Interview with Randy Bachman

Randy Bachman has become legendary as one of Canada's most popular Rock and Roll icons the world over through his talents as a guitarist, songwriter and performer with The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and solo projects. He has earned over 120 Gold and Platinum awards for performing and producing. His songs have been recorded by numerous other artists as well. Bachman's music has provided a veritable soundtrack of the last thirty years of popular music in Canada. I was fortunate enough to conduct this interview with this music legend in March of 2003 at the start of his cross-Canada tour to promote his latest CD, Every Song Tells A Story.

GB - Hi Randy, how are things out on the west coast?

RB - Great, I was in Winnipeg on the weekend and it was the 40 below thing. I was playing actually right at Portage and Main and when I sang Portage and Main 50 below the place cheered. I was only a few degrees off as it was minus 47 at the time. (laughs)

GB - Do you ever get tired answering the same old questions all the time from the media?

RB - No I can't say that I do. People like yourself are my conduit to the public as are radio guys, and without you they wouldn't know I'm coming or got anything to sing about, so that's very important, as is each interview. Over the years people have asked me consistently, "this is our favorite song how did you write it." And to put them all together as a CD and DVD that's out now and do this tour, is like doing a massive press conference and telling everybody, or many hundreds or thousands of people in one night how the songs were written, and how they were put together, and where I was when I wrote them and things like that. So it's kind of working out very well.

GB - Myself, listing to the Every Song Tells A Story CD it's amazing how much Colin Arthur sounds like Burton Cummings. How did you get hooked up with him?

RB - Oh he does, he sounds like a younger Burton Cummings. It was pretty amazing it was maybe about twelve years ago or more than that and I was with some tangent or formation of BTO. We were playing 86 Street in Vancouver New Year's Eve and Brian Adams was there and after the show was done and New Years was done everyone tends to go on stage, especially New Years Eve and do old Rock n' Roll classics, you know Johnnie B Good, Surfing USA, just audience things. You don't care about the key and it's not a performance anymore it's a party and in the middle of this someone yelled "why don't you do American Woman." I said "I can't sing it." Brian Adams said he can't sing it. And then a voice said, "I can." So we turn around and there is this guy standing there and we said "ok." It was now like 2 in the morning and he came on stage and nailed it. And after the show I said, "who are you and where did you come from."
He said, "my name is Colin and I work for the Vancouver Sun." He was like the Art Director at the newspaper, arranging their layouts and their ads and all that stuff. And he had brought a picture of Elvis to the gig that night that he had air-brushed and actually painted with an air gun and created. He was submitting for the Elvis stamp and I think he came second in that contest. We kind of all met him before the show but didn't know he sang. So when he came on stage and sang he gave me his card and said, "if you ever do any gigs I'd love to play with you." I said "great." If I'm doing a gig and Burton is in LA or Winnipeg where he lives, the guys in BTO are scattered all over the place, and I need a band as I get asked to do a lot especially around Christmas. You know the Empty Stocking Fund, the Food Bank, Make a Wish. So all these guys fell together saying they would like to play with me. So this has been my band for the last 12 or 13 years. We just play odd gigs in the summer. This is first time I have had a project out that is my own. Actually telling the stories behind the songs and they do the performance with me. Their is also a DVD out, a bit longer than the CD, which is a camera shoot with Global Television.

GB - How do you keep the older music and performance fresh each night?

RB - It pretty much depends on the audience. It's like how do you keep going to a rock concert year after year or talk to guys like me year after year. It's the interaction between the people and maybe adding 1 or 2 percent difference to the 98 percent of the sameness and doing the same song night after night. It's the reaction from the people. I look into the crowd and wonder sometimes why is this guy here, why is that woman here. They look like they are 85 years of age. They look like they brought someone and lost them cause they are clearly sitting alone. They are not talking to anyone around them. And then at some point in the evening, I look and these people are standing on their chair and clapping and singing along and they are now 23 years of age again, driving in their truck back in Prince Edward Island or Saskatchewan. They are reliving that moment and they come to hear that one song that triggers that memory. And then there are other people and it's like wow this person looks like they have brought their parents and their children. You see four of five or six people sitting together and the resemblance in all of them, and they are enjoying different songs at different times for different reasons. The parents are enjoying like "These Eyes" or "Taking Care of Business," because of years and years ago and the kids are enjoying it cause they saw it in "A Knight's Tale" movie last year and it's a contemporary song for them, or American Woman as they saw it in Austin Powers 2. So the new and old are coming and they all have different reactions to the songs.
A lot of the time I'm there as an observer looking at what's going on and I am quite amazed that after all this time trite little riffs and licks, as they are trite at the time, because when you are in a band you bring all these riffs and verbal cliches to a practice and rehearsal and then to become a song on an album. To see those things have endured decades of wear and tare and they are still fresh in peoples minds and still getting air-play on radio and being used on commercials and television is quite an amazing thing. Kids having a dream to be in a rock band, your dream never goes this long or never has this much depth. You hope to be in a band and get a record and have a record on the radio.

GB- I understand you collect Gretch Guitars. How many do you own now and any plans to open a museum?

RB - About 350. I did but I couldn't get by the insurance and couldn't get by the tax status of it and all the security you need and the insurance to go with it wasn't worth it. I've just had incredible high resolution digital photos taken of them and I'm doing Gretch trading cards which are going to come out with Fender-Gretch strings. When you buy the strings you get three of four cards like collecting bubble gum cards. That's going to start later this year and who ever collects the full set will win a brand new full Gretch. And with these photos I'm going to do a book and a digital book which is kind of like a digital video DVD of each guitar and talk about it an play it. I'm in the process of co-working a guitar show called Guitar Stories. It's going to be different guitars and their stories. Going to Santana's house and Clapton's house pulling out some of their favorite old guitars and playing them and talking about them. I figure every house has a guitar and if they don't the house next door has two.

GB- Are there any plans for The Guess Who to release a studio album of new songs?

RB - Not at this time. We are all separated taking care of our own business. Out families and affairs we have to put aside each year to tour. We have a target of early May to do some gigs around Ottawa and Toronto and that's kind of it. We wait for the phone to ring but the phone hasn't rung from a record label and they are in dire straits right now anyway. No ones called and said here is some money do to an album, get a studio and do in. It's like do we play a gig, rent an arena ourselves and play or wait till someone calls. Really no label has called and made us an offer to do anything new, so no point in doing it. Look at bands who have tried something new and failed. It's beyond belief. Like I don't know .., Styx, Moody Blues and on and on. If I thought of it I could name 5 or 6 or 7 or maybe even 10. They just want the old stuff and unless your an Aerosmith and under one heart and soul and mind and body and your all in rehab together it don't work. The common bonds we had years and years ago are all gone. I find that when The Guess Who gets together we're better off to talk about old times and old songs rather than new time and new songs because the new times come we all split and we are all doing out own things in the present and in the future.

GB - How do you feel about online file sharing, mp3s and all?

RB - (sighs), It's frustrating. I look at some new artists and figure how can they keep going because they make a record and everyone steals it. I just hope that it can get under control because the file sharing it great in a way. If I was to make a new record and I was to say to you tell everybody today at 2pm go to, your going to have a brand new song to download and you can only do it between 2 and 2:15 or for an hour and it's in mp3 format and you get my brand new song. Then if you want to get the rest of the album you click in your visa card and you get the rest of the album. I like to think that is where it's going to go.

GB - Any plans for another studio solo album?

RB - I'm working on a jazz album right now which is a lot of fun. For decades I've been delaying doing this but because I did the Lennie Breau archives. I'm so versed in jazz guitar playing because I'm listing to hundreds of hours of him, trying to compile a couple of his next cd's to release on my guitar archives label in the next year. I had so many people saying why don't you do a jazz album like Blue Collar or Looking Out For Number 1 that I finally got one. I've narrowed it down to about 18 songs I'm working off and on. I'll be looking to release it in the fall and tour next year and tour doing the Jazz stuff. Still telling some stores behind some songs and still doing a couple of rock songs at the end of the night. I've been asked to tour in August with the "du Maurier Jazz Festival" in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver and to be a part of that whole thing. And that's a real thrill for me to be able to go and stretch as a person and an artist and create something new, even on this album, to write songs that fit into the format of old Jazz standards instead of new pop songs. I'm actually writing songs that sound like they were written in the 40's and 50's. And you got to buy the books and study Duke Ellington, Rogers and Hammerstein all the guys who wrote all those Broadway songs that basically became the Jazz standards. So it's a learning thing for me. I'm playing with great Jazz artists who are playing on my album. When I play with a great piano player I listen to his licks when I'm in the studio mixing it. It's like a guitar lesson. I slow them down and go, "wow I would never play that," that's not a familiar thing for me to play on guitar and work it out. So I'm learning as a guitar player by playing with these other Jazz guys and learning as a writer by writing with these other writers and trying to create songs that fit in between Jazz standards that I am recording.

GB- If given the chance to produce again, what kind of artists would like to work with?

RB - I would like to produce a band like Credence Clearwater or BTO. Some young guys in their early 20's. Two guitars, bass and drums, because that format is coming back. I do a lot of song-writing in the UK and Europe and Sweden. And all through the UK the audiences are really liking going out and see guys playing live. They are sick of the drum machines and the rap music and the loops and the computer stuff and they just want guys to be there slamming away on a guitar and rockin' out. Like Alanis Morissette did years ago and Avril Lavine is doing now. Just a girl onstage or guy screaming their head off protesting the world as that is what Rock n' Roll is about. I'd love to work with a band like that because I think I could bring them the sound that is familiar to radio and I know the process of writing them songs, and I'd like something like that.

GB- Do you still own the rights to the music by Trooper?

RB - No, I did way back then. And I had the BTO stuff as well. That's gone to Sony. It gets so big that you can't handle it anymore. You do it yourself when it's a little band and then the band starts to get covers all over the world. You have no idea that somebody on a vacation from New Zealand has bought a Trooper or BTO album and their nephew has recorded the song and you never know that, and there is money laying there. So you need to sell out to a big world-wide publisher who has a computer umbrella or network who know everywhere what song is played and recorded and used in commercials and television and collect that money for you. It's well worth it to give them the deal cause you can't do that yourself, or you spend all your time following rumors of your songs being done, trying to contact people that you can't contact. They also have the legal clout as normal people do not. The problem is when I had that label I signed Trooper with MCA which has become Universal in LA but they are truly a Canadian band and they are so back-burnered with LA and New York that they don't even know who they are. It's the same with BTO, we were signed through Chicago that's in New York now. Universal that's Mercury now which also owns the BTO catalogue. In Toronto they asked would I remix their stuff in surround sound and do a new BTO box set. I'd love to but they can't get the people in New York to comply with it. There is this barrier of Canadian/American and who's doing what and who's bossing who. But I think it will all happen in time.

GB- It was great seeing you on The Simpsons, was that fun?

RB - Ya it was totally kind of surreal. That was one of the ultimate things that I ever did. Since then I gotten a 'cell' from Matt Groening where he cartoons me. And to actually have that its like having a Disney 'cell' of Pluto or Donald Duck or something. It's of me and Homer and it's really fabulous to have this framed to put on my wall.

GB - Is your son Tal going to releasing another album soon?

RB - He is working on this but he had problems with this label which was New York based. People getting fired and the labels get bought. There is this blood-bath when 4 or 5 labels get purchased. They look at it and all the accounting is redundant, they computerize it all and they fire hundreds and thousands of people. And that's what happened, his responsive people are gone. The new people come in and they want to bring their new acts and they don't want to relate to a lot of the old acts. It's happening in Nashville, New York, LA and London, everywhere. So he's kind of now a free agent. He's got about six or seven dozen songs done in my studio that are absolute fantastic. We're just looking now at releasing his record to Canadian radio online.

GB - Any chance of a BTO reunion?

RB - We came close cause there was just talk about a Juno thing this year but it just fell through. My brother Rob and the rest of the band wasn't into doing that so that will probably never ever happen. I was agreeable to do that, it just didn't work out. So I went on to other things which is my own career and producing other people and song-writing and doing all that.

GB - Looking back at your career is there anything you would do differently if you could?

RB - I can't say there is cause I'm pretty happy where I am now. Everything I did that was successful and everything I did that was unsuccessful which was a learning experience that made the next thing be maybe successful. All the ups and downs and hills and valleys are all kind of important as learning and growing process. So nothing much I would change.

GB - It's great your now putting out a lot of the old Guess Who material, you must have recorded a large amount of music in the early days of the band?

RB - We did and it was lost for many years until I got a phone call out of the blue asking if I wanted to buy some old tapes and I though better that I get them and shelve them than someone else putting them out selling them and making money. I didn't know what they were. And when I got them low and behold they were the quality masters of "Shaking All Over" and all that stuff and the early recording with Burton Cummings and the band. Along with that I got the original art work because Quality Records have gone bankrupt. So they sent me this box that had all the original negatives, foot squared, the size of the albums and all the tapes. And I restored it and released it. It's on my web site And I'm just doing one more now that will make a whole Guess Who Box set from 1961 to about 1970. I'm just working on the final product now.

GB - I once read that Elvis Presley was a fan of Taking Care of Business and TCB is on his tombstone?

RB - Ya, he gave the little necklace with TCB with the lighting bolt to all his close circle of friends. The Memphis Mafia guys. The reason I wanted to play guitar in the first place was because I seen Elvis on TV and he adopted Taking Care of Business in 73 or 74 after he heard our version. Then it's on his tombstone. If you go to Graceland down in Memphis you can get a T-Shirt or MUG that says TCB on it. When I walked out of the radio station yesterday there was a guy on a motorcycle sitting there. He said, "I got something for you." But I walked right by him because you don't normally talk to guys like this. My press girl went over to him and he had a little green bag with him and he said, "please give this to Randy." And when she got over to the car and opened it, it was a gold necklace with TCB with a lighting bolt of the Elvis thing and I've never seen one before. I don't know how this guy got or where, but between when I said it on the radio on SUN-FM in Duncan, BC, and walking out 10 minutes later he showed up with the gold necklace with this charm on it, so it's a pretty amazing thing.

GB - Fantastic, it's been great talking to you Randy and best of luck with the tour and future endeavors.

RB - Thank you very much, take care.

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