Randy Bachman returned to his hometown last weekend for three concerts with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Between songs, Mr. Bachman shared stories of growing up in Winnipeg. His musical journey started as a youngster playing violin, until he was in his teens when he saw Elvis Presley on TV. After that, he bought a guitar and skipped school to hang out with Lenny Breau who “taught me everything I needed to know about the guitar.”
He also shared stories of being in The Guess Who with Chad Allen as the singer before that singer left. He talked about stealing The Devrons singer Burton Cummings. The Devrons were the next top Winnipeg band at the time in the 60’s. Another band across town at the time was The Squires which featured a young Neil Young.
First song of the concert was Prairie Town which Randy wrote in 1992 and, to steal a line from the Beatles, got “A little help from my friends.” Neil Young played guitar on that track and they recorded the video for it in Neil Young’s barn in California. Introducing the song as self explanatory, it’s about growing up in Winnipeg.
The second song was inspired by his old friend Lenny Breau, who made his mark in the jazz world. Every time the two would cross paths, the jazz master would ask Bachman if he’s played any jazz. Looking Out For No. 1 was as jazzy as he got with BTO, although the late Mr. Breau would be happy to know that Bachman did release a jazz album recently. The WSO added a nice airy feel to the arrangement they did with Bachman doing some pretty serious guitar noodling at the tune’s conclusion.
These Eyes was written after Bachman met a woman (who he later married, had six kids with and lived with on Scotia Avenue) in a bar in Regina during a Joni Mitchell concert. On his first date with the woman, while waiting for her to get ready, he sat down at her piano and came up with the opening notes.
When the band got back to Winnipeg, the song was finished in Burton Cummings’ Bannerman Avenue home. Cummings was 18, and this was the band’s first of many million selling songs.
Charles Cousins, who has worked with the likes of Elton John and did the charts for the orchestral concerts, played those opening notes on his keyboard as the band and orchestra launched into These Eyes. Bass player Mick Dalla-Vee did a fine Burton Cummings impression and the WSO string section certainly brightened the tune nicely.
Guitar player, Brent Knudsen, sang Laughing next. This song was inspired by the opening notes of the BeeGees’ New York Mining Disaster and was sort of a response to Roy Orbison’s Crying. St. Boniface native Mark LaFrance provided some steady drumming for the shows.
The WSO did a nice musical interlude before the band fired into the hard driving Let It Ride. Although lacking the gruff Fred Turner vocals, it was an excellent version which ended with the WSO drifting out of the tune as gracefully as they started the song.
Next was a real treat as Bachman paid tribute to Jeff Beck with ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. The song was written for Beck by Stevie Wonder. Originally Wonder had written Superstition for Beck, but after writing lyrics to the song, kept it for himself. So, he gave him this song instead; apparently a favourite of WSO Conductor, Alexander Mickelthwate.
Last song of the first set was American Woman, described by Bachman as having “gone to number one in the USA before they realized it was an anti-war protest song by four guys from Winnipeg.” The songwriting team of Bachman and Cummings proved to be fruitful. “Burton was born to be wild and I was born to be mild,” said Bachman.
After intermission, the second set started off with a Bo Diddley version of No Sugar Tonight followed by Undun, which was introduced as the “Led Zeppelin meets the WSO version.”
Bachman said he borrowed some riffs from the Stephen Stills song Rock ‘n’Roll Woman and turned the chords upside down after Neil Young played him the Buffalo Springfield album. The result of that was the song No Time.
It seems that Mike Post may have borrowed from Mr. Bachman when he wrote the theme song for Law and Order. As Tom Waits once said, borrowing is good because it implies that you’re going to give something back. Giving credit where credit is due is also nice.
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet was recorded as a joke song with Bachman imitating his brother who stuttered. When the record label head came to the studio to check on the progress of the band’s album, 1974’s Not Fragile, he heard the throwaway track and loved it.
The band didn’t want to release it, but how do you argue with the guy who made a hit out of Patti Page’s Tennessee Waltz and Rod Stewart’s Maggie Mae. It seems like he knew what he was talking about as the song went to number one in 22 countries. The version performed tonight was the “Burton Cummings doing the Michael Bublé version of a joke song.” (Cummings had recently done a version of this).
Certainly the story behind Taking Care of Business was the most interesting of the evening. Bachman wrote the song while in The Guess Who as White Collar Worker, but when Burton Cummings heard it he said, “gag me with a drum stick.” He loved the verses but not the chorus.
Bachman’s next band, Brave Belt, also passed on the song, but as a fluke, after a long run of marathon shows and Fred Turner losing his voice, Bachman was asked to sing. Here was his chance to finally get to play the song, although by this time he decided to change the line White Collar Worker to Taking Care of Business which he heard a Vancouver DJ say on the radio.
The audience at that early concert loved it and they played the song for 35 minutes. I saw this performed for much longer in Vancouver in the 90’s when 1300+ guitarists played the song for 75 minutes for the Guinness Book of world records.
At that same concert, before playing TCOB (which Elvis Presley adopted as his motto after hearing the song), Randy played some Bob Dylan and his Ukranian version of Oye Como Va with the words perogy and halobchi.
For the encore, Randy Bachman came out and did a duet with Charles Cousins on keyboards, as he sang Our Leaves Are Green Again. Cousins arranged the charts for the band and orchestra.
The last song of the evening was dedicated to the memory of Gary Moore and Roy Buchanan. Buchanan’s One Day the Messiah Will Come Again started out as a sermon talking about Jesus then showcased Bachman’s guitar talents, as he effortlessly picked his way through the masterpiece.
I ended up backstage after the performance and chatted with bass player Mick Dalla-Vee. I complimented him on his Burton Cummings impersonation to which he replied, “a very sick Burton,” as Dalla-Vee was sick. It certainly didn’t affect his performances.
I also talked to Thomas Dolan who drove up from Fargo, North Dakota to see the show. He saw Randy Bachman perform in North Dakota in the summer where, after holding up his personalized ‘UNDUN’ license plate, Bachman invited him backstage. At that previous meeting, Dolan gave Bachman the license plate after posing for a photo with Dolan and his wife. Here in Winnipeg, Dolan brought the 8×10 which he had Randy Bachman autograph.
Bachman also talked with his cousin, Danny Gabbs, who played bass and harmonica in The Electric Banana in the 60’s. I was able to thank Randy Bachman for a great show and he signed my program.
I asked Gabbs if he knew cousin Randy was going to make it as a musician. He said Randy was a smart kid and had a lot of determination. He related how Randy would sneak his guitar into the Sunday School room and play Buddy Holly riffs when the teacher wasn’t around. When she got back, he would go back to his violin.
Yeah, Randy Bachman’s love and appreciation for music has paid off, leading to an interesting and successful career both playing music and with his popular CBC radio show, Vinyl Tap radio (as well as two Vinyl Tap books).
I personally think it’s one of the best shows on the airwaves, with him sharing first hand stories and behind the scenes tales of the songs he plays. This in a day and age where most radio is programmed and stations are more inclined to play commercials than even mention song titles.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer
Looking Out for No. 1
Let It Ride
‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
(Jeff Beck cover)
No Sugar Tonight
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
Oye Como Va (Ukranian version)
Taking Care of Business
Our Leaves Are Green Again
One Day The Messiah Will Come Again
(Roy Buchanan cover)