If it was easy as fishin’
You could be a musician
And could make sounds/ loud and mellow
Get a second hand guitar
Chances are you’ll go far
If you get in with the
right bunch of fellows.
ROCK AND ROLL has long been the proverbial playground of pleasure for the itinerate rock charmer fortunate enough to be the current king of the wax heap. Flurries of fan’s and bevies of groupies are willing to annoint stage-weary flesh, decorate the not-so-palatial hotel rooms in their platformed finery, or grovel on command.
Let’s zoom in on the current rock royalty and ask them how they spend their off hours. Bachman Turner Overdrive. Although the boys have never been hailed for their high flash or protruding, popstar bone-structure, They certainly must reap some of the reward bestowed on a best selling band. We found top Bachman, Randy B., table-side keeping company with a prime rib.
“Yeah, we get girls hanging around,” he answered matter-of-factly. “Any business has guys in it for the ride. Other guys may turn it into a good time. Me, I treat rock and roll like a business. If I was an executive I wouldn’t ball my secretary on the desk.”
Writer Cameron Crowe has aptly described the elder Bachman as “a business man who carries a guitar instead of a briefcase.” The center stage is his office, and ticket-sales put the bacon on his table and the Rolls in his garage. He watches the operation of BTO as an over anxious entrepreneur. He is indeed “taking care of business, working overtime.” Bachman Turner Overdrive, like any other enterprise, must have, regulations. Although office hours are impossible, Randy has a well plotted set of Rules for the Road.
“Did you know we have a rule, we don’t leave our rooms?” he asks me seriously. “No,” I answer incredulously. “Curfew for the hottest rockstars? Don’t the other guys mind?”
“Well Blair and Robbie are a little rambunctuous, but they’re young. They’re not as stable or as old as I am. See, Robbie didn’t have to go through as much as I did to get where he is. He came out of high school, and played in a band. I always made sure that the band made money. If they didn’t, I’d pay the group a salary, just so Robbie would stick to it. I don’t think he realizes how much…” The big Bachman’s voice trails off, and he looks a little embarrassed as if he revealed some measure of sibling rivalry. He made a quick recovery, stabbing at the air with his fork. “We just can’t be seen in public. What’s to keep some guy whose girlfriend has been playing BTO records all the time, from breaking both my legs if he sees me on the street?” Randy demands of me. “It’s insurance that we don’t get hurt and people don’t recognize us. My brother has gone out and almost been accosted by a motorcycle gang. Robbie and Blair almost got killed just because Rob had a jacket with a police crest on it and they wanted it,” he spat bitterly. “Since he obviously didn’t want to give up the jacket, out with their knives and chains.”
“You mean because of a bad brush with a gang, you’ve literally grounded the guys?” I ask innocently.
“Oh no,” he replies largely. “We don’t mind people coming up to the rooms. That way we can screen them. But when you’re out on the street you’re very vulnerable. Especially in Detroit. Here a knife, there a knife, everywhere a knife.” He snickers at his own humor.
An over protective parent? No, Bachman just doesn’t want to jeopardize this million dollar music-making-machine.What would BTO do with an 8:00 PM gig in Cincinnati, and a drummer with fractured forefingers or a rhythm guitarist with rigor mortis… Bachman knows best, with the hyperthyroidic Bruce Allen, BTO’s oily mananger, as babysitter, making nightly room checks to make sure the crew is keeping company with Johnny Carson.
But somehow it didn’t jell with me. I’m sure Fred Turner doesn’t mind foregoing any post concert action. He’s a lumbering teddybear of a bass player, 31, and also very married. He’d already disclosed to me the reason he was in the band was “when Randy was looking for people for this group he was just looking for some stable guys, and I happened to be a stable guy, so I got the job.” He might be a rock and roll of Gibraltar, but what about Robbie Bachman and Blair Thornton? They’re two healthy specimens on the sunny side of their twenties just breaking on the horizon of stardom. Why shouldn’t they partake of the flaunted fruits of femininity tossed their way? Or why beg off offers for afterhour bashes thrown in their honor?
I knocked at room 702. They were sharing a room. Hmm, makes for cozier orgies? Nope. Hours past the concert close and no nookie in view. Both of the guys were stretched out on their beds, identically propped on one elbow watching the toothsome John Davidson sub-host for Johnny. Robbie had a quart of Gatorade between his legs. Nothing else.
“Robbie, do you mean you… don’t mind your big brother locking you in at night?” I attempted to bait him.
“Hell no, I don’t want to go out there and get killed.”
“Did your brother Tim leave the band because he couldn’t stand the curfew?”
“Why don’t you call him up and ask him, if you want to know so bad,” he snapped. Thin ice, translated, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
Maybe Blair was bucking the Bachmans. Surely someone who looks like that… “Don’t you feel that staying in nights is ruining your social life?” I picked.
“Depends on what kind of social life you mean. I wouldn’t consider coming back to the room with a bunch of girls a social life. That’s entertainment.’
Either this band had their grey matter permanently pressed or were they … sheltered? Not a quality you’re bound to find at the top of a Billboard chart. I had been trying to corner these Spud Canucks as caricatures of the flash-in-the-band nouveau super stars. Could it be that north of the border, up Vancouver way, musicians are bred without oversaturated egos?
“I don’t even go out that much when I go home. I’m a little afraid to because when I do, and people know me, you know friends of friends know me, my status changes. I feel alienated and it makes me feel very insecure not knowing if people are being friendly because they like me or I’m in the number one band,” Blair told me, baring his new found neurosis.
“The thing with me is I’m shy,” piped in Robbie, following Blair’s lead. “I don’t think I have any confidence in myself, but I out loud myself. I’ll walk into a room and say ‘Hey, what’s happenin’!!’ I feel if I’m louder than everybody else, they can’t shut me down.”
No protective popstar shield here. Was this True Confessions or a second level T group?
“I’m sure you’ve interviewed a lot of groups that are very arrogant. That’s because if they let go they’d turn into a quivering mass of jelly. When you’re at this position you’re very vulnerable,” Blair divulged.
“Oh yeah. Blair and I have had girls, or people over and they don’t want to say it, but they always do: ‘Other groups act so cool that I’m afraid if I do something that’s not cool they’re going to laugh at me. But you guys make me feel so at ease, so personal. Like I’m at home’,” Robbie said.
“And you know, I don’t think I’m as sure of myself as you think I am,” Blair suddenly added.
I think Blair is, if not sure of himself personally, sure of where he’s at and where he is going professionally. The success of this band has grown from their group consciousness and the conformity of their position, their impact, and their limitations. If anyone is to underestimate BTO, it is BTO themselves. Fred Turner’s definition of their presence’ dovetails with the group opinion: “My idea of a group is no stars, no egos, just regular guys. I’ve been doing it too long to go through the superstar trip. BTO isn’t in it to make a great, big wide, gaping hole in the business. With us the most important thing is our future and our families. I want to make music and I want to make money so my family can be comfortable.”
© Jaan Uhelszki, Creem, March 1975