Bachman-Turner Overdrive took off initially as Brave Belt in Winnipeg in 1971, a group formed by Randy Bachman shortly after leaving The Guess Who amidst their mounting success in 1970. With brother Robbie and ex-Guess Who vocalist and keyboard stroker Chad Allen, the trio released a pair of albums (Brave Belt and Brave Belt II) on Reprise Records, with a single “Crazy Arms, Crazy Eyes,” that reached number 35 on Canadian charts.
Soon brother number two, guitarist Tim Bachman, joined the group as did bassist and (‘Harley-Davidson voice’) singer C. F. “Fred” Turner, who had been recommended by Neil Young. Finding little commercial impact in the band, Reprise dropped the act mid-tour in support of Brave Belt III. Bachman then submitted demos for the planned Brave Belt III album to dozens of labels, including Mercury Records. Most of these assorted recordings eventually became most of the first album, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which came out in May of 1973.
In a slick promotion move, Mercury insisted that concerts during the tour after the album be held where the band had established significant radio airplay, and the ‘follow the music’ strategy paid off. The record did well, made the album charts and produced a single, “Blue Collar”, that crawled into the top 60’s on Billboard rankings. In subsequent years, with the success of BTO, the album received Gold status in 1974.
The second album was released just seven months later, and the December issue of Bachman-Turner Overdrive II brought the group a happy new year, as the record charged into the fourth spot for best-selling albums in early 1974. The single “Takin’ Care of Business” has become a workin’ man (and woman) anthem of sorts, and is likely played every day on American classic rock radio. The song got to number 12 on the U.S. charts, and a second single, “Let It Ride”, reached number 23. Both singles hit number 3 on the Canadian RPM charts.
Tim Bachman left the group shortly after the release of BTO II, and reasons given for his departure vary. At the time BTO was out on tour promoting the second album. The band brought in Blair Thornton of Crosstown Bus, a group out of Vancouver, and the newly modified line-up recorded and released Not Fragile in late-summer of 1974. The music public was perhaps hungry for more BTO, and Not Fragile slowly rose to the top of the charts, reaching Number One on Oct. 19. Singles from the album gained extensive radio airplay and a pair of tunes, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Roll On Down the Highway”, made the Top Ten U.S. rankings. The album title is inspired by Fragile, a 1972 album from Yes, and has become the biggest-selling effort from BTO, selling eight million copies at last count.
To expand on their growing success, the band swiftly wrote and recorded their fourth album, aptly titled Four Wheel Drive. The single “Hey You” was a popular cut from the album, and it reached number 21 in the states and went to Number One in their native Canada. The album itself charted in the Top Five in both the U.S. and Canada and the concert tour for the album was an astounding success. BTO undertook a heavy schedule of concerts across American and on into Europe, with an emerging Thin Lizzy joining the tour as the opening act.
In late 1975 another album, Head On, was released and it produced the 1976 Top 40 single “Take It Like A Man”, which included contributions from Little Richard, who wailed away on his piano during the song. “Head On” also features the jazzy Randy Bachman composition “Lookin’ Out for #1”, a tune that found substantial airplay on both AOR stations as well as soft rock stations that usually did not play music from bands like BTO.
The next year the first BTO compilation album was put together and released as Best of BTO (So Far). The disc includes “Gimme’ Your Money Please”, which came out as a single in conjunction with the album release. It charted well on both the AM & FM airwaves, and the 1976 album became the best-selling Bachman–Turner Overdrive album (So Far), achieving RIAA Double Platinum status in the U.S.
BTO’s sixth studio album, Freeways, was released in February 1977, and foretold the demise of BTO’s most successful line-up. Randy Bachman left soon after the album hit the shelves, dismayed with criticism that the band had been rehashing tunes during the albums following Not Fragile. Bassist Jim Clench moved in, and Fred Turner moved to rhythm guitar while Thornton stepped into the lead guitarist spot. The group was forced to record and tour only as “BTO” due to restraints resulting from an agreement with Randy, who demanded the rights to his surname for his solo career.
Freeways is where the band members soon could be found, and shortly after the final album, Rock n Roll Nights, which sold just 250,000 copies worldwide, the group disbanded. A reunion album was recorded in 1983 and released the following year; titled just BTO, it made a brief appearance on the charts, with a single, “For the Weekend”, complete with an accompanying video, landed at number 83.
After switching personnel and recording various releases since the mid-eighties, the band is still somewhat active. Many of the early albums have been remastered and re-released, and today the remnants of BTO now record and tour as Bachman-Turner. The band has a website and are still making waves with their great style of rock music.