By MIKE CHAIKEN
When the original musicians on the Chicago blues scene crafted their sound in the early 20th century, the racism of the time kept their music from being disseminated to the public at large… in particular white audiences.
It wasnt until a bunch of young British musicians in the 1960s—such as the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green—sold it back to America that the blues—heavy blues—found its way to a mass audience.
And with his latest album, Randy Bachman—who first found fame as a member of The Guess Who and then Bachman-Turner Overdrive—said he is paying homage to that sound of British kids recycling the blues for the world at large.
Bachman is coming to Connecticut on April 24 to perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
That album, which was slated for an April 14 release, is called “Heavy Blues.” And the title is no misnomer. The album is probably one of the heaviest albums Bachman has ever released—not that Bachman-Turner Overdrive ever could have been mistaken for soft rock.
The decision to take this different direction, explained Bachman, came about when he had discussions with True North Records about a new record deal. The label said if he tried something different, they’d offer him a contract. Bachman said he ran into an old friend—fellow Canadian Neil Young—who told him to “Scare yourself.”
So that’s what Bachman tried to do with “Heavy Blues.”
There was a certain practicality to veering toward something heavy in 2015, said Bachman in a phone interview from Toronto. “I couldn’t be the new Bruno Mars,” said Bachman, who admires the young pop singer. “That’s not me.”
Additionally, Bachman said, “I wanted do something I do well.” said Bachman.
But, Bachman said he knew what he was going to do was kind of “scary.” He knew he was trying to keep up with some “legendary guys.”
To facilitate matters, Bachman brought out some old guitars and amplifiers that would have been used by those British blues legends. Then he brought in a drummer and bass player that knew how to work in a power trio format. They set up in the studio, set up legendary producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Journey) behind the boards, and cranked out “12 amazing songs.”
Along the way, to create the sound, Bachman said he invited some heavy hitting guitarists to offer up some leads, including Joe Bonamassa, Neil Young, and Peter Frampton. (The album also includes a solo that Bachman had recorded with the late Jeff Healey years ago. Bachman was able to lift that solo from the older recording and graft it onto the song, “Confessin’ to the Devil.”)
Everyone Bachman asked to contribute said yes, he said.
“It’s an incredible album,” said Bachman.
For the album, in which he is recording as Bachman, he lined up two younger musicians—who are both well-schooled in music—to complete a power trio: bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Dale Anne Brendon.
Bachman found Brendon when he was attending a revamped version of the musical “Tommy” in Canada. He was sitting with Pete Townsend of The Who. Townsend was praising the drummer for the pit band, noting how the drummer was playing every drum lick just as the Who’s late drummer Keith Moon had. After the performance, Bachman met Brendon and learned she had written her own musical charts so she could play just as Moon had on the original album “Tommy.” And right then and there, Bachman asked if she would want to collaborate. He was thinking they could perform something in the vein of the White Stripes.
But then fate intervened again, said Bachman. He was in Winnipeg when he was about to inducted into the Juno (the Canadian Grammys) Hall of Fame. He went to see a band called Ladies of the Canyon. Bachman said they reminded him of Crazy Horse in their earlier years. “They played incredible country rock.”
Bachman invited the bass player to lunch. And she arrived wearing a John Entwistle t-shirt. (Entwistle was the late groundbreaking bassist for The Who.) Bachman asked the young bass player, Ruddick, if she knew who Entwistle was.
“He’s my favorite bass player,” she replied, said Bachman.
Bachman then invited her to his studio to jam. When she came over, Bachman said he handed her a bass he owned that was similar to what Entwistle played (and which had been owned by his long-time musical partner Fred Turner).
“She played it so well, I gave her the bass,” said Bachman. “She loves it.”
Although, at first blush, it seems as Bachman is a stranger to the power trio format, it’s not so, he said. When he was in the Guess Who, during their early days, they would play cover tracks, said Bachman. And this often required a power trio structure. And “American Woman” was essentially a power trio record, albeit with the vocals by Burton Cummings.
Bachman said he likes the power trio format because he doesn’t have to worry about what another guitarist is playing. “You play it all,” said Bachman.
For the album, Bachman said some of the songs he wrote specifically with a heavy blues sound in mind. Other songs on the album, he had written earlier but reworked for the album. For instance, “Little Girl Lost” (which he recorded with Neil Young) started off in a similar vein to The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” with all sorts of jazzy touches and composed with eight chords.
But for “Heavy Blues,” said Bachman, he reduced the song to two chords. That minimalist approach worked for the story of the song, which is about a young woman on the streets, now longing for her family.
When Bachman heads out on tour with his band, he said he will be playing his greatest hits. However, he will intermingle them with tracks from the new album.
Although he will be playing familiar tunes, Bachman said he will be playing them in a new, heavy manner, befitting the new album. For instance, rather than the light jazzy approach of the original “Undun,” Bachman said his band will be performing it as if Led Zeppelin had recorded it. And when they tackle a BTO song, he said it will sound as if Metallica was in the room. “We’re reinvigorating (those old songs),” said Bachman.
And when asked what song in his catalogue was the most fun to perform, Bachman didn’t hesitate. “Taking Care of Business.”
“That’s my ‘Louie, Louie,’” said Bachman. “Every band in the world knows that song.” It’s a song that also means a lot to a lot of people, he said. He said the troops will play it when they head off to war You will hear it sports events.
“It’s in every body’s DNA.”
Randy Bachman performs at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge, Ridgefield at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $70.
For more information, go to RidgefieldPlayhouse.org or RandyBachman.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN