RANDY BACHMAN: YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET
By Carol Crenna
Former lead guitarist for the Guess Who and founder of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Randy Bachman has become a legendary rock and roll figure and Canadian music icon. He has earned over 120 gold and platinum album and singles awards worldwide for performing and producing. His songwriting has garnered the number one spot on radio play lists in 20 countries, with over 40 million records sold. I interviewed Randy Bachman about his other passions which include the environment, health and art.
CAROL: In your mid 60s you are still in the spotlight – recently interviewed by David Letterman on The Late Show and currently doing a US-Canada tour. Where do you get your energy from?
RANDY: I feel very fortunate to have discovered music as a child; from the age of five, and every day after that, and for every tomorrow, I will love what I do. That being said, my body maintenance schedule now includes workouts, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, vitamins and supplements. That and trying to eat right and sleep well keep me feeling good.
CAROL: Your bio says, “Due to health concerns and desiring a change in lifestyle, Randy left the Guess Who at the height of their success.” What health concerns did you have at such an early age?
RANDY: I had gall bladder attacks every night on the road and couldn’t get treated by any emergency hospitals. I had to quit to go home to see my family doctor and to the local hospital for tests. The pain from the attacks every night was unbelievable.
CAROL: How did you change your lifestyle?
RANDY: I was in New York City when 9/11 happened. We thought it was the end of the world. We were trapped in a tour bus there and couldn’t get back home to Canada. I ate myself into oblivion. Then, we realized it wasn’t the end of the world but I had become super huge and totally out of shape. I saw Brian Wilson’s daughter, Carnie, on TV saying she’d had a gastric bypass operation. I emailed her and she sent me to her doctor. Dr. Alan Whitgrove at AlvaredoCenter, San Diego helped me through this procedure that radically changed and saved my life. Along with this change, I also became acquainted with Sam Graci who formulated and started the Greens + line of health products and has written many great books. I consulted with him and he helped me a lot. For eight years now I have kept to a regular regime: I work out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and then I have a drink of Transform + with added liquid glucosamine-chondroitin-MSM and other supplements. An hour after that, I eat organic blueberries, strawberries or raspberries on cottage cheese.
CAROL: Is your family very health conscious now?
RANDY: Yes. My wife eats very healthily, my daughter is vegan, and I do my best. My wife has a great organic vegetable garden that we eat produce from each summer and fall. Health is everything in life because it makes everything else possible.
CAROL: How did having children change you?
RANDY: I don’t think anyone can truly “grow up” until they have a child. That’s when you lose the child you are and replace it with another child that you care about. It makes you think of someone besides yourself. The more children one has, the more this transformation takes place.
CAROL: You used to play the violin? How old were you when you started to sing?
RANDY: I started violin at age five and quit at 14 when I switched to guitar. I became a singer on stage quite by accident when some songs I’d written and recorded became hits. I then had to sing them on stage and voila! – I became a “singer,” but totally untrained. However, it transformed my personality because in between songs I then had to talk to the audience and voila! – I became an emcee. Now I do a radio show. Who would have guessed this would happen?
CAROL: Growing up on the prairies, you liked country music. Why haven’t you released country songs?
RANDY: After The Guess Who, my band Brave Belt did release two albums of country rock in the vein of Poco or Buffalo Springfield with pedal steel, violin, accordion and harmonies. We suffered financially. Wrong music, wrong place, wrong time. But with the same personnel and a name change, two years later as Bachman-Turner Overdrive we had a number one album, and the single “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” was number one in 21 countries. Suddenly BTO had outdone The Guess Who in record sales.
CAROL: When did you become interested in the environment?
RANDY: When you travel the world as I have done, it becomes easier to see the pollution, the destruction, and desecration on the road that big business and poor government has lead us down. When you see it happening in your own neighbourhood it makes you angry and you have to do something. Together we can make a change – one act at a time. We need stricter laws and harsher penalties and fines on the big polluting corporations who are killing us by poisoning the air, water and soil.
CAROL: Why did you used to live on Salt Spring Island? Was the commute difficult?
RANDY: We came to SaltSpringIsland to go camping one summer. We all loved it, and the people on it, and kept coming back. The move there was slow and steady but very natural for the whole family. The commute was worth it although I feel the BC Ferry system could do a lot to improve the schedules for passengers like me who depend on making the right connections for business and airport travel.
CAROL: Why did you choose to build your unique eco-friendly home from “rammed earth construction” on the island?
(Randy built a 6,000 sq. ft., $3 million home on Salt Spring Island, BC, requiring hundreds of artists and trades people, installing curved walls and staircases coloured with bands of crushed rock and shells. Rammed earth is an ancient method of building using wooden forms. Damp earth mixed with concrete is loaded into the forms and compacted. When the forms are removed, the wall is complete.)
RANDY: We wanted to build a house that was Earth-friendly, non-polluting, all natural and organic, and we hoped that it would be a model for others to follow. Our builder Meror Krayenhoff and designer Phillip Van Horn were futuristic thinkers with the same goals as my wife. Together they built an amazing house for us, and since then have built many more. Meror’s company Terra Firma Builders has many patents on the technologies he’s developed, which are now being launched throughout the world. It truly is amazing and the most sensible and conscientious way to build a house. Rammed earth isn’t the same as hay bale houses but they are both eco-friendly, fireproof, extremely well insulated with two- to three-foot thick walls and use very few trees in the construction.
CAROL: How do you keep the passion alive for your work? Lots of people love their jobs but don’t do the same thing with as much zeal for over 40 years.
RANDY: There are so many aspects of music available. I bounce around from songwriting and producing to recording and performing. And there is always the challenge to get that next hit song. It never feels like a job; it’s a joy. The travelling gets tiresome at times, but you learn to get through it.
CAROL: Your record label Guitarchives rescues archival guitar music. Why?
RANDY: Everyone’s past history is who they currently are. Life is a summation of everything you do, and to have it documented in song and music is something to be cherished. Nobody else was doing it so I felt an obligation to be the caretaker of most of the early music of The Guess Who and my friend and mentor, Lenny Breau. It means a lot to me to receive thank-yous from fans who treasure some of that previously lost music.
CAROL: You’re a mentor for up-and-coming Canadian artists. Who is good?
RANDY: Watch for Lindsay Ell from Calgary, Alberta. She just turned 19, plays great guitar, has a great voice, co-wrote her album with me and my wife, Denise McCann, and has the “it” factor. She has the potential to become a Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt. I call her music “Americana” or “Canadiana.” We’re signing her to a major Nashville label.
CAROL: What is the best part about doing your CBC Vinyl Tap radio show (which airs throughout North America on Sirius Satellite Radio)?
RANDY: The best part about Vinyl Tap is that I get to visit all of my old vinyl memories and share my personal stories about each song with the “tap heads.” Since I do the show with my wife, it’s a fun ride to take together every week. I plan the music and put it in sequence and then go into CBC studios with producer Tod Elvidge and Denise, who is responsible for research and mail. Tod chooses what to keep and cut so when we listen to the show on Saturdays we’re sometimes as surprised as the listeners what the final result turns out to be.
CAROL: You toured recently with Burton Cummings performing your collective hits. What was that like — have things changed?
RANDY: It is a joy to play and share the stage with Burton Cummings, my friend since we were teenagers. He has one of the top 10 greatest rock voices alongside Elvis Presley, Robert Plant, Elton John, John Lennon, Stephen Tyler, and Little Richard. We got to cheat time every night and travel back decades together to play our old songs that have become soundtracks to most people’s lives – including our own.
CAROL: What other creative interests do you have?
RANDY: I do rubbings or impressions of manhole covers all over the world. This is to honour art that has been overlooked by most people. Look down at the sidewalks when you’re out walking and you’ll see these cool, very strong images of bronze or iron. I capture them on fabric with black crayon. I’ve recently come to an arrangement with 1921 Jeans in Winnipeg which is going to put my impressions on a line of T-shirts. These will be made in Canada out of hemp and bamboo fibre featuring my “captured art.”
This article originally appeared by Carol Crenna in VISTA Magazine.