Randy Bachman is jazzing up the classics

One of the most iconic musicians in Canadian history, Randy Bachman is the founding member of both The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive. He’s a guitar player’s guitar player who has sold more than 40 million albums throughout his career.

This Thursday, Dec. 17, JAZZ.FM91 and the TD Toronto Jazz Festival are proud to present Bachman & Bachman.

In an intimate and acoustic setting, Randy Bachman and his son Tal Bachman will tell stories and perform some of the songs that helped to inspire Randy’s signature sound, with a setlist that includes a mix of jazz standards, selections from his incredible catalogue of hits, and a surprise or two from pop culture.

The show will also feature four musicians to put their own spin on a Randy Bachman written or co-written tune: Brooke Blackburn, Genevieve Marentette, Kaia Kater and the Heavyweights Brass Band were given a blank slate to reinterpret one of the works of this Canadian musical icon.

Randy Bachman joined us over the phone from his new home in Victoria, B.C., to talk about the circumstances that led to Bachman & Bachman.

What have your last few months been like? How’s it been?

I’ve been busier than ever. I moved out of Oakville to Victoria, my son Tal is here, and his partner is a hairdresser so she had to shut down her business back in March. She did the makeup and hair for all the movies and TV going on here. They had to give up their place, and I said come live with me. She said all these guys are out of work — do you want to do a live broadcast on YouTube? We picked Friday night at 6 p.m. PT, and Tal and I just show up with two acoustic guitars, he brings five or six songs that he grew up playing as a teenager learning guitar, and I bring five or six songs that only I’ve played. We called it a “Friday night train wreck,” because after we did one, I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s embarrassing. We made like 100 mistakes in eight songs.” We didn’t have time to practice, we were just live on the air. All these emails came in saying it was so charming to see professional musicians actually making mistakes, changing keys in the middle of a song, correcting each other without anger. They loved it. Now we’re in our 36th or 37th week. From that, we got an offer to do a Bachman & Bachman album … and I got offered to do Jazz Thing 3. 

It’s funny how people respond to you and Tal working on those tunes as you go. People are so starved for authenticity, or to see behind the scenes. That’s what they’re getting from you — just being in the moment and learning that material. 

I’m really enjoying being real. The first couple of shows were like standing on stage with your pants down, or your fly open. Then after a while you go, “Hey, they kind of like this.” And then we got a call to do this TD Toronto Jazz Festival thing. Are you kidding? I did the festival two years ago; I had Laila Biali with me and we did a mixture of blues, rock and jazz. I said what should I do now? They said they just wanted me and Tal, no band. Two guys, two guitars, do some standards, do Undun, do Laughing, do American Woman and whatever, in different styles. Pretend it’s jazz and do it jazzy. And then there are four other artists who are going to be doing my songs. It’s about taking my music and giving it a whole new audience.

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Tell me about the connection between you and Tal. I’m guessing you’ve been playing music together since he’s been alive. To see him develop and to write songs together, I can’t imagine how special that must be.

It became a whole new thing. He was growing up and I’d come home and find out he had all my Beatles records lying all over the living room, then he had out all my Joe Pass records, and then he had out all my Barney Kessel records. I kept saying, “Do you want me to teach you anything on guitar?” He said: “No, I don’t want to play like you.” So he taught himself how to play by listening to Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Eddie Van Halen. Then he started playing piano from listening to Barry Manilow, Keith Jarrett and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then he started playing drums. During my life, I’ve called him saying my drummer just broke his leg in a motorcycle accident — can you come and drum? “OK Dad, when?” Tomorrow is the gig. So he quit college and played drums with me two or three weeks or months or years. When I did the George Harrison tribute album a couple of years ago called By George — where I reinterpreted George Harrison’s songs in a jazzy style — I needed another person to help me, because there are a lot of harmonies. He came in as part of my band. Now we got a record offer out of Nashville, because they had seen our Bachman & Bachman thing on Friday nights. They asked if we can do an Americana album, and I asked what they meant by that. They sent me two tracks, and I said, “Do you know what these two tracks are? It’s me.” They said, “No it’s not, it’s a band called Brave Belt.” I said that’s what I did after I left The Guess Who. I wanted to stop doing pop music and get back to my roots with country-rock and jazz type of stuff.

You’re telling me they sent you tunes of you playing as a roadmap?

As a roadmap for Americana. I said I can do this. I tried this in 1970, and it didn’t work. We got heavier and became Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and then I had a career as Mr. Heavy. But really, I do like Americana music. I like Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, and Tal and I really like bluegrass. So, we’re getting a chance to expand our musical dreams and our musical vocabulary. We were asked to do an album together. I didn’t want it to be my son playing songs with me. I want equal-shmequal. I write a third, Tal writes a third, and we’ll write a third together. So there’s a little bit of our personalities on our own and a little bit together. We’ve got about three dozen songs that we’re narrowing down. In the meantime, I’ve got six songs done for Jazz Thing 3. I’ll be calling you about those in a couple of months when it comes out.

Had you written songs with Tal before, or was it the first time?

We had written before, but it was more for fun. Now, we’re writing an album and we have labels interested in us. We’ve got to do something here. This has got to be great. Our lawyer in Nashville, Jim Zumwalt, he’s the guy responsible for pulling Tanya Tucker out of her doldrums about four years ago and doing the album last year where she won three Grammys, one American Music Award and one Americana Award. He likes underdogs. He looked at me and Tal as underdogs who people thought could never have another career. I’ve hit No. 1 twice with two bands … so they’re saying maybe you could do it a third time. Why not? Take me to the edge. I don’t care how dark it is, I’ll jump into the dark. I’ve done it before. I might land on my feet, and if not, it’s been a great jump and I’ll enjoy the fall.

We’re really looking forward to this show, Randy. It sounds like it’s going to be very special.

So am I. I’m really thrilled about being able to take the chance. And I’ve got to tell you, I really, really miss driving around the GTA and listening to JAZZ.FM91. I really miss it. It’s not the same at my house, listening on my iPad. There’s something about being in Toronto. Whenever classic radio got boring — which it does every hour — bam, right to JAZZ.FM91, and there’s something new and exciting on all the time.

This interview has been edited and condensed.