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Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Bachman-Turner Overdrive specialized in hooky hard rock, delivering frills-free heavy music designed for the long haul. Many B.T.O. songs were about the business of being in a rock & roll band, playing their tunes to a new crowd in a new city each night, a trait that underscored how they seemed like the quintessential working band of the early 1970s: they held no higher aspiration than rocking hard and loud, both on record and stage. Despite being led by Randy Bachman, one of the two main frontmen of the Canadian rock stars the Guess Who, it took Bachman-Turner Overdrive a little while to find an audience. They didn't strike paydirt until the choogling "Takin' Care of Business" -- which notably has a punchline about being in a rock & roll band -- rocketed into the American Top 20 in 1974, an achievement eclipsed by the buoyant "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" reaching number one weeks later. Although B.T.O. managed a couple of other subsequent hits in "Roll on Down the Highway" and "Hey You," those two hits were not only an attraction in the '70s, but they formed an enduring legacy for the band. Over the years, "Takin' Care of Business" and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" were classic rock perennials heard on the radio, television, and at sporting events, their omnipresence helping keep Bachman-Turner Overdrive on the road in various incarnations all the way through their 50th anniversary in 2023. Randy Bachman left the Guess Who, a band he'd been in since their inception in 1962, in 1970, just after they had their first number one hit in the United States with "American Woman"/"No Sugar Tonight." After releasing the instrumental album Axe after his departure, he formed the country-rock outfit Brave Belt with Chad Allan, the original vocalist for the Guess Who. Also featuring Randy's brother Robbie on drums, Brave Belt released their first album in 1971, expanding their lineup with lead vocalist/bassist C.F. Turner on the record's supporting tour. Allan split after completing 1972's Brave Belt II, so guitarist Tim Bachman replaced him on the album's supporting tour. This lineup also completed a third album, finding no takers for the record until it caught the attention of Mercury Records. They signed the group, persuading the members it was time to change their name: the quartet settled on Bachman-Turner Overdrive, taking part of their moniker from the Canadian trucking magazine Overdrive. Appearing in May 1973, Bachman-Turner Overdrive's eponymous debut showcased a band who abandoned any pastoral pretense in favor of loud, simple rock & roll. While the album didn't generate an American hit, the group toured the States relentlessly, setting the stage for the December 1973 release of Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. Hookier than its predecessor without abandoning heaviness, Bachman-Turner Overdrive II first generated attention for its single "Let It Ride" but it was the driving "Takin' Care of Business" -- sung by Bachman, unlike so many B.T.O. songs; Turner usually served as the lead vocalist -- that provided the breakthrough for the group. It reached three in their native Canada and 12 on the Billboard charts, setting the stage for the crunching "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" to reach the top of the charts in both countries in 1974. "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" was taken from Not Fragile, the 1974 album that was recorded after the departure of Tim Bachman. Blair Thornton took the guitarist's place, cementing the lineup that fueled B.T.O. during their heyday. Over the next two years, the band toured relentlessly and issued two subsequent albums in the vein of the bright, propulsive Not Fragile: 1975's Four Wheel Drive and 1976's Head On. Each record contained radio hits -- the former had "Hey You," which went to number one in Canada, while the latter had "Take It Like a Man"-- but by 1977, their commercial fortunes appeared to be waning, a suspicion confirmed by the 1976 release of the compilation Best of B.T.O. (So Far). Bachman wanted to push Bachman-Tuner Overdrive into new musical territory on 1977's Freeways, dabbling with horns and shifting away from simple hard rock, but he faced resistance from a burned-out group. Freeways didn't please either the band or their fans, a situation that led to Bachman's departure after its release. Hiring April Wine's Jim Clench as bassist, the band carried on, albeit with one major change: they were now officially known as B.T.O. Wanting to keep the rights to the Bachman name for a solo career, Randy Bachman came to an agreement with the remaining band that they could perform as B.T.O.; they also retained rights to the group's logo. B.T.O. released a pair of albums, Street Action and Rock n' Roll Nights, at the end of the '70s before disbanding in 1980. The split didn't last long. Randy Bachman and Turner reunited in Union, a band Bachman formed after the dissolution of Ironhorse, his first post-B.T.O. venture. This was the seed of the revival of Bachman-Turner Overdrive in 1983, an incarnation that featured Randy and Tim Bachman and C.F. Turner, but no other previous members; Guess Who's Garry Peterson was brought in to drum. This lineup released the Bachman-Turner Overdrive album in 1984, which they supported with a tour that was captured on the 1986 album Live! Live! Live! Randy Bachman's old friend Sammy Hagar requested that Bachman-Turner Overdrive open for Van Halen on the singer's first tour with the group in 1986, so Randy, Tim, and Peterson played as a trio due to Turner's unavailability. The next flurry of B.T.O. activity arrived in 1988, when the Not Fragile-era lineup featuring Robbie Bachman and Blair Thornton regrouped for a tour and a stab at a new album that only generated a cover of Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs' "Wooly Bully" for the soundtrack to the 1989 movie American Boyfriends. By 1991, Randy Bachman had left the band, leading Robbie Bachman, Turner and Thornton to carry on with Randy Murray -- who had previously played in a competing version of B.T.O. led by Tim Bachman in the late '80s -- as his replacements. The version of B.T.O. featuring Murray held strong from 1991 through 2004, touring regularly and recording five new songs to supplement the re-recordings that comprised 1996's Trial by Fire: Greatest & Latest. B.T.O. split in 2005, instigated by Robbie Bachman's desire to retire. Randy Bachman and C.F. Turner reunited in 2010 for a tour and album as Bachman & Turner, resulting in an eponymous album that year and Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC in 2011. Bachman & Turner remained on the road through 2018, during which time the Not Fragile-era lineup of Bachman-Turner Overdrive was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014. Turner retired from the road in 2018, while Robbie Bachman and Tim Bachman passed within months of each other in early 2023. Not long after their deaths, Randy Bachman announced a Bachman-Turner Overdrive 50th anniversary tour that kicked off in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in August 2023.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo


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