Proudly Canadian: BTO
Bachman–Turner Overdrive is a Canadian rock group from Winnipeg, Manitoba, that had a series of hit albums and singles in the 1970s, selling over 7 million albums in that decade alone. Their 1970s catalogue included five Top 40 albums and six US Top 40 singles (ten in Canada). The band has sold nearly 30 million albums worldwide, and has fans affectionately known as "gearheads" (derived from the band's gear-shaped logo). Many of their songs, including "Let It Ride", "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet", "Takin' Care of Business", "Hey You" and "Roll On Down the Highway", still receive play on classic-rock stations.
After the band went into a hiatus in 2005, Randy Bachman andFred Turner reunited in 2009 to tour and collaborate on a new album. In 2010, they played the halftime show at the Grey Cup inEdmonton, AB and continue to tour as of summer 2014.
On March 29, 2014, the classic Not Fragile line-up reunited for the first time since 1991 to mark Bachman–Turner Overdrive's induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and participated in performing in a tribute version of "Takin' Care of Business".
After leaving The Guess Who at the height of that band's success, Randy Bachman recalled being labelled "a lunatic and a loser" and that "nobody wanted to work with me." The exception was Chad Allan, former Guess Who lead singer/keyboardist who had left that band four years. The result was the band Brave Belt, formed in Winnipeg in 1971 with the additions of Randy's brother Robin "Robbie" Bachman on drums, and Gary Bachman acting as band manager. Brave Belt's self-titled first album, which saw Randy playing both lead guitar and bass, did not sell particularly well and Allan left the band shortly after its release. The record label still wanted them to tour, so Randy (at the suggestion of Neil Young) hired fellow Winnipeg bassist/vocalist C.F. "Fred" Turner to perform in the band's scheduled gigs.
According to Randy Bachman's autobiography, the seeds of the BTO sound were sown at a university gig in Thunder Bay, Ontario shortly after Allan's departure. A promoter, disheartened with reactions to Allan's country-flavoured songs, which the band was still playing, decided to sack Brave Belt for the Saturday night show and bring in a more rock-oriented replacement from Toronto. When that didn't materialize, he begged Brave Belt to stay on and play a set of classic rock cover songs. As the band played songs like "Proud Mary", "Brown Sugar" and "All Right Now", all featuring Turner's gruff "Harley-Davidson" voice, the dance floor filled up and, according to Randy, "We instantly saw the difference between playing sit-down music people could talk over and playing music they would jump out of their seats and dance to."
Turner was soon asked to be a full-time member and sing lead for the recording of Brave Belt II in 1972. Chad Allan appeared as a vocalist on two Brave Belt II songs, but was essentially out of the band. During the tour to support this album, another Bachman sibling, Tim Bachman, was added as a second guitarist because the band had felt their three-piece arrangement was too restrictive. Brave Belt II also failed to achieve any notable chart success, and in mid-1972 their supporting tour was cancelled halfway through. But Turner's influence had started to make itself felt as the band was converting to a harder, guitar-heavy sound complemented by his throaty, powerful voice.
After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, Randy emptied his own bank account to finance another set of recordings, and began to shop around the next album. The band eventually landed a new record deal from Mercury Records, one which Randy Bachman proclaimed as a pure stroke of luck.
After their demo tape had been rejected 26 times (sometimes more than once by the same label), Bachman was prepared to tell the other band members that they would no longer be able to remain on salary, "And they had to go and get the dreaded day jobs". However, in April 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach picked up the tape and noticed Bachman's name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him. Coincidentally, Mercury had just lost Uriah Heep and Rod Stewart to other labels, and Fach was looking for new rock acts to replace them. Fach called Bachman, and Randy describes the conversation from there: "I could hear 'Gimme Your Money Please' playing in the background, and that was the first song on the tape. Back then, you sent out two 7½ -inch reels of your album, an A-side and a B-side, and that was side one, cut one. He said, 'Randy, this is fabulous. Is the rest of the album like this?' And I said, 'Yeah, it's all just good ol', dancing rock-and-roll.' So he said, 'Well, I have a meeting with my A&R people, but as far as I'm concerned, this is great and I want to sign it.'"
At this point the band’s demo tape was still called Brave Belt III. Fach convinced the band that a brand new name was needed; one that capitalized on the name recognition of the band members. The band had already mulled over using their surnames (à la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). While on their way back from a gig inToronto, the group had spotted a copy of a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive while dining at the Colonial Steak House in Windsor, Ontario, run by Colonial Jim Lambros. After this, Turner wrote "Bachman–Turner Overdrive" and the initials "B.T.O." on a serviette. The rest of the band decided the addition of "Overdrive" was the perfect way to describe their music.
BTO released their eponymous first album in May 1973. The album broke through in the US via border towns such as Detroit and Buffalo and stayed on the charts for many weeks despite lacking a true hit single. The Turner-penned "Blue Collar" reached #21 on the Canadian RPM charts, but stalled at #68 on the US charts. The album's eventual success was very much the result of the band's relentless touring. Reportedly, Fach had only agreed to put this album on the Mercury label if the band would promote it with a heavy concert schedule. In any market where the band was getting significant airplay, Bachman–Turner Overdrive would immediately travel there regardless of the tour routing to build momentum, and it paid off. B.T.O. I would later be certified gold in 1974 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It was a precursor to their upcoming success.
Their second album, Bachman–Turner Overdrive II, was released in December 1973 and became a massive hit in the US (peaking at #4 in 1974) and their native Canada. It was originally to be titled "Adrenaline Rush". It also yielded two of their best known hit singles, "Let It Ride" and "Takin' Care of Business". Randy had already written the core of "Takin' Care of Business" several years earlier as "White Collar Worker" while in The Guess Who, but that band had felt it was not their type of song. It reappeared in BTO's repertoire during the supporting gigs for the first album primarily, as Randy put it, "To give Fred Turner a chance to rest his voice". Randy had heard DJ Darryl Burlingham say the day before a gig, "We're takin' care of business on C-Fox radio", and he decided to insert the lyrics "takin' care of business" into the chorus where "white collar worker" previously existed.
Tim Bachman left the band in early 1974 shortly after the release of Bachman–Turner Overdrive II. Randy Bachman had very strong religious beliefs and established rules to be in BTO. Among them was a rule that drugs, alcohol and premarital sex were prohibited on tour, and Tim is alleged to have broken all of these. It is said that he was given opportunities to change his lifestyle and did, at least temporarily. There are other differing accounts of the reasons for his departure. Some accounts state he left because he was getting married and wanted to study record engineering and concert promotion. But in a 2002 interview, brother Robbie said, "He was basically asked to leave. He wasn't BTO caliber [and] it was difficult to rely on him. I guess the band was conflicting with his whole life."
BTO continued a very busy tour schedule and during the supporting tour for BTO II, Tim was replaced by Blair Thornton, who had been in the Vancouver-based band Crosstown Bus. The first album with the modified line-up, 1974’s Not Fragile (a play on the hit album Fragile by Yes), became a massive hit and reached #1 on the Canadian and US album charts. It included the #1 single "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" and AOR favourite "Roll On Down the Highway". Not Fragile remains BTO's top-selling non-compilation album, selling eight million copies to date.
With management pressure to capitalize on their growing success, BTO quickly recorded Four Wheel Drive in May 1975, which included the single "Hey You". Though reaching no higher than #21 on the US charts, "Hey You" would become BTO's second #1 single on the Canadian RPM charts. Meanwhile, the album charted in the Top Five in both the US and Canada. Four Wheel Drive's release was followed by a highly successful tour of Europe and the US, wherein BTO was supported by Thin Lizzy, an emerging band also on the Mercury Records label. Said Randy Bachman, "Lizzy were just opening in England, but our label wanted to bust them in the rest of Europe and break them wide open in the States, so we toured with Phil and the boys for seven or eight months."
The band went on to record and release Head On in late 1975. This album produced the 1976 Top 40 single "Take It Like A Man", which featured a guest appearance by Little Richard who wailed away on his piano. Head On also featured the jazzy Randy Bachman composition "Lookin' Out for #1", which garnered considerable airplay on both traditional rock stations and also soft rock stations which normally did not play bands like BTO. In between the latter two albums, BTO released their only non-album single "Down To The Line". This song would appear on some of the later compilation CD's, as well as on re-issues of the Head On album in CD format. Head On would be the last BTO album to chart in the US Top 40, peaking at #23 in early 1976.
The first BTO compilation album, Best of BTO (So Far), was released in 1976 and featured songs from each of the band's first five studio albums. A single—a re-release of "Gimme Your Money Please"—was put out from this album, and it also charted well keeping BTO on both the AM & FM airwaves. This compilation album became the best-selling Bachman–Turner Overdrive album to date, reaching Double Platinum status in the US.
Freeways, BTO's sixth studio album, was released in February 1977, and signalled the end of BTO's most successful line-up. Facing some criticism for the "sameness" of the band's songs on the two follow-up albums to Not Fragile, Randy Bachman pondered reinventing and updating BTO's sound, but the rest of the band seemed to disagree. Said Fred Turner: "Since he (Randy) was funding the whole thing, everything went on his and Mercury's timetable. It finally came to a head for Freeways when Blair, Rob and myself told Randy we were burnt out, didn't like the songs we were writing, didn't like the songs he was writing, and that we wanted to take some time to regroup – especially since all the other bands were taking a year or two between albums, not doing two a year like we were. Randy told us his songs were fine and forced the album. It ended that version of the band."
Years later, Randy seemed to agree with Turner, stating, "Looking at it now, we should have taken four, five, six months off ... live a little, and then come back together with new ideas. In retrospect, that's what a lot of great bands do. And we didn't."
Randy Bachman left the group following Freeways. His initial intention was to temporarily disband while he worked on a solo project, "But it was decided by management it wouldn't work". He conceded, "We also ran out of common interests".
After many reunions the new lineup is www.bachmanandturner.com
Takin’ Care of Business Bachman Turner Overdrive