Reviewed by: Caesi Bevis and Paige Garnett
“Looks like rain”, we voiced as we entered into the parking area nearest Malkin Bowl. Oh, we were hoping not as this is an outdoor concert. Armed with umbrellas, we entered the plastic lawn chair seating area to find the seats needed wiping down. The rain had beat us to our seats in General Seating “behind ‘the rope’ ” - where all media seemed to be being sent. Paige found a roll of well-placed paper towels, and we wiped down the chairs. Now content, we settled in for the evening, full of anticipation. We noticed off to the left in the back the concession trailer was open, and that the Subway ad sign off to the right of the stage was covered up with a Jack FM sign. Seemed strange. Couldn’t help but wonder who’s food was being offered for sale in the concession stand area. Across the back of the seating area, the Bachman booths had t-shirts and CDs for sale.
I had heard the taped version of Randy’s concert from the Culch (East Vancouver Cultural Centre) late night on a local TV show, and couldn’t believe how awesome he still is, and was wondering why such a gifted musician songwriter isn’t still out there writing / producing number one songs; he clearly still has what ‘it takes’. (This coming from my (Caesi’s) Los Angeles media and professional entertainment background humble opinion.) He’s still damn good!
Shortly after he finished his set, Randy Bachman (pronounced Back’ -man - all these years we thought it was “Bock-man”!), who looks amazingly young and hasn’t changed much for his years, took the stage. He opened up with “Prairie Town” right at 7pm. The song is about living on the Prairies in Winnipeg and winters being 50 degrees below zero C. This was the beginning of Randy walking through his life and his rise to fame with two successful bands, first The Guess Who, followed by Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Randy explained how we ended up coming to Vancouver and hooked up with The Guess Who, which then opened in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco in 1967. Before leading us into “No Sugar Tonight”, Randy explained how he came up with the hook for this song. It seems that when he was in San Francisco, he, being a Prairie boy and rather innocent, had seen three guys dressed alike, coming toward him on the sidewalk. He crossed the street only to have them cross over as well. He was getting very worried about this being a gang (any cluster of guys over two people to Randy was a “gang”). Soon a little car drove up and two guys took off running, and the one guy was left to deal with the older lady from the car. She started yelling at the guy, telling him he was late getting home - again- and that “No Sugar Tonight” for you, Buddy. Randy thought it was a great line, so he used it for the song.
By this point, the rain was flirting with the audience and we sprung open our umbrellas only to pity the older ‘late 50-something couple’ just one row up from us, hiding under a well -soaked hood and a pulled-up jacket collar. It’s one of those awkward moments - Do you lean forward to offer to share your umbrella? Ours were small…The rain stopped again just that fast, before we had to decide.
Randy further explained that “No Sugar Tonight” was really just too short for a song and needed a bridge. Since it was written in the key of F# (an unusual key to write anything in) the song had remained somewhat unfinished. One of his band-mates (Burton Cummings) had another song, “New Mother Nature”, also ironically written in that same crazy key of F#, and it needed a bridge, too. So, the band merged the songs, opening with “New Mother Nature” and finishing with “No Sugar Tonight”. And - it worked! They performed the two songs for us to hear, and the transition at the end was natural and smooth.
Randy, dressed casually in an oxford shirt tails out and light green slacks, was performing with mostly with an electrified “acoustic” guitar, and backed up with an amazing-vocalist on keyboard, Collin Arthur Wiebe. Colin was necessary for many of the songs due to his amazing vocal range.
He digressed a little into explaining that “…these are the days of Flower Power, staying at the Sands Hotel at Denman and Davie, and the very earliest days of FM Radio. This was the time of Bob Dylan’s first album, where he actually did a ballad…”
Randy explained that he had grown up playing violin first from age 6 to 14 and in high school, and then switched to guitar. He learned the Chet Atkins style of playing (and demonstrated a few notes), as well as jazz chords and progressions (and demonstrated a few notes) from his mentor Lenny Breau. Out of this love for jazz progressions, came his song he wrote called “She’s Come Undone”.
The stage backdrop was becoming quite pretty now, taking on the light-cast of the closing in evening light. The overhead blue and pink gel-covered stage lights cast a warm glow on the painted ragged-edged curtain, and the forest scenery painted on the backdrop.
Before launching into “Let It Ride”, Randy explained this song he wrote came about while the band was on the way to New Orleans, and had been sandwiched-in between two semi trucks gabbing back and forth on CDs. They were playing a game of cat and mouse with them, not letting them pass and the band was afraid that they would be late for their gig. When this when on for an hour before the truckers let them pass when one trucker took an exit, then band followed the trucker to chew him out for doing this to them. The trucker noticed the mud covered license plate and had just said, “I can see you are from ManiBoba - hey, man, you are Canadian…just ‘let it ride’ - we were just having fun with you.” Randy had “a moment” - and the song came to him.
I looked up to notice another seagull had joined the first on top of the stage roof. Maybe they liked the great traveling rhythm of the song “Let It Ride”?
Randy talked about the time they were booked to play the Ed Sullivan show in New York. They had arrived and Ed hadn’t even heard of them. The time was 1965, when they were to perform “Shakin’ All Over”.
Some of the band members were now in college while some were still in high school. Around this time back in Manitoba, The Guess Who was competing with another band, the Devron’s, which was trying to take their place as the number one band in Winnipeg. There was a lead singer, Burton Cummins, who was getting a reputation as being a little wild and crazy. He had slithered across the top of a concert piano, and apparently created some scratches, so the media picked up the story and ran that he had caused several thousand dollars in damages. “It made for a good story.” according to Randy. Meanwhile, The Guess Who, which was known for being laid back and ‘good boys’, thought maybe Burton would be a good addition to their band to balance out Randy’s laid-back style. When Chad Allen decided to leave the band in the summer of 1966, the band called Burt to see if he wanted to join them. He first told the band, “You’re too late, the Beatles called me last night.” then he left the room. The Guess Who thought the Beatles really had called him! Turned out he was joking, and he joined The Guess Who. So, the band broke in Burt by having him tour Saskatchewan, playing places like the Westward Ho in Regina, and Yorkton, and Saskatoon. Randy explained that at this time, cover charge was $1.00. Joni and Chuck Mitchell were the group that just preceded them at one venue. “Joni was just out of high school.” according to Randy.
During this Saskatchewan tour, Randy had an “uh-huh” moment (which he says only “comes with music and with women”) when he looked out across a dance floor and noticed a striking brunette. The brunette would be become his wife and raise six children with him.
“These Eyes” originally started out as “These Arms”. Randy was waiting for a date to come down and was messing around with the piano in the living room while he waited and waited. He really didn’t “play” piano; what he had played growing up were the keys on his little brother’s accordion, while his little brother focused on creating the ins and outs for feeding the accordion air. So, as Randy explains, “…anything in the Key of C, I could pretty much fake.” He had an “uh-huh” moment, and the song poured from him while he waited for his date. He started it out as “these arms long to hold you…” He finished writing the words and music in under 12 minutes. The time was 1968.
He took the song back to the band, and after changing the opening lines to “These Eyes” and working up to the arms wanting to hold someone. The song became a number one hit, and sold over one million copies at that time. They played Dick Clark’s American Band Stand. Soon, a record producer told them, create another song like “These Eyes”. One problem: now the band had a hit ballad and the band wanted to be known as Prairies rockers. So, the band wrote “All Across the Prairies”, which came out of listening to the melancholy minor key of the Bee Gee’s “New York Mining Disaster”, which they added a B4 chord to make it “happier”. “You Took Me By Surprise” ended up being the follow up to “These Eyes”. When they released “She Came Undone”, which sold over one million copies, they no longer were considered a “one hit wonder” band.
Randy wanted to focus more on jazz progressions and bring these progressions into their sound. He wanted to study “Mean to Me”. He always liked jazz progressions, as it seemed to get musicians out of songs that they didn’t know how to end when they were writing them. Randy wrote “This Little Girl of Mine” and “Be a Trouble-Shooter - Look Out for Number 1”.
Once again Randy digressed into a Winnipeg story, this one featuring Neil Young. It seemed that Neil Young was blocked from doing a gig in Winnipeg at one point as a The Guess Who band member had the only amp in town!
Randy mentioned that the way Buffalo Springfield came into existence was that Neil Young had driven into LA in his renovated hearse, which then broke down on the LA freeway. Stephen Stills stopped to help Neil Young, who was somehow (not clear) stuck behind a bulldozer tractor. Thus, they met and the rest is history!
An interesting slice of life: at one point, Neil had told The Guess Who to “steal something from someone else (their song), just turn a riff upside down, or something, and write a song.” So The Guess Who wrote, “No Time - Need Not Wonder Why”, which became a hit all based on a Doobie Brothers riff.
“American Woman”: Randy explained that during the Viet Nam War they had booked a gig in Texas and were driving across the border from Winnipeg, the same crossing where they normally crossed, but this time the INS officer had directed them to go park and enter a certain building on the U.S. side. They thought this was a little strange, as this hadn’t happened before. So, they opted to gas up first at their usual gas station, where the owner knew them. The owner told them, after hearing them tell their experience at the border which had just happened, “Oh, don’t go in there! They are drafting Canadians with green cards! Go back to Canada. I already lost my nephew to them, and I am afraid my son is next. Take this road for about a couple hundred miles, and then turn left. You can get back into Canada that way.”
So, they turned in their green cards and went back to Canada. The road led them to Kitchner - Waterloo area, and since they weren’t going to their Texas gig, they had to earn some money fast. They ended up playing a three-hour dance using their music and faking their way through Beatles and Beach Boys cover tunes. Randy ended up with a broken string and the band took a break, scattering around the building and parking lot. Randy replaced his string, then started messing around on his guitar, only to get an “uh-huh” moment. He started a riff, feeling an “American Woman, get away from me.” (This was referring to the Statue of Liberty and the lyrics continued on to talk about ‘not needing U.S. war machines’.) He knew that he was on to something, so he motioned for the band to return and get on stage so that they could work the song out. Eventually they got their last band member out of the parking lot where he was “buying something”, and he got back on stage. Out of this, the number one American anti-war song, which went number one on the Call Box and Billboard charts, sung by Canadians, was born!
Around this time they were invited to play muddy, rain-soaked Woodstock - and they turned it down. Instead, they were in a studio recording “American Woman”.
Sadly, Randy didn’t get to go on tour with The Guess Who for the “American Woman Tour” in 1970. He was really upset that he couldn’t go. He ended up with gallbladder attacks and had to leave the band after being with them for ten years. History has its way of taking care of us all if we live long enough. Thirty years later, Lenny Kravitz recorded the song. Randy got a call requesting that The Guess Who re-assemble and play the Pan American Games to three million people. The band members said, “no, we are all doing different things now.” But the Pan American Games organizers didn’t give up hope. They emailed. They faxed. They reminded the members that they had been there thirty years earlier and had a video tape of them playing with the audience having their backs to them - they were playing in the mess (food) tent in 1967! This time, they were being invited back and to be paid $250,000! They finally said, “yes”, and came and played all their original songs.
This time, in May 2000, Randy got to go on the “American Woman Tour” - thirty years after his bout with gallbladder attacks. Now that song is used for many things from Kevin Spacey movies, to commercials, to TV and Movie soundtracks including “Seinfeld”, “The Simpsons”, “American Beauty”, and “Austin Powers 2”. [Randy has also been animated on “The Simpsons” and is listed in the Guinness Book of Worlds Records.]
Randy digressed once again as to ‘what happened to his brother, the accordion player’. Randy’s little brother, who had a stuttering problem, became the band manager of The Guess Who. When the band moved to be based in Vancouver, Randy’s brother opted to stay behind. The Guess Who went on to record at Mushroom Studios in Seattle (after the war, no doubt). One of the songs Randy wrote to tease his brother, and have him think it would be on an album, was “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. Only Randy’s joke backfired. The album was finished and the manager was looking for something to be released as a single. One of the band members mentioned the work tape, which included a ninth song. The manager loved “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” as it is different and thought they had an instant hit on their hands. The song went number one in over 20 countries (according to his website), and sold over a million copies. Randy’s brother was so shocked by the release of the song that he stopped stuttering permanently!
Randy always liked “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles and longed to write something similar. So, he wrote “White Collar Worker”. Burt Cummings and others told Randy, “You oughta be ashamed of yourself.” as the song was so similar to “Paperback Writer”. It was one thing to turn riffs upside-down, quite another to come up with a tune and lyrics that almost everyone instantly recognizes as being based on someone else’s work.
Later, now with BTO (Bachman, Turner Overdrive), “White Collar Worker” just sat waiting for revisions. Randy didn’t give up; he kept pitching it and no one accepted it. During this time the band was playing six nights a week for five hours a night. Randy was playing a gig, when the lead singer blew his voice and told Randy, “You have to sing the last set.” So, Randy, panicking and not knowing many songs, saw an opportunity to eventually play “White Collar Worker”. He got a fast inspiration while still on break. He didn’t have his “song writing case” (McDonald’s napkin and a crayon) with him, so he kept singing in his head, “Take Care of Business” over and over so as not to forget it. Randy opened his set with “Oye Como Va” (Santana), and after running out of lyrics he knew or the band knew they slipped into Ukrainian lyrics - anything just to keep the crowd up dancing. At 12:45am, they needed 45 minutes to complete their set. Randy saw his “moment” and seized it: “”White Collar Worker” rewrote itself on stage as “Taking Care of Business”. In Seattle the band gave the lyrics to the Fred Turner and the band taped it in one take. “Taking Care of Business” came out and was a big hit selling a half-million copies.
Another interesting story Randy related that happened while they were recording in Seattle, involved a pizza delivery person. That night, BTO, Steve Miller and War were all rehearsing and taping in various studios in the same building. A pizza delivery guy knocked on their door, thinking that they had ordered the pizza he was carrying. They hadn’t and they told him to check down the hall with the other bands. The pizza guy was listening to “Taking Care of Business” and commented that it could use a piano. BTO thanked him and said that they “didn’t have a keyboard player.” The pizza guy mentioned that what he ‘REALLY did in life’ was he was a keyboard player. BTO kind of blew him off and the guy went and delivered the pizza. He came back and offered to improvise on the song with BTO, to see if they liked it. It was late and the band was in a ‘whatever’ mood, and so they let him play. He actually turned out to be a great keyboardist, so they recorded a work track and left for the evening, without playing it back. The next day, their manager mentioned that the song needed piano, or ‘something’. So, one of the people there mentioned this “pizza guy work track” with piano, and so they played it. It was great and the producer wanted to run with it and wanted them to bring the guy back in. Only problem was, “what’s his name and how do we find him”?
They asked the other bands. No luck. They called all the area pizza places, which of course didn’t want to give out the guy’s phone number when they did think that they had found him. So, they just asked, “Does he look like Fidel Castro and play piano?” They found the delivery guy, ordered a pizza, which he delivered, and finally they got his name and number. He played the song on the album.
As history unfolded, Norman Duke went on to be Bette Midler’s manager.
The show was now closing with one final number of “Taking Care of Business”. Randy brought friends up on stage to sing along. One of the people, Paul Myers (Mike Myers brother) did a rap to the song’s lyrics. At this point Randy invited up the audience to come dance and sing along.
Only a few of our conservative Vancouverites moved toward the front to sing and dance. Those of us behind the rope danced in our seating area; those on the lawn on blankets moved forth only in the lawn area. We are such a well-trained Canadian bunch - volunteer ushers warnings during seating carried more weight than the performer’s invitation. Randy made his request several times, and each time the audience barely moved up. The last song went on and on, and left the evening with such an upbeat feeling. We hoped for an encore!
It almost looked like there wouldn’t be one, then the band and others came back and did a medley of cover tunes, versus more BTO or The Guess Who songs. We weren’t sure why this happened - we would have loved to hear just more The Guess Who or BTO songs.
All in all it was a great evening! The rain had gone away (and hopefully left for the Okanagan to help extinguish fires!) and it was a warm enough evening to be cozy comfortable in anything fleece. The moon was bright enough to well-light our way back to the parking lot.
One of the best things about coming to this Randy Bachman’s Concert was flashing back on memories we had for each of the songs, and reminiscing about what was going on in our lives at the time the songs were released. It was such a “time standing still” feeling we shared with the “community” of 450+ people who had come to be the audience; we realized we each had our own set of memories to go with each song. The hardest part, was looking out over an audience of mostly gray or balding heads, now-limping bodies or beer-bellies and realizing that most of the people there were our age, or only slightly older - that we had all or most of us, had been in high school at about the same time. Somehow the music had seemed frozen in time, like none of us were supposed to age. Having never gone back for a high school reunion, we can only imagine it may be similar feeling. It was humbling, yet made us feel so aware of getting
o l d e r, in a way the two of us, who - individually - haven’t raised families, rarely think about.
Would we go again to a Randy Bachman Concert? A 100% definite, “yes”. He pours his heart into the show and days later; we are still humming the tunes, or waking up to his music in our heads. Since Rave! covers over 600 events a year, many involving music, this rarely happens. Randy, you put on quite the show!