ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 29, 1999
Like many Canadian music fans whose rock mentality was shaped in the ’70s, I have distinct recollections of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s heyday, when the rollicking strains of “Let It Ride” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” ruled the airwaves. There’s one particularly vivid memory of riding in my dad’s Dodge pickup one summer morning while “Roll on Down the Highway” raged from the tinny AM radio and Randy Bachman’s searing guitar solo transported me from my humdrum teenage existence.
Tal Bachman, Randy’s son, has his own memories of the first time he heard BTO. “I was, like, three or four,” he recalls during a visit to the Straight office, “and we lived in New West. I think it must have been from the first BTO album—‘Hold Back the Water’ or something—and somebody in the song kind of yelled ‘Whoo!’ and I couldn’t really understand. So I said to my mom, ‘Why did Dad yell?’ and she was like, ‘Well, you know, sometimes when they’re playing their music they get excited and they just yell.’ ”
Now 29, Tal Bachman has something to yell about himself. His self-titled debut album is starting to make waves on the charts, driven by the supremely catchy first single, “She’s So High”. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the album was coproduced by Bob Rock, whose Midas touch has sold mountains of discs for many of today’s top rockers. “I talked to, like, two dozen producers,” reports Bachman. “It was insanity. Then they sent my tape to Bruce Allen, and Bruce Allen in turn sent one to [Bruce] Fairbairn—who passed—and one to Bob, who flipped. So next thing I know my A&R man is goin’, ‘Hey, Bob Rock got a tape—he really loves it.’ And I went, ‘Bob Rock? Like… David Lee Roth? Metallica? Me?’ ”
Bachman and Rock recorded and mixed the album over a few months at Rock’s home studio in Maui, and the producer who helped drag hard rock kicking and screaming onto mainstream radio turned out to be ideal for the job. “There’s something about Bob,” relates Bachman. “People hear conflicting things about him, let’s be honest, but the thing that makes him great is that he goes all the way. I mean, you hear [Metallica’s] ‘Enter Sandman’ on the radio and it’s like the Fourth Reich—it’s like blow your head off! You’re drivin’ off the road!”
As well as writing and singing all the songs, Bachman played guitar, lap steel, and piano throughout, with accompaniment from L.A.–based musicians Buck Johnson (keyboards, backing vocals), Chris Wyse (bass), and Lance Porter (drums). From the first exuberant chorus of the opening track, “Darker Side of Blue”, it’s clear that the youthful musician takes some influence from the guitar-drenched melodicism of ’70s power pop.
“There was a lotta great music that came out in the ’70s,” remarks the die-hard ELO fan, “and I was surrounded by that kinda music—not that we intended this to be like a retro album. But I’m a big British-invasion fan as well, and like ’80s Brit pop. It sorta ends for me with the advent of the alternative shoegazer bands, which produced a few gems, to be sure, but meant nothing to me.”
In the summer of ’87, Bachman lost interest in music altogether. All at once, bands that had occupied a “quasi-religious” role in his life ceased having any effect on him. “All of a sudden there were no bands that really spoke to me the way that those bands had spoken to me,” he says, “so I freaked out.”
Five years after turning his back on pop music, Bachman found himself enrolled in a small university in Utah, studying political philosophy. But then he was switched back on to music by a guy named Plato. “As corny as it might sound,” he relates, “I was intrigued by what some of our ancient philosophers had to say on the subject of music. So I remember sittin’ in this class reading Plato, who’s talking about how great music was, and all of a sudden everything made sense. So I was like, ‘This is great, I’ve learned a lot, but now I’m quitting school and I’m going to start writing songs and try to get a record deal.’ ”
Armed with an impressive demo—and some undoubtedly helpful family ties—Bachman soon scored said deal, which hooked him up directly to Columbia Records in the States. He’s getting the big promotional push that such a signing entails, performing in private industry showcases like the one he did at the Roundhouse Community Centre last month. Soon it’ll be time to put a band together and hit the road, just like any other recording artist, and when that subject comes up, the currently bandless Bachman reaches out to the power of the press.
“Maybe you can help me,” he confides. “When I played at UBC I met a guy who gave me his business card and said, ‘If you ever need a bass player, give me a call.’ So then I tried to call him, like, two months later—out of service. The phone company won’t give me any information. The guy’s vanished. So where are you, Jason? I need a bass player!”
When Bachman does form his group and get out there in the public eye, it might take him a while to escape the formidable shadow of his famous father. But for now he doesn’t mind talking about his dad; when asked which old Randy Bachman song he’s most impressed with, he’s quick to cite the Guess Who’s “Undun” as the pinnacle of his pop’s recorded legacy.
“That song’s pretty killer,” says Bachman, who nevertheless forbade his dad to give him any music lessons. “I refused to allow him to teach me anything,” he says, “with the idea that if I ever grew up to be a musician I wouldn’t want to sound like my dad. When I took a solo, I wanted to do it in my own style. So of course now whenever I take a solo it sounds just like my dad’s solo. It’s just inevitable.”