When you’ve been making hits for 50 years it seems somehow unfair to the fans to only be given an hour to play those tunes. It gets even more complicated when you are still releasing records and want to showcase that new, less familiar, material in your concert. Such was Randy Bachman’s plight at the 2015 edition of the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest.
I will confess to a certain bias where Bachman is concerned. He was lead guitarist for the Guess Who, the first rock band that made a major impact on me. Like most of my generation I enjoyed the Beatles and the other bands of the British invasion, but it was the Guess Who who struck a resounding emotional chord in my being. Their music was the soundtrack to my teen years. They were the first major act I ever saw in concert (July 1, 1970).
All that to say, I’m not able to give an unbiased assessment of Bachman’s show. To start with, he’s basically a nice guy. I’ve met him a couple of times over the years and interviewed him once during that period. I thought his Bluesfest performance was pretty good, though if I were a quibbler I could point out some minor flaws.
After the set I realized that this was the first time I had seen Randy as a solo artist. I’ve seen him with the Guess Who and with Bachman Turner Overdrive, but for various reasons I have never made it to one of his solo shows. Not that he was “solo” at Bluesfest; he had a band backing him up. The addition of female backing vocals was a nice touch. The lead vocals from his guitarist perhaps not as much.
Randy wasn’t the Guess Who’s vocalist, nor did he sing all of BTO’s hits. I think the guitarist in this band is supposed to sound like Fred Turner. Didn’t manage it that well in my opinion. The latter day touring version of the Guess Who, led by bassist Jim Kale, managed to find a succession of vocalists who sounded like Burton Cummings. The hits sounded like the originals. That would have been a nice touch for this band.
But that is quibbling. Randy and his group delivered a solid set, laced with sufficient hits to satisfy the fans. When it was over I realized that many of my favourites had been missed, but there are only so many songs you can play in an hour. There was no “These Eyes” or “Laughing,” but there was “No Time” and “American Woman.” As a special treat (or maybe to horrify the purists) we were given a Led Zeppelin style version of “Undun.”
The BTO hits were in abundance also, such as “Let It Ride,” “Looking Out For #1,” and, of course, “Taking Care of Business.”
A nice touch was the title track to Randy’s latest album, “Heavy Blues.” On Randy’s website you can download the song without the Peter Frampton guitar solo. You can, if you so desire, then add your own solo to the track and email it back to Randy so he can hear it. At each show he invites a local submitter to join him in performing the song on stage. No way will you catch me trying that – I’m just not that good on guitar.
The majority of the audience was in the late stages of middle age, which is pretty much what you would expect for an artist who had his first big hit in 1965. Nostalgia is a big part of the Bluesfest experience. There were also though a considerable number of younger people, in their twenties, teens and even pre-teens (those I presume came with their grandparents). Great music transcends calendar age, and it was nice to see that some people understand that.