His brother and bandmate Randy revealed the news on his Twitter account, writing, “Another sad departure. The pounding beat behind BTO, my little brother Robbie has joined Mum, Dad & brother Gary on the other side. Maybe Jeff Beck needs a drummer! He was an integral cog in our rock ‘n’ roll machine and we rocked the world together. #RIP #littlebrother #family.”
Robbie was born on February 18, 1953 in Winnipeg, the younger brother of Randy, who was a co-founder and guitarist in the Guess Who, one of the most popular and successful Canadian bands of all time. Randy left that group in May 1970, at the peak of its success — just before the group’s song “American Woman” topped the U.S. charts — and initially formed a country-rock band called Brave Belt with 18-year-old Robbie on drums. Perhaps inspired by the success of “American Woman,” Brave Belt moved into a harder rock direction and a third Bachman brother, Tim, joined the pair and bassist Fred Turner, and changed their name to Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
The band signed with Mercury Records and released their self-titled debut in May of 1973, but their career took off in earnest with “II,” released at the end of that year. It included the hit singles “Let It Ride” and “Takin’ Care of Business,” which quickly became an anthem and is still frequently used in advertisements and sporting events. The band’s sound, which relied on a combination of hard riffs and strong vocal harmonies, became a staple of 1970s rock radio, and a series of albums and hit singles followed — with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” Randy Bachman became the first person to write and record American No. 1 singles for two different Canadian bands. Robbie was the band’s powerhouse drummer and, with his aviator-shaped glasses and mane of brown hair, a recognizable visual presence.
The group began to lose momentum toward the end of the decade and Randy left in 1979. He skipped a 1984 reunion but rejoined in 1988 and remained until the band split in 2004, although Randy left in 1991. Throughout those latter years there were disputes between the brothers over lineups and the legal use of the band’s name. Robbie effectively retired after 2004.
BTO were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
Best of Variety