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Bachman-Turner Overdrive

+ {Brave Belt} + {B.T.O.} + {Bachman & Turner}

In the words of comical TV characters Smashie & Nicey (aka Harry Enfield & chum Paul Whitehouse): “I’m standing firm for Britain, for her Tuesdays, for her Wombles, for a Bachman, for a Turner and, most of all for a noble Overdrive… `You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’… Euro Poppers – let us rock!”. There could be no funnier or fitting tribute to a mighty big band of the 70s.
Being of the Mormon persuasion, unfortunately BTO couldn’t live the rock’n’roll lifestyle to the max, their faith forbidding alcohol, drugs, coffee or even a cup of char. Nevertheless, the Canadians were adopted by the “blue collar” brigade (actually, a title of one of their songs); enjoying a brief run of successful albums in North America that kicked into gear with the chart-topping, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer set, `Not Fragile’.
Spearheaded by Winnipeg-born lead guitarist/singer RANDY BACHMAN, who’d played an integral part of excavating the hard-rock nuggets within popular act, The GUESS WHO, he left behind a trail of classy, co-penned singles, culminating with the riff-tastic No.1, `American Woman’. Constant clashes with the GW’s fellow songwriter Burton Cummings on the direction the group were taking, it led to the devout Mormon exploring a solo avenue with 1970’s `Axe’.
Later that same year, Randy roped in his kid brother Robbie (drums, percussion) and former founder/refugee from The GUESS WHO, Chad Allan (co-vocals, keyboards), in order to provide a creative supporting role in the post-psych BRAVE BELT country-rock project. Filling a timeless trail left by The BYRDS, KALEIDOSCOPE and other steely bands, succulent songs such as `Crazy Arms, Crazy Eyes’, `Rock And Roll Band’ and the good ol’ `I Wouldn’t Trade My Guitar For A Woman’ (with shades of CSN), graced the somewhat overlooked BRAVE BELT (1971) {*6} debut for Reprise Records.
Adding a fourth member, C.F. “Fred” Turner (ex-Pink Plumm), who’d take over some lead vocals and bass, Chad’s role within the group was trimmed slightly on 1972’s BRAVE BELT II {*5}. Different strokes for different folks, the record was a poignant stepping stone to BTO (a la `Waterloo Country’ and the CCR-like `Never Comin’ Home’), although on many songs it stepped too far back into psychedelic traits; `Another Way Out’ and the simplistic `Dunrobin’s Gone’, both falling into the trap.
A solo-venturing CHAD ALLAN out of the picture once again; replaced by middle brother Tim Bachman (rhythm guitar, vocals), the remaining alumni decided to hop on board the hard-rock boogie train to Utopia with BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE; a gargantuan moniker to fit the corresponding trucker’s monthly, Overdrive. Finding their feet in 1973 with their southern-fried Top 75 eponymous set, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE {*6} – think MOUNTAIN sharing studio time with GRAND FUNK RAILROAD – it was an auspicious start for the “everyman” quartet. Opening with Turner’s toe-tapping `Gimme Your Money Please’ (mirroring Randy’s screeching `Stayed Awake All Night’ flop 45), the album was certainly a family affair, with coadjutant Turner serving up BTO’s amiable hit, `Blue Collar’, Tim contributing the glam-esque `Down And Out Man’ and both Randy and Robbie combining on `Hold Back The Water’.
Their follow-on set for Mercury Records, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE II (1973) {*6}, brought the behemoth boogie band belated Top 5 success via rock anthems, `Let It Ride’ and the truckin’ `Takin’ Care Of Business’. Blending Fred’s “Grizzly Adams” gargle and Randy’s gutsy guitar-licks and growl, other tracks like `Welcome Home’ and `Tramp’ were light years ahead of their lineage pop counterparts The GUESS WHO. But b-b-b-baby, their best was yet to come. In the process, guitarist Blair Thornton (ex-Crosstown Bus) replaced Tim, who became a producer in his own right.
Topping off one hell of a year for the band would be a hard task, but in the stammer-addled hard-rock classic, `You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE pulled it off in one fell swoop. The No.1 (UK Top 3) single formed the centrepiece of the aforementioned NOT FRAGILE (1974) {*9}, as did the DUANE ALLMAN-dedicated flip-side instrumental, `Free Wheelin’. Opening with the heavyweight, hyper-distorted title track, and pursued by the STEVE MILLER-like `Rock Is My Life, And This Is My Song’ (mysteriously unreleased as a single), the blue-collared BTO had struck a cord with more than just leather-clad riders on Route 66; `Roll On Down The Highway’ (another Top 20 smash), the sludge-rock `Sledgehammer’, the fist-pumping `Blue Moanin’ and the stoner `Second Hand’ were four-of-a-kind, if not a full house.
A hard act to follow, FM airplay helped build on BTO’s boogie-rock credentials, although the rather derivative Top 5 set, FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (1975) {*6}, buckled under the pressure. Spurred on by the near-Top 20 hit, `Hey You’ (featuring a hook-line, glam-friendly “na na na na”), their street-smart, ironed-denim aplomb was becoming a tad contrived. Arena-rock for AOR kids who loved their sounds solid and simple, the factory floorboards still took a pounding by way of `Don’t Let The Blues Get You Down’, `Flat Broke Love’ and the title track.
A collision course to rival anything suffered by the once-great GUESS WHO, album five HEAD ON (1975) {*5} took a critical bashing of epic proportions. Only just over a year on from the cocksure `You Ain’t Seen…’, the Randy-produced BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE sacrificed a bit of beef for some DOOBIE BROTHERS-like soft-rock. Nevertheless, accompanying hit singles, `Down To The Line’, `Take It Like A Man’ (highlighting LITTLE RICHARD), and `Lookin’ Out For #1’, ensured the set would be hanging around under the Top 20 for a few weeks.
Rolling down the highway to oblivion, 1977’s FREEWAYS {*4} – peaking at only #70 – was another low-point in the band’s flagging career, kept afloat only by the band-by-numbers flop 45s, `My Wheels Won’t Turn’, `Shotgun Rider’ and `Life Still Goes On’. Feeling like a bigger challenge, RANDY BACHMAN opted out for a solo career, releasing the `Survivor’ LP in 1978, before forming BTO’s musical cousin, IRONHORSE (for two sets). A swansong concert set (credited to B.T.O.), JAPAN ONLY (1977) {*5}, led to imports from the Orient leaking into the States.
Turner switching to lead/rhythm guitars and vocals when Jim Clench (ex-APRIL WINE) came in on bass, B.T.O. were now of little relevance to a post-punk, new wave world, who would ignore the tepid-by-comparison, STREET ACTION (1978) {*3} and ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTS (1979) {*4}; for the latter set, the writing was on the wall when outsider songsmiths Jim Vallance and a young BRYAN ADAMS contributed a clutch of songs.
Fresh from a stint in a re-unified GUESS WHO, Randy wanted another piece of the rock action with a re-formed BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, roping in Fred, Tim and a refugee from his other group, drummer Garry Peterson. 1984’s hook-heavy rock-pop comeback, BTO {*5}, boogied on into the Top 100; serviced by `For The Weekend’ and `My Sugaree’ – at least two tracks stuck in a 70s time-warp. A few years down the line, the expectant concert set, LIVE!-LIVE!-LIVE! (1986) {*5}, did little or nothing to resurrect the fortunes of the band. Randy subsequently joined with Frank Ludwig (ex-Trooper) in UNION; he also became a songwriter for The BEACH BOYS, et al.
BTO re-formed again in 1991, with Robbie, Fred, Blair and a new vocalist: Randy Murray.
C.M.C. Records would belatedly dispatch the Danish-only, 1996-recorded TRIAL BY FIRE: GREATEST & LATEST (1999) {*4}, a record to bring home memories if not the bacon. The inevitable lawsuits transpired between Rob and Randy, mainly for the rights to use the BTO logo. Randy, meanwhile, continued to soldier on in his capacity as a solo artist, although rewards were thin on the ground – unlike the man himself. The GUESS WHO were a talking point once again in 2003 when they played to a record-breaking audience of 450,000; Randy, of course, was happy to take centre stage alongside Burton Cummings and Co.
If they’d lost their musical mojo many moons ago, old pals act Randy and C.F./Fred forgot to pack their “Overdrive” when the forged out their BACHMAN & TURNER (2010) {*6} comeback album. Okay, not really a bona fide BTO set by any stretch of the imagination, but with the main pair marching on the creator’s rock’n’roll highway, the retro aspects of `Rollin’ Along’, `I’ve Seen The Light’, `Find Some Love’ and `Repo Man’, loyal fans were treated to a party-mood road trip. A mini-CD (FORGED IN ROCK (2010) {*6}) and the obligatory concert double-set (LIVE AT THE ROSELAND BALLROOM, NYC (2012) {*6}), confirmed they’d intentions to keep on trucking.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016

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