiting him on Twitter at @Randysvinlytap

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Ivor Levene

About Ivor Levene

Ivor Levene likes to interview musicians, write about music and musicians, play music, listen to music, read about music, photograph musicians, and anything else you can think of with music. He has been involved with the music scene for over thirty years and his posts have appeared all over the place! Ivor says "I'm going to write about music as long as I have something to say".
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2 Responses to Canadian Gold – In Conversation With Randy Bachman

  1. Karen Merola says:

    Love this … Outstanding interview/review once again! Thank you Ivor Levene!

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