The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #29/250: Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Elvis’ private airplane with the Takin’ Care of Business logo on the tail. This plane now sits at his Graceland Mansion Museum.

If you are familiar with the career trajectory of Elvis Presley at all, then you know how he burst onto the music scene in the 1950s with music and moves that left audiences in complete hysterics. In the early 1960s, Elvis left the bright lights of the music world for the discipline of the military. When he was honourably discharged from Uncle Sam’s army, Elvis returned to the world of entertainment but as a movie star instead of being purely a rock n’ roll singer. It was during this phase of his career that Elvis Presley began to experience a drop in popularity. Concerned about this, he decided to take control of his career back from his manager in the form of a national television special in which he would simply do what he enjoyed most and that was: sing! The television special was dubbed as Elvis’ “comeback special”. It was warmly received. Going back to his musical roots reinvigorated his spirits and caused Elvis Aaron Presley to want to perform live on a more regular and consistent basis. Thus, he gathered a new backing band and headed out on the road. The name he selected for his backing band reflected the renewed sense of purpose he felt inside. Thus, when Elvis launched his first tour in over a decade, it was called the “Takin’ Care of Business” Tour with Elvis Presley and the Takin’ Care of Business Band. The whole entourage flew on a plane emblazoned with the letters “TCB” next to a lightning bolt. All of the merchandise being sold on the tour had “TCB” and the lightning bolt on it. Elvis Presley was back and was takin’ care of business as only he could.

Just prior to the airing of Elvis’ “comeback special” on TV, a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba was climbing the US rock charts with a smash hit of their own, “American Woman”. The Guess Who, led by singer Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman saw their song go all the way to on the charts, becoming the first Canadian act to do so in the Rock n’ Roll era. As was the case with many bands, Bachman and Cummings were busy writing and composing new material even as they toured with their older work. One of the songs that Randy Bachman brought to the group was a song tentatively called “White Collar Worker”. At the time, Burton Cummings dismissed the song as terrible because the chorus was clumsy and the melody of the song seemed to be merely copying The Beatles hit, “Paperback Writer”. But despite Cummings’ stinging rebuke, there was something about the song that Randy Bachman liked, so he tucked it away with a list of other songs he was composing with the thought of revisiting it at a future date.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Randy Bachman, Blair Thornton (who replaced Tim Bachman on guitar), Robbie Bachman and Fred Turner.

Well, that future date arrived several years later after The Guess Who had broken up. Randy Bachman found himself drifting through several bands, none of which were successful in gaining a new record deal. Eventually, Bachman turned to his family and convinced his brothers Tim and Robbie to join him in a band. They knew they needed a better singer than any of them were, so they recruited a fellow Winnipeg singer named Fred Turner. They named their new band Bachman-Turner Overdrive and set out to create some good, old-fashioned guitar driven rock n’ roll. Randy Bachman wrote all of the songs and kept all of the royalties for himself, which, in time, would prove to be a divisive decision. But, in the beginning, none of that mattered because the hits rolled off of Bachman’s pen. Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s first five albums all went Gold in Canada, with the first four also going Platinum in terms of sales. They had a string of iconic Canadian hits, such as “Let It Ride”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “Roll On Down The Highway”, “Hey You” and their most famous anthem, “Takin’ Care of Business”. In the mid-1970s, BTO were as big a band in Canada as there was. Their songs, along with those of bands such as April Wine and Trooper, formed much of the soundtrack of my teenage years.

Randy Bachman was listening to Vancouver’s CFUN radio when he heard the magical phrase, “Takin’ Care of Business”.

While most critics and fans accept BTO’s other hits at face value as being straight-ahead rockin’ tunes that are fairly self-explanatory as far as meaning goes, there have always been questions about “Takin’ Care of Business”. In an interview, Randy Bachman stated that although he was an Elvis Presley fan, he had no idea that Elvis’ new tour was titled “The Takin’ Care of Business” tour, nor that his backing band was called by that name, too. He denied ripping Elvis off and claimed, instead, that his song, “Takin’ Care of Business”, had actually been written years before and went by the name “White Collar Man”. Bachman maintained that Bachman-Turner Overdrive used to use “White Collar Man” as a warm-up song during recording sessions in which they would tune their instruments and get proper mic levels all figured out while they played. He said that he never thought of replacing the phrase “white collar man” with “takin’ care of business” until one day in Vancouver when he heard a DJ on CFUN radio use the phrase to describe the station’s musical philosophy. After hearing that, Bachman tweaked the song lyrics and the BTO version of “Takin’ Care of Business” was born. But, even then, the band had no intention of recording it for inclusion on an album. How that came to be was one day during a live performance, lead singer Fred Turner began to experience a mild form of laryngitis. Not certain that he had enough voice left to finish the show, he asked the band to play something…anything for ten minutes while he guzzled water so he could finish the set. Not knowing what else to play, they fell back upon their “tune-up” song and Randy Bachman began to sing. The debut performance of “Takin’ Care of Business” was met with thunderous applause, with the audience singing the new and improved chorus back right from the get-go. Afterwards, it was decided that the song should be added to the next album and the rest is Canadian music history.

The heyday of Bachman-Turner Overdrive coincided with the rejuvenation of Elvis Presley’s career and the donning of his iconic white jumpsuit. By the time that Elvis died in 1976, Bachman-Turner Overdrive were also essentially done as a touring band, too. In the short span of five or six years, Bachman-Turner Overdrive carved out a place for themselves in the pantheon of Canadian music greats. But the intensity with which they toured and recorded new material, coupled with the lack of equity in the division of profits the band was accruing caused the band to bicker and argue, and eventually, it caused Randy Bachman, himself, to opt to leave. There were several iterations of the band as the decades rolled by, including an actual reunion between Fred Turner and Randy Bachman, but nothing of musical consequence emerged. In fact, as some of you may be aware, Robbie Bachman passed away just one week ago formally ending any hope of a reunion of the classic BTO lineup.

Looking back upon it all, Randy Bachman has said that he has no regrets over anything. He remains one of the few Canadian rockers to have two hits with two different bands (“American Woman” with The Guess Who and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” with Bachman-Turner Overdrive). A song that he always believed in (“Takin’ Care of Business”) became one of the most beloved and recognizable songs in Canadian history and still can be heard played at sporting events everywhere. And through it all, by some pure coincidence in timing, he has found himself forever linked with his hero, Elvis Presley, as two musicians who knew exactly what it meant to be takin’ care of business. The mere thought of it makes Bachman smile to this very day.

The link to the video for the song “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

The link to the official website for Winnipeg, Manitoba…the birthplace of Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

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