Since last time I`ve had a massive response to the article about Yes. I am surely going to print more articles from that band when I find them. BUT, that doesn`t mean I`ll go “commercial” and print only what I think will get more views on the blog. Not at all – and in line with that philosophy, here is an article with an “unfashionable” band – Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I recommend to check them out – they have some nice songs in their catalog.
Loud rhythmic noises
– And that`s not all. Bachman-Turner Overdrive also have teen-appeal and an incredibly complicated history…which Andrew Weiner struggles to unravel…
Bachman-Turner Overdrive are currently Canada`s most successful rock band. At least they`re the most successful still living and working there – because The Band, who are 80% Canadian, fled from the land of folk-wimps and Mounties a good while ago.
B.T.O. have had three consecutive U.S. Top 20 albums – two still in the charts and certified gold – something no gang of axe-wielding Canucks has achieved before.
They also boast a U.S. singles hit. So, for that matter, do The Guess Who – lots of them – but they don`t sell albums like BTO.
Actually, to make it Really Big in the (admittedly improving) Canadian rock wilderness, a performer has to make it in the States first: witness N. Young and J. Mitchell, who wanted to be Yanks and so moved to where the action was – or at least appeared to be.
BTO fall into line with this trend, making out in the U.S. of A. where nationality is irrelevant as long as the music sounds American – or more precisely, North American. Which it does.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive are a rock band. Their hit albums are much more important than their hit singles (though “Let It Ride” was a good hamburger-bar hit at the very least).
Their live gigs are much more important to them than TV. BTO have a certain audience and they know exactly who that audience is and what they like and how to reach them. They have the late highschool/early college rock audience, the Grand Funk generation, kids who were maybe 11 or 12 at the height of the halcyon youthcult days.
Yet BTO spring directly from The Guess Who.
Founder and lead guitarist Randy Bachman was one of the founders of the original Guess Who and for a long time their lead guitarist and co-composer of many of their hits.
All that goes back a long way, all the way back to Winnipeg in 1959, to a band called Al and the Silvertones led by a singer called Chad Allen.
Al and the Silvertones became Chad Allen and the Expressions, and broke through to brief US success in the early `60s with a passable cover version of Johnny Kidd`s “Shaking All Over”. They went out on a Dick Clark one-hit-wonder package tour and quickly slipped back into obscurity.
Around 1965 they became known as The Guess Who. They smashed up their equipment to cash in on the notoriety of The Who…Chad Allen quit – he wanted to go to university…Burton Cummings stepped in as lead singer.
And they broke through, first of all with “These Eyes”, which was supposed to be “wheatfield soul”, and then with a whole string of hits, latching on to any flicker of teen culture that they could.
Burton Cummings developed a pretty fair Jim Morrison pose, Randy Bachman borrowed a lot of Hendrix riffs, Spirit riffs, Stones riffs, any riffs he could find lying around. The Guess Who rode with the tide.
Randy Bachman quit in 1970. He was sick, he needed a rest, he had to go into hospital. He hadn`t been getting on well with the rest of the band. A converted Mormon (no alcohol, dope, tea, coffee, immorality) he wanted no part of all the partyings and the dope and the groupies that came with success.
The parting was amicable at first, but became less so with the passage of time. Burton Cummings now says unpleasant things to magazines about Bachman, and Bachman in turn suggests that The Guess Who must need the publicity.
“I saw them on TV a while back,” he told Creem magazine. “And they looked like they`d just stepped off a garbage truck.” BTO themselves are doing well enough now, but the bad press hurt in the beginning, when Bachman was struggling to get his first band, Brave Belt, off the ground.
Brave Belt were formed initially to back Chad Allen on record in his attempted comeback. Bachman brought in his brothers Rob (on drums) and Tim (on rhythm guitar). They became a band and they made two albums, neither of which sold particularly well. The band lost their contract.
They wanted to go out on the road and tour, all of them but Chad Allen – who quit because he couldn`t face going through all that again.
So the Brothers Bachman brought in C.F. Turner and Bachman-Turner Overdrive were born.
Based in Winnipeg, they recorded a first album in Toronto, acquiring a contract with Mercury. The album, “Bachman-Turner Overdrive One”, came out and BTO went on the road to sell it, playing the music the kids wanted to hear: much heavier music than that of Brave Belt or The Guess Who.
They played long and for little reward…and then the radio stations picked up on the album.
The band issued a second LP, “BTO Two”.
A single from it “Let It Ride”, hit big and helped push the first two albums into the Top 20. Tim Bachman quit to take up producing. A new co-lead guitarist, Blair Thornton, stepped in. The band relocated in Vancouver. They made a third album, “Not Fragile”, which recently followed its predecessors up the chart.
A classic success story, perhaps, BTO went out and worked, really worked, for their success. They didn`t go for the cheap gimmick – the bubble gum hit…they left all that to The Guess Who.
If BTO have any image at all, it`s an image that exactly corresponds to their reality: as a fat, happy, supremely ordinary bunch of guys playing in a supremely ordinary but extremely hard-working high-pressure boogie band.
American kids like hard-working bands. They liked Grand Funk, who also worked monumentally hard.
It`s still hard to describe BTO`s music.
It`s nothing new. It`s all been done before, but never in quite this combination.
On record the two guitarists play model solos which seem to be a superior pastiche of the best of Hendrix and Spirit and the Stones.
The songs are by no means memorable, but they hold your attention. They have a lot of variation and they have a lot of density. Bachman is an excellent producer.
Mostly, they boogie. Most of their words are about boogieing on and on. The title cut of “Not Fragile” is a lot of bragging about how heavy they are – and they mostly are, too. Heavy, and yet with a fluidity…about their music which bands like Sabbath or Grand Funk never approach. Very dexterously-played and skilfully-arranged heavy boogie music, with dynamics, like mid-period Led Zep.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive are the most proficient Canadian rock band I`ve ever heard.
Technically, they`re way ahead of their competition, clearly much more committed to their music than The Guess Who, who seem to stumble nearer and nearer to disintegration.
And yet…I`d have to say that my favourite Canadian band are The Guess Who, and by a very long way.
Never knew anything about this band, but now I know about them – and so do you! 😉
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Elton John, The Crystals, Yes, John Sebastian, Fanny, Rod Stewart, Johnny Winter, Frank Zappa, Magna Carta, Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant).
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