About the Author

Randy Bachman

Randy Bachman, world-renowned founder of the rock band BTO, and co-founder of the band, The Guess Who, brings his imagination and musical and writing talents to a new audience.

Books by this Author
Tales From Beyond The Tap
Excerpt

Are there any songs in particular that have changed your life?

Randy with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, 2008.

Records have always been an integral part of my life. There are many songs to choose from, but this question is an easy one for me. Each of these recordings has had a significant impact on me and my career.

“TUTTI FRUTTI”—LITTLE RICHARD, 1955

When I saw Elvis Presley for the first time on a little black-and-white TV at my friend’s house, it was mind-blowing, worldshaking, and a signal of change for me as well as the rest of the world. I went out and bought the Elvis recording of “Tutti Frutti,” and besides wanting to be Elvis, I wanted to play guitar like Scotty Moore. Then someone, I think it was one of my brother Gary’s buddies from the Pro-Teen club, asked me if I’d heard the version by Little Richard, the guy who actually wrote the song and first recorded it. When I listened to his “Tutti Frutti” it was wilder, more raucous, and even more mind-blowing and worldshaking than Elvis’s. Elvis sounded tame by comparison.

Whenever I hear either version of that song it takes me back to that time and rekindles my first impressions of rock ’n’ roll. Original rock ’n’ roll was all about anything goes, having fun, going a little crazy, and just letting it all out. The more lifechanging version for me, though, is the Little Richard one. He’s an original. And, as I talked about in the first Vinyl Tap book, I was lucky enough to have him play on a couple of Bachman-Turner Overdrive tracks. I was thrilled when Richard agreed to play piano on “Take It Like a Man” on our Head On album. We’d already recorded the track, and just wanted him to overdub his signature piano style. He arrived looking every inch the star that he was. I was in awe of him. However, once in the recording studio with him, we discovered that he couldn’t play in the key of the song. Apparently Little Richard played only in certain keys, and this wasn’t one of them. After several attempts, he was all set to walk out, until we figured out that if we slowed down the recording speed it could be played in Little Richard’s key. When we sped it up to the original speed it fit perfectly. Despite this hiccup, Little Richard was everything I expected and more. It became a learning experience for both of us and a dream come true for me, the kid from Winnipeg, playing alongside one of the rock ’n’ roll pioneers.

“HOUND DOG” BACKED BY “DON’T BE CRUEL”—ELVIS PRESLEY, 1955

I also saw Elvis do this on TV, and it had the same impact on me. It expanded Elvis’s wild side by including the Jordanaires on background vocals on both songs, merging gospel into rock ’n’ roll along with the wild hand clapping on “Hound Dog.” Again, Scotty Moore’s guitar playing and solos made me want to be a guitar player. I still have the 78 rpm recording.

When Elvis decided to use TCB as his logo after hearing Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” on a Los Angeles radio station, I was both stunned and honoured. This is the guy who facilitated my entrance into rock ’n’ roll and prompted me to start playing guitar. He used my song for his motto and his logo, which is on his headstone. Pretty awesome. That song not only changed my life but Elvis Presley’s, too.

“OH BY JINGO”—CHET ATKINS, 1953

Growing up in Winnipeg in the 60s was the most amazing experience. We had the greatest radio stations that played all the latest music and also broadcast live bands. When I first heard the CKY Caravan Saturday morning show, featuring Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody and their band, the guitar I heard behind the vocals was Lone Pine Jr., a.k.a. Lenny Breau. I first met him at one of their Saturday morning broadcasts at Gelhorn Motors, across from Kildonan Park on North Main Street, and it was a life-changing moment. There was this kid, a mere two years older than me, playing like Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins, and Merle Travis all rolled into one. He was barely seventeen but was already a professional musician, playing full-time in his parents’ band and travelling with them. We became friends.

One of the first songs I heard Lenny play was the old 1920s standard “Oh By Jingo.” He played it Chet Atkins style, with the bass and melody, so it sounded like more than one instrument. The following week I bought the Chet Atkins recording of “Oh By Jingo,” and with Lenny’s help I learned that song as well as the rest of the album. I used to skip high school in the afternoons to go over to Lenny’s house and watch him practise. He’d show me how to play different things, and I gleaned so much from him. It was the greatest two years of my life (even though it resulted in my failing a couple of grades). I still play “Oh By Jingo” every day—as a warmup and as a memory of my great teenage years, playing hooky from school and spending afternoons at Lenny’s house learning rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly, country, and jazz. Years later, when the Guess Who signed with RCA Records and I met Chet Atkins at their New York office, our common thread was Lenny Breau and that song.

“SCHOOL DAYS” AND “JOHNNY B. GOODE”—CHUCK BERRY, 1956 AND 1957

I put these two songs together even though they were released a year apart because they were a pair of milestones for me and for rock ’n’ roll in general. Unlike Elvis, Chuck Berry was a singer, songwriter, and guitar player all in one. And unlike the fun, nonsensical lyrics of “Tutti Frutti” (or at least nonsensical to my naive prairie white-boy ears), Chuck Berry told stories with great characters and fantastic lyrics interwoven with a call-andresponse style between his voice and guitar. He’d sing a line, then reply to it with a great guitar lick. His backup band, with the one-and-only Johnny Johnson on piano, was an amazing entity in its own right.

Over the years I’ve played many gigs with Chuck Berry, and I loved every song he played. Like Elvis and Little Richard, he was a trendsetter and influenced everyone who came after him. Where would every guitar player be if it wasn’t for Chuck Berry? “Johnny B. Goode” was the quintessential story of every kid who picked up a guitar and tried to play it “like ringin’ a bell.”

“BO DIDDLEY”—BO DIDDLEY, 1955

I still remember the chill I got when I first heard “Bo Diddley”: that hambone jungle rhythm, that distorted tremolo guitar, and those lyrics so catchy you could sing along to them right away. I’d never heard anything like it. Over the years I did many shows with Bo Diddley and was always amazed at how he kicked the crowd in the face with the first notes and beats he played.

When Fred Gretsch asked me to play at the March 2005 opening of the Gretsch Museum in Savannah, Georgia, and told me I’d be on the show with Bo Diddley, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d seen Bo a couple of times years before with just Jerome Green on maracas and the Duchess on backup guitar. I’d also played on the same bill with him at the Seattle Pop Festival in July 1969. I was lucky enough to find a handbill from that festival that listed all the artists who played at the three-day event. I had that little handbill enlarged, laminated, and turned into a dozen posters. I took one to the Gretsch Museum opening and gave it to Bo. He had tears in his eyes as he thanked me. He said he’d told his children and grandchildren for years that he’d played with Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Guess Who, Ten Years After, the Byrds, Janis Joplin, and all the rock music heavyweights. Now he had proof of the event. Many years later I gave the same poster to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, showing that they’d played with Bo Diddley. You could see the same pride on their faces.

At the meet ’n’ greet in the green room before the Gretsch event, Bo showed up with one of his feet bandaged. He’d had a couple of toes amputated a day or two before because of a diabetic condition, yet amazingly enough, he still came to perform on the show. Bo was a real trooper. He was in great spirits despite his foot and never let the audience know that he might have been in pain, even though they could see the bandage. I opened my set at the Gretsch Museum with some Chet finger-style guitar and then played a few of my hits that had been written and recorded on my Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins guitar, including “Shakin’ All Over” and “Takin’ Care of Business.” It was a great set because the band backing me—Chuck Leavell from the Allman Brothers on piano and Vinnie Colaiuta from Sting’s band on drums— were fabulous. Then I put my guitar on the stand by my chair and went to sit in the front row to watch Bo. When he came out onstage he pointed to my guitar on the stand and my empty chair and said, “Who’s missing up here? Who’s supposed to be in that chair?” I sheepishly raised my hand and replied, “Me.” Bo then said, “So get up here and let’s rock.” I jumped up onstage and spent the next hour and a half playing alongside Bo Diddley. What a great moment in my life that was.

“BE-BOP-A-LULA”—GENE VINCENT, 1956

Much more than the Elvis clone he’d been tagged as at the time, Gene Vincent was the real deal. He wrote his own songs and created his own sound. He also had an amazing guitar player in Cliff Gallup. I bought every single, EP, and album I could find of Gene’s and learned every one of his songs. Gene’s music was the ultimate rockabilly rock ’n’ roll. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and every Gene Vincent single and album cut became part of my guitar repertoire. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” is even more primal, earthy, and raw than anything Elvis had recorded. I can understand why Gene Vincent was regarded as more dangerous than Elvis. He must have made parents apoplectic with his leering and sneering.

When Gene played Winnipeg at the Dominion Theatre in 1959, he had six songs in the Top 10. In Vinyl Tap Stories, I told the story of how my friend Victor Zahn and I met Gene and his band over that Easter weekend and invited him to dinner at my parents’ house. There was hardly anyone at the shows because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Victor and I attended the first night and were able to get backstage after the show to talk to Gene and his band. Gene was impressed by Victor’s old army surplus Harley-Davidson motorcycle and asked Victor to give him a ride. After that, he was our friend. Although he didn’t make it to dinner, he did give me an autographed Blue Caps cap, which I still have. The Blue Caps had just come from California, where they’d all acquired new Fender guitars and amps in a promotional deal with the company. Man, their gear looked cool.

I love Jeff Beck’s tribute album to Gene and the Blue Caps, which he recorded several years ago—he managed to capture their authentic sound, and brought back every memory for me in vivid highlight.

“APACHE”—THE SHADOWS, 1960

There were two hit versions of this Jerry Lordan instrumental. Both rocked my world. The first one I heard on Winnipeg radio was by Jørgen Ingmann (known as “the Swedish Les Paul”), who multi-tracked his big Gibson hollow-body guitar. He used echoes, played what’s known as pinch or false harmonics (where you pluck a fretted string with your thumb or index finger along the neck to achieve an overtone; Eddie Van Halen made this famous but I learned it from Lenny Breau years earlier), and blew everyone away. Les Paul was playing jazzy, Broadwayish songs, but Jørgen was rockin’ out. The flip side, “Echo Boogie,” was also an amazing track, and when you learned those two songs as a guitar player, you were on top. I next heard the Shadows version, which had a totally different soundscape and was a paradigm shift for my guitar brain. Bruce Welch, one of the finest rhythm guitar players in the world with a fantastic acoustic sound, set the perfect backing for Hank Marvin’s incredible echoed single notes.

When I saw the Shads’ fiftieth reunion gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, and again later with Cliff Richard at the 02 Stadium, that song rocked the whole crowd, and me along with it. At sound check, I got to hold Hank’s legendary salmon-coloured Fender Stratocaster, reputed to be the first Stratocaster in the U.K. Check out the picture on my website.

“STONE FREE”—THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE (B-SIDE OF “HEY JOE”), 1966

The Guess Who went to London in 1967 to make it big and be the next Beatles. How naive we were. Instead we went there and flopped. It was a train wreck, but we got to hang out in Soho where a lot of the rock ’n’ roll clubs were. One of them was the famous Marquee Club on Wardour Street, where we met the Who and argued with them over their band name. Talk about cocky Canucks. We also met Cat Stevens, Reg Dwight (a.k.a. Elton John), who was working as a studio demo musician, and many other great songwriters and performers. Eric Clapton had started Cream by then, and Jimi Hendrix had arrived in London a few months earlier and was all the buzz in the music world. He’d put out his first single, a slow and funky rendition of “Hey Joe,” which we immediately added to our repertoire.

But it was the B-side of that single that grabbed me even more. “Stone Free” was an amazing first glimpse into what was coming from Jimi Hendrix. It had a throbbing beat and a smouldering intensity that erupted when Jimi soloed. It’s incredible to imagine that this was his very first recording with the Experience. The three of them had been together for only a little more than a week.

I remember buying the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album in London and taking it back to Winnipeg before it was released in Canada. Doc Steen, the program director at radio station CKRC, listened to it and said he loved the music but couldn’t and wouldn’t play it on AM radio. Six months later he was playing it every three hours. “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” “Foxy Lady”—all were game changers. AM radio was slowly overtaken by FM radio. Singles started to emerge from albums. If the tracks were too long, the deejays did their own edits, and gradually radio changed with the times.

Playing in Hendrix’s style on songs like “Stone Free” ultimately helped me develop my own sound.

“I FEEL FREE”—CREAM (OFF THEIR FRESH CREAM ALBUM), 1966

This was an amazing track from a blues-influenced power trio— Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker—that pushed my thinking towards wanting to sound like Clapton. They didn’t get their name for nothing. They were the cream of the U.K. players. The intro to this song was unlike anything ever heard before, kind of a 50s retro doo-wop style followed by moaning vocals and a guitar solo that sounded like a haunted woman crying in the night (known as Clapton’s “Woman Tone”).

I’d been working on a distortion unit with Gar Gillies, who built Garnet amplifiers in Winnipeg. Because I grew up playing classical violin and loved the sound of bowed strings, especially the viola and cello, I wanted my lead guitar to sound like that. Using “I Feel Free” as a template, Gar and I built a 12AX7 tube– powered pre-amp to achieve that sound by boosting the signal to the amp via the pre-amp, which creates distortion. I named it the Herzog just because I’d seen that name somewhere and thought it was cool. Along with my 59 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar, it became my “American Woman” sound. But it was inspired by Clapton’s tone on “I Feel Free.”

“WHOLE LOTTA LOVE”—LED ZEPPELIN (OFF THEIR LED ZEPPELIN II ALBUM), 1969

Another mind-boggling game changer. This was an album track that got played as a single, with many different edited versions out on AM radio, while the longer album version became a staple on FM radio. I’d heard Jimmy Page as a studio guitarist playing on so many singles out of London that I thought of him as an amazing chameleon and creator. To be a backdrop for so many hit singles, to play such great solos and rhythm to enhance the songs in so many different styles, was remarkable.

I met Jimmy in 1967 when the Guess Who played a television show with the Yardbirds in Cleveland. We shared a classroom as a dressing room, and Jimmy asked if he could try out my Rickenbacker guitar. I said yes, if I could play his Telecaster. So we swapped guitars for a few moments. Little did I know what incredible music that guitar would go on to create. Page with the Yardbirds was amazing.

A year or more later I heard that his new group, Led Zeppelin, had signed with Atlantic Records. When the first Led Zeppelin album came out, they played the Seattle Pop Festival with the Guess Who. I stood and watched them play for hours. It was an amazing time for music, all new sounds and styles bursting forth, and Led Zeppelin’s blues-based hard rock was at the forefront. Bands were evolving at the speed of sound. “Whole Lotta Love” with its heavy power-chording riff showed off everything that Led Zeppelin was: the riffs, the shrieking vocals, the thundering drums, the solid bass playing, and, of course, Jimmy Page’s superb guitar. This song and the album it came from ushered in the era of classic rock, which continues to be a vital musical force and had a profound influence on my playing and the sound of the Guess Who. Just listen to “American Woman” and you can hear that influence.

“CAUSE WE’VE ENDED AS LOVERS”—JEFF BECK (OFF HIS BLOW BY BLOW ALBUM), 1975

The Yardbirds can lay claim to spawning three of the greatest lead guitar players in rock music. This British Invasion band was more than merely a pop hit singles group; they were experimenters pushing the rock ’n’ roll envelope by integrating innovative sounds and influences into their music. I think it’s fair to say that the Yardbirds invented psychedelic music, with such groundbreaking songs as “Heart Full of Soul,” with its Middle Eastern– flavoured, sitar-like guitar solo; “I’m a Man,” with its rave-up freak-out at the end; “Shapes of Things,” featuring a unique raga rock solo using controlled feedback; and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” with its weird voices and droning effects. The man responsible for creating these spectacular musical innovations and soundscapes was Jeff Beck. He took blues guitar to the moon.

Jeff was the second lead guitarist in the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton, whose brilliance was only hinted at during his time with the band. Later, Jeff was joined on guitar by session player extraordinaire Jimmy Page, who would carry on after Jeff quit. Clapton, Beck, and Page—a not-too-shabby alumni roster. All three guitar giants emerged from the same area of south London, where they lived within twenty minutes of each other. As a guitar player, I don’t favour one over the other; I appreciate the distinctive styles of each.

After Jeff Beck left the Yardbirds, he formed the first of two Jeff Beck groups, which included two then-unknown members: Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. I loved Jeff ‘s Truth album, recorded with this lineup—it was a life-changing LP for me, and still is. His use of the wah-wah pedal was far beyond any of his contemporaries. I bought every album he released, whether it was solo or with a group. In the latter 70s he moved into fusion jazz and continued his groundbreaking guitar explorations.

His 1975 Blow by Blow album, produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin, was a milestone. Side two opened with a song written by Stevie Wonder and given to Jeff to record. “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” is beyond description, an emotional tour de force. On the album sleeve, Jeff dedicates this track to the great Roy Buchanan, an influential guitar player in his own right. I’ve seen Jeff play “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” many times and I’ve played it many times myself, both in concert and for fun. It’s a stunning song, with great chords and a format that allows for a significant amount of freedom to improvise over. It’s a guitar lesson in cool, and remains one of my favourite instrumentals of all time because of Jeff ‘s amazing playing. Nobody plays like Jeff Beck.

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Still Takin' Care of Business

Still Takin' Care of Business

The Randy Bachman Story
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