Driving Music: Bachman-Turner Overdrive
1986 interview with BTO's Tim Bachman
In the first two years they were together, Bachman-Turner Overdrive netted four platinum records, a Juno award for "Group of the Year," and literally dozens of other distinctions. They also travelled over 700,000 miles, appearing before 2 1/2 million people in 230 concerts across the continent.
When B.T.O. disbanded in 1979, most people thought that would be it. But in 1984 a re-formed B.T.O. released another record and hit the road again. So far, it seems that they'll repeat their past success; they've put in enough work to make it, touring around 200 days a year both alone and with Van Halen.
Getting in touch with Tim Bachman, lead guitarist and vocalist, wasn't as tough as it could have been, partly because he's the group's new manager. The Vancouver resident was businesslike but personable, his views those of both a band member and band manager. Meeting with the band after their concert at the Ritz confirmed my opinion of Tim Bachman and B.T.O. In their own words:
I'm just an average man frying to make a living,
Doing the best that I can
I'm just an average man
But my name is in lights...
Bachman-Turner Overdrive is a hard-working, unpretentious heavy duty rock band, "not fragile" to the core.
What are your immediate plans for the future?
Seeing as it's getting close to the end of the year, we have just about another 20 or so dates to play. On the label that we're on currently, we have some songs and a new movie that's coming out November 27, and they'll be releasing a single and a video from that movie. We're in the process of being released from that label so we'll be making a new label deal hopefully within the next month or so and going into the studio January or Febrary and releasing a new album in the spring or somewhere in 1987.
What are your reasons for leaving the old label ? Do you feel that they didn't give you enoogh publicity, or did you just get a better deal elsewhere?
Well, actually, both. I would say that the label we're currently on and ourselves did not see eye to eye as to what should or shouldn't be done to promote a single or an album.
What kinds of musical styles do you see Bachman-Turner Overdrive as heading into!?
Randy has always been the main writer, I was always a subsidiary writer, so there will be a lot of similarities between the 1970s albums and the others. We'll probably be using more of the electronic toys that are available, but we'll be using them with your own style and bending them to fit our music rather than bending our music to fit the new toys.
more of an idea of the feelings of the members of their ideas and what they would or wouldn't do, so I can make those split-second decisions with more of the band's best interests in mind than a manager who's not part of the band.
Why did you pick 1984 to regroup?
We actually started getting back together in 1983. Randy and I started talking in 1982 about the possibility of getting the rest of the band back together. What did get them back together was a phone call from some people on the West Coast who offered us each a million dollars to reform the band and let them be our management. What that did was get us in the same room together and talking, and we refused their deal and decided to do it on our own.
Since then, my youngest brother, the original drummer, Rob, decided not to come into the band at all, Fred Turner came into the band for about 18 months and left in February of this year, and Garry Peterson, who was the drummer for that time period, broke his foot and is now playing for a different band because we had to go on without him. I would say Randy and I just decided and had personal feelings that we wanted to do this again and it was the right time to do it together. It's very hard to explain, I don't think it had much to do with the industry as much as with, I don't know what you'd call it, personal inspiration.
Do you see any difficulties in regaining your popularity?
Yes. The main difficulties that any band is up against whether you are a brand new band or a band that is coming back or an individual performer is the machine or machines between yourself and the public. That involves the record company, promotion, the press, on paper and on the airwaves. And now you have an added thing where you have visual as well as audio on the airwaves.
Hence the movie.
And videos. You have to basically have all of those things working in your favor, and sometimes they just don't all click at the same time. The old adage of being in the right place at the right time is true, but if somebody ever wanted to elaborate on that, it's that you're in the right place at the right time to be seen by someone who has all those things I mentioned previously at his fingertips and makes them go in your direction, and that is usually someone at a label. You know, there are thousands of bands signed to record labels, and somebody at their respective company makes a decision that it is or isn't their turn that year.
Somebody assigns you a budget for promotion or for distribution, and that's what you have to live with. So you spend your time creating the best possible product in your music that you possibly can by practicing your craft and working at your craft and becoming the best performer that you can and then putting it down on tape. The luck of it is hoping that somebody in the business end of it hears it, sees you, likes both what they see and hear, and says "this year I'm going to make it their turn and it's going to happen to them."
Do you think that that's happened yet, or are you still working towards it?
I'm still working towards it. We know that we have a large amount of people out there in the public that really want to hear what we have to offer and enjoy buying and listening to our products whether it's on album form or tape form or CD. And by the way, Polygram finally saw the merit of releasing The Best of BTO on CD and I hear it's finally been released this weekend.
It's just getting the knowledge to those people that we have product out there. We've been seen by over 2 million people on the Van Halen tour this year, and besides playing with them been doing shows on our own, so we've created a lot of momentum in the past two years. ... But we've had people from the label that we're on, that are regional representatives, come to the show and say, "Why aren't we doing anything for you?" And all I can say to them is hey, we've been begging for it, you to to your superiors and ask them. We've had some of them call us back because we have fans in the industry as well as without, and say to us "We couldn't really get an answer, the only answer we could get is you're not really a priority this year. Yet they see what's happening and the crowd reaction we're getting...playing with Van Halen, we've had a lot of people in your business come to us and say, "at the reaction of the crowd, it's hard to see who's the headlining act." They said if you walked in on our set, you wouldn't know if we were the headliner or the opening act, because the response we're getting is the response of the headliner. The package of us with Van Halen is such an incredible package because the people are getting two headliners for the price of one. Van Halen has enough respect and confidence in themselves to know that they're one of the few bands that doesn't have a problem following us. I would say 1986 for both Van Halen and BTO has been the best year on the road in any of our careers, as far as playing with people who you like and enjoy and having a great time together on the road.
Do you find that you have a stronger reaction on the West coast, or is your audience support around the same here?
We have the same reaction everywhere in the country. The East coast is the most highly populated area, so its the most noticeable there. We like touring in the East the best because, coming from Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is Canada's garment center, the attitudes of the people are very much like the people from the New Jersey/New York/Philadelpha area, so we feel almost at home there. Whereas a lot of guys from the Midwest or the West say "Oh, so you're going to New York" or "you're going to Philadelphia" and it's like a scary thing to them. We tell them "you're watching too much TV" or movies or something. It's like a myth because 99% of the people are really wonderful, warm people and we have a wonderful time there.
Do you find that you're still under-reported by the Canadian press?
The New Rock Express, which is a new magazine in this country but it's been in
Canada for years, gives us quite a good coverage, but the rest of the country really has no idea what's happening down here with us. Where we grew up the odd guy might talk to us and we tell them what we've been doing down here, they've been flabbergasted by the amount of work that we do.
What do you plan to call your new record?
We have no idea. In fact, we may not even be called the same thing. Since we got back together, we've had to pay a percentage of our gross to use the name B.T.O. We've been paying it to the people who are not in the band now but were in the past. When I left the band, I turned over everything and I said good luck, you know, go on and do the best you can, and I never asked for anything and all I got was the royalties for the records that I performed on.
When the other people in the band decided not to join the band, they thought even though they weren't out there performing they deserved something and that we should; pay them for the right to use the name. So we have been doing that. When I make a deal with a new label it will have to include the name lease, because it's very difficult to pay out of your gross. Every cent counts, nobody's in the business to lose money and at the very least we want to break even and be able to support and feed and clothe: and house our families and it's very hard to do when you're paying 10% to someone who's sitting at home and not generating anything to increase the gross that they're taking a percentage out of. So we're either going to change our name--to what we don't know, we've discussed either BBC, for Bachman-Bachman-Chappman, or just Bachman, or something else, or else having the label make an effort to buy out those other people who still own a part of the B.T.O.
Do you have any plans to tour the major colleges, like the state universities?
We go where the promoters hire us to go. If the colleges would like to hire us, by all means, we'd be happy to go there. We've played a few colleges this year, and we've had a lot of fun there.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
In whatever form, whatever name, Randy and I and Billy are back, we're BTO now, we hope that we can arrange it so we stay that, but we're doing what we love doing the most, and that's recording and performing for the public, and we'd like to play for as many people as we can.