Monday, October 3, 2011

Personal Soundtrack: Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories (Viking Canada, 2011)

On January 30, 2010, Randy Bachman (formerly of Guess Who and BTO) offered a live, on-stage version of Randy’s Vinyl Tap, the weekly show he does for CBC Radio. On the show, called Guitarology, he talked about the use of guitar in the history of rock’n’roll, playing tracks by the appropriate artists. Then for three consecutive nights in the intimate Glenn Gould Theatre in downtown Toronto, Bachman and his band played live, simulating the original recordings by using the same guitars the original artists used.

This year, Randy has published a collection of stories from the radio show in book form. He has included some of the Guitarology material, as well as other tales gleaned from a lifetime on the road, and in studios.

At the concert, he kicked things off with the Fender Telecaster: playing authentic renditions of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” and Buck Owens’ “Buckaroo”. On “Message in a Bottle” from The Police, Randy said, “this is Andy Summers’ hardest song.  [This riff is comprised of] stacked 5ths. Try doing that for 4 minutes!”  Well, he managed to do it, and then, even more impressive, Bachman managed to take on “We’ve Ended As Lovers” and sound just like Jeff Beck!

Bachman's guitars at Glenn Gould Theatre
On paper you don’t get to hear the songs, but you do get the authentic voice of someone who has been there (and back) telling the stories. The chapter entitled “Randy’s Guitar Shopp” features many of the tales from the concert.  As a teenager in Winnipeg, he met Lenny Breau who gave Bachman some guitar lessons. This led to his interest in jazz guitar. In his autobiography (2000’s Takin’ Care of Business) he mentioned the debt he owed to Breau. His lessons with Breau, and run-ins with Neil Young, are recounted in a chapter called “Lenny, Neil and Me.” His familiarity with the axes, chops and hot licks of players from Chuck Berry to Eric Clapton, comes through in fascinating yarns he spins on the pages of Vinyl Tap Stories.

It’s not Shakespeare, there’s very little poetry here, just Bachman’s authentic rock’n’roll voice. At the end of each chapter, Bachman includes a playlist of the appropriate songs. While, on radio or live, he can simply play that music, on paper it’s up to the reader to provide the soundtrack. The suggested listening lists are useful though. And the lists of Randy’s Favourites at the end are fun. There are song-lists of things like “Randy’s 20 Favourite Food Songs,” or “Randy’s 20 Favourite One-Hit Wonders.”

Bachman and Kidney. Photo by Rich Humber
He told a story at the theatre which receives short shrift in the book. He was on a vacation to London, England where he and his wife, Denise McCann, were invited to Abbey Road Studios where Giles Martin was mixing Beatles’ tracks for the LOVE project. “We have all the Beatles’ masters here,” Martin offered. “What would you like to hear?”

“The first chord of “A Hard Day’s Night!” Randy replied. Martin played the track. “George is playing an F with a G on top (on the 12-string ). Paul adds a D note on the Hofner bass (high D on the 12th fret of the D string), and John plays the Fadd9 chord that George is playing, on an acoustic guitar.” The Bachman Band replicated it perfectly, and it’s that kind of story that makes up for any lack of poetry in the written version. Bachman has had those experiences and has the authority to speak about these things.

The night at Glenn Gould ended with a long version of “Stormy Monday” which Denise sang while Randy played all eight guitars he had introduced throughout the show. It was an extraordinary evening and I’m glad I was there!  But if you weren’t, you can capture an echo of it by reading Vinyl Tap Stories, and providing your own soundtrack by using Bachman’s suggestions!

 David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.

1 comment:

  1. "John plays the Fadd9 chord that George is playing, on an acoustic guitar."

    No. He said: "And John's rhythm guitar is a D chord with a sus4, which means he got a G note on it."