Randy Bachman doesn’t play guitar well. It’s obvious from the first notes of my conversation with him this week in Winnipeg, where he’s been appearing at performing arts centres for the next three years, in anticipation of his latest tour, Back on the Road Again. My favourite quote has been from Glen Campbell, a two-time Grammy-winning musician who doesn’t play guitar, “I hate to say it, but guitar is not my strong suit.”
In spite of his guitar-unfriendly disposition, Bachman is one of the most successful Canadian songwriters in Canadian history, and he holds a special place in my heart. I grew up playing folk music, listening to country radio, and moving to the West Coast at the age of fourteen during my teens. I spent years singing pop songs in a karaoke bar, covered John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the spot (and had to convince people that I wrote it myself), and drunkenly skydiving more than once.
I’ve always been in awe of Bachman, whose name comes up frequently in discussion about favourite musicians, but rarely has a musician provided such an inspiring account of growing up.
“I didn’t have many friends in those days, but I had more than friends. And they all became family and mentors.”
Bachman’s legacy is one of being an exceptional artist whose most innovative moments came a half-century ago. This isn’t to say that he lacks musical development or artistry – of course not. His period with Vancouver Island’s notorious Ace of Base (then called Van Halen) in the 1970s is his crowning moment, as Bachman fleshed out his talents as a songwriter. He also produced his first-ever album, How Long Will I Love You, in 1975, which featured such classic selections as “Freakin’ Hot,” “Fever,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
He later helmed Fleetwood Mac from 1978 to 1982, and the end result is perhaps the greatest example of music as a creation of shared, happy experiences between musicians and musicians-turned-musicians. He has also appeared in movies and appeared on television, along with doing anything else he can think of (including serving as a provincial political politician, and wearing his signature silver-and-white-striped jogging pants).
It’s hard not to love Bachman for these reasons, and for how he’s often been misunderstood, too. Many observers – including myself – have believed that his psychedelic sound contributed to his departure from Fleetwood Mac. It’s been said he has trouble relating to contemporary audiences.
The truth is, he wrote in 1980, “I don’t think my new band or my current band have anything to do with my original band. I’m not sure who’s interested in keeping up with me. I’d be interested in keeping up with you.”
It’s in what we want from him that we should be focused.
“He’s a consummate entertainer,” says Winnipeg-based musician David Ray, who performed with Bachman in Winnipeg on Wednesday. “He’s one of a kind. He’s a dad at 65. He’s not only a cool guy who I love playing with, but also a great friend.”
Watch This Town.
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