Quite interesting to read this one as it tells the story of how BTO tried to become a commercial prospect without losing their integrity. Some very valueable lessons to learn here, even for bands coming up today.
`eard the one about the Randy Mormon?
Peter Makowski face to face with Bachman Turner Overdrive
There seems to be an inexplicable, invisible but understandable line of hypocrisy running between Randy Bachman the musician and Randy Bachman the person. Inexplicable because it doesn`t relate to or affect the band`s music which relies on sheer sympathetic energy between musicians devoid of any contrivance; understandable because after being in the business for so long barriers of cynicism are expected to appear.
With Bachman it`s not cynicism, it`s a thorough logistic assessment of how the music business should be run, which in his verbal dialogue might sound a little cold and precise but on paper couldn`t be truer.
Talking to Bachman is like talking to a manager who is willing to give you the facts. And I think it`s from this hard-earned experience that this little, unknown Canadian band have become big business in such a short space of time.
Bachman sat in contemplative pose, looking like a lumberjack guru, when I spoke to him in his hotel prior to BTO`s performance at the Glasgow Apollo.
Saying that Bachman is Mormon, doesn`t drink, doesn`t smoke, doesn`t pull chicks on the road and is a rock and roll star is almost a contradiction in itself. But maybe that could at the same time account for his clear headedness. Although externally his appearance is burly and aggressive all in all he seems to be quite a composed, laid back character.
The band have recently recorded a new album titled appropriately enough `Four Wheel Drive`. “It`s a progression for us,” Bachman reported happily, “nothing like heavy jazz rock like Yes who I think are a very progressive group. It`s a progression for us because we`re playing different kinds of rock and roll songs. Rock and roll songs go on for ever, we`re just exploring.
“We`ve had different, slight changes, but I find the people like basic rock and we`re selling to basic rock audiences. I could play really heavy guitar if I wanted to, classical or country `cause I grew up learning all that stuff. I could do it and I could probably expand our audience by another 10 per cent, but I`d lose 10 per cent who are buying what we`ve got now, so it`s a losing battle trying to please new people.
“I don`t believe in pleasing critics because they get their albums free and all they do is tear them apart, all I want to do is please the people who are buying our stuff.”
Has the recent recession in America (the band`s biggest money spinner) affected them at all?
“We were lucky,” Bachman replied, almost sounding grateful, “the recession doesn`t affect top products of any country. By the top products I doesn`t mean the best, I mean what the people want. There`s just been a recession in the States yeah, but nobody`s stopped buying beer, nobody`s stopped going out to concerts.
“All the three group shows, where we headlined, became two group shows, we were still on the top, we still got our money we were still sellouts.”
As I mentioned before a lot of BTO`s success is derived from Bachman`s experiences and observation. In fact before BTO, when he played with the once top Canadian band Guess Who, Bachman spent a lot of time researching commercial records to see if it would help him come up with the right ingredients for a hit record, which it did.
“When I was in the Guess Who,” recalled Bachman, “we used to study obviously Lennon and McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Georgie Fame. We used to study composers and very commercial groups `cause in those days there were no underground selling groups. You either had a single or you were gone.
“In Brave Belt, which eventually became BTO, we listened to other types of commercial group and that was the type of group who had wide appeal albums and singles – the Who, Creedence, Rolling Stones, Cream – simple groups who, if they were commercial, were not selling out.
“There are commercial bands like Paper Lace, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods who get together and write commercial songs, we don`t do that. We put together good album music, throw the album out on the market and usually a radio station picks up on a single and I`ll edit it.
“This is usually the case except for our new single called `Hey You`. We anticipated it being a single almost from the start, it just had a certain element that `Ain`t Seen Nothing Yet` had. And I don`t feel bad in doing that, trying to follow the success of a commercial single, because we`ve had all the album success and by having one we don`t seem to lost the other.”
It seems in America (and almost everywhere else come to think of it) that rock sensations come and go before you can say tricky Dicky Nixon, they`re in and out of the charts with a bullet. I asked Bachman to explain their sustaining their success.
“I think if you look at the bands that have come and gone you can pinpoint the exact moment they`ve gone. When they decide to do something heavy, something drastic. You get a simple rock group like us, if we try to do something like King Arthur and his magical knights of the round table, you know Houdini`s magic show, we`d just lose our fans. If we keep doing what comes naturally then we`ll be okay.
“You look at a group who have been obliterated. It could be managerial problems. I agree a lot of rock and roll bands go under pressure and strains but we don`t have any of them. We make the basic decisions deciding what we`re going to do, how long we`re going out for. Our manager comes with us on the road and when we`re tired of being on the road, then he`s just as tired.
“We don`t have a fat New York manager in a Cadillac with his briefcase and cigar saying `give me my percentage, stay out another month, you`re doing great`. I`ve gone through this with Guess Who.
“We don`t have any of those problems because our manager is like a part of the group, he travels with us, he thinks how we think because we have very open discussions. When it`s down to making a decision he basically knows what we want to do, how long we want to work, how much money we want to make, once you make enough money there`s no point in going crazy and have ten million dollars compared to two million.
“When you can buy anything you want it doesn`t matter how much excess money you have. That`s not really why we`re happy. We`re happy because we have a very good schedule, we enjoy the music we`re playing and we enjoy relating to the people that are buying our product.
“A good case of managerial problems is Buffalo Springfield, they were one of America`s greats and one of my favourite bands. When they found that they were one of the biggest underground bands and heading to being one of THE big groups they all looked around and said `you know we`re broke, we don`t have enough to pay our rent or buy guitar strings`.
“They ended it because they didn`t like their management. That`s one reason why a group doesn`t last and the other is some drastic artistic change, and we`ll never drastically change, if we evolve it`ll be something natural.”
As Bachman indicated earlier, he seems to have varied amounts of musical influences and the last time I interviewed him he was promising a solo album. I asked him when this project would crystalise.
“I probably won`t do it for a while. I don`t want to do it while I`m on the road and we`re in the process of building our own studio, we have to decide which country it`s going to be in because there`s quite a few implications with Canadian and American recordings and I`m not going to start on a solo album until I`ve done a BTO album in the studio.
“If I do a solo album, it`ll be something drastic,” Bachman concluded… not that drastic because I want it to sell.”