Not bad for a quartet that Bachman frankly points out didn’t look the part of pinup pop stars.
“We couldn’t afford clothes. We wore jeans and T-shirts and flannel shirts. We looked like the boys next door who would take your grandmother’s garbage out to the curb,” he said with a laugh. “We weren’t pretty boys in silver leotards with eye makeup. We were the fat guys next door. We were like Seth Rogen when he started.
“We were average guys that would have worked at a gas station. We were blue-collar guys.”
That sensibility extended through to the band’s music.
“It was very unsophisticated,” Bachman assessed. “We’re talking about guys who’ve never had a lesson in their life. Me trying to get my brother to play like Ringo Starr or Charlie Watts ... it was very primitive. Simple, simple, simple drums. Just keep a beat. I don’t want any drumrolls. ... Fred on bass, just play simple bass and give me this animal jungle thing to play guitar over and we’ll sing a bunch of lyrics over it and maybe everybody will sing with us.
“If you compare us to Yes, who had an album called ‘Fragile,’ and then we named ours ‘Not Fragile.’ Theirs was full of harmonies and counterpoint guitars ... they’re absolutely two ends of the rock and roll spectrum,” he added. “(But) nobody dances or sings to ’Roundabout.’ Everybody dances and sings to ‘American Woman’ and ’Takin’ Care of Business.’”
To Robin Bachman, the band’s success is no mystery.
“We didn’t tell anybody they were wrong or anything was bad or don’t do this. It was basically, have a good time, fun music,” he said in a separate phone interview. “Just coming out of the ‘70s with the Vietnam War and all the political things going on — in Canada with Trudeau, and Richard Nixon and stuff like that — we just basically had enough of that stuff.”
Oddly, a band that’s now associated with suds-soaked singalongs never had much time for hard-living.
Randy Bachman, ever the responsible older sibling, says he insisted upon a code of conduct that precluded wild partying.
“We were drug free and pretty much alcohol free,” he said. “I was investing my money from the Guess Who in the band. You gotta remember I’m the oldest guy and my best friend Fred Turner, he’s the same age as me, and I’ve got my younger brothers in the band. So all my whole life, I was told: ‘Babysit your brothers, look after your brothers, don’t let them cross the street alone, watch out for them.’
“We didn’t have any roadies, we set up our own gear, we set up our own PA, we put two lights on either side of the stage — that’s our light show,” he added. “We’d just go out as a family and we’d do it. They listened to me. They had to — I was paying their salary. I wasn’t going to waste my money on guys who wanted to party and wanted chicks.
“This was a business to me. At that time, I had two children and a limited amount of money from the Guess Who because I got shafted on that whole thing.”
Thornton and both Bachmans interviewed agree that “Not Fragile” was the band’s highpoint. (Turner declined an interview request). As far as other highlights, Randy Bachman points to a show BTO headlined at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium with support from Styx, Kansas and Foghat that drew more than 47,000 fans.
Thornton and Robin Bachman, meanwhile, recall attending one of Elvis Presley’s shows in Las Vegas in 1975 — “This was in the fat Elvis day, I’m afraid,” Thornton notes somewhat ruefully — at which they were swarmed by autograph seekers.
Later, they were called back to meet the King and Thornton recalls presenting him with a silver medallion reading “Takin’ Care of Business.”
“It’s weird to have Elvis know your name,” Robin laughed. “Basically, we talked to him about karate, firearms and cars.”
As far as any erstwhile animosity within the band, Thornton says: “Once you put the unit together, it doesn’t matter.”
And Randy Bachman, for his part, looks back on the band’s achievements with deep — even defiant — pride.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” he said. “I did it again. I started another band from the wilderness of Winnipeg out of nothing — untrained musicians, musicians who weren’t in bands before except for Fred Turner, and somehow got to No. 1 album and No. 1 single and sold 20 million records, more than the Guess Who had at the time, in a three-year period span. So it was an unbelievable effort of concentration.”
And this time, nothing will stall Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s victory lap.
“To go back now and reflect on it and celebrate it, it’ll be fun and an honour for me,” Bachman said. “And for the other guys to come back and smile and give each other a hug and shake hands and go: ‘We really did rock the world. We really did.’”