The 70-year-old rocker is taking care of even more business than usual these days. We caught up with the Vinyl Tap host before his Massey Hall show and Juno Hall of Fame induction to talk crammed schedules, hazy memories, and on-air charisma.
You are a seriously busy guy these days. You’ve got the book out, Tales from Beyond the Tap, you’re touring, you’re doing your weekly radio show, Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap….
That just got renewed for three years. Finally, a real steady job! I’m also planning a symphony tour in the fall. We’re reinventing 12 of my greatest hits—six with the Guess Who and six with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I’ve got gigs with the Winnipeg Symphony in Kitchener, London. I’m playing Carnegie Hall. I’m planning a blues album that I’m recording in the middle of May. That one’s going to surprise me and everybody else. I’m touring with [BTO co-founder Fred] Turner all summer long and I just got inducted into the Nashville Hall of Fame, which is just a huge honour.
Talk about taking care of business! It sounds like there must be 57 hours in your day.
I could use 26. I could use a clone. Somebody said to me this morning, “Aren’t you supposed to stop sooner or later?” But I say there are guys who told me to never stop: Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Neil Young. This is what I do. With BTO, the first year we toured we did 330 days on the road. Back then, there were no music videos or internet or MuchMusic. You had to get out there and be seen by the people. We felt guilty selling merch to our fans in those days. We gave away t-shirts as a thanks for coming to our shows. Today, most guys make more on merch than on the box office.
One of the stories in your new book is about the time you drove over your own foot. How is that even possible?
Well, you have to be totally hammered. This was at a party in Winnipeg. Chad Allen [the original singer for The Guess Who] was leaving the band and Burton [Cummings] was joining us. We were celebrating at a house out on the edge of Winnipeg. There’s nothing but snow and prairies out there. Somebody needed to leave, so they asked, “Can somebody move that Chevy?” I said, “Sure, give me the keys.” Being halfway hammered at the time, I didn’t fully get in the car. I was holding onto this giant door like a sail. I put the car into reverse and my foot slips and the door pulls me out and all of a sudden I’m backing over my own toe. All I could do was put my foot on the brake and honk. And then, of course, the person who came out of the house was my father. He was able to pull me out. He threw me into a snow bank and said, “I’m ashamed to call you my son—you’re a drunk.” That was it: my last drink.
Did the other guys in the band really see you as a narc from then on?
I was kind of the leader in terms of dealing with the agent, the books, the scheduling. I would plan our itinerary: I’d be the one telling everyone to go to sleep because we had to get up to drive six or seven hours the next morning. They’d be partying next door, and then, all of a sudden I’d smell the smell. I’d knock on the door and I’d hear them say, “Oh, it’s the narc.” I’d even call the front desk sometimes and pretend I was a different hotel guest and lodge a noise complaint. We got to really dislike each other.
You were like the parent who came in and separated all the kids at the sleepover party.
Right, and you just want to stay up late and watch Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and make bacon and eggs at two o’clock in the morning. Burton didn’t have a father. His father left when he was two. I promised his mother I would take care of him before we went on the road, but eventually you want to tell your dad to F-O.
Your music from that period still gets so much attention.
A lot of the classic-rock stations fulfill their Cancon obligation with me or Rush or April Wine. Don’t get me wrong—I love the airplay, but I don’t like the idea that I’m displacing some younger Canadian band. Conversely, I’m writing the best songs of my career, recording with bands like The Sadies and Cuff the Duke, and I can’t get played on new radio.
So what’s the solution?
I guess buy my own radio network. James Brown did it down south. I keep saying to classic-radio guys—I’m still relevant, Neil Young is still relevant, The Eagles are still relevant. Why don’t rock stations do a “then and now” thing? Play an old Neil Young hit and then a new one.
The Junos are coming up. Is there anyone who you’re rooting for?
To be honest, when I saw the list it felt like there had been another turnover. There were a lot of names that I didn’t recognize. I like the Sheepdogs, but I guess they’re old now.
Speaking of old dogs, there are a lot of you with radio-show gigs these days—yourself, Steven Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty.
I think fans like a personality. I’m a personality, Bob Dylan is, Tom Petty. In the old days when you heard Wolfman Jack, you knew it was him. Now, all of these guys go to announcer school and they all sound like Jeff Woods on Q107. I have my own voice, I have my own personal stories. The first few times I did it, I wrote a script in advance, but that sounded stiff. Now, I just strum my guitar and talk. My guitar is like my Ed McMahon.
Beatles or Stones?
Mick or Keith?
John or Paul?
Drake or Bieber?
Song you sing in the shower?
Who would play you in a movie?
Molson Amphitheatre or ACC?
Musician you’d most like to meet?
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap happens at Massey Hall (178 Victoria St.) on March 15.