When Bachman-Turner Overdrive thunders into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards in March, the honour may well feel overdue.
Not because of any reticence on behalf of organizers to fete the flannel-clad masters of hard-chugging rock and roll. More than a decade ago, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was ready to induct BTO, but various members were still ensconced in conflicts over who had the rightful claim to the band’s name and which lineup precisely would be ushered in.
Such spats now seem a distant memory, and each of the four band members being inducted — the lineup of Randy Bachman, Fred Turner, Blair Thornton and Robin (Robbie) Bachman who created the 1974 hit album “Not Fragile” — insists that no hard feelings will remain when they’re appropriately beckoned into the Hall in their hometown of Winnipeg.
So, what changed?
“It took decades, but we all grew up,” Randy Bachman said in a telephone interview. “As in any family, as in any band, as on any team, as in any relationship, there are bound to be ... differences. And some of the differences are irreconcilable and some of them are really tiny, stupid, little petty things and some of them are big things. But as time goes by and you grow up as an adult ... you look back at it and go: ‘Wow, the guy was an absolute jerk and guess what? I was a jerk too in my own way.’
“All the little differences that cause a band to break up or one guy to leave ... looking back at it, you go, oh yeah, he was a jerk, I was a jerk, he was a goof, he was always late, he was a maniac, he spent all his money, whatever.
“What in the end matters is, in our own way, we went out ... for our own little period of time, we became something. A band that other bands wanted to be like.”
And for Bachman, this gilding of his band’s legacy seems to carry extra significance. Because he remembers vividly how close the venture veered toward failure.
In May 1970, Bachman had somewhat abruptly decided to depart the Guess Who when the rock band was at the peak of its powers, just months after the release of “American Woman.” He had been suffering gall bladder attacks that had sentenced him to nightly visits to the emergency room, feverish, doubled over in pain and vomiting blood.
When he said he couldn’t continue touring, the Guess Who lined up a temporary replacement guitarist and soon after, Bachman decided to leave the band.
“Looking back at it, if the Guess Who were in the right state of mind — Burton Cummings and the band — that I was, we would have recognized that ‘Randy has a problem, he’s bleeding to death, he’s in pain, we’re No. 1, let’s take a month off and see what’s wrong, get him fixed and go back on the road,“’ recalled Bachman now.
“There never would have been a BTO.”
But BTO didn’t emerge immediately. Bachman’s first move was to form — with substantial help from fellow Winnipeg native Neil Young — a country-pop outfit called Brave Belt with his brother Robin and former Guess Who associate Chad Allan. Turner was added soon afterward on bass.
Brave Belt put out two records that “kind of went nowhere,” and a third underwhelming effort got the band dropped from its deal with Reprise Records. Randy Bachman shopped that third record around but found a tepid response, initially. After 20-plus refusals, Warner Bros. expressed interest but demanded the band change its moniker to something that capitalized upon Bachman’s name recognition.
They switched to Bachman-Turner and picked up “Overdrive” from a “trucker magazine.” Suddenly, they “had this magical thing,” Bachman said, noting having a name easily shortened into an acronym was “really hip” in the era of CSNY and CCR.
The newly christened band had a new sound, too, which Bachman calls “lumberjack rock”: “plug in guitars, plug in your amp, and knock down trees. It was not sophisticated rock and roll.”
Determined to make it big, BTO spent 330 days of their first year together on the road.
“(We) had no hit singles, just sheer force of determination,” Bachman recalled. “And then suddenly the hits started to come, like ’Let it Ride’ and ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ and ‘Looking Out for No. 1’ and ‘Hey You.’ Suddenly the floodgates were open. Everybody wanted what I was doing.
“Suddenly you go from super cold to super hot.”
Indeed, the band’s first self-titled album — the Brave Belt record no one wanted — eventually climbed to gold sales. “Bachman-Turner Overdrive II” went platinum, as did the chart-topping “Not Fragile” in 1974, which also spawned the band’s first No. 1 single in Canada with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”