Few artists can claim to have made a bigger impact on popular music than Randy Bachman, widely regarded as the “architect of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll.” His renowned songwriting acumen produced “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “American Woman,” “Let it Ride, “Taking Care of Business,” “Looking Out for #1,” “No Sugar Tonight” and “These Eyes,” tracks that have become pop‐culture touchstones.
One of the Great White North’s favourite musical sons, Bachman co-founded iconic bands The Guess Who and Bachman‐Turner Overdrive, earning over 120 gold and platinum albums/singles around the world as a performer and producer, and amassing more than 40 million in record sales. He’s also no stranger to garnering coveted #1 spots on radio playlists, having done so in over 20 countries.
His accomplishments haven’t gone unrecognized, of course. In addition to his induction into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Bachman has the distinction of being the only one of his countrymen to be inducted twice into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, most recently alongside his fellow original Bachman‐Turner Overdrive members in 2014. A recipient of the Order of Canada, Bachman’s overwhelming international influence and popularity was acknowledged in 2011 by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), in the form of the Global Impact Award.
Despite all of his success, Bachman was determined to move forward musically, and in order to do so, he had to look backward, and revisit the glorious days of the ‘60s British blues boom. Using the amplified blues‐rock of Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Who as his blueprints, Bachman and a newly formed power trio envisioned his new album, Heavy Blues, as an explosive, raw reinterpretation of that music with a distorted, modern edge.
Heavy Blues came about after Bachman was offered a new record deal. Talking over the turn of events with old friend Neil Young, Bachman was advised: “Don’t make the same old music and call it new. Reinvent yourself, your writing, your sound and get out of the box. You’ll lose some fans, but you’ll gain some new ones – time to be fierce, ferocious and afraid.”
Hungry for a new musical adventure, Bachman hit on the idea of doing a blues album, something he’d once started with longtime collaborator Fred Turner but had never finished.
“I’ve done blues solos and ‘American Woman’ and things like that, different songs, but I’ve never really done a whole blues album,” said Bachman. “So, things just evolved.”
Determined to step out of his comfort zone, Bachman made another difficult decision, going with an outside producer rather than handling those chores himself. He chose famed rock producer Kevin Shirley, who didn’t make things easy on Bachman.
“Kevin pushed me past my stop sign and pulled me down a road I never would have gone before, because I’d produced myself for so long,” said Bachman. “I’d get to a point and say, ‘I’m great, I’m fabulous. That’s a good vocal track. That’s a good guitar solo. I’m moving on.’ And he’d say, ‘No, I think you can do better. I heard you do better just goofing around with your set‐up. Can you go back? What was that lick you were playing when you plugged in your amp and you were trying the amps? And I’d go: ‘This one?’ He’d go: ‘Yeah, that one. Play that one.’”
At Shirley’s urging, Bachman learned to trim the fat from his songs.
“I went back and I simplified so many songs,” said Bachman. “I had written so many songs, and Kevin Shirley would say to me, ‘This is really great, but it’s got 12 chords. Take out 10 of them and make it a two‐chord song.’ And I go, ‘Wow, yeah, but it’s going to change the whole song and the melody line,’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, so be it. Go and change it.’ So I’d go and change it, and it’d become more of a Bo Diddley thing, like in ‘Confessin’ to the Devil.’”
A slew of guitar greats such as Neil Young, Joe Bonamassa, Peter Frampton, Robert Randolph, Scott Holiday of Rival Sons, Luke Doucet and the late Jeff Healey all contribute their own unique guitar licks to various tracks, all written by Bachman.
“They’ve all been heroes, and they’ve all been friends,” said Bachman.
The album also features two additional musicians in bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Dale Anne Brendon, who along with Bachman formed a new power trio dubbed BACHMAN. It was Shirley who referred to Ruddick and Brendon as Bachman’s “secret weapon”.
“Every light went off in my brain saying, ‘This is it!’ You now have a late‐‘60s British blues power trio in the making,” said Bachman.
How right he was. From the start, the chemistry was undeniable. They were up against a tight schedule, due to Shirley’s limited availability. Shirley, who’s worked with Journey, Iron Maiden, Rush and Led Zeppelin over his illustrious career, could only give Bachman two weeks, due to other commitments. That was just enough time.
“What I liked about it was that it happened so immediately,” said Bachman. “It was a blur. We did 12 songs in a week, and then Kevin took it to ‘the cave’ (his studio.)”
With remarkable speed and urgency, using material culled from the vast amount of unreleased songs in his catalogue Bachman unearthed over the summer of 2014, the threesome banged out the album at Metal Works in Toronto. “We got everything in two or three takes,” explained Bachman.
“It is a total risk, but I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Bachman. “We nailed it. We were like kids in a candy story, ‘cause we all wanted to eat the same candy and it tasted great. I think it’s a great album and can’t wait to play it live mixed in with my other hits, which I’ll always honor and perform.”
There’s an immediacy and toughness to Heavy Blues that’s impossible to ignore. At the same time, Bachman’s songwriting craftsmanship shines through thick, fuzzy coats of distortion.
It was Bonamassa who recommended Shirley, but he did more than simply advise Bachman on possible producers. He and the other legendary guitarists already mentioned added their own stylistic diversity and unique personalities to the songs of Heavy Blues with well‐executed, imaginative solos. In fact, it was Bonamassa’s participation that jump‐started the expansion of the record to include guest performances.
“I first got a taste of what Joe could do back when I saw him in a band called The Bloodline, which also featured the offspring of Miles Davis, Robby Krieger of The Doors and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers Band. Joe was phenomenal, even then.”
Their paths would cross again backstage during the High Voltage Festival in London four years ago, during which they discovered a shared connection in Shirley, whom Bachman has known since the mid‐90s. Upon finding themselves all in Toronto at the same time this past year, Shirley presented a couple of the Heavy Blues tracks to Bonamassa with the invitation to contribute a solo. The guitar ace delivered.
“When Kevin got Joe Bonamassa to solo on a track, I thought to ask a few more players,” said Bachman. With the “next Clapton” on board, Bachman next turned his attention to the “next Jimmy Page”: “I’ve known Scott Holiday for several years, since I saw the Rival Sons’ promotional club gig in Toronto,” said Bachman. “When I asked if he’d solo on a Zeppelin‐sounding track, he jumped at it and played his face off. He was amazing. The track rocks beyond belief.”
The other guest players fell into place with amazing synchronicity: “I’ve known Neil since we were teenagers. When I sent him an email and asked him to be a part of it, he agreed. That was a game‐changer. I was lucky enough to be asked to play ‘Frampton’s Guitar Circus’ and I got Peter Frampton and Robert Randolph from that gig at the Hollywood Bowl.”
There was also a posthumous appearance from Healey.
“I had recorded live with Jeff Healey several years before he passed away. I remember what a dear friend he was and missed him and thought how he’d like to be on this album. I asked his widow Crystie and she said she’d be proud, and so would Jeff, to be part of this. So I found a song we did years ago in the same key and tempo as one of mine, and Jeff’s solo fit perfectly into ‘Confessin’ to the Devil.’”
Lyrically, Heavy Blues also reveals a different side of Bachman. Listening to old blues songs inspired him to write about subjects often addressed in the genre.
“They’re all personal, because I wrote them about my life experiences in the last five or six years,” said Bachman. “I changed my marriage. I’ve changed my band. I’ve changed where I live. I got a record deal and changed my music, so the whole thing is about change and karmic circles.”
Karma plays a big role in the gritty title track, which Bachman said was written for an ex‐friend of his “who kind of did me wrong for many, many, many years, and I wanted him to make it right and gave him many opportunities and he didn’t.”
Dealing with life’s trials and tribulations is addressed on “Oh My Lord,” where Bachman urges listeners to “let the bad times roll,” explaining “this is what life is – a series of good and bad events” that cannot be avoided. “The Edge,” an explosive track reminiscent of The Who, is one that Bachman considers emblematic of the whole record in that “it’s very obvious that every song you can hear us live pushing each other. There’s never a rest in these songs. It’s just kicking you in the face and then kicking you in the face and then kicking you in the face. So the playing gets more intense.”
“A lot of my stuff has been what you’d call ‘pop music’ – ‘These eyes cry every night for you/these arms long to hold you,’” said Bachman. “With these I went to the essence of blues. There are songs about drinking. There are songs about dancing with the devil on ‘Confessin’ to the Devil.’”
Of all the tracks on Heavy Blues, though, “We Need to Talk” stands out as unique, as it’s more of a poignant country‐blues piece. “It’s so nice at the end of the album, after being kicked in the face 10 times by every single song in different grooves and different tempos of kicking you in the face, up comes this really nice thing that ends with me alone saying, ‘We need to talk.’ It’s kind of an intimate, here I am, here are all the blues songs, but here’s the most important blues song of all, ‘We Need to Talk.’”
Mixing of the album took place in the summer of 2014. Shirley and Bachman had formed such a bond over the years that the producer, also known as “The Caveman,” did something out of character.
“He’s never allowed anyone into his ‘cave’,” said Bachman. “He’s always mixed the albums alone. I was the first guy he let into ‘The Cave,’ which is what he calls his place in Malibu. So I went down there, gave him a few suggestions, we mixed the album in four or five days, and he went to do Iron Maiden … five days recording, five days of mixing, which is very little time basically. It’s pretty much live off the floor.”
There is a lot for fans of guitar rock to enjoy about Heavy Blues, especially considering all the big‐name guests tied to the project. “I think my fans will embrace it, and if you’re a guitar player … yahoo! Get on board. The promotion we have planned where anyone can download a song without the guest soloist and play their own solo is unique. Then, they send in their version with them soloing to the host radio station and the winner gets to come on stage with me and the band and play their solo, get a free Les Paul guitar and play the encore as well.”
As for the album’s overall allure, Bachman sees Heavy Blues appealing to devotees of ‘60s British blues rock, as well as contemporary indie artists like The Black Keys and The White Stripes.
“This project took on a life of its own and is still growing,” said Bachman. “It is amazing to me when something synergistic like this happens basically on its own once the elements are gathered together. I was barely in control once it started. I started the engine and then went along for the ride. It was the most instant project I’ve ever worked on.”