Bachman–Turner Overdrive is a Canadian rock group from Winnipeg, Manitoba, that had a series of hit albums and singles in the 1970s, selling over 7 million albums in that decade alone. Their 1970s catalogue included five Top 40 albums and six U.S. Top 40 singles (ten in Canada). The band has sold nearly 30 million albums worldwide, and has fans affectionately known as “gearheads” (derived from the band’s gear-shaped logo). Many of their songs, including “Let It Ride”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “Takin’ Care of Business”, “Hey You” and “Roll On Down the Highway”, still receive play on classic-rock stations.
After the band went into a hiatus in 2005, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner reunited in 2009 to tour and collaborate on a new album. In 2010, they played the halftime show at the Grey Cup in Edmonton, AB and continue to tour as of summer 2014.
On March 29, 2014, the classic Not Fragile lineup reunited for the first time since 1991 to mark Bachman–Turner Overdrive’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and participated in performing in a tribute version of “Takin’ Care of Business
Early history 1971–1973
The precursor to BTO was the band Brave Belt, formed in Winnipeg in 1971 by Randy Bachman and Chad Allan, both formerly of The Guess Who, and drummer Robin “Robbie” Bachman. Randy initially planned to just produce a solo album for Allan, but eventually both he and Robbie stepped in to provide much of the instrumental work. When the record label wanted them to tour, Randy (at the suggestion of Neil Young) called fellow Winnipeg bassist/vocalist C.F. “Fred” Turner to perform in the band’s scheduled gigs.
Brave Belt’s self-titled first album did not sell particularly well and Allan left the band shortly after the supporting tour started. Not having a lead vocal replacement ready, Turner was asked to be a full-time member and sing lead for the recording of Brave Belt II in 1972. Brave Belt II also failed to achieve any notable chart success, and in mid-1972 their tour in support of the album was canceled halfway through. But Turner’s influence had started to make itself felt as the band morphed from pure country rock to a harder, guitar-heavy sound featuring Turner’s gruff, powerful voice.
Chad Allan appears as a vocalist on two Brave Belt II songs but was essentially out of the band for any supporting tours. During this period, Tim Bachman was added as a second guitarist because the band had felt their three-piece arrangement was too restrictive. After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, the band landed a new recording deal from Mercury Records, one which Randy Bachman proclaimed as a pure stroke of luck.
After their demo tape had been rejected 26 times (sometimes more than once by the same label), Bachman was prepared to tell the other band members that they would no longer be able to remain on salary, “And they had to go and get the dreaded day jobs”. However, in April 1973, Charlie Fach of Mercury Records returned to his office after a trip to France to find a stack of unplayed demo tapes waiting on his desk. Wanting to start completely fresh, he took a trash can and slid all the tapes into it except one which missed the can and fell onto the floor. Fach picked up the tape and noticed Bachman’s name on it. He remembered talking to him the previous year and had told Bachman that if he ever put a demo together to send it to him. Fach called Bachman, and Randy describes the conversation from there:
“I could hear ‘Gimme Your Money Please’ playing in the background, and that was the first song on the tape. Back then, you sent out two 7½ -inch reels of your album, an A-side and a B-side, and that was side one, cut one. He said, ‘Randy, this is fabulous. Is the rest of the album like this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s all just good ol’, dancing rock-and-roll.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have a meeting with my A&R people, but as far as I’m concerned, this is great and I want to sign it.'”
At this point the band’s demo tape was still called Brave Belt III. Fach convinced the band that a brand new name was needed; one that capitalized on the name recognition of the band members. The band had already mulled over using their surnames (à la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). While on their way back from a gig in Toronto, the group had spotted a copy of a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive at a Windsor, Ontario truckstop, after which Turner wrote “Bachman–Turner Overdrive” and the initials “B.T.O.” on a serviette. The rest of the band decided the addition of “Overdrive” was the perfect way to describe their music.
BTO released their eponymous first album in May 1973. The album broke through in the U.S. via border towns such as Detroit and Buffalo and stayed on the charts for many weeks despite lacking a true hit single. The Turner-penned “Blue Collar” reached #21 on the Canadian RPM charts, but stalled at #68 on the U.S. charts. The album’s eventual success was very much the result of the band’s relentless touring. Reportedly, Fach had only agreed to put this album on the Mercury label if the band would promote it with a heavy concert schedule. In any market where the band was getting significant airplay, Bachman–Turner Overdrive would immediately travel there regardless of the tour routing to build momentum, and it paid off. B.T.O. I would later be certified gold in 1974 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It was a precursor to their upcoming success.