Randy Bachman reinvents George Harrison’s music

By Michael Mascioni

Randy Bachman, the co-founder of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has embarked on a striking new musical venture — reimagining George Harrison’s music on the album By George – By Bachman which was released this March. The following interview highlights the evolution of the album  and the motivation behind Bachman’s tribute.

GOLDMINE: What drove you to do an album on George Harrison’s music?
RANDY BACHMAN: In my life, there were a few musical milestones that really influenced me. The first was Elvis. Then the Elvis imitators came along — Cliff Richard, Ricky Nelson and others like that. The next big thing was The Beatles. They changed everything. Suddenly every musician in a band wanted to sing, including the drummer, because of The Beatles. It had the same effect on me.

I was inspired by a recent trip I took to Liverpool last year, which was celebrating what would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday. Lennon’s sister joined in the celebration. I went on a bus tour of the city, and saw all the key sites relating to The Beatles’ origin, including the Cavern Club. Liverpool is no longer a grimy city — it’s a heritage site. I realized that this February would have been George Harrison’s 75th birthday. I said to myself, I need to do an album of his music, but I didn’t want to just copy his music. After all, you can’t outdo The Beatles.

One of the things that attracted me about Harrison is that he was an underdog, despite the fact that he had the most successful solo career of all The Beatles. One of the themes behind my song “Between Two Mountains” on the album is that Harrison was between the two mountains of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He had to fit in between the two, in effect. His music was very different from that of Lennon and McCartney, especially because it didn’t have choruses.

I compulsively collected all kinds of guitars George used, like the Rickenbacker. I could also relate to George because he was the quiet one in the band. In the Guess Who, I was similarly “born to be mild, and Burton (Cummings) was born to be wild.” George was my favorite Beatle, as he is for so many people.

I heard that George’s wife Olivia and his son Dhani loved the By George – By Bachman album, and felt it was a great tribute to George’s music. I’ve received great feedback from my record company as well. They’ve seen that it’s fun. I feel it will be an evergreen album.

Randy Bachman live. Photo by Christie Goodwin/Courtesy of publicity.

GM: In the course of creating the album on Harrison’s music, what new elements did you learn about his music?
RB: I think Harrison’s music changed significantly over time and became very spiritual. It reflected a feeling that he was shedding his worldly possessions and focusing more on themes of peace and love. In that regard, “Between Two Mountains” serves as a bookend to George’s music on the album, and is very spiritual as well, also incorporating images of peace and love.

GM: Your versions of Harrison’s music are often unconventional and offbeat. Was that your original intention?
RB: I decided I wanted to reinvent Harrison’s music and make it sound bigger. I tried to make unexpected changes with his music, and took some liberties with the tempo of George’s music. Initially, you don’t recognize that my versions of his songs are actually George’s music. I took a number of his songs and gave them a different twist, using reggae or acid jazz sounds, for example. In addition, I would transpose sounds from one song to another and use different chords. For example, some licks from “My Sweet Lord” turn up in the version I did of “Taxman.” In fact, I composed about five or six versions of every Harrison song on the record.

But later in my versions of the songs you can recognize the original music from the singing parts. I decided not to do new versions of some Harrison songs because I didn’t think I could do them justice. For example, I resisted doing another version of “My Sweet Lord” because I didn’t want to do a pale copy.

GM: Do you feel you’ll be typecast less as a result of doing the Harrison and blues album you did a few years ago?
RB: I realized you have to keep moving ahead and be prepared to be scared just like you were when you started out. You have to take yourself to the edge and reinvent
your sound.

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