Bachman–Turner Overdrive is a Canadian rock group from Winnipeg, Manitoba, that had a series of hit albums and singles in the 1970s, selling over 7 million albums in that decade alone. Their 1970s catalog included five Top 40 albums and six Top 40 singles. The band has sold nearly 30 million albums worldwide, and has fans affectionately known as "gearheads" (derived from the band's gear-shaped logo). Many of their songs, including "Let It Ride", "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet", "Takin' Care of Business", "Hey You" and "Roll On Down the Highway", still receive play on classic-rock stations.
After the band went into a hiatus in 2005, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner reunited in 2009 to tour and collaborate on a new album. In 2010, they played the halftime show at the Grey Cup in Edmonton, AB.
Early history 1971–1973
The precursor to BTO was the band Brave Belt, formed in Winnipeg in 1971 by Randy Bachman and Chad Allan, both formerly of The Guess Who, and drummer Robin "Robbie" Bachman. Randy initially planned to just produce a solo album for Allan, but eventually both he and Robbie stepped in to provide much of the instrumental work. When the record label wanted them to tour, Randy (at the suggestion of Neil Young) called fellow Winnipeg bassist/vocalist C.F. "Fred" Turner to perform in the band's scheduled gigs.
Brave Belt's self-titled first album did not sell particularly well and Allan left the band shortly after the supporting tour started. Not having a lead vocal replacement ready, Turner was asked to be a full-time member and sing lead for the recording of Brave Belt II in 1972. Brave Belt II also failed to achieve major chart success and in mid-1972 their tour in support of the album was canceled halfway through. But Turner's influence had started to make itself felt as the band morphed from pure country rock to a harder, guitar-heavy sound featuring Turner's gruff, powerful voice.
Chad Allan appears as a vocalist on two Brave Belt II songs but was essentially out of the band for any supporting tours. During this period, Tim Bachman was added as a second guitarist because the band had felt their three-piece arrangement was too restrictive. After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, the band landed a new recording deal from Mercury Records, one which Randy Bachman proclaimed as a pure stroke of luck.
After their demo tape had been rejected 26 times, Bachman was prepared to tell the other band members that they would no longer be able to remain on salary, "And they had to go and get the dreaded day jobs". Fate took a different course. In April 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach then picked up the tape and noticed Bachman's name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him. While playing the first song on the 7½ inch reel, "Gimme Your Money Please", Fach called Bachman to tell him that he wanted to sign the band.
At this point the band’s demo tape was still called Brave Belt III. Fach convinced the band that a brand new name was needed; one that capitalized on the name recognition of the band members. The band had already mulled over using their surnames (à la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). While on their way back from a gig in Toronto, the group had spotted a copy of a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive at a Windsor, Ontario truckstop, after which Turner wrote "Bachman–Turner Overdrive" and the initials "B.T.O." on a serviette. The rest of the band decided the addition of "Overdrive" was the perfect way to describe their music.
BTO released their eponymous first album in May 1973. The album broke through in the U.S. via border towns such as Detroit and Buffalo and stayed on the charts for many weeks despite lacking a true hit single. The Turner-penned "Blue Collar" reached #21 on the Canadian RPM charts, but stalled at #68 on the U.S. charts. The album's eventual success was very much the result of the band's relentless touring. Reportedly, Fach had only agreed to put this album on the Mercury label if the band would promote it with a heavy concert schedule. In any market where the band was getting significant airplay, Bachman–Turner Overdrive would immediately travel there regardless of the tour routing to build momentum, and it paid off. B.T.O. I would later be certified gold in 1974 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It was a precursor to their upcoming success.
Breakthrough and success 1973–1976
Their second album, Bachman–Turner Overdrive II, was released in December 1973 and became a massive hit in the U.S. (peaking at #4 in 1974) and their native Canada. It was originally to be titled "Adrenaline Rush". It also yielded two of their best known hit singles, "Let It Ride" and "Takin' Care of Business". Randy had already written the core of "Takin' Care of Business" several years earlier as "White Collar Worker" while in The Guess Who, but that band had felt it was not their type of song. It reappeared in BTO's repertoire during the supporting gigs for the first album primarily, as Randy put it, "To give Fred Turner a chance to rest his voice". Randy had heard DJ Darryl Burlingham say the day before a gig, "We're takin' care of business on C-Fox radio", and he decided to insert the lyrics "takin' care of business" into the chorus where "white collar worker" previously existed.
Tim Bachman left the band in early 1974 shortly after the release of Bachman–Turner Overdrive II. There are differing accounts of the reasons for his departure. Many state he left because of personal and lifestyle issues...that he was getting married and/or wanted to study record engineering and concert promotion. But in a 2002 interview, brother Robbie said, "He was basically asked to leave. He wasn't BTO caliber [and] it was difficult to rely on him. I guess the band was conflicting with his whole life."
B.T.O. continued a very busy tour schedule and during the supporting tour for BTO II, Tim was replaced by Blair Thornton, who had been in the Vancouver-based band Crosstown Bus. The first album with the modified lineup, 1974’s Not Fragile (a play on the hit album Fragile by Yes), became a massive hit and reached #1 on the Canadian and U.S. album charts. It included the #1 single "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" and AOR favorite "Roll On Down the Highway". The band continued to steadily produce successful albums through the mid-1970s including Four Wheel Drive and Head On (both 1975). Each of these albums produced a hit single: "Hey You" (from Four Wheel Drive) and "Take It Like A Man" (from Head On). The latter song featured a guest appearance by Little Richard, who wailed away on his piano. Head On also featured the jazzy Randy Bachman composition "Lookin' Out for #1", which garnered considerable airplay on both traditional rock stations and also soft rock stations which normally did not play bands like B.T.O. In between the latter two albums, B.T.O. released their only non-album single "Down To The Line". This song would appear on some of the later compilation CD's, as well as on re-issues of the Head On album in CD format.
The first B.T.O. compilation album, Best of BTO (So Far), was released in 1976 and featured songs from each of the band's first five studio albums. A single—a re-release of "Gimme Your Money Please"—was put out from this album, and it also charted well keeping B.T.O. on both the AM & FM airwaves. This compilation album became the best-selling Bachman–Turner Overdrive album to date, reaching Double Platinum status in the U.S.
Disbandments and reunions 1977–1991
Freeways, a sixth studio album released in 1977, would signal the initial unraveling of the band. The song "My Wheels Won't Turn" was BTO's first single since their first album that didn't chart in the U.S. Turner was reportedly so unhappy with Freeways that he refused to have his photograph taken face-on for the cover art because he felt he had become a "sideman". Only two of the album's eight tracks featured Turner on lead vocals, and there was only one Turner composition, "Life Still Goes On (I'm Lonely)". The remaining lead vocals and compositions are all credited to Randy Bachman.
Randy Bachman left the group following Freeways. His initial intention was to temporarily disband while he worked on a solo project, "But it was decided by management it wouldn't work". He conceded, "We also ran out of common interests". Randy was replaced by bassist Jim Clench, formerly of April Wine. Bassist Turner moved to rhythm guitar with Thornton becoming the primary lead guitarist. Clench and Turner shared lead vocal duties. Even though this lineup included drummer Robbie Bachman, the band had to record and tour only as "BTO" because of an agreement with Randy who wanted to retain the rights to his surname for his solo career. While Randy kept the rights to the full Bachman name, the remaining band members bought the rights to "BTO" and the gear logo. The re-structured BTO released Street Action in 1978. The album became a commercial failure, spawning no hit singles. The band also released Rock n' Roll Nights in 1979 and disbanded after the supporting tour for that album had finished. Although the Rock n' Roll Nights album sold very poorly (an estimated 250,000 copies world wide), it produced a semi-successful single called "Heartaches." Written by Turner, it reached number 60 on the U.S. charts, making it the first BTO single in three years to chart in the U.S. BTO played this song live on American Bandstand in 1979, along with another single from the same album called "Jamaica". Fred Turner and Jim Clench also appeared on Bryan Adams' debut album in 1980 as session musicians. (Adams had written one song, "Wastin' Time", for BTO for the Rock n' Roll Nights album.)
On November 3, 2010, Jim Clench died in a Montreal hospital after a battle with stage 4 lung cancer.
Randy recorded the solo album Survivor in 1978, then went on to form the short-lived Ironhorse in 1979. Ironhorse released two albums, Ironhorse and Everything Is Grey, before disbanding. Tom Sparks was the vocalist for the first Ironhorse album, along with Randy, but was replaced by Frank Ludwig for the second album in 1980. Sparks reportedly did not like the constant touring and being away from home for such long amounts of time. A reformed version of Ironhorse, renamed as "Union", released one album in 1981 entitled On Strike. Fred Turner was a member of Union along with Randy Bachman.
BTO reunited in 1983. Their line-up for their first studio LP in five years consisted of Randy and Tim Bachman, Fred Turner, and former Guess Who drummer Garry Peterson. Younger brother Robbie Bachman declined to participate after business and trademark disagreements with Randy and the others:
- "When Randy wanted to get back together again, I said, 'Okay, let's have a publishing company with the band. Let's all write the tunes. We'll all share equally and there won't be any more animosity.' He said no, so I got up and left. Blair wasn't asked to rejoin because Randy knew that Blair wouldn't take any crap like Timmy would. They went out and started to use the name BTO within a year and the same trademark that Randy sold to us! So Blair and I sued him and we won. They had to pay us royalties."
The new album, simply (and confusingly) titled Bachman–Turner Overdrive, was released in 1984 on Charlie Fach’s new Compleat label. Billy Chapman, their drum tech, contributed keyboards to their stage shows.
In 1986 they released a live album culled from their 1985 tour called Live! Live! Live! which featured two new tracks, "Bad News Travels Fast" and "Fragile Man." Fragile Man was actually a studio recording with the audience sound added to it. A studio version of "Bad News Travels Fast" was released on the soundtrack for the movie Body Slam. They were the opening band for the new Sammy Hagar-fronted Van Halen on their 5150 tour in 1986. This plum opening slot was done by a trio lineup of Randy, Tim and Garry Peterson (allegedly with some bass parts and Fred's voice provided via tapes) since Fred Turner had been unavailable when the group was first contacted by Van Halen’s management. Chapman later stepped in as drummer for Peterson after the latter severely injured his leg while playing softball during the group’s downtime on the road.
After the Van Halen tour ended, Randy split and Tim kept going briefly as BTO (see lineups below). The others reluctantly gave him permission to do so in order to get his way out of debt. Billy Chapman later became the drummer for Randy Bachman's band and drummed on Randy's 1993 solo album Any Road.
In 1988 the 1974–77 Not Fragile line-up (Randy, Fred, Blair, Robbie) reformed once again, took to the road and recorded an unknown number of songs together. The only song to make it out into the public by this version of the band was a cover of the song Wooly Bully, which is only available on the American Boyfriends movie soundtrack. But by late 1991, Randy Bachman had left the group again. Two explanations exist for this happening. The first, according to Randy Bachman, was that the band wanted to take a break. But at some point the other members decided they wanted to continue doing concerts, because the money was too good to pass up. Randy stated they asked him to tour with them, but he was working on another project and had to decline. The others then chose to go on as BTO without him. In the second explanation, the other members (particularly Robbie and Blair) have maintained that Randy quit.
Trial by Fire era (1991–2005)
Randy Bachman was replaced by Randy Murray after his last departure from the band in late 1991 (Murray had been in Tim Bachman's 1987–88 touring incarnations of BTO). This reconstituted version of BTO proved to be its most enduring as they toured together from 1991 until December 2004. Trial by Fire: Greatest and Latest was released in 1996 and was their last album to contain any new material.
The sibling rivalry between Robbie and Randy that had started with the 1984 reunion album continued during this era. Said Randy in a 1999 interview, "They said, 'We'll just call ourselves BTO. People will know you're not there.' The problem is when BTO pulls into town, the radio, the press people, call them Bachman-Turner Overdrive. It's like Coke and Coca-Cola, two names that go hand in hand. It kind of gets represented that I'm there and when they play the gig, I clearly am not there. [And] they've got another guy to take my place who unfortunately is named Randy. So there's this inference that I'm there and I'm not there, which is a disservice to the fans". Replied brother Robbie, "Randy Murray doesn't fill anyone's shoes. He brings his own".
In 2003 the Canadian Music Hall of Fame voted to induct Bachman–Turner Overdrive into the museum. However, the band would have had to play as the Not Fragile line-up, meaning the inclusion of Randy Bachman to the band for that performance. The current version of BTO at the time declined the invitation unless they could be inducted as "BTO" without Randy Bachman playing on stage. The Hall refused and the band was not inducted.
In an interview in 2004, Rob Bachman had stated that BTO was working on nine or ten new songs. It has been reported from numerous sources that the band could not get a good label to release the project and wanted this album to be distributed and publicized well, unlike what happened to the Trial by Fire CD. There was also a plan to release a live DVD/CD from a show in 2003 in their hometown of Winnipeg, but thus far this has not happened.
Since the last disbandment of the band in 2005, several of their albums have been reissued. The first one to be made available again since the disbandment was Freeways in 2005, followed by Bachman–Turner Overdrive II in 2006 and Four Wheel Drive in 2008. Brave Belt I and Brave Belt II were re-released on a single CD March 17, 2009.
Although Rob and Blair have remained very reticent about BTO since late 2004, Rob has been rumored to state he no longer wishes to play in the band and has hung up his drum sticks.
On January 23, 2009 Tim Bachman played on stage at one of Randy Bachman's shows, the first time they have played on stage together since 2003. Randy Bachman, who already hosts the successful radio show "Randy's Vinyl Tap", will be the host of a new television show called "Road to Guitar", which will be airing on the Discovery Channel. He was on tour with Burton Cummings during the summer of 2009, and added dates for the Randy Bachman Band in the United States and Canada for August and September.
Randy Murray still plays occasional shows around the Vancouver area. He is the only Trial by Fire–era member of BTO to have played shows after the disbandment in January 2005. Like Rob, Murray has also stated he no longer wishes to be in BTO.
Bachman & Turner reunion 2009–present
Due to the intense interest in a Bachman-Turner reunion, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner announced their reteaming on December 8, 2009 in their hometown of Winnipeg.
Information on the 2010 Bachman & Turner tour and the new album was povided at their new website http://bachmanandturner.com. As Randy wrote on the site, the project started with his request to Turner that he sing lead on the song, "Rock 'n Roll Is the Only Way Out". But after hearing the track with Turner's vocals, Randy asked if his former bandmate could contribute more vocals and some original compositions and offered to put his solo project on hold in favor of a Bachman-Turner album. It morphed into a full-blown collaboration.
On September 12, 2009 the Winnipeg Free Press had already reported that Randy Bachman and C.F. Turner would reunite to play concert dates in Europe, Canada and the US in 2010 backed by Randy's current band of Marc LaFrance, Mick Dalla-Vee and Brent Howard, billed simply as Bachman & Turner. Some early confirmed tour dates announced were June 2010 at the Sweden Rock Festival and the High Voltage Festival in July 2010 at London UK; the story added that there was also interest from agents as far away as South America and Australia.
The tour and album plans of 'Bachman & Turner' resulted in a lawsuit by Rob Bachman and Blair Thornton regarding ownership of the band name and related trademarks. Rob Bachman and Blair Thornton claim that US and Canadian rights in the BTO name and trademark were transferred to Rob Bachman, Blair Thornton and Fred Turner when Randy Bachman commenced a solo career in 1977. Randy Bachman is said to have registered the names "Bachman-Turner", "BTU", "Bachman-Turner United" and "Bachman-Turner Union" in both the United States and Canada. These names are said to cause confusion with the names "Bachman-Turner Overdrive" and "BTO", resulting in potential damages to Rob Bachman and Blair Thornton. There appears to be general legal agreement that one can perform under one's own legal names such as "Bachman & Turner", so the newly-reunited pair are being billed as such for the 2010 tour and album. The band played the halftime show at the 2010 Grey Cup in Edmonton, AB.
The rock duo’s self-titled album, Bachman & Turner, was released September 7, 2010 in North America and on September 20, 2010 in Europe. In November 2010 they performed at the famous Roseland Ballroom in New York City as part of their North American tour. A double live album (Live at the Roseland Ballroom NYC) was recorded at that show, which was also filmed and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year. / Line-up: Randy Bachman (guitars, vocals); C.F. Turner (bass, vocals); Marc LaFrance (drums, percussion, vocals); Brent Howard Knudsen (guitars, vocals); Mick Dalla-Vee (guitars, vocals).
Impact and influence
BTO has been recognized in many music circles for carrying on the torch of guitar-heavy rock and roll at a time when soft rock was dominating the Top 40 charts, and progressive and glam acts (such as Yes, Pink Floyd, Slade and David Bowie) were getting an increasing share of FM radio play. As stated on XMFan.com: "A shift of styles in popular music in the mid-1970s had quickly caused old-fashioned guitar rock-and-roll to face near extinction on the Top 40 charts. Songs like 'Lovin' You' by Minnie Riperton and 'The Morning After' by Maureen McGovern were topping the pop charts with alarming regularity, leaving many rock-and-roll fans feeling like they were left out in the cold without a jacket. Until BTO came along".
As drummer Rob Bachman added: "We were basically fans of all kinds of music, but really liked the old kind of rock-and-roll...like Elvis and the funky kinds of rock bands like The Stones. Luckily for us, Creedence had just called it quits, and we came out with three- and four-chord rock-and-roll with Fred Turner's gruff voice. So it was basically this working man's kind of rock-and-roll".
Reviewer Gale Cengage assesses, however, that critics are divided over BTO's legacy:
- "Dave Marsh noted that the band peaked with Not Fragile, an album that 'seemed to exhaust Bachman's imagination; everything before and since is simply sluggish.' The band's entry in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock acknowledges BTO's limitations, while properly assessing their assets: 'However much it might be open to derision as formula cash-register boogie, BTO's rock is at least dexterously played and arranged, with dynamics reminiscent of mid-period Led Zeppelin.' For a period during the mid-1970s, however, BTO enjoyed high sales, steady radio play, and sold out arena shows."
An achievement/trophy in the video game Rock Band 2 is named "The Bachman–Turner Award" in tribute to the band. It is awarded for staying in overdrive for 90 seconds.
Stephen King derived his Richard Bachman pen name from Bachman–Turner Overdrive after listening to the band's song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet".
The band was featured in The Simpsons episode "Saddlesore Galactica".
The band name was mentioned by Leela, in S06E13, Futurama episode as the team is drilling deep into the earth.
The band also appeared in the comedy movie The Campaign, making a cameo performing the song "Taking Care of Business."
In 2012, the writers of three comic strips in the British weekly science fiction anthology 2000AD used the names Bachmann, Turner and Overdrive as the names of the three principal villains in an unannounced three way crossover storyline starring Judge Dredd.
Awards and recognition and other achievements
- 1974: Juno Award winner, Most Promising Group of the Year
- 1975: Juno Award winner, Group of the Year
- 1976: Juno Award winner, Group of the Year
- 1978: Juno Award nomination, Group of the Year
- 2008: Guitar Magazine, "Takin' Care of Business" rated at number 10 in top 100 most covered songs
- Original members in bold.
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Image from Discogs