Randy Bachman and The Making of His New Album Heavy Blues

BTO7067-Randy-650When legendary rock musician Randy Bachman told one of his long time friends about his plans to record an album, the friend basically told him don’t do the same old thing and then call it new. I suppose if I were to say that to Randy he’d probably tell me to get stuffed but his friend that said it was Neil Young.

Bachman listened and enlisted the help of blues rock badass Kevin Shirley. who pulled no punches with the guy that made The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner-Overdrive household names in the classic rock world. Shirley, a producer who has worked with a laundry list of bands including Joe Bonamassa and Led Zeppelin   insisted bluntly that Bachman listen to him and do things his way, which Randy also did. What resulted was a fantastic new album, heavy as hell and should quickly become a favorite among guitar lovers.  It’s called “Heavy Blues” and it features guest performances by Peter Frampton, the aforementioned Neil Young, Joe Bonamassa and a fiery solo by the late Jeff Healey that was recorded years earlier but Randy, with permission of the estate built a masterpiece around Healey’s solo.

The album is a collection of songs that are done in the heavy, heavy blues style of some of the biggest rockers our times, such as Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Who.  The core group is a blues power trio to be reckoned with, featuring Bachman and a couple of extremely talented females, drummer Dale Anne Brendon and bass player Anna Ruddick.

We got a chance to catch up with Randy and chat about the new album, the music industry and the recording process for the album:

NWMS: Been listening to the new album a lot, and you’re taking your music to a totally different place.

R: “Well, it was kind of an evolutionary thing. A couple things happened to me at once. Just like writing a song, like when I wrote the riff for “American Woman” or “She’s Come Undone”, it just kinda comes to you, and you learn to let it happen, it’s almost like a medium having a vision of tomorrow or what’s gonna happen. So I sensed these things happening.

It started out with a dinner with Geoff Kulawick who owns True North Records, and he said “I’m running True North Records, and doing a great job,” and he’d previously worked at Warner/Chappell Music as a publisher, so he knew his stuff. And he says, “I just signed your friend Buffy Sainte-Marie to my label, and I want to sign another couple evergreen artists who have a fan-base who tour and work, and I’ll give you a shot once you come up with a new idea.” And I had been inducted into the Nashville Musicians Hall of Fame back in January a year ago, and I was there inducted with Peter Frampton, Duane Eddy, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Billy Gibbons, etc. They were all there being inducted, and I was standing on stage, and Neil Young was there, and he comes up to me and says, “So what’s shaking, what’s going on?” I said, “I can’t believe I just got offered a record deal.” And he looks at me and says “Don’t blow it. Get out of your comfort zone, get a producer to tell you what to do, have a guy push you past your soft spot, down a road that you wouldn’t normally go down because you’re comfortable with being you. Be ferocious and fearless.”

With all that in mind, I see this drummer; I go to see Tommy a year ago in Stratford, Ontario, the new digital version of Tommy where all of the sets are all like digital screens, and I was sitting there with Des McAnuff, he’s the original producer on Broadway, and he goes, “The drummer is amazing, sounds like Keith Moon.” And I said, “The drummer is a woman.” And he says, “Can’t be.” So after the show we go and meet the drummer and the drummer is a woman – Dale Anne Brendon. And he says, “How do you play like Keith Moon?” She said, “Well, I write out the drum parts to rip them all out from the entire Tommy album.” And she has her own drums, so we played with her about a year ago with this country band I was writing songs with, and went to do this gig at this big curling tournament, and the last song was “Takin’ Care of Business”. I wanted to do something with her because she’s such an out-of-the-box drummer. I asked her, “Do you wanna do something just you and me like The White Stripes? I got a record deal. You be Meg White and I’ll just go out and do my thing.” And she said “Great.” So I tell Geoff Kulawick this, I tell my manager this, and they kinda freak out and say, “Just get somebody else in the band, don’t try to do the White Stripes or Black Keys thing, get another musician.”

So a year ago BTO gets inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame in Winnipeg, our hometown. And I go to see a band one night, and they’re called Ladies of the Canyon, and it’s four women that play like crazy where it’s long scraggly hair, flannel shirts and jeans, and they’re playing like early Eagles where it’s blazing country rock, and the bass player is Anna Ruddick. And so I have a meeting with her and tell her about my project and asked her if she wanted to play bass. And she showed up to the meeting in a John Entwistle T-shirt. And I said, “Wow, do you like John Entwistle? I tour with him for a whole year in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band.” She said he was her favorite bass player when she was studying at McGill. She was studying John Entwistle and what he did with The Who. I said that I had a drummer that was a lot like Keith Moon, so let’s get together. I wanted her to do like the Blues Explosion of the Late 60s from England, because to me that was the third revolution for me in my life. Elvis was the first, Beatles was the second, and then the White Power Trio, Cream, The Who and Zeppelin bringing the American blues back to America by repackaging it, playing it a bit louder, more forceful, more distortion, and all that stuff. I had to live through that, and they had kind of studied it. And so when we were doing these templates I said, “You be Keith Moon, you be John, here’s a song called “The Edge”.” And I would play it and they’d go, “Wow. We’ve always wanted to play like this but nobody would let us; everyone wants real simple bass and drums, like drum and bass loops.” And I’m letting them play very un-loopy to let them do whatever the heck they want, and it turns out that the song has so much energy because we’re just pushing each other’s boundaries.

Then the next song I say, “Okay, now be John Bonham and John Paul Jones and here’s my Zeppelin song, it’s called “Ton of Bricks”.” “Here’s my Hendrix song, it’s called “Please Come to Paris”.” “Here’s my bluesy gospel song by Credence Clearwater called “Oh My Lord”.” And so they latch into these things and then Kevin Shirley, who’d had the vibe he needed to really get into that – he’d just gotten a lot of the Led Zeppelin remixes and remasters and stuff, and he says, “I got a friend of mine, Joe Bonamassa, to do a solo on it.” And I say, “Wow, great idea.” So I called Cristy Healey and I said, “I’ve got a live track with me and Jeff at Massey Hall in Toronto. Can I use Jeff’s guitar and put it on this album?” And she said, “Great, Jeff would’ve loved to be on the album.” So I get it in the morning, which is a BB King song Jeff and I played, which was in G, so I wrote a song in G, and played it very Bo Diddley, and it’s called “Confessin’ to the Devil” and somehow magically the solo fit perfectly into the track.”

NWMS: “Can I ask you a question about that song really quick? The solo does fit like so perfect, it’s almost like you built the song around the solo. Did you sort of do that, or did it just fall in?”

R: “Well, I did have the original version, and I just had my engineer take out Jeff’s solo, and I wrote the song so it’d be in G and there’d be no weird key changes. So it’s pretty much just like “American Woman” or “Whole Lotta Love”. So I had that in mind, but I had no idea what it would turn out like.

We cut this album in five days, the basic tracks, then Kevin Shirley went to Australia, then came back for a three-day mixing session, I went to his place in Malibu to do that, and then we sent out mixes and MP3s to different players, Neil Young, Scott Holiday, etc., and they sent us back a little piece of their heart and gold and we put it in the album and it’s amazing how it all fits together.

If you’re a guitar player, this is a great album to get because you basically can listen to every guy. We’re going to have a download of the seven songs free with the solos missing, so if you download the album, you can then go download the seven songs and you can play all of Neil’s parts or Frampton’s parts or Robert Randolph’s parts. We’re gonna have a contest where you can send it in to radio stations, and whoever wins comes down to play down that solo with me, you play “Takin’ Care of Business”, and you get a free Les Paul guitar. It’ll be a regional contest, when I’m going and playing different cities, it’ll probably last a year, it’ll probably start in a week ‘cause I’m doing some shows in Toronto. Q107 in Toronto is the first classic rock station to be doing this: They’ll be playing Heavy Blues, if you go and download the album ahead of time, you get a song that’s not even on the album called “The Devil Lied”, and you get a free download of “Heavy Blues” with Frampton’s solo missing. Then you can play your own, put it on YouTube it and do guitar karaoke because me and the girls are backing you up, and classic rock radio stations will run the contest for two or three weeks before my gig, get a solo guitarist, pick one just like The Voice where you don’t know who’s playing the solo, invite them down to the gig, they win the guitar, they play on stage, they become a local hero.”

NWMS: “That’s being pretty innovative.”

R: “Well, I went to radio stations and they said, “We think your album might be great, but I don’t think we could ever play it.” I said “Come on guys, do I have to change my name to The Guess Who for people to know who I am?” “Well, we need a reason to play it. Can you think of a contest?” I said, “I can think of a great contest. I’ve got seven great soloists, I can mix it without the soloists, how about we run a contest where we can get any local guitar kid to solo over it?” Q107 is doing it in Toronto, I’m doing a gig there in the middle of April; they rented a club called The Mod Club, I’m going there to play, and they’ll pick a winner to come, they’ll get the first Les Paul. Then I’ll go to Montreal, do it in Cleveland and Chicago, now we’re already getting a call from LA, we’ve got one from New York, so as the stations get the word out that we’re doing this contest we’re getting more and more calls from owners of radio stations. We’ve got 30 guitars for Canada, 30 for England, 30 for Germany, and 100 for the States. The winners are gonna get an Epiphone Les Paul guitar, Heavy Blues strings, and Heavy Blues guitar picks which are my favorite picks that my buddy from Vancouver makes.”

NWMS: “So that was that your idea?”

R: “*laughs* Yes, it was my idea.”

NWMS: “Joe[Bonamassa] has something on the guitar that not that many people have. How much do you like his playing?”

R: “He is not polite. When you hear his solo in my song, he kills me. I’m doing this slow Eric Clapton thing, and he comes barreling through, and it sort of throws me for a loop there. And it’s great the contrast between guitar players playing different solos is that you get a wide spectrum of guitar playing, which is why it’s innovative to take the solo out and let other people substitute their own. Joe is just a wonderful guitar player.”

NWMS: “Joe has said about the blues before that a car from the 40s is nothing like a car from the 2000s.” And I thought it was a really interesting way to compare the old with the new, How do you feel about it?”

R: “I agree with Joe, there’s nothing like an old vintage car or an old vintage artist, but guess what? They break down. I’d much rather be driving what I just got, a 2015 Highlander, than driving a 1948 Ford like my dad. I love all the new young guys who are learning – they’re playing Muddy Waters, and Howling Wolf and all that. Joe’s done a great job of bringing young fans to the blues. They go to see Joe, they go to Muddy, they go to Bo Diddley, they go to Chuck Berry, who’s like a messenger of late-50s blues turning into rock and roll, and you discover it all, just like you discover a writer. You just need that one spark to get you there.”

NWMS: “One thing I really love about Heavy Blues is that it is different from a lot of blues albums that seem to follow a lot of the same formulas, and a lot of it is really similar. But you took more of an alternative route to it. You can still tell it’s you, but all of the songs are just so different because of the approach you took.”

R: “Well thank you. I tried to make it like a compilation album from the late 60s that has a Who track and a Hendrix track and a Zeppelin and the Stones and just kinda get their best stuff and not do their songs but try to get the vibe that those songs had, and having the girls just latch into that right away, it was just a great foundation for me to stand on their shoulders and try to do little Hendrix things with my voice or play little Hendrix licks or Clapton licks, which of course I can’t do as good as the original, but I’m paying tribute to them and trying to bring new people to go and discover not just Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, but Cream, the old Eric Clapton, the one I fell in love with from 67, and The Who and Jimi Hendrix, and so many more; it’s just such a powerful guitar sound.

I didn’t use any of my new guitars when making these songs. No Gibsons, no Fenders, no Silvertone amps, no foot pedals, just amps real loud. I got an amazing powerful huge guitar sound; Kevin and I just put five little National and Silvertone amps in a big room, and we put in about six mics. We spread my guitar sound from like 8:00 in the stereo mix, one at 10, one at 12, one at 2, one at 4 and one at 6, so when I play a chord it fills the whole spectrum with different frequencies and different speakers and different mics picking it up; it sounds like it’s the world’s largest guitar coming through all of these amps, and then you put the bass and drums in the middle and you have what you call Power, like Mono Power. It’s not really a Stereo sort of album. I love Mono and Power.”

NWMS: “How do you feel about the whole music industry now, like streaming, downloads, all that. How much do you think that’s hurt music, or do you think it helps it?”

R: “Well, I’d sure like the old days back, but they’re never gonna come back. I’d like to be 20 years younger, but that’s never going to happen. You have to roll with what’s going on with yourself and the world. That being said, I totally hate the guy that did Napster who stole all the music and made it free. I kind of like what Apple did where they are now paying people, but they’re underpaying people and honoring the old contracts where people are getting shafted. I think Apple, with all of their profits, could be paying much better royalties to songwriters and musicians who created the music that are sold on iTunes, I think it could be a much fairer structure. These guys are rolling in billions, so…”

NWMS: “Dude, they sold 74 million iPhones last quarter.”

R: “I know, and same with the music. How many songs are they downloading where the old blues guy whose work you’re downloading is getting a penny because Apple rips them off. They should rewrite the whole royalty structure and songwriter structure. They’re not sharing the wealth, they’re kind of using us to create this other music, because even the BTO and Guess Who stuff, as a band, we’re still getting 4 cents a record or 10 cents an album, and we’re selling millions of downloads.”

Well let’s hope a lot of people pickup “Heavy Blues” by Randy Bachman, in fact you can do that HERE.

Also, “Like” Randy on Facebook