Monday, June 1, 2009

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

Jim Webb wrote:

Mike –

I have found myself again prowling around the back catalogue of famous bands, listening to their albums that didn’t have the big hit. A couple of these tracks got some airplay, but this was the last decent BTO sandwich before it all went to hell.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive- Head On (1975)

I have to confess that in the 1970’s I was not a BTO fanatic. Never saw them live and didn’t own an album of theirs. You basically didn’t have to buy their stuff because it seemed like it was played nonstop on the radio. My only credentials would be that whenever they did come on the radio, I would instinctively reach for the volume dial to turn it up. Let it Ride, Takin’ Care of Business, You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet, and Roll On Down The Highway are still classic road rock tunes for driving around.

1975 had a glut of guitar bands from Foghat and Ted Nugent to Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult and ZZ Top blasting away with stacks of amps all pointed at our heads. Bachman –Turner Overdrive had been selling out arenas since 1973 and was starting to be looked at as yesterday’s hard rock heroes. Selling tickets to their concerts wasn’t a problem, but leader Randy Bachman was getting a little bored with their never changing two guitars, bass and drums sound. Head On still has the wall-to-wall heavy sound in rockers like Find Out About Love, and Wild Spirit, but also slipped in to the mix is an early proto type Power Ballad titled Woncha Take Me For a While. You know that style from the eighties - when long haired, emotionally challenged singers break down and pledge their undying love to the women in their life for the first time publicly, with a slow crescendo of guitars building in the background to a frenzied peak. Fred Turner does his best on making that vocal believable, but Randy still wasn’t done tinkering under the hood. Lookin’ Out For #1 was a full fledged cocktail jazz workout that you could expect to hear at any nondescript Holiday Inn lounge buried in the Midwest. The song does have a great melodic guitar solo from Randy that would have made jazz guitarists Joe Pass or Jim Hall proud. Bachman had a brief moment of clarity and knew that the end was coming somewhere up ahead and wasn’t quite sure what to do. He just wanted to change the formula a little bit, it was time to put down the beer and maybe have a glass of Chablis for a change. Fred Turner basically told him to f**k off and that he ain’t no wine sipper, he was going to ride their classic rig as long as he could. Randy left in 1977 after the Freeways release, he had put too much time and energy into building BTO to want to be around when it finally ran out of gas. Fred parked it in 1980 and the legal battles between Randy and his two younger brothers that wanted to continue using the name started. It has been claimed that Head On was mostly leftovers from the two previous albums. That sounds about right to my ears because a lot of older BTO riffs seem recycled on tracks like Average Man and Down To the Line. If you are tired of your BTO Greatest Hits cd, this wouldn’t be a bad pickup. Even with a couple of softies, it mostly rocks with solid riffs and production.

Music critics, non-fans, and mellow James Taylorites from the seventies all claimed that a hundred apes locked in a room with musical instruments for a hundred years would ultimately sound just like BTO. Why do I like an occasional blast of Bachman –Turner Overdrive? It’s simple really, sometimes I just feel like an ape.

-Jim Webb

Michael Mooney wrote:


I’m a fan. Randy Bachman is responsible for some of Rock’s most-enduring riffs. He’s a totally underrated guitarist (just ask Neil Young.) Tuneful and Jazzy, he can also rock with the best and make it seems effortless.

I first caught BTO during their initial arena tour in 1974, opening for Black Oak Arkansas and Foghat (though it might have been Ten Years After and the J. Geils Band- ...pity youth, etc.) at the Spectrum (aka Rectum) in Philly. Bachman-Turner Overdrive II had just been released, and Let It Ride was getting lots of airplay (I don’t think Taking Care Of Business had hit yet- it would be massive later that summer.) BTO held their own against the big guns: Fred Turner was no Peter Wolf or Jim Dandy, and Randy wasn’t flashy like Alvin Lee (or Rod Price for that matter), but their workmanlike approach won over the typically fickle Philadelphia audience.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive II was a big record in Philadelphia that year, blasting from every suburban kid’s Pioneer car speakers- via 8-track tape of course- and no sooner had it begun its descent from the charts when Not Fragile appeared, cementing Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s reputation as the working man’s Rock Machine. Spearheaded by Roll On Down The Highway and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (check out John Otway’s version from 1982, flipside to his take on Roy Orbison’s In Dreams- both songs are must-hears), this was BTO’s biggest album, and the perfect soundtrack to working class keg parties circa autumn, 1974.

I was able to study Randy Bachman’s guitar technique up close when BTO reconvened for a new LP (self-titled, 1984) and club tour in 1985. The Music Machine in LA was the perfect venue for the group. It had a good PA system, and was neither too big that the sound would get lost, nor too small to constrain the volume. BTO delivered. This wasn’t just a greatest hits machine playing by numbers. Randy had the fire that night, and seemed almost surprised by his own playing. Not a lot of movement on stage (they kind of bopped in place- like Rush Limbaugh- and that didn’t stop the stage floor from sagging a little; these were some seriously large guys), but BTO rocked furiously. In a sense, they reminded me of Television- just stand there and let it burn. It was a stunning show.

Randy Bachman’s touring with Burton Cummings this summer (Canada only), but there’s talk of a Bachman-Turner reunion (literally Randy and Fred so far.) If they manage to appear at a Casino showroom, State Fair or biker rally within 3 hours of Taos/Santa Fe, The Secret Museum will be there.

-Michael Mooney

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