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The Gibson Interview with Randy Bachman (Part 1)

The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive guitarist discusses his new collaboration with Fred Turner and tells the magical story of how he got his first Les Paul

Bryan Wawzenek
|
06.11.2010

Randy Bachman has spent the last decade reconnecting with old friends. First, he reunited with The Guess Who, cranking up hits such as “American Woman” and “No Time” in stadiums around the world. He then toured and recorded with his Guess Who bandmate Burton Cummings. Now, Randy has re-teamed with his other legendary collaborator – Fred Turner. The new group, christened Bachman & Turner, will release a new album of ’70s style rock and roll on September 7. The guys are also on the road this summer, including a stop at Sweden Rock Festival on Saturday. Randy recently talked to Gibson.com about reconnecting with his old pal and told us the amazing story of how he came to own his first Les Paul.

Tell me a little bit about this new project and your new tour and how you got back together with Fred Turner.

Well, I have done a couple of side, jazz projects and have had requests for decades on why I don’t do a whole album of that. Back with The Guess Who I wrote “Undun,” which was for its day, which was ’68-’69, was the only pop-rock jazz song that was ever put on the Top 10, Top 20 Billboard by a pop-rock band. Then later with BTO – “Blue Collar,” “Looking Out for Number One.” So I have always indulged about every dozen songs, every second or third album, put in a jazzy kind of song. And everyone said, “Do a whole album of that.”

So I did a couple of albums with that. Like I’m going to be a Pat Matheny kind of thing or something. And I never really was, but I got to open for George Benson and at the Toronto Jazz Festival and then a year later I headlined the Toronto Jazz Festival. And I shot a DVD and I got to a certain level and had agents coming to see me because I wanted to do all the jazz festivals. And they came and said, “You know, you’re never going to be George Benson or Pat Metheny.” So I said, “I know that, I know that, I’m just me, O.K.? But I can play pretty good and blah, blah, blah.” And they said, “You will always be a B-plus jazz artist, but if you go in you go back to classic rock, which you know and everybody knows you for, you can come out (like a) shiny A or maybe an A-plus, once in a while. And by the way, your money will have an extra zero or two on the back end of it.” And I said, “Well, O.K.” They said, “So what’s your next album?” I told them and they said, “Why don’t you just switch it to more rock and roll, bluesy stuff and just get away from it. You can still do jazz on stage for every seventh or eighth song,” which I still do, but just do a project of rock and roll.

So I asked a couple of friends to be on it and I had a track with Neil Young. I had a track with Paul Rodgers and I had a track with Jeff Healy before he passed away. We recorded a bunch of stuff together and I thought, “While I’ve got these friends on here, I am going to get one more. I’m going to ask Fred Turner to sing on the track.” So I sent him one called “Rock n’ Roll is the Only Way Out,”which I felt was another “Taking Care of Business” anthem. And he sent me the track back and I went, “Unbelievable. Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it.” Me and him together, there’s this magic, like a Jagger and Richards kind of thing.

I e-mailed him and said, “Do you have any more songs? Fred, I’m willing to change my solo album and it can become a Bachman & Turner album.” He said, “Sounds pretty good. I got really excited about doing this song.” So he sent me four or five of his songs and I sent him more of mine and we got together just before Christmas, in December, in Winnipeg. And it was freezing cold, as it should be, and we finished this album out. It’s quite amazing and it’s called Bachman & Turner and is coming out in September. Were playing Sweden Rock (Fesitval) on June the 12th in Sweden and High Voltage Festival in London on July 25 with all our old friends like Peter Frampton, Foreigner, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, ZZ Top, Aerosmith. Just all these buddies of ours from the ’70s all back and out, and Bob Seger, and everyone’s out touring and were hooking up with them again. It’s a thrill to be alive, and still rockin’ and rollin’.

That’s fantastic. I don’t know if this was ever brought up but did you toy with the idea of calling this project Bachman Turner Overdrive again?

We did but we had trouble with the other guys in the band and not wanting to confuse, you know, the past and the present. And because we had started out not wanting to be BTO doing old songs. We started out with a new album of 12 new songs so we thought maybe a slightly new name. And we actually had an injunction that we couldn’t use BTO, even though I own the name, because of the confusion with copyright and stuff. So we said … and all the copyright guys say nobody can stop you from using your own name. So were just going with Bachman and Turner. Meanwhile, if people want to assume that or they want to say that (it’s BTO), but you can’t put it in writing or on a product. So we said that’s really good because it rings in the old but also rings in the new. Our set’s probably going to be two or three new songs to start and the rest are going to be “Let it Ride” and “Taking Care of Business” and those kinds of songs that we wrote and sang for BTO. And then as the album comes out and gets more radio airplay and people get familiar, we’ll be adding more and more new songs until it’s about half and half.

I did listen to “Rock n’ Roll is the Only Way Out,” which is available as a free download on your website, and I don’t think people are going to mind that being played with the older hits because it is very similar. 

Well, that’s what everyone has been saying to me that’s it’s like the missing or lost album from 1976. This album belongs on radio. On modern classic radio, this fits right in. And I’ve had a lot of guys in radio and in the business say, “You know what, when a band from like the ’70s and ’80s get back together, they make the mistake of trying to make it like a 2010 album. And nobody wants them to sound that way. They want you to sound like you used to in 1972 or ’74 or when they bought your album.” And luckily, with my old studio gear, I still have it all. Like my old board and tape recorders and all the old guitars and amps, and old microphones. I very luckily, but purposely, made this album sound like the ’70s. And it really sounds warm and rockin’ on the radio. If you take it out of your computer and burn a CD and play it in your car, that’s where it will really shake your seats of your car.

That’s the perfect venue. That song sounds a clue to the album, but can you give us more of an idea of what it sounds like?

Each song is based on a riff, a guitar riff. You know, growing up I wanted to be a songwriter. I copied the hits of the day, which was pretty much Chuck Berry, and every song began with a great guitar riff. Then the Beatles came in and they did the same thing like “Day Tripper” with one cord or like “A Hard Day’s Night,” where it signifies what the song is. I mean Led Zeppelin – and you can hear the guitar riffs, every single one of our songs has a particular groove and guitar riff that it starts with so that the minute you hear that, you’re going to know what the song is. Once you hear the song once, and you just sort of fall into it.

So I took famous guitar riffs like “Sunshine of Your Love” and cut it up and tore it in half and reversed it and then cut it in half. It’s like you get married and your wife cooks something, but she always calls and gets your mother’s recipes. So you really like what she cooks. It’s like my mother’s recipe. So that’s what it’s like – something you’ve tasted before but it’s a little bit like it and a little bit different. The riffs, they’re all really familiar. There’s one that very Zeppelin-ish and there’s one that’s very Hendrix and there’s one that very Neil Young. Actually, (it’s) a song I wrote for Neil Young to record with him. And so the song I wrote for Paul Rodgers is on there but without Paul and I’m still in touch with these guys and we’re friends and everything, but they also realize the importance of me getting back together with Fred Turner. You know I went to see The Eagles in London last year and was hanging out with Joe Walsh and the first thing he said to me was, “Is there any chance of you and Turner getting back together?” and I said “Um, yeah, ’cause there is something going on.”

What guitars have you been playing lately?

I’m back playing my ’59 and ’57 Gibsons, which is a thrill. And I’m so happy that the Gibson Custom Shop shaved them out so they don’t weigh as much as my old ones. My old ’59 Les Paul, the “American Woman” one, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. So it’s on display there for two or three years; and it’s been valued at over a million dollars because it’s one of the only ones that was made with the factory Bigsby.

I had [a friend at Gibson] call me from Toronto a couple of years ago and said, “I’m the new Gibson rep up in Canada. Why aren’t you playing your Les Paul anymore?” I said, “It’s like 14 or 15 pounds to play, hours and hours a day is really hurting my back on stage. But I play sitting down in the studio and I bring it back in the case.” And she says, “What if I can get you one exactly the same or a ’57 Gold Top that sounded the same but weighed under eight pounds?” And I said, “Wow, if you bring me that and it does all the above, I’ll play it.” So a week later I was playing in a theater in Toronto with Burton Cummings. We had a sell-out of about 25,000 people and we’re doing sound check. We’re at the last song at sound check and she walks in. And she brought me a ’57 Gold Top that weighed seven pounds and gave it to me on stage and I plugged it in and played it the way it was and Burton Cummings came over and said, “Where has that guitar been for the last four months and why haven’t you had it?” I played it that night and haven’t stopped playing it. So it was really great. And since then, because my ’59 ’Burst went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, I now have a couple of ’Bursts. 

Speaking about your Les Pauls, when did you get your first one? 

My first Les Paul was that particular one, that ’59. And I got it in like 1968. Oh, you’re gonna love this story. So I was playing a gig, this was in Canada in a place called Nanaimo, which is on Vancouver Island. I’m with The Guess Who. We have a weekly television show, so people from there know what we look like. And my guitar had broken in half and it was being repaired. So I would record with any guitar I could borrow. So when I went on television to fake it – ’cause we just sang live but pre-recorded the band tracks – someone had given me an old Mosrite, which was very hard to play because the neck was very thin. So I had that guitar as a spare with me in Nanaimo and I’m playing in the church basement and the stage is about six inches high. You know, it’s where they play basketball and bingo and those sorts of things. And there’s a minister there taking the money because it’s a church dance where they’re trying to keep the kids off the street and stuff like that.

So in the middle of me struggling through the first song, a young kid walks in the door with a little brown case. And right away my eyes go ba-ding! And he walks to the front of the stage and he opens it and I look down and it’s a sunburst ’59 Les Paul with a Bigsby on it. And he points to the guitar in the case and he points to me and what I’m playing and I shook my head. I mean I’m right in the front singing with the other guy in The Guess Who and sort in the middle of the song we switch guitars. So I’m unplugged and the whole band looks at me like, “What’s going on, where’s your guitar?” And I plug in this guitar and it’s out of tune and takes me the whole song to tune up because with a Bigsby, you have to tune it and tune and tune it. So I’m playing it the whole night and it sings and plays like butter. It’s amazing. The end of the night the kid’s standing there and I go up and say, “Thanks a lot, that was the treat of a lifetime.” And I go to give it back to him and he says, “You don’t want to trade?” And I said, “What?!” And he said, “Well, I thought we did a trade.” And I said, “You mean that’s what you meant when you pointed to that and you pointed to the Mosrite and us switching them?” And he said, “Yeah. This is my uncle’s old guitar and I’ve seen you play on TV and saw this and want to have a guitar like (the Mosrite).” And I said, “Well, honestly, this is not a fair trade.” And I got the minister to come and witness that I had traded that Mosrite with the serial number for this Gibson with a serial number and I gave him all the change I had in my pocket which was 72 dollars and some pennies. That was our bill of trade and our bill of sale. That guitar went on to play in the Guess Who. It’s what’s on “American Woman” and in Bachman Turner Overdrive. And now that’s the guitar that’s in the Hall of Fame.

Click here for the conclusion of the Gibson Interview, in which Randy talks about his long-standing friendship with Les Paul, the amount of great music that has come out of Winnipeg and becoming an animated character on The Simpsons.

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