TORONTO — Randy Bachman’s new book, Tales From Beyond the Tap, isn’t a memoir, and yet in writing the tome the Winnipeg-reared guitar wizard found himself spilling as abundantly as a jittery bartender.
Among the touchy subjects touched upon? Bachman’s still-contentious relationship with former Guess Who partner Burton Cummings, the dissolution of his first marriage and the ongoing acrimony swirling among some of his ex-Bachman-Turner Overdrive bandmates — and siblings — who are soon to be ushered into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame together at the Juno Awards.
Even Bachman himself seems surprised by how much he revealed in the chatty new book.
“I think that’s probably ’cause (collaborator) John Einarson got it out of me or something,” the cheerful Bachman said in a recent interview in Toronto. “It wasn’t all done at once. It was over a period of a year, where he’d send me a bunch of questions and compile all that stuff.
“So I wasn’t really aware of the cathartic outpouring of so much stuff.”
Well, how did it feel reading it back?
“I haven’t read it,” Bachman chimes back in response. “It’s like an album. By the time you’re done it, you’re so full of it you don’t really want to play it in your car for a good couple of months.”
A follow-up to his 2011 book Vinyl Tap Stories — and an extension of his likably rambling CBC-Radio show — Bachman’s latest again finds the 70-year-old pulling from his deep well of rock and roll stories.
Breezy anecdotes abound, including Bachman’s brushes with rock heroes including Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry (“most of the times I’ve seen him, he’s been grouchy,” he concedes of the infamously ornery rock inventor) and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, whose Boston band once opened for a then-clueless Bachman.
“The show hasn’t started and this guy comes in our dressing room,” he recalled. “Usually a dressing room is hallowed ground, you kind of knock on the door and say: ‘Hi, I’m so and so, can I come in?’ This guy just comes in. And he’s dressed like I Dream of Jeannie — these pants that Barbara Eden would wear, flowing kinds of things, and scarves.
“I remember looking at (manager) Bruce Allen. I said, ‘Who’s this guy who thinks he’s Elvis, he comes walking in here?’ And Bruce goes: ‘Out! Out! Out!’
“Then they start to play onstage, I go out to see Aerosmith and hear Dream On, and he’s the lead singer. So that became a joke over the years.”
But much of the book is given over to more serious subject matter.
An entire chapter is devoted to whether Bachman will ever work again with Cummings, his partner in authoring such hits as These Eyes, American Woman and Laughing.
At issue, Bachman explains in the book, is what he sees as the inequitable distribution of publishing profits between the two songwriters. Bachman says he’s tried to persuade Cummings to amend the situation multiple times over the years without any success. Bachman sued over the situation, and lost.
In the book, he writes: “I can’t turn the other cheek and smile anymore.”
“I have no idea what his response will be,” Bachman said now of Cummings. “I totally respect him as a singer — he’s one of the greats. And as a songwriter. We had a great career together.
“I tried for the last 10 years,” he continued with a sigh. “I learnt one thing in the past, or in my life: the only person you can change is yourself and it has to come from within. I can’t change him or what he is. Only he can change that.
“I’ve changed myself certain times, or reinvented myself, or remodelled myself, or took assessment, or asked people for forgiveness.
“It is what it is,” he added. “I’ve left the ball with him. Done.”
He’s four years older than Cummings, and he writes that Cummings’ mother asked Bachman early on to look after the talented young singer with a protective paternalism. Bachman’s book posits that this ultimately contributed to the schism, as did the contrast between his sober lifestyle and that of the hard-partying Cummings.
In fact, Bachman argues that his refusal to partake in the rampant drug experimentation that was de rigeur in the ’60s and ’70s led many in the industry to distrust him.
“Most people who drink don’t like to be told they drink too much,” he said. “Four hundred pound guys — and I was one, or 350-360 — don’t like to be told, ‘Don’t finish off that chocolate cake. You’ve already eaten half of it.’ You don’t want to hear that.
“So there is animosity that comes when somebody’s telling somebody else, ‘Enough already.”’
However, Bachman’s commitment to sobriety “made (him) a success.”
“It’s hard enough to deal with things when they come up being totally straight and on it all the time, nevermind being blottoed,” he said.
It’s a point over which he recently found common ground with another of his idols: Neil Young.
Young, a Winnipeg compatriot who held a formative influence over Bachman, wrote in his recent memoir Waging Heavy Peace that he had quit drinking and smoking pot.
Bachman and the 68-year-old rock icon linked up for dinner prior to Young’s recent performance at the Air Canada Centre. The impromptu meal turned into a warm family gathering when a couple of Young’s aunts materialized. And, Bachman says, he and Young bonded over the sudden similarities in their lifestyles.
“I said to him, ‘You’ve really changed. You’re like the Neil I used to know in Winnipeg,”’ Bachman remembered. “I said, ‘What made you do it?’ He said, ‘It’s an old Jewish expression: enough already. I’ve already done enough. Why keep doing this thing that wasn’t doing me any good?”’
At the time, Bachman says Young was fretting that he hadn’t been able to write a song since giving up his mood-altering substances. Bachman told him to “hang in there,” that the tunes would come.
“And they’ve come, and they are good,” Bachman beamed. “I’m pretty proud of him. It’s a big leap to take and a hard thing to hold onto.”