Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive still ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ after 50 years of music

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Randy Bachman (Part 1)

Fifty years ago this month, classic-rock fans first heard Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s hit “Takin’ Care of Business.”

The band is celebrating with its 50th anniversary “Back in Overdrive” tour that hits the East Coast in March, while founder Randy Bachman was just nominated on the shortlist of the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his work with The Guess Who and BTO. Voting is open until Dec. 27.

“We’re getting offers to go anywhere, but we’ve been catching up on COVID shutdown gigs that were delayed two years,” Bachman told WTOP. “We’re catching up on all of those because a lot of people held onto their tickets. Those are almost all done, so now we’re starting to accept BTO gigs all over the states. You can’t go everywhere at once, you try to get a logical sequence so you can drive or fly them … so we’ll be coming there as soon as possible.”

Born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1943, Bachman grew up with brothers Robbie and Tim, his future BTO bandmates.

“We were quite a poor family, so to get my brother drums, we made him a drum set from big, round, cardboard things of Ogilvie porridge,” Bachman said. “They were Quaker Oats with a Quaker on the front, so once the old man was gone, we’d cut those down and put the lid back on to have different sized tom toms and a pot upside-down and wooden spoons that my mother had for cooking, so that was his drum set until we cut our very first album.”

In 1965, he cofounded the Canadian rock band The Guess Who, playing guitar on songs such as “These Eyes” (1968).

“I wrote the basic part of ‘These Eyes’ on the piano. I just sat down one day in the key of C,” Bachman said. “I showed it to Burton Cummings, he said, ‘Wow, that’s so simple, I would never do it,’ because he’s a boogie-woogie classical piano player. … We wrote it around that simple riff, then I put a lot of jazz guitar chords in. If you can play ‘These Eyes,’ you’re a really good guitar or piano player because there’s 15 chords and it keeps changing key.”

Their biggest hit was “American Woman” (1970) as Bachman shredded an iconic guitar riff that later inspired a Grammy-winning cover by Lenny Kravitz on the soundtrack of “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999).

“We have to play it in the BTO shows,” Bachman said. “Since I wrote those songs and people want to hear them, I feel compelled to play them. Nobody else is playing them these days of the original guys. Actually, I do a BTO song called ‘Stayed Awake All Night’ and after that I go right into ‘American Woman’ and the crowd loves it.”

In the early ’70s, he suddenly left The Guess Who to form a new band with his brothers, as well as Fred Turner.

“When I left, the ‘American Woman’ album and single were No. 1 and we went from $750 a night to $10,000 a night,” Bachman said. “The band was in the hole about $40,000, I had a gall bladder problem and was having a gall bladder attack every night on the road. … Nobody wanted to play with me because I had quit The Guess Who at No. 1. I finally got my brothers together but nobody else would play with me except my buddy Fred Turner.”

After flopping on two country-rock albums under the band name Brave Belt, they shifted to heavier rock and changed names to Bachman-Turner Overdrive for the self-titled album “Bachman-Turner Overdrive” (1973).

“We changed our name when we saw the ‘Overdrive’ trucker magazine,” Bachman said. “We were the first band to use the name. Now it’s everywhere, overdrive pedals, things on amps. … We went to take our first album picture, standing in a big field. [I tripped and] fell over backwards. … We lifted this thing up and it was a giant eight-foot wooden gear. The photographer said, ‘That’s incredible! It looks like an overdrive gear!’ … That became our logo.”

The band’s second album, “Bachman-Turner Overdrive II” (1973), delivered the hard-driving song “Let It Ride.”

“We wanted a real melodic verse,” Bachman said. “If you listen to the verse in ‘Let it Ride,’ they’re really nice, cool [chords] … but when it gets to the hook, in comes these power-chord guitars that blow your face off. You’re singing the hook with these guitars behind you. … To go from this light, jangling thing in the key of A down to F-sharp minor, it just made the whole song heavy. I wrote the whole beginning [as a] heavy scream, light answer.”

The same album featured “Takin’ Care of Business,” a blue-collar anthem of getting up every morning from your alarm clock’s warning to take the 8:15 [train] into the city — and if the train’s on time, you can get to work by 9.

“That beginning was a mistake,” Bachman said. “Taking it out of the guitar case, I banged the guitar and the tuner went down a whole tone. When I went to play my normal Chuck Berry riff like ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ my A string went out of tune. … I went, ‘Wait a minute!’ … That became a variation on the Chuck Berry guitar riff. … Then for a solo, if you take John Lennon’s solo from ‘You Can’t Do That,’ listen to The Beatles, the solo [is very similar].”

The band’s third album, “Not Fragile,” delivered “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” featuring iconic stuttering lyrics.

“I had a brother who stuttered,” Bachman said. “I thought, I’m gonna tease my brother and stutter. … [The producer] goes crazy, ‘This song is great!’ … About 10 years ago, I got a framed document from the American Stuttering Association. They voted it the best stuttering song of all time because it wasn’t making fun of someone, it was telling everybody it was no big deal, it’s rock ‘n roll. … It won over ‘Bennie and the Jets’ and ‘My Generation.'”

While “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” inspired author Stephen King to choose “Richard Bachman” as his pen name, “Takin’ Care of Business” inspired Elvis Presley to adopt the acronym “TCB,” cementing BTO in pop culture.

“At the age of 14 … I saw Elvis on television,” Bachman said. “Many years later, I’m watching a television show on HBO on Graceland. Priscilla Presley is on there, they say, ‘Where did Elvis get ‘TCB’ from?’ She said, ‘Oh, we were driving to the airport in L.A. to drive back to Memphis, Elvis heard a song on the radio by a Canadian band called ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and he said, ‘I love that song, I want that to be my logo, TCB.’ Now it’s on his tombstone.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Randy Bachman (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below:

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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