Randy Bachman is shown in a Toronto hotel in 2011. Bachman has performed live with many Canadian legends over the years, but somehow not Buffy Sainte-Marie. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Q&A: Bachman on playing live with Sainte-Marie

TORONTO — Randy Bachman has performed live with many Canadian legends over the years, but somehow not Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The Winnipeg-born rock star and the Oscar-winning indigenous songstress have never collaborated on stage but that changes Monday night at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre as part of the Canada Scene festival, which runs until mid-July.

Bringing the two musicians together has been a long time coming, Bachman says.

The 73-year-old encountered Sainte-Marie on the road during his formative years in the Guess Who.

“In the summer of ’66 I met two princesses,” he says.

“One was Buffy Sainte-Marie and the other was Joni Mitchell. They were both really great girl composer-songwriters who wrote many hit songs.”

What most listeners don’t know, he adds, is he and Sainte-Marie made recordings together years ago that never saw the light of day.

He dished on the details with The Canadian Press:

CP: It’s pretty shocking that after nearly half a century in music you’ve never performed with Sainte-Marie. You guys have been friends for decades. How can this be true?

Bachman: She recorded with me at my studio maybe six or seven years ago. I had her screaming. We were doing a song I wrote called “Same Old Memphis Blues.” I said, “I’m doing this in a growly voice. Can you scream like Janis Joplin?” So she screamed her head off. She said, “I don’t like it.” I said, “It’s phenomenal!” It’s one of those rare things.

CP: So she’s been sitting on this gem for years?

Bachman: She didn’t like what I got outta her so it was never released. But maybe she’ll get brave enough now to put it out on iTunes or something.

CP: Give us a taste of this upcoming concert in Ottawa. What are people going to see?

Bachman: I’m going to be playing her big hit, “Up Where We Belong.” We’re also doing a rock ‘n’ roll song that she wrote and one her and I wrote together that we recorded in my studio called “Stormy Weather Guy.” It’s kind of like a samba-jazz song, so it’s going to be a really fun, great thing for both me and her.

CP: You recently performed at the newly restored Masonic Temple in Toronto where everyone from the Rolling Stones to Green Day have played. I’d imagine you encounter historic venues all the time on tour. What’s it like playing on stage these days as a tour veteran?

Bachman: I actually cannot wait to get on stage. I hate getting there early and sitting in the dressing room and having somebody go in and say, “You’re going to start 15 minutes late because there’s a lineup and not everybody is in their seats.” Just let me on the stage. It’s not nervousness, I just want to get out there and get into it. Music is my drug and I want that fix. There’s nothing like the high.

CP: Is there a certain size of crowd you like to perform for?

Bachman: It can be 300 or 3,000, or like when I played SARSfest, like half a million people. When I say, “Make some noise” and you hear this roar you go, “At this moment I am Zeus. I am god of rock.” There’s a wonderful thing in doing that. That’s why my shows are tailored, like most smart entertainers, to please the audience. If you don’t please them, if they don’t come, there’s no show.

CP: When did you learn that lesson? Some performers actually reject the idea of playing songs that are catering to the crowd. Not everybody likes singing a run of the hits.

Bachman: Way back in the Guess Who when we were playing high school dances as a jukebox band. The kids wanted to dance to the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and then you sneak your own song between “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Day Tripper” and see if they still dance and sing. If (they don’t) that song is in the trash bin. If they’re not singing by the second time you sing the chorus, you’ve lost them.

— This interview has been edited and condensed.

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