Randy Bachman on how a broken string inspired his iconic American Woman guitar riff

 Randy Bachman playing a Gibson les paul.
Randy Bachman playing a Gibson les paul.
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Some songs are inspired by dramatic events. Others come to their authors in a dream. But for Randy Bachman, a broken string was the inspiration behind The Guess Who‘s 1970 hit American Woman.

“I broke a string,” Bachman once told Professor of Rock. “I had my ‘59 Les Paul that had a Bigsby on it. So when you're trying to change a string, it's really tough. In the dark, no roadie, no tuner, no stool.

“It weighs around 14 pounds. Trying to hold it up, trying to put a string on it. I don't have a table putting it on my lap. I'm kneeling in front of this electric piano on the stage and I'm tuning to the piano.”

As he was doing that, Bachman spontaneously started to play the guitar riff that would later characterize American Woman, “The whole audience, who's now talking, their heads snap and look at the stage, and I go, ‘Oh my God, I can't forget this riff.’

“So I start to play it, and I stand up. The stage is still dark, but I see the drummer. He comes on stage and he starts playing. And Jim Kale comes and starts playing bass. Burton [Cummings] runs on stage and says, ‘What is this?’ and I said, ‘Just sing anything.’”

Bachman recounted how it was difficult to recapture that moment in the studio. “I remember we went to record it. We just couldn't get it. It happened as a jam on stage.” It was then that their producer, Jack Richardson, came up with a unique solution to the band's red light syndrome.

“Our producer said, ‘Okay, I want to create that night. Turn out the lights in the studio. You guys go sit in the room. Randy, you go out there alone, get on your knees, tune up your guitar, and start to play, and we'll have the tape machines rolling.’ So I go out there, tune up, and I start to play it."

The '59 American Woman Les Paul will be the centerpiece of an auction in New York featuring over 200 of Bachman's guitar collection. Enthusiasts can view the guitars before the auction kicks off by visiting New York’s Hard Rock Cafe between May 22 and May 28.