Bachman–Turner Overdrive (BTO) is a Canadian rock group from Winnipeg, Manitoba, that had a series of hit albums and singles in the 1970s. The precursor to BTO was the band Brave Belt, formed in Winnipeg in 1971 by Randy Bachman and Chad Allan, both formerly of The Guess Who, and drummer Robin “Robbie” Bachman. Randy initially planned to just produce a solo album for Allan, but eventually both he and Robbie stepped in to provide much of the instrumental work. When the record label wanted them to tour, Randy (at the suggestion of Neil Young) called fellow Winnipeg bassist/vocalist C.F. “Fred” Turner to perform in the band's scheduled gigs.
Brave Belt's self-titled first album did not sell particularly well and Allan left the band shortly after the supporting tour started. Not having a lead vocal replacement ready, Turner was asked to be a full-time member and sing lead for the recording of ”Brave Belt II” in 1972. ”Brave Belt II” also failed to achieve major chart success and in mid-1972 their tour in support of the album was canceled halfway through. But Turner's influence had started to make itself felt as the band morphed from pure country rock to a harder, guitar-heavy sound featuring Turner's gruff, powerful voice. During this period, Tim Bachman was added as a second guitarist.
After Reprise Records dropped Brave Belt from their label, the band landed a new recording deal from Mercury Records. They soon changed their name to Bachman—Turner Overdrive having spotted a copy of a trucker’s magazine called Overdrive at a Windsor, Ontario truckstop, after which Turner wrote “Bachman–Turner Overdrive” and the initials “B.T.O.” on a serviette. The rest of the band decided the addition of “Overdrive” was the perfect way to describe their music.
BTO released their eponymous first album in May 1973. The album broke through in the U.S. via border towns such as Detroit and Buffalo and stayed on the charts for many weeks despite lacking a true hit single. The Turner-penned “Blue Collar” reached #21 on the Canadian RPM charts, but stalled at #68 on the U.S. charts. The album's eventual success was very much the result of the band's relentless touring. “Bachman–Turner Overdrive” would later be certified gold in 1974 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Their second album, “Bachman–Turner Overdrive II,” was released in December 1973 and became a massive hit in the U.S., peaking at #4 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. It also yielded two of their best known hit singles, “Let It Ride” and “Takin' Care of Business.”
Tim Bachman left the band in early 1974 shortly after the release of “Bachman–Turner Overdrive II.” Randy Bachman had very strong religious beliefs and established rules to be in BTO. Among them was a rule that drugs, alcohol and premarital sex were prohibited, and Tim is alleged to have broken all of these.
BTO continued a very busy tour schedule and during the supporting tour for “BTO II,” Tim was replaced by Blair Thornton, who had been in the Vancouver-based band Crosstown Bus. The first album with the modified lineup, 1974’s “Not Fragile“ became a massive hit and reached #1 on the Canadian and U.S. album charts. It included the #1 single “You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet“ and AOR favorite “Roll On Down the Highway.”
The band continued to steadily produce successful albums through the mid-1970s including “Four Wheel Drive“ and ”Head On“ -- both released in 1975. Each of these albums produced a hit single, “Hey You” (from “Four Wheel Drive”) and “Take It Like A Man” (from “Head On”). The latter song featured a guest appearance by Little Richard, who played piano. ”Head On” also featured the jazzy Randy Bachman composition “Lookin' Out for #1,” which garnered considerable airplay on both traditional rock stations and also soft rock stations which normally did not play bands like BTO In between the latter two albums, BTO released their only non-album single “Down To The Line.”
The first BTO compilation album, “Best of BTO (So Far),” was released in 1976 and featured songs from each of the band's first five studio albums. A single—a re-release of “Gimme Your Money Please”—was put out from this album, and it also charted well keeping BTO on both the AM & FM airwaves. This compilation album became the best-selling Bachman–Turner Overdrive album to date, reaching double platinum status in the U.S.
“Freeways,” a sixth studio album released in 1977, would signal the initial unraveling of the band. The song “My Wheels Won't Turn” was BTO's first single since their first album that didn't chart in the U.S. Randy Bachman left the group following ”Freeways” and was replaced by bassist Jim Clench, formerly of April Wine. Bassist Turner moved to rhythm guitar with Thornton becoming the primary lead guitarist. Clench and Turner shared lead vocal duties. Even though this lineup included drummer Robbie Bachman, the band had to record and tour only as “BTO” because of an agreement with Randy who wanted to retain the rights to his surname for his solo career. While Randy kept the rights to the full Bachman name, the remaining band members bought the rights to “BTO” and the gear logo.
The re-structured BTO released “Street Action” in 1978. The album became a commercial failure, spawning no hit singles. The band also released “Rock n' Roll Nights” in 1979, which also sold poorly. This album did, however, produce a moderately successful single called “Heartaches.” Written by Turner, it reached #60 in the U.S., making it the first BTO single in three years to chart in the U.S. BTO disbanded in early 1980, after the supporting tour for ”Rock n' Roll Nights.”
BTO reunited in 1983. Their lineup for their first studio LP in five years consisted of Randy and Tim Bachman, Fred Turner, and former Guess Who drummer Garry Peterson. Younger brother Robbie Bachman declined to participate after business and trademark disagreements with Randy and the others. The new album, simply (and confusingly) titled “BTO,” was released in 1984 on Charlie Fach’s new Compleat label. In 1986 they released a live album culled from their 1985 tour called “Live! Live! Live!“
In 1988 the 1974–77 ”Not Fragile” lineup (Randy, Fred, Blair, Robbie) reformed once again, took to the road and recorded an unknown number of songs together. The only song to make it out into the public by this version of the band was a cover of the song ”Wooly Bully,” which is only available on the “American Boyfriends” movie soundtrack. But by late 1991, Randy Bachman had left the group again.
Randy Bachman was replaced by Randy Murray after his last departure from the band in late 1991. This reconstituted version of BTO (Murray with Robbie Bachman, Fred Turner and Blair Thornton) proved to be its most enduring as they toured together from 1991 until December 2004.”Trial by Fire: Greatest and Latest” was released in 1996 and was their last album to contain any new material.
In 2003 the Canadian Music Hall of Fame voted to induct Bachman–Turner Overdrive into the museum. However, the band would have had to play as the Not Fragile line-up, meaning the inclusion of Randy Bachman to the band for that performance. The current version of BTO at the time declined the invitation unless they could be inducted as “BTO” without Randy Bachman playing on stage. The Hall refused and the band was not inducted.
Due to the intense interest in a Bachman-Turner reunion, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner announced their reteaming in 2009. The rock duo’s self-titled album, “Bachman & Turner,” was released in 2010.