Tuesday, April 9, 2013

TCB w/ RB (of BTO)

Some sounds, ubiquitous sounds, can have the effect of ingratiating their way into your life without your evening being cognizant of it. You replace a furnace, and perhaps the new fan doesn't make that distinctive click every few cycles that reminded you it was still working and keeping your house safe. At the start of the school year, your classmates sing the national anthem in a subtly different key. These pervasive sounds become the soundtrack of our life and times unconsciously, sometimes only distinguishing themselves by their absence. Sometimes it is even that way with music, wherein the active mind says "I've heard that song before, a hundred times in my youth; find something fresher," and we often listen, sometimes to our detriment.

Good friends of ours bought us tickets to Randy Bachman's show tonight in Edmonton, and at first, I was a little apprehensive. I mean, sure, I appreciate The Guess Who; I'm Canadian after all. And who doesn't like to hear "Takin' Care of Business" once in a while? But the idea of sitting through a Randy Bachman concert only intrigued me, it didn't excite me.
Now, I've never listened to his CBC radio show, Randy's Vinyl Tap, and that is clearly going to have to change, because on the show, he plays music from his own collection, and tells stories about how and when they were made, and about the people who made them, and this tour is all about him telling the stories behind his own music, a half century of unapologetic rock and roll originating in Winnipeg and winding its way across North America and the globe.

Bachman is a fantastic and humorous storyteller, a gifted raconteur who has lived the fascinating and challenging life of a professional musician since he dropped out of high school to pursue his dream. Ignoring his father's advice to have something to fall back on for fear that he would fall back on it instead of moving forward, he talks frankly about the kind of confidence and courage I could never see myself possessing.

Each anecdote would end with a (sometimes shortened) rendition of one of the songs from his tremendous repertoire: These Eyes, She's Come Undone, American Woman, Let It Roll, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (recently voted Best Stuttering Song by the Stuttering Foundation of America,) et cetera. Learning that the "killing floor" mentioned in No Time Left For You is a reference to Vietnam that he overheard a serviceman tell his hippie friend in San Francisco, or how many songs he made no money from because they were just too close to something by another artist (like the Doobie Brothers) was eye opening and always related in an entertaining and self deprecating manner.

I had no idea, for instance, that while Bachman was playing with his Winnipeg High School band, Chad Allan & The Expressions, they sent a tape with their cover of Shakin' All Over to a record company. The company surreptitiously promoted it as a bootleg recording of semi-famous British musicians signed to various labels, under the cheekily mysterious name "Guess Who", which is how that band's name came to be.

The most interesting story to me was about a time in the '60s when filling up their bus just south of the border on their way to a gig in Texas, the station manager determined they would be playing in the Selective Service building. He kindly explained that their 'green cards', formally known as Resident Alien cards, not only entitled them to work and reside in the U.S., but also made them eligible for the draft and service in Vietnam, where his son had been killed. He advised them not to turn around, but suggested they turn left, drive down the road and cross the border back into Canada somewhere else, and not to come back until the war was over.

And they never did.

I had a much better time at The Vinyl Tap Tour than I expected to, and while the music was great, the stories and insights from a true CanadianRock veteran were even better. The talk to music ratio was about 2:1, which felt just about right. I hope they put it on DVD, because I would love for the girls to see it, both for the music I grew up with, and the times and people that produced it. The next time I hear BTO or The Guess Who on the radio, I hope they are in the car so I have a good reason to turn it up.

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