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Randy Bachman Reveals the Wild Origins of ‘American Woman’

Creativity can strike at any time, anywhere. For Randy Bachman, that place happens to be on stage. Certainly, the circumstances weren’t ideal during those times, but they led to some instant classics for both The Guess Who and Bachman–Turner Overdrive.

“When you were doing gigs… five and six hours a night, you had to take a rest and let someone else sing. That’s why I became a singer. Fred Turner lost his voice one night and said, ‘You gotta sing a song!’ And I wrote ‘Taking Care of Business’ right on stage there,” recalls Bachman during an interview with WCBS-FM’s Scott Shannon, describing the birth of Bachman–Turner Overdrive’s 1974 hit. “This magic was happening on stage, like when I wrote ‘American Woman’ on stage.”

Randy Bachman, founding member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive in studio with Scott Shannon in the Morning on WCBS-FM. (Photo: Joe Cingrana/CBS Local)

Scott Shannon + Randy Bachman (Photo: Joe Cingrana/CBS Local)

PHOTOS: Randy Bachman on the Big Show with Scott Shannon

That’s when Shannon had to pump the brakes and talk about “American Woman”; a song with a story that led the longtime jock and revered music historian to inquire further.

 

The Guess Who had been playing a show outside of Toronto near the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo in a curling rink where they placed plywood on the ice in February.

“I broke a string on my Les Paul… I had no roadie, no tech, no spare guitar, no tuner; so Burton [Cummings] said, ‘We’re taking a break.’ I got on my knees in front his piano to tune to the piano, put the string on my guitar, and as I was tuning it up I went [hums opening chords to ‘American Woman’]. And the whole audience – who was all talking, there was no music – their heads snapped around. I went, ‘Oh my god, I have to keep playing this riff,” says Bachman. “I was alone on stage. Then I got the drummer on stage. And I got the bass player. Finally, the last guy on stage was Burton Cummings and he said, ‘What is this? It’s great.’ I said, ‘Sing anything. Sing something.’ Because when you sing something weird it helps you remember the notes your playing.”

Bachman urged Cummings to sing anything, remembering Paul McCartney’s approach to “Yesterday”: he used the words “scrambled eggs” to remember the riff and replaced the lyrics the following day.

“American Woman” has since been covered numerous times, namely by Krokus, the Butthole Surfers, and Lenny Kravitz; the latter being part of the soundtrack for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Oh and there was also that time Lenny and Prince absolutely CRUSHED it on stage together…


Listen to Scott Shannon’s full interview with Randy Bachman below.


Randy’s latest album, Heavy Blues, is out now with guests Neil Young & Peter Frampton.

Bachman will be playing at BB Kings Thursday (6/23) and Friday (6/24) nights. Get tickets at Ticketmaster.

Additionally, Randy will join fellow Canadian rockers Nickleback at a benefit concert on June 29th called Fire Aid for Fort McMurray, raising money to help people and businesses affected by the devastating forest fires that recently hit the area.

And finally, check out his weekly radio show, on the CBC in Canada, called Vinyl Tap.

 

–E.J. Judge/CBS Local

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