Driving Music: Bachman-Turner Overdrive

News and such - last updated 2015

Introduction to Bachman-Turner Overdrive

How many people still remember Bachman-Turner Overdrive? Okay, how about the songs "Takin' care of business," "Let it roll on down the highway," and "You ain't seen nothin' yet"? Thought so.

randy bachmanBTO had a bunch of gold records in a very short time, but they did not last long enough (for personal reasons) to put an indelible stamp into the world's consciousness. Worse, when they came back in the 1980s, they turned down a multimillion dollar offer from a promoter to manage their own act; the music industry snubbed them, and they ended up playing to much smaller houses than they should have. The band underwent personnel changes until half of it was new. Then, at almost the same time, the "old" band formed to play with Ringo Starr's nationwide tour. It was messy, and the names of their new records didn't help. "Bachman-Turner Overdrive" had completely different songs from the 1974 record, but the name, confusingly, was the same. Their PR sheet actually quoted from a college newspaper — at that, one which has become an adult magazine.

The band was good. Their music was more sophisticated than most would credit, partly because most never heard it in full stereo on good equipment, but mostly because they could never please critics. When they kept to a fairly uniform style (Four Wheel Drive, Not Fragile), they were called commercial and repetitive. When they deviated, they were criticized even more, and that in an era of truly pretentious bands — Jethro Tull, Styx, and the like.

Another reviewer noted BTO's blue collar attitude and emphasis, and it's certainly true that if they were auto-oriented they were also good workmen. They worked hard at their trade, and their music had a surprising polish especially when compared to contemporary hard rock bands. Most of their mid-life songs are fast and energetic. Their trademark sound was strongest and most consistent on Not Fragile and Four Wheel Drive, with traces on BTO, BTO II, and Freeways; it was completely gone by the time Rock N Roll Nights came out.

They played good music in their comeback. They had energy, they had great new songs, they had no publicity and they just couldn't do it on their own. Times had changed. Simply touring and being good weren't enough without commercial backing and bucks for the DJs. So they disappeared back into obscurity. Randy Bachman got together with Neil Young and they did a couple of solo albums, but they never really got any airplay. At least they had a little fun and we got a little good music.

Brave Belt

Bachman-Turner Overdrive started out as Brave Belt, producing two albums which have nothing in common, and are in turn barely related to Bachman-Turner Overdrive; C.F. “Fred” Turner replaced Chad Allen after Brave Belt I.

Heavily influenced by Chad Allen, Brave Belt I is more folk than rock. It's rare and not really worth the amount of time I spent searching for it over 15 years, except in that I am no longer curious about it. Some early Guess Who has more in common with Brave Belt I than II; Chad Allen himself had been part of the Guess Who in the early days. In both cases, according to Randy Bachman’s autobiography, he just left.

With its CCR influence, Fred Turner vocals, and stronger guitars, Brave Belt II was heavy country rock but with a taste of the future BTO sound. It featured multiple vocalists, as well as the dual guitars that were to make the band famous. Its lack of commercial success was not surprising, though it became widely available when re-released in 1975.

Ironhorse and Union

After BTO, which survived for two albums after Randy Bachman, came a band named Ironhorse for two albums and Union for another. (BTO album reviews and notes). Ironhorse was good enough for fame and heavy airplay, but probaby due to poor relationships with music company executives, the band ended up forgotten. With the addition of Fred Turner and the name change to Union, the “not BTO” band reached a peak.

Late BTO

BTO at the CapitalSince those days, the band has arisen many times in many different forms, to the point where there were two BTOs playing at once — Bachman-Turner Overdrive with Randy Bachman, who owns the trademark to the full name, and BTO with Fred Turner. BTO’s last album, Trial by Fire, doesn't have Randy Bachman, but it does have Fred Turner, and its recording quality shows 20 years of audio advances.

The band re-formed briefly in the mid-1980s, touring relatively small venues with varying personnel. Tim Bachman was present for a time, and Burton Cummings of the Guess Who came to some concerns so that they were half BTO and half Guess Who. Presumably they stopped touring when the big time failed to materialize. The original band members appear to be financially set for life, so they have no need to tour.

Some modern-day BTO sightings

  • “The Simpsons” - harassed by Homer to playing just their hits at a local fair.
  • “New Waterford Girl” - movie soundtrack
  • Office Depot commercials - TCB (mid-2000s)

Bachman-Turner Overdrive links

BTO Rocks, Rob Bachman’s page, is dead now.

Randy Bachman's autobiography concentrates on the Guess Who but there's some interesting stuff on BTO as well, including the development of the band from Brave Belt I onwards. Worth $16.

randybachman.com - this site seems to have suddenly acquired a great deal of information but be warned, he decided to turn to jazz and country. Then he did Heavy Blues. You may or may not like his recent stuff, fortunately you can preview on the iTunes store.

Buy BTO albums. - and to read reviews of each album, including the ones you can't get (Ironhorse, Union, Rock n Roll Nights, Street Action, Randy Bachman Solo Record). Your purchases will help to support this site.

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