A new George Harrison tribute album in honor of his 75th birthday, “By George – By Bachman,” was released digitally March 2 (and will be on CD and marble vinyl March 16) by Randy Bachman. Bachman's name is familiar to rock fans from the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
In a recent phone interview, Bachman said the idea for the new album came from an idea during a tour with Burton Cummings, his former bandmate in the Guess Who to do an album with him called “Jukebox.” For that album, Bachman did the Beatles' “I'm Happy Just To Dance With You,” which he says he made “very acoustic and a nice shuffle (with) slightly different chords. And everybody loved it (and) told me it's the most enduring song from the album.” After a trip to Liverpool, he decided, “Hey, George is going to be 75 next year. I think I'll take a bunch of his songs because I was always into George songs.” “You can't outdo the Beatles. I can't outdo George. I'm going to try to go to the edge.” He says he liked how other people have covered his songs, so he decided to try and “put a different set of clothes” on the songs.
He gave “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” as an example. “That had so many chords on it I couldn't do any better than what he did. So I just made it a three-chord Who power song. But when we start to sing 'Give Me Love' the third time because it's very repetitive, I put in (part of) 'Wonderwall' in there. I might be the only guy who bought the George Harrison 'Wonderwall' soundtrack album.”
Bachman never met Harrison in person, but the two did talk by phone. “In 1970, our press agent's name was Ritchie Yorke, a British guy. Ritchie was working with (Beatles press officer) Derek Taylor in London. Ritchie called me and said, 'George Harrison's putting together a band and I just met with him and Derek Taylor and I'm going to give you his number. And so I phone this number and a beautiful voice answers the phone who I imagine is Pattie Boyd. And I say, 'Hello, I'm so-and-so from Winnipeg, Manitoba, from a band called the Guess Who. And the first thing she says is, 'Winn-e-peg? Is that the home of Winnie the Pooh?'” The A.A. Milne character was inspired by a bear named Winnipeg who lived in the London Zoo.
'And she goes, 'Oh. And you want to speak to George? Just a minute. George is in the garden.' So I wait and wait a few minutes and George comes to the phone and there's this wonderful, 'Hulloooooo,' this Liverpool drawl kind of thing. And I say, 'Randy Bachman from the Guess Who'. And I go, 'Yeah, and I'm calling you from Winnipeg.' And he says, 'Is this where Winnie the Pooh is from?'”
Bachman did get to know a Beatle first-hand when he was a member of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. He described Ringo as “sarcastically funny. Doesn't want you to waste his time. (And he) really wants to be one of the guys."
The album opens and closes with a Bachman original, “Between Two Mountains” a song inspired by Harrison. “I wrote the song because I felt what would it like to be George? You show up for a session. These two mountains show up. One's called Lennon. One's called McCartney. They collaborate on each other's songs. They kind of push you into the corner of the room. And if one of their songs doesn't work out, they say, 'George, you got anything?' And in between these two mountains, he grew to be his own gigantic mountain.”
Bachman says he's had some memorable acts who have opened for him. He recalled one time when Bachman-Turner Overdrive toured on a triple bill headed by Mott the Hoople. The first act was an up-and-coming group named Aerosmith.
“Aerosmith had one song on the radio, 'Dream On.' And I remember this guy walking into our dressing room past the guard and he was dressed like Barbara Eden on 'I Dream of Jeannie'. He had these flowing clothes and puffy nylon silk things. And I said to our manager, 'Who's this guy who thinks he's Elvis walking into our dressing room? Throw him out?' Then we go and see the opening act and I realize, 'Oh, he's in Aerosmith. He's Steven Tyler.' Bachman said he later apologized to Tyler later and the incident is still an ongoing joke between them.
Bachman is doing a series of live shows this month to support the album, including the Fest for Beatles Fans March 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City. Tickets for other shows are available here.