(This article was originally written for Montreal Rampage)
Canadian music legend Randy Bachman has a new album, “Heavy Blues”, and new band, simply called Bachman. The former Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive front man stripped his band down to a power trio, and went back to his musical roots for this.
“The 3 big musical waves and influences in my life and most other people too were: Elvis and his contemporaries (Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, and Buddy Holly); as well as The Beatles and their contemporaries (the Stones, Hollies, Searchers, and Gerry & Pacemakers), and the late ’60s Brit Power Trios that took the neglected Chicago and Delta blues and reinvented it with louder heavier guitar amps and brought some power to the front. The Who, Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin all influenced me as a guitar player,” he says.
Bachman really wanted to bring this guitar based blues influence to the front. He says, “I wanted to do that again for guitar players. We managed to create an album that every guitar player will find many things in it to inspire him/her to play and practice.”
To round out his band, he sought out like-minded musicians who could play with that fire and passion, and found two talented ladies who shared a passion for the music of The Who. “While watching TOMMY at Stratford last year, I was sitting behind Pete Townshend who commented, “The drummer is amazing and plays just like Keith (Moon)”. After the show we met the musicians and the drummer was a player named Dale Anne Brendan, who is an amazing musician. Then at the Junos last year in Winnipeg, when BTO was inducted into the Junos Hall of Fame, I saw a band called Ladies of The Canyon and liked their bass player (Anna Ruddick) a lot. She was wearing a John Entwistle T-shirt. I knew I had my rhythm section.”
The Who, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience turned out to be the blueprint for this band. Bachman says, “When we got together in the studio for a one-day rehearsal, I told them to not play their instruments but to attack them like Keith Moon, John Bonham, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, and Mitch Mitchell did; and they pulled it off to my amazement and we captured the essence of a lot of power trios in this album.”
The songwriting process might have found its roots in the past, but Bachman was determined to keep the songs current, and worked with producer Kevin Shirley to update his blues lexicon. “Kevin Shirley challenged me as a song writer to take old blues templates and make them my own and modernize them BUT to keep my heels in the past and my toes in the future. I modified some songs I had and wrote the rest as we were recording the album. It was quick and spontaneous and Kevin got a lot out of me that I wouldn’t have done on my own.”
The album was recorded very quickly, and to achieve that, Bachman let the producer take the lead in the studio. “Kevin was amazing to work with. At the start, he told me that he would be the captain, if I’d let him – no discussion, no mutiny. We only have five days to get sounds and record 12 songs. He was amazing with tempos, arrangements, getting newish but vintage sounds that sound like late 60s molded to 2015.”
To keep things fresh, Bachman invited many musicians to do guest appearances on the album, and one of them is definitely an unexpected surprise. “Neil Young was an inspiration for me to “do something new and different,” and once Kevin Shirley got Joe Bonamassa to do the first solo, I got Neil on board, contacted Cristie Healey about Jeff and a few more emails had 7 guests. I recorded live at Massey Hall in Toronto a few years before Jeff passed away. Me, Jeff and Duke Robillard. The album was never released. As I started to get guest soloists, I thought that Jeff would have loved to be on this record. I got a BB King song we recorded together called “Early In The Mornin” and lifted Jeff’s solo off of that. Then I wrote in the same key and tempo “Confessin To The Devil” and it fit so perfectly, it’s like Jeff was there with us.”
For a man who’s written so many staples of classic rock, songs that are recognized worldwide, this catalog can be a high mark to live up to. But Bachman doesn’t let the weight of the past drag him down when creating new material. “No, I always write new songs and you never know which one will become the next “American Woman,” “Taking Care of Business,” or “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” Nobody can predict which will hit and stick and stay around.”
The rough nature of the new album represents something that Bachman thinks has been missing from today’s rock. “Everyone is getting saturated with “PERFECT” tracks. Tempos that are computer-generated, auto-tuned vocals, and layered guitars. People are starting to love live concerts more and that is showing up in the recording because there’s nothing like a great rock bank playing on stage and feeling the energy and being “one” with the band and the crowd. Canada has great rockers.”