Randy Bachman: Patriarch of the Rock & Roll story and language of guitar

At 75, Randy Bachman continues to carry the rock & roll torch

Growing up in the small border-town of Lynden, Washington, the concept of rock & roll bands was a bit foreign. Often times  the older kids in my neighborhood would be playing basketball or washing their Ford Mustangs while blasting cassette tapes of bands like The Beach Boys, The Cars, Joan Jett, and Van Halen over their car stereos. While these rock & roll bands provided great soundtracks to our neighborhood excitement, my view of them was more like fictional characters rather than actual human beings. This changed in elementary school when I found out that my classmates’ dad was in one of these “rock & roll bands”.

Me: “Did you know that Brigham’s dad is in a band? Are they like The Beach Boys?

My mom: “Sort of….they are more of a rock band  than The Beach Boys. They are called Bachman Turner Overdrive.”

My Dad: “…yeah Randy comes into the lumber yard all the time. (my dad worked at a lumber yard). He has a really nice house out on H Street. I’ve been out there to make some lumber deliveries”.

Brigham moved away after a few years, but this band Bachman Turner Overdrive left an imprint in my mind and ears. Skip ahead 10 years to when  I was 17 and fully captivated by all things rock & roll. An older friend had let me borrow his guitar and I dove in head first, trying to learn how to make the huge sounds that I’ve been hearing since riding my bike around the neighborhood as a kid. Unfortunately the chord shapes in the Mel Bay guitar book that I had didn’t seem to produce nearly as cool of sounds that I was hoping to generate. There weren’t many other people that played guitar at school, but I found out that our high school band teacher (Mr. Herrick) played guitar in a band. I approached him, asking for help in how to make huge sounds from a  guitar that a friend had loaned me. Mr. Herrick then proceeded to share with me what was the equivalent to a secret key that unlocked the doors to the rock & roll universe.

Mr. Herrick: “Do you know what a power chord is?”

Me: (blank stare…..I had no idea)

Mr. Herrick: “You basically take the root and the 5th of a chord and play them together. A lot of the most well known rock & roll songs are made by playing 2 or 3 of these power chords in a chord progression.

He proceeded to show some examples by playing these power chords and singing words like “Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing”.

Mr. Herrick: “…and if you practice a bit, you can stretch your fingers to play the root along with the 6th to and shuffle it back and forth to turn it into a cool groove like this…”

He then proceeded to play the intro chords to Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

My jaw nearly hit the floor. There it was! I had no idea what he was was saying about 5th and 6th, but it sounded huge! It was the sound from all the bands that I’d been hearing since I was a kid (Fun, Fun, Fun, Magic, I Love Rock & Roll, You Really Got Me). Mr. Herrick then proceeded to show me a simple 5 note (pentatonic) scale and how I could play it over the power chords to add lead lines. He played the chords to Takin’ Care of Business again on his guitar while I randomly plucked away at this pentatonic scale to create my first guitar solo.

Once again this Randy Bachman guy seemed help me get a bit closer to understanding the mysteries this rock & roll machine. Over the next several years, I proceeded to dive in head first into sharpening my guitar skills and making my own rock & roll noises. At 18, my parents got me my very own guitar (a used Les Paul from a local pawn shop) and I started getting together with a few friends to start an actual rock & roll band, something that has been an essential part of my life in the 20+ years since then.

In addition to the joys of playing in bands, the joys of discovering new bands, studying what other guitar players (Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Randy Bachman, Mike McCready, and so many more)  do, and applying it to my own guitar antics has been equally fulfilling. I’ve spent countless hours playing along with songs from these guitar players and have enjoyed every minute.

I don’t think it’s any accident that Randy Bachman has played a key role in helping me discover the guitar and demystify this rock & roll enigma, I think it’s actually something  very intentional on his part. There seems to be an underlying theme of carrying the rock & roll torch and passing it along to others for their own discovery. His popular radio show “Randy’s Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio is a perfect example of this. With each episode, he draws the listeners in with stories that connect different pieces of rock & roll together. He shares elements of his own influences, how he drew from them in his own music, and shares guitar “tricks of the trade”.  A great example of this is his popular story of note-by-note breakdown the opening chord for A Hard Day’s Night. When you listen to him tell this story, you not only hear the enthusiasm in his own voice for figuring it out, you can also tell that he is equally excited to share it with everyone else!

In many ways, rock & roll is the musical equivalent to telling a story that captivates our imagination and takes us away. Randy Bachman realizes the value of this, but I think he also realizes that for the story to keep going, it needs to be passed along. There still needs to be good storytellers, so there needs to be bands and there need to be guitar players. Randy Bachman gets this and is doing his part to make sure that the story continues.

Thank you Randy, you are a true patriarch of the rock & roll story!


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