I was thrilled to be asked to review BACHMAN, a new documentary about Randy Bachman, who was the BACHMAN in Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I was even more delighted that I enjoyed it as much as I did.
Randy Bachman hit #1 with two separate bands. First in The Guess Who with “American Woman,” and then in Bachman-Turner Overdrive with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” He was the biggest rock star Canada had produced at that time, and a couple of Canadians who walked through the door behind him; Neil Young, and Rush’s Alex Lifeson appear in the film rightly singing Randy’s praises.
I’ve been a fan of Bachman-Turner Overdrive almost as long as I can remember. It was so long ago, that I didn’t yet question where band names came from. To me they were brand names, like; Kleenex, or Mop & Glo, or KISS. KISS ultimately took this concept a little too far with the KISS casket… “Bachman-Turner Overdrive” sounded bad-ass, and that worked for me. In the 70’s, amid the sensitive singer/songwriters that swarmed the airwaves, the emergence of disco, and the CB radio craze, their name made them sound like they could “put the pedal to the metal” and leave all challengers in the dust. And for a while, they did.
To this day, B.T.O.’s “Greatest Hits (So Far)” album is a favorite of mine. “Hey You,” “Let It Ride,” “Roll On Down The Highway,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” and Takin’ Care of Business” are all blue-collar classics. After close to 50 years of listening to those songs, I still perk up when I hear them. I was in a “old-guy” barber shop, years ago, when “Let It Ride” came down the bent antennae of the portable radio (over by the farthest sink) and out of it’s tinny speaker. The trebly tone transported me to the days of AM radio, like a jacked-up Torino takes you to The Tastee Freeze. For those who are too young to remember; AM stood for “almost modern.”
The cameras follow Randy Bachman to Lethbridge Alberta, home of his archives, which is largely full of guitars. He gleefully shows off a few, including a “Hank Marvin Model” Fender Stratocaster signed by The Shadows’ lead guitarist himself. Bachman comes alive (which reminds me, Peter Frampton is also in the film) when he’s showing off his guitar collection, and this portion of the film is pure porn for guitarists. Randy pulls out “The B.T.O. Strat” and gleefully says; “It’s been thirty years, and it’s still in tune!” Watching him play the guitar I grew up hearing him play gave me goosebumps. Had he pulled out his old headband, I might have lost consciousness.
Two less-famous people tell stories on camera, journalist Terry David Mulligan, and Randy’s brother Gary Bachman, and I learned that American’s have been pronouncing the band name wrong all these years; it’s BACK-man not BACH-man. Gary paints a picture of their father as a hardworking man, and Randy shares that his father used to say; “You like to work at nothin’ all day,” an expression that made it’s way into his smash hit; “Takin’ Care Of Business.” Randy had better luck at turning his father’s favorite expressions into hit songs than I did, as evidenced by my first single; “You Stupid Son-Of-A-Bitch” sinking like a stone. My follow-up single: “This Kid Gets All A’s In School, & All D’s At Home” didn’t fare any better.
Also present is Chad Allen, who was the front man for the original incarnation of The Guess Who. Chad Allen tells how he went to see Bachman play guitar, was blown away, and asked Bachman to join his group. Bachman brought his friend Gary Peterson along, and they quickly became the biggest band in the area. They went through a lot of name changes; from Slivertones, Reflections, Expressions, and finally The Guess Who. Allen’s name was out front through most of them. When they scored their biggest hit; “Shakin’ All Over” they were going by Chad Allen & The Expressions.” In an attempt to build mystique around the band, their label released the single credited to “Guess Who?” to imply it was a well-known band choosing to release a song incognito. And before you could say “Engelbert Humperdinck” the name stuck.
When their keyboardist left, Randy invited Burton Cummings to join the newly renamed group, which lead to Chad Allen moving on. Lead singers are like roosters in a barnyard. You only need one. Presumably because Chad is on screen “playing nice,” he’s present, but his replacement is not, even though Bachman cut an album and toured with Cummings back in 2007.
In one segment, Randy tells how, in the early days, he took his songwriting inspiration from the music coming out of London—that the aforementioned Shadows and The Beatles gave him a template for how to write songs. Bachman tells of the summer the band spent struggling in London, and of the terrible contract they were offered and turned down. He explains that his memories of that summer are crystal clear—because you tend to remember traumatic events more sharply than enjoyable ones. That explains why the memories from my second marriage are much more vivid than the first.
Randy’s son, Tal Bachman, of “She’s So High” fame, tells how his father converted to Mormonism because he wanted to marry Tal’s mother. It suited Bachman, who never drank or did drugs; choosing instead to focus on his guitar playing and songwriting. As Neil Young says onscreen: “Randy had an expanded mind from the beginning.” The rest of The Guess Who’s habits hewed a hair’s-breadth from hedonism (which is a common tongue twister in Canada). It created tension, and Bachman was struggling with health issues, so in May of 1970, Randy left his own band and returned home to Winnipeg.
It’s not mentioned in the film, but Bachman released a solo album between The Guess Who and his next band, Brave Belt. Bachman asked his brother Gary to manage Brave Belt, which morphed into Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Gary steadily guided them toward success.
Gary Bachman was responsible for putting his brother and Turner together. Fred Turner’s version of “House Of The Rising Sun” had caught his attention, and Gary convinced Randy to listen to Turner sing from outside a pub he was playing. Randy initially refused to go in, because they sold alcohol. After determining that Fred Turner wasn’t into the rock & Roll lifestyle, he was asked to join the new group with Bachman, Bachman’s other brother Robbie, and Chad Allan.
Between Brave Belt’s two albums, once again, Chad Allan chose to leave the band.
If I had a band, I’d hire Chad Allan, replace him, and then sit back and count the money. It’s as good a formula for success as any other… after all, it’s worked twice. With the second album almost finished, Allan was replaced on guitar by another Bachman brother, Tim, and the rest of the group we now know as Bachman-Turner Overdrive was complete. They were a huge success by their second album under that name, eventually releasing five albums in a row that went gold.
Gary Bachman explains that Bruce Allen was the biggest manager in Vancouver, and tells how he approached Allen to take over the management of the band. Allen’s view was that Randy had achieved success once, so he could do it again, and he convinced the band to move to Vancouver. Terry David Mulligan says: “The rule of thumb with Bruce Allen was if you weren’t prepared to give up your life to the stage, & the road, then don’t talk to him.” Bruce had B.T.O. play 330 gigs a year for three years, which paid off.
By 1974 B.T.O. were one of the biggest acts in rock & roll. Bachman moved his family south to Washington State and built a mansion on an estate fit for a Beatle. The barn housed Randy’s studio and his office. The constant touring strained his ten year marriage, especially in the days before cell phones when, as Randy says; “You couldn’t even call your wife everyday.”
B.T.O. 2 went gold on the strength of the single “Takin’ Care Of Business,” and their first album quickly followed suit. By album #3, 1974’s Not Fragile, the band hit the top slot with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” As manager Bruce Allen says onscreen: “You start thinking it’s going to go on forever, and it isn’t going to go on forever.”
Mercury Records put a lot of pressure on the band, Randy put a lot of pressure on himself, and he burned himself out. He started to take more lead vocals which put a rift in place of the hyphen between Bachman and Turner. In the mid-70’s disco came along, and the label started to lose faith in the band. When Turner didn’t like the most recent album, he suggested they go their own ways. Again, Bachman left his own group, at their suggestion, and the band continued on to diminishing returns after changing their name to “BTO” and paying Randy for their use of the abbreviated version.
At this point, Bachman released a second solo album; Survivor, which is not mentioned in the film. Bachman’s “Takin’ Care Of Christmas” album, isn’t mentioned either—and this supplicatory scribe urges you to buy a copy. I did, and it’s like Weird Al possessed Bachman in the studio on Christmas Eve. After his second solo album, Bachman formed Ironhorse. Being gone half of the time finally took it’s toll on his marriage, and the Bachmans divorced.
Because Randy Bachman cooperated with the making of this film, it contains a wealth of cool promo and passport photos from Bachman’s own archives. The downside is that there’s none of the dirt we’ve come to expect; compliments of “Behind The Music.”
What isn’t mentioned in the documentary is that Randy played in B.T.O. with two of his siblings. Neither of them appear on screen, nor does his ex-wife. It hints that there might be some darkness that’s been excised from the documentary, but that’s usually the case where the artist is involved to the degree that Randy is involved in BACHMAN.
In 1984, Randy Bachman fronted a re-formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive that included his brother Tim, and the band opened for Van Halen for an entire tour. Because Tim was involved, their other brother Robbie dropped out of the ’84 tour, rejoining again in ’88. Tim and Robbie each “brought home the Bachman” by leading later versions of BTO in between, which is probably why they aren’t in the film. Randy’s replacement was named Randy, and Bachman understandably felt his fans would be mislead into believing he was still in the band.
Wikipedia suggests Tim Bachman may not have been included because—in addition to dabbling in the rock and roll lifestyle—there were sexual assault charges filed against him in Canada in 2010. He was found not guilty, but there were allegations again in 2014. Those charges were “stayed” which means the court decided not to proceed but reserves the right to resume prosecution if the defendant doesn’t stay out of trouble. If Randy isn’t going to go into a pub, he certainly isn’t down with that.
Leaving all that negativity out of the documentary was the right decision. So what if the dirt’s been rinsed off the story like a prepackaged salad? It’s a great story, it’s a wonderfully-executed documentary, and Bachman is long overdue. And, after all, he’s the focus. I’ve given you the grit—now treat yourself to a positive film experience. I loved BACHMAN! And it’s available for pre-order now!