Robbie Bachman, the self-taught drummer who co-founded Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has died at age 69.
Bachman died this week in Vancouver, where he lived, said his older brother and former bandmate Randy Bachman. He did not have any more details.
The younger Bachman — born Robin Bachman — played drums to hits “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” helping establish the band as a formidable force in Canadian music during the 1970s.
“He was a really cool, inventive — not a disciplined — drummer,” Randy Bachman said in a phone interview. “He never had drum lessons. He just listened to the records and played like John Bonham and Ringo Starr.”
The elder Bachman said he learned about his brother’s death from former bandmate Fred Turner.
He didn’t know the cause, but said his younger brother had suffered from heart issues in recent years that prevented him from performing.
Before he was sidelined by his health, Robbie Bachman’s stage presence was unforgettable, his brother said.
He’d bring four or five drum sets on tour, and wear satin suits that matched their colour. And at the end of every show, he’d be the first band member back onstage for the encore — a dozen roses in hand.
“He’d run to the front of the stage and throw a rose to every woman in the front row, or the guy she was with, and say, ‘Are you ready to rock ‘n’ roll? Do you want more rock ‘n’ roll?’” Randy Bachman recounted.
“Then he’d go back to the drums — still yelling.”
Randy Bachman said Robbie expressed interest in drumming from a young age and recalled crafting a makeshift instrument for his teen brother, who was 10 years his junior.
“I helped him make a set of drums out of those round Quaker Oats porridge oatmeal things. We’d cut them in different lengths and tape them up and he would play drums … with a wooden spoon,” he said.
Within a few years, he’d swapped them out for the real thing.
The Winnipeg native’s career began shortly after Randy split from the Guess Who in 1970 and formed a new act called Brave Belt, offering his 18-year-old brother the spot on drums.
Brave Belt put out two records that didn’t catch fire, leading to a conflict with their label Reprise Records. They ultimately departed for a new deal with Warner Bros., which stipulated the band change its moniker to something that capitalized on Bachman’s name recognition.
Renamed to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the band released a list of what would become classic rock radio staples, including “Let It Ride” and “Hey You.”
After years of success, Randy left the band in 1977, giving the remaining members permission to call themselves BTO, but not Bachman-Turner Overdrive so as to distance himself from the project. As BTO, Robbie Bachman and the others continued to tour and record, but their popularity faded and they broke up in 1980.
In the years that followed, the brothers’ relationship became marred in decades of legal disputes over use of the band’s name.
They also disagreed over which musicians should be part of a reformed BTO in 1984, leaving Robbie to sit out the first reunion, though he would rejoin another incarnation of the band later that decade.
His involvement in BTO continued after Randy left the band again in 1991, though the brothers hadn’t settled their differences.
In 2003, the band turned down a chance for BTO to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame because all of the members refused to appear onstage with Randy. It took nearly a decade for the brothers to mend their relationship enough to finally accept the honour.
But in his 2014 book “Tales From Beyond the Tap,” Randy Bachman wrote that the brothers had never reconciled in those waning years, saying Robbie had “grandiose delusions about himself.”
He told The Canadian Press at the time that he hadn’t seen Robbie since their dad’s funeral.
Despite the rift, they eventually reunited for a Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction in 2014 when BTO’s original 1974 lineup — the Bachman brothers; Turner, who was the vocalist; and guitarist Blair Thornton — agreed to perform together at the Juno Awards.
The brothers shook hands onstage and set aside their differences long enough to reflect on the career highlight.
“I think I’ve (had) stage fright once, and that was tonight,” Robbie said backstage after the show.
“It’s just a whole different experience really, to have that many people; you’re on a tight timetable, you’re live on TV.”
Randy Bachman paid tribute on Twitter, noting his brother’s influence, and called him “the pounding beat behind BTO.”
On Friday, he recalled how difficult Robbie was to record because he played so loud.
“We could put a mic a foot away from him, and you’d hear every drum,” Bachman said.
“He broke cymbals every night, he played so heavy. But we were a loud band, and you know, he was a fun guy.”
—David Friend and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press