In a business that eats and spits out its young at an alarming rate, legendary guitarist Randy Bachman is one of rock’s most durable musical survivors. Hitting pay dirt not once but twice with the Guess Who and Bachman Tuner Overdrive, Randy’s consummate guitar playing matched with his pop smarts songwriting chops has earned him a lifetime pass on the rock and roll battleground.
His latest musical missive, Heavy Blues, finds the Canadian rocker embracing that time honored idiom. But this isn’t a dusty museum relic traipsing over old ground but rather a modern reinvention of the form. Long-time pals Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, Joe Bonamassa and the late Jeff Healey are among those six-string masters lending incendiary firepower to the classy material at hand.
Enjoy our recent interview, which incorporates video from a sit-down we were fortunate enough to have with Randy recently, below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Why a blues album?
Randy Bachman: Well, it was either that or Bruno Mars kind of stuff. I’m just joking; I like Bruno Mars. I had a challenge. I got a record deal and a challenge to do something new.
I don’t know what new is. All I can do is go back to something that is very familiar and comfort food for me and right in that genre.
So I got offered a record deal, which is pretty rare in this day and age. I met Neil Young in Nashville; l was inducted into the Nashville Musician’s Hall of Fame along with (Peter) Frampton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Eddy and a bunch of other guys. Neil was there because his pedal steel player, Ben Keith, was inducted as well. So I was chatting with Neil and he said, “What’s going on?” And I said, “I got a record deal.”
And he said, “Do yourself a favor, don’t do the same old Randy Bachman stuff and say that it’s new. Don’t give a continuum of what you’re doing. Stop, get a new band, get a producer, do something different, do something scary, go to the edge and teeter there and then jump off.” He said, “I do that every three or four years to keep myself on edge. I stop what I’m doing and go do something wacky and people think I’m insane but it keeps me going and the juices are going. You’ve gotta feel how we felt when we were playing high schools in Winnipeg doing Buddy Holly and the Ventures and trying to play it note for note perfect. You don’t get butterflies anymore.”
And I said, “You’re right. Wake me up at three in the morning and duct tape my hand behind my back and I can play ‘Takin’ Care of Business.’” And he said, “Same with me with all my songs. Do something that you’ve gotta think about, like, ‘What am I doing?’”
This all just happened at once. Got the record deal and then Neil said, “Do something new.” Went to see Tommy , the new digital Tommy with the digital screens and I’m sitting behind Pete Townshend and he leans over and goes, “The drummer’s amazing; the drummer sounds like Keith Moon.” We met the drummer, Dale Anne Brendan, and the drummer was a lady and I said, “I want to do an album with her because he plays like Keith Moon; she doesn’t play the drums, she attacks them and hits them.”
At the same time I found a band called Ladies of the Canyon, four chicks who kind of play like Crazy Horse. Loved the bass player who was wearing a John Entwistle t-shirt. Her name was Anna Ruddick. I asked her, Do you like John Entwistle?” and she said, “I love John Entwistle. I studied stand-up bass composition at McGill in Montreal but I can’t make any money playing jazz bass so I studied the late power trios which is real freedom for bass; the Jack Bruce, John Entwistle style. You play in a groove and play all this other weird stuff in between and everybody went nuts. It was very jazzy, kind of Charles Mingus/Miles Davis kind of stuff.”
These girls had never met but they’d heard of each other. So I thought, I’ll pay homage to the three great waves in my life which was Elvis; that’s what made me switch from violin to guitar and all his clones, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran. Every label then wanted and Elvis and then the Beatles and all their similarities with the Stones and the Animals and all that stuff.
And then the late ‘60s, Hendrix, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, that kind of thing. For a guitar player that was life-changing. Stuff that we had heard earlier if somebody had a 78 but now repackaged by these cool white guys who then permed their hairs. Remember when Eric Clapton permed his hair and wore frilly scarves in the psychedelic summer of love?
Louder amps and these cranked up power blues; guitar weren’t quiet anymore. They were blazing, screaming instruments with feedback and Hendrix wasn’t playing his guitar but attacking it and burning it and smashing it and Townshend was smashing it. It was like violent rock and roll. They were hitting notes that nobody had ever gotten. So I get these girls together and go, “Okay, you like the power trio British blues and you studied it in school?
I was there in ’67, ’68. I lived through that I was there when Clapton quit the Yardbirds and we all thought he was nuts because they were a hit band and then out comes Cream and you go. Oh, now I understand why he did that.” So the girls said “Sure.” So I was lucky enough to get Kevin Shirley who only had like a week off. Flew in one day, one day we worked on sounds and four days we cut 12 tracks and he flew back the next day.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You were under pressure to get the record done very quickly.
Randy Bachman: A lot of pressure.
Rock Cellar Magazine: But knowing you had a little time to over think things, did you use that to your advantage?
Randy Bachman: I like pressure and I liked deadlines. I also liked the fact that it wasn’t all on my shoulders. If the whole thing went kaput I could blame Kevin Shirley (laughs) because I had produced myself for many many years and as did Neil Young.
Neil said something very valuable to me. “When you produce yourself, you sing a track, you play a track, you love it. You’re perfect; you’re Mr. Wonderful. You have dinner, you watch Law & Order and you go to bed. It’s Groundhog Day. The next day you get up and do the same thing; another track, I’m perfect, that’s’ great. You put it out and it’s blah.”
You need to get a guy who’s a producer who’s gonna say, “You know, don’t stop now, you can’t have dinner, you can’t go to sleep until I get one more performance and I want you to pound and scream and stand up. Stop sitting down. Get up, you’re in a club, it’s the encore and the crowd’s going nuts, give me some heat, give me some volume and we would be perspiring like mad. He got performances out of us that were amazing. Most of this album was second or third takes. The first take would be me showing them the song. Kevin would say, “Speed it up, slow it, move that part the second time through. That’s it, let’s do a take.”
We’d do a take and hear it back and go, “Wow! A few mistakes but the energy is there.” That energy doesn’t exist on records anymore; everything is so plodding and perfect when it’s done on a computer.
You need to get guys in a room and don’t worry about the sound bleeding into each other’s mikes.
I’m playing one guitar on the album and it sounds huge-gantic! That’s because I’m bleeding into every mike and I’m using like six amps and 12 microphones on my guitar. When I play a chord it just fills everything; it’s incredible.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s interesting about the record is it’s not a museum relic where you’re paying homage by covering songs from blues legends like John Lee Hooker.
Randy Bachman: I started out that way. I had a tribute song for Frankie Lee Sims who nobody’s ever heard of, Bobby Bland Close to You, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. I had all that stuff with about five or six originals. And as I’d pull them out Kevin Shirley would go, “wait a minute, wait a minute, why are you doing that?” I said,” “Because I like Jimmy Reed; he was so laid back.” (sings “You got me runnin, you got me hidin’,” He’d sing like he was asleep in that Peggy Lee, sexy voice kind of soft voice).
Kevin said, “Omar from the Howlers did that with Jimmie Vaughan last year so you’re just doing what other guys have already done. So here’s a challenge, you’re not producing this; I want you to write it. Write me a Jimmy Reed song. Take the title Baby What You Want Me To Do and write a song like that.” So I wrote a song on the album and the first line is “Baby what you want me to do…“ Kevin kept saying, “Faster” because it was real slow; he’d say “Speed it up, turn it up.”
When I finished that song he came up to me and said, “Now that’s heavy blues and I went, “Wow, what a title, fabulous; I went home that night and wrote the song Heavy Blues, played it for everybody and they went nuts and loved it. Got (Peter) Frampton to play on it and it became the album title and it became the generic way to describe the album and now Blues Magazine in England has a new issue and the cover has pictures of John Mayall, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and I’m there on the cover and my article’s on the inside.
The CD that they include with it is called They Aint’ Heard Nothin’ Yet with one of my songs from the album and then a song from every other blues band. So I suddenly I fall out of this classic rock thing into the wonderful arms of this blues community all over the world. I’m getting great reviews everywhere; people are loving it and that’s because it’s not the standard 12-bar blues. So I’m driving home and I’ve got a song that’s pretty good and it’ called Bad Child and it’s a slow bluesy thing. Suddenly on the radio I hear Hendrix’s Manic Depression and then I hear Whipping Post and it’s got the same thing in the middle.
No one ever done a weird 6/8 shuffle for 40 years so I’ll try Bad Child that way. The song took on this persona that was part Hendrix, part Allman Brothers and part me, which is what I wanted and Kevin Shirley got Joe Bonamassa to solo on that. I went, “Wow, what a great idea. Maybe I’ll ask Neil (Young) if he’ll play a solo and I’ll call Christie Healey and see if I could sue a track I’d recorded with Jeff Healey. I recorded a whole live album with me, Jeff Healey and Duke Robillard. Christie said, “Sure, go ahead.”
We used a song called Early in the Morning which was a BB King song and it was Jeff’s encore where he was really playing BB King licks. Those tapes were in Calgary, Alberta, I’m in Toronto, Kevin Shirley’s now doing Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel in Australia. I listened to a cassette of the performance and called my engineer and said, “Take Jeff’s solo from ‘Early in the Morning,’ send it to Kevin Shirley via the internet. Kevin put it on my track and it fits absolutely perfectly because blues can fit because you can play late or ahead of time or on time. It was séance-like when he did that in the room and he sent me a version and it brought tears to my eyes because Jeff was a really good friend of mine.
I miss him a lot and to have him on this album and me doing the Jeff Healey trio thing but with two chicks is kind of amazing.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You have a variety of heavy guest guitar players on the record, from Joe Bonamassa to Neil Young, the kind of guy who has his own distinctive style that can only be Neil.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You recently helped solve a mystery for Beatles fans with the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night.
Randy Bachman: It is an amazing story. I had a flat in London and through a chiropractor I met Giles Martin and he was very well spoken. I knew he was a songwriter. I said, “What do you do?” and he said, “I’m kind of taking over my Dad’s work ‘cause he’s losing his hearing.” I go, “What does your dad do?” And he goes, “Well, my dad is George Martin.” (laughs)
I go, “Oh my God!” So Giles and I became very good friends. I was about to go home and the flat in my toilet breaks. I shut it off and called a plumber and he told me I needed to stay an extra day so he could get the work done. So I stayed another day and that night an email came from Giles Martin saying, “I’m remixing the Beatles stuff tomorrow for “Love” in Vegas, come to Abbey Road Studios. You can hear any Beatles song you want and you can hear anything you want, singular or soloed.”
And I go, “Wow, am I glad my toilet broke.” So I got to Abbey Road the next day and we’re in there and Giles goes, “So what do you want to hear? I’ve got all the song’s up.”
So I said, “I want to hear John Lennon do A Day in the Life”. The guitar and voice were on the same track with a little slap echo. Just to hear that little guitar beginning, I started sobbing, it was touching, we all loved the guy and he was taken from us in a really poor way.
So he said, “What else do you want to hear?” And I said, “The opening chord from A Hard Days Night” but one at a time. In Pro-Tools he was able to pull up all the individual tracks sitting naked on their own and it’s pretty amazing. So he plays me the beginning chord on Johns’ guitar and it’s a D chord with a sus 4 which is a G on top. Then he plays the bass note which is a weird bass note and then he plays George Harrison’s chord on the guitar which can only be done on a =Rickenbacker guitar because the strings on a Rickenbacker are in the reverse order of any other 12-string.
And there’s also a piano note playing the three bottom notes together, which was an absolute squash. It’s a G, a C and a D on the bottom end; there’s no F. When you hear all those chords together you think those things don’t fit and if you play it separately it’s really weird.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s your take on the vinyl resurgence?
Randy Bachman: I love vinyl and I love that moment of expectation where you hear the needle dropping on the record (imitates the riff of Whole Lotta Love); you know something is coming right next. I have a radio show called Randy’s Vinyl Tap on CBC Radio, which has been on for eight or nine years. I play all my old vinyl for two hours and tell my story of each song. When I met Ringo Starr and toured with his band, when I met Brian Wilson in the ‘60s before he retired and after he retired and when he came on the road with Eugene Landy. I tell all those stories that nobody else has heard. It’s been a very successful radio show but I love the vinyl.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do you have a Holy Grail vinyl that you value the most?
Randy Bachman: The first one that I bought was a ’78 and it was a goldmine because it was Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel, which has really really nice guitar playing.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Scotty Moore.
Randy Bachman: When he does that second solo (imitates solo), whatever those chords are, it’s just amazing. It’s almost like the Hard Days Night chord; I don’t know what that is. I’ll have to ask him if I ever see him.
Then I read this amazing thing in Goldmine Magazine that this guy used to be a promo man for Sun Records in Memphis. He was getting a little senile and his kid saw a TV commercial and got him these herbs for his brain. Suddenly this guy starts to remember things and he wakes up in the middle of the night and goes, “Oh my God, let’s go to our old house.”
They said, “What!? We sold out house 30 years ago.” He said, “Let’s go back there.” So he knocked on the door and says to the guy, “Can I look in the basement?” and the guy says, “Are you kidding?” And he goes, “No, I used to own this house and I used to live here, I think I left something in the basement.” So he goes down there and in the closet they had a heating duct that was rattling and above the heating duct he put a box of 45s of That’s All Right Mama or Mystery Train.
Mint. He found that box. He gave one copy to the guy who owned the house and took the rest with him. They’re being sold for four and five and ten thousand a single.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Speaking of Elvis, was BTO’s smash hit named Takin’ Care of Business after Elvis’ slogan?
Randy Bachman: No, he named it after the song. After Elvis passed away, maybe three years after I saw a show on HBO and they were interviewing Priscilla (Presley). They said, “How did Elvis get the TCB and the lightning bolts” and she said, “Well, we were driving from our house in L.A . to Memphis. On the way to the airport we heard a song by a Canadian band—she didn’t name the band- the song was ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and Elvis went, “Wow, what a great song, I want that to be my logo, TCB with a lighting bolt.’”
It’s on his tombstone and everything else. That was his thing. I played classical violin from the age of five to about 15. I was asked to play the Winnipeg symphony and play second violin and realized I couldn’t read music; I was playing by ear. When I found I couldn’t read music, I quit violin that night and the next night I saw Elvis on TV doing Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel; that was the first ’78 I bought.
It meant everything to me. You could only afford one record and you played it over and over. You learned every “ooh” and “ah” The Jordanaires sang and every hand clap in Hound Dog and every guitar part. You looked at who wrote it and who produced it and then you’d loan it to your friend and get another one. That’s how we learned out music, studying one page at a time in the book of rock and roll.
Then you got a Bill Haley record and you tried to play the solo in Rock Around the Clock. And that last lick, nobody knows what that was. The guy got paid twenty five bucks to do that solo. So you learn all that kind of stuff from studying that.