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Familiar riffs

Bachman's second collection will satisfy rock 'n' roll fans

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Randy Bachman.


Randy Bachman.

Randy Bachman has been taking care of business for more than five decades. Writer, broadcaster, producer and founding member of the two biggest bands from Winnipeg -- the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive -- he built an astounding career in music, but with its share of setbacks.

Working with his longtime collaborator and music historian John Einarson, Bachman answers questions from his CBC Vinyl Tap radio show that don't "fit" a segment. Written in Bachman's typical guarded but factual way, it will satisfy any rock 'n' roll aficionado.

Big band and jazz music played regularly in Bachman's household, but it was the mid-1950s rock 'n' roll of Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry that sparked his musical talents. In one of the best parts of the book, Bachman lays out the most influential music in his life, from Les Paul to his friend Neil Young.

Some stories appeared in different forms in his autobiography Takin' Care of Business (2000, co-written with Einarson) and his previous Vinyl Tap book Vinyl Tap Stories (2011). Snippets have also appeared on his radio show and interviews.

It's a fun read and an easy page-turner, but many of the main themes -- his 1960s and 1970s hits, working with his brothers, his strained relationship with Burton Cummings and his business-minded approach to music -- are familiar.

He pulls no punches. Brothers Timmy and Robbie are dealt with harshly (as they have been in past books). Family is fundamental, but his inability to reconcile with his siblings is over dollars and cents. The blunt talk about money is sometimes cringe-inducing (as it was in Takin' Care of Business), and his (unexplained) scheme to insulate Canadian artists from taxes is odd. Unfortunately, these bits are wedged between terrific stories from the heyday of classic rock 'n' roll.

Cummings plays prominently in Bachman's life. Co-writer and bandmate, Cummings re-entered Bachman's life several times, recently during their reunion tour of Canada. Bachman calls him one of the most influential people in his life, but blames him solidly for their unsettled relationship. Again, business keeps Bachman from reconciling with his old friend and partner.

Surrounded by music's decadence, Bachman is set against drugs and alcohol, which killed or hurt many friends and peers. He has no regrets about staying clean, though it got him kicked out of bands, and led him to fire bandmates, including a brother or two.

For gearheads and recording enthusiasts, there's a lot here to satisfy. Mixing guitar tracks for Bachman-Turner Overdrive II may not excite the casual reader, but the details are excellent and insightful.

Bachman is rather hard on younger music fans. He says kids see music as disposable, and don't care about the artists or how music is made. Album covers indeed may be a lost art, but Bachman doesn't contemplate how the digital generation has more information online, and much more music at their fingertips, too. Despite what Bachman says about changes to commercial radio, it isn't that different today than the 1970s -- today's bubble-gum pop will be classic nostalgia for a future generation.

He hasn't lived here for decades, but still calls himself a "kid from Winnipeg." Winnipeggers will appreciate Bachman's numerous shout-outs, like "socials," which (delightfully) he doesn't explain, as well as locales from Garden City to Crescentwood.

One of Winnipeg's major musical exports, Bachman has not forgotten his professional or geographical roots.


George A. MacLean plays in a classic rock cover band and moonlights as professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 G7


Updated on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 8:09 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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