Randy Bachman Reveals the Wild Origins of ‘American Woman’

By E.J. Judge

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.”

Related: Steve Miller Buries the Hatchet with Rock Hall

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.”

Hear the whole interview with Bachman now on 101.1 WCBS FM.

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