A shift of styles in popular music in
the mid-1970s had quickly caused old-fashioned guitar rock and roll to
face near extinction on the Top 40 charts. Songs like
Lovin' You by Minnie Riperton
and The Morning After by Maureen
McGovern were topping the pop charts with alarming regularity, leaving
many rock and roll fans feeling like they were left out in the cold
without a jacket.
Until BTO came along.
BTO stormed the "light on guitar" pop charts of the 70's with a string
of hard-rocking tunes, including classics such as
Takin' Care of Business,
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet,
Roll On Down The Highway,
You, and Let It Ride. At
one point the band had four albums on the charts at the same time,
proving to critics that there was still a desire by fans to hear simple,
loud, riffy, good guitar rock
Over thirty years after the creation of BTO, the band is still pleasing
audiences to this day with ball-breaking live shows. Original members
Robin Bachman, C.F. Turner, and Blair Thornton are alive and well,
playing as loudly and proudly as the days when their shoulder length
hair adorned the stage. Bachman's smash-mouth style of drumming has
anchored the band since day one, while C.F. Turner's straightforward
lead vocals and bass playing have given the band it's unmistakable
trademark sound. Guitarist Blair Thornton has provided countless
signature riffs to millions of fans worldwide, and guitarist/vocalist
Randy Murray has been in tow for over thirteen years as an integral part
of BTO on all levels.
XMFan recently had a chance to speak with Rob Bachman, who resides in
British Columbia, Canada. He was happy to discuss the music business and
current projects, among other things. Rob seems to have a true love and
appreciation for BTO fans, and seemed to enjoy our brief trip down
XMFan: When did you first begin
playing the drums?
Rob: Before I was in grade school
we had a little family band - four brothers - guitar, accordion, and I
had one of those little Sears Roebuck cardboard drum sets with the palm
tree on the front of the bass drum, with a little cowbell kind of thing.
We did banquets like legion halls and veterans parties, weddings,
anniversary parties, church parties, all that stuff. Then when I started
grade one my mom stop it so I could concentrate on schoolwork. When I
was sixteen I got my first actual set of drums. I guess I officially
started playing then.
XMFan: Do you play any
instruments other than percussion?
Rob: I think I know five guitar
chords, which I have used to write my tunes.
XMFan: I believe you were only
twenty when the first BTO album was released.
Rob: Yeah, that was May of '73.
Starting at twenty now is old man, way old. (Laughs)
XMFan: Progressive rock was
gaining popularity in the early 1970's, with bands like
ELP achieving success on the
music charts. BTO was seemingly created to carry the torch of
straightforward, bone-crunching rock and roll…
Rob: Yes, kind of. We were
basically fans of all kinds of music, but really liked the old kind of
rock and roll - like listening to Elvis
- and the funky kinds of bands like The
Stones. We just had a great vocalist. To have Fred Turner sing
any tune gives it this rock and roll "class", just from hearing his
voice. Luckily for us, Creedence
had just call it quits, and we came out with three and four-chord rock
and roll with Fred Turner's gruff voice. So it was basically this
working mans kind of rock and roll that a white guy could tap his foot
had enough tunes that were radio time - the three and a half minute mark
- to get played on radio. We were mostly played on FM, because at that
time we were too heavy for AM. The lyrics were... (Pauses)
If you sang them straightforward you got the meaning, but you know,
there were other little underlying stories here and there for different
songs and song titles. If you didn't happen to look past the lyrics you
could follow along with the song and it would give you some kind of
message with a great feel to it.
XMFan: I've heard over the years
that Overdrive was part of the
band name for two different reasons. One was in honor of the name of a
trucker's magazine, the other because of the brand of rock and roll you
play. Which is true?
Rob: Well, we picked
Overdrive from the magazine
title because that was the kind
of music we were trying to play. The magazine is still around, new and
revamped like all magazines have been over the past thirty years, but
it's still there.
XMFan: Your 1974 album
Not Fragile reached number one
on the Billboard Album Chart, and remained on the chart for an amazing
50 weeks, even though some critics of the day accused the album of being
too "basic." Did you get the last laugh over these critics?
Rob: I think we got the last
laugh off of any critic. At that
time we had three albums on the charts -
BTO II, and
Not Fragile. They were on for
about a good three and a half years. Then
Four Wheel Drive came out and we
had four albums on the charts.
We're still playing those same songs today to as large a crowd, and as
young a crowd, as we did when that album was number one. So I'm still
laughing. Instead of laughing all the way to the bank, I say, "I'm
laughing all the way to the stage."
XMFan: How does it feel to
headline a sold-out stadium show with 30,000 fans in attendance?
Rob: It's gratifying in the sense
that what we're doing is really us. We're not pretending to be anybody
else, not dressing the part, not coming out with music or a concert show
that is portraying some sort of different personalities. It gives you a
real boost that something you've actually thought of personally, in your
head - and sometimes even that night - people are appreciating. It's the
truest form of instant gratification.
XMFan: Along with C.F. Turner,
you co-wrote one of BTO's most popular songs,
Roll On Down The Highway. Would
you tell us what inspired you to write the song?
Rob: I think it was in March of
'74, in either Kansas or Oklahoma. I was sitting outside the hotel room
in one of those places where the hallway outside the room is
air. I went back inside the room
and pulled back the curtains, sat in the chair, and looked back outside
and said, "Wow, here we are. We've got semis with our names on them."
You know, we rented the truck, which wound up being the first line. I
kept thinking of stuff that had happened to us on the road - we're
looking at the map, we're in the wrong place. "Four fifty-four coming
over the hill", Fred Turner put that in, referring to the old state
trooper pursuit cars with the big Chevy 454 (engine) coming over the
hill, man on the run going to give you a bill. You get your speeding
tickets trying to get from one city to the other. I was sort of my
opening to, "Hey, here we are. The band is becoming huge and we've got
semis and our own caravan on the road going from city to city playing
concerts." These are the stories that happened to us while we were
driving down the highway, things that happen just about every day.
XMFan: Do you still live in
Rob: When I'm not touring, yes.
I'm up here right now, getting ready to go mountain biking.
XMFan: You've always included a
little maple leaf in the BTO logo…
Rob: It's funny, some people from
Canada don't know we're from Canada. That maple leaf is gone now.
XMFan: I believe BTO is probably
one of the most successful bands from Canada.
Rob: We're lucky; we're still
getting royalties from far-away places we've never played. People come
back from vacations and say, "Man, I was in Cambodia and I heard your
song. Shit, that's BTO." It's strange to people (tourists), because the
songs are so familiar and they feel more at home. We've heard stories
like that off-and-on throughout the years. As far as living in Canada,
we have been lucky to have good connections to be able to leave the
country and go places - do concerts.
XMFan: So what does Rob Bachman
do for fun?
Rob: I'm a video kook. I like
shooting videos. In fact, I videotape just about every tour day we do,
mostly the back-state stuff. Right now I'm going through my old 70's
Super-8 movies, which I shot on the road all through the 70's. I'm
trying to transfer some of that to video and DVDs, and might see if the
public is interested in buying some old BTO footage.
XMFan: You gave us a small taste
of that footage on your website, with a video of the State Trooper
pulling you over. (www.btorocks.com)
Rob: Yeah, there you go. Rollin'
down the highway, man on the run gonna give you a ticket. (Laughs)
There it is right there. I've got footage of us and Alvin Lee, REO
Speedwagon, Aerosmith, Brownsville Station, Bob Seeger, Meatloaf;
everybody hanging out backstage or traveling on the plane. All kinds of
stuff like that. Tours of Japan, Europe. I'm trying to get it all
together - and put little bits of it here and there on the site - and
see if anyone would be interested.
XMFan: Does the band have any
releases or projects in the works?
Rob: We start a tour this June.
The dates should be on the site soon if they aren't already. There are a
few concert DVDs we're working on right now. We do have new material -
nine tunes - and I guess we'll see what we can do to take them on the
XMFan: Would you mind telling our
percussion fans the type of kit you use on tour?
Rob: I have a
Pearl set, their top road model.
I've got a 12x14 Rack Tom on the Bass Drum, which I put on a Snare stand
because I get more mobility that way. 22x22 Bass Drums, 14x14 Floor Tom
and a 16x14 Floor Tom. I've got Sabian
Cymbals, and a 15-inch Hi-Hat medium. A lot of guys don't realize when
you're getting a 15-inch Hi-Hat you can spread your kit out more,
because you've got an extra two inches over the standard 13. You can
spread your legs out more and still have the Hi-Hat close to you. When I
sit the same way and someone gives me a 12 or 13-inch, I have to either
pull a Hi-Hat in or crowd up my drum riser, or reach way over and end up
getting a pulled neck muscle! Then I've got two 18-inch Medium
Sabian Crashes and a 20-inch
Sabian Ride. Sometimes I'll use
a 16-inch Medium Crash on my right side.
XMFan: Would you have imagined
thirty years ago that your songs would still be this popular in 2004,
showing up in movies, TV commercials, and even political campaigns?
Rob: When Bush was running the
first time, both parties were each using one of our songs. Either they
weren't controlling what was being played, or no one really researched
the songs were from the same band. I was thinking, "Well hey, that's
great! Whoever wins may want us to play the party!" But no, I never
thought the songs would be remembered a year ahead of time, much less
thirty years from then. I was
thinking more about the next tour.
After I (temporarily) retired back in 1979, I thought it would be a
great time to do the things I wasn't able to do since high school. You
know, hang out with the guys, go to movies, camping, hiking, stuff like
that. Then "classic rock" radio came in and wound up being a viable way
of marketing and advertising things - a whole new form of entertainment.
The music was actually more popular than it was in the 70's, more
accepted by the public, by radio, by TV, by commercials, by movies. It
was a real marketing tool. There
are a lot of tunes that people of all ages and walks of life can still
relate to. You may have gone to grade nine with five guys whose life
stories are all different. You can still listen to those same tunes you
all did in grade nine and relate to it; one may be a doctor, one may be
a plumber, the other guy could be working in a circus for crying out
loud, and you have nothing else
in common. But when those five guys hear the music they all have the
Popular music of that time didn't have the growth and strength that it
has accumulated over the past twenty years. It is amazing - it is a
phenomenon - and I don't know what the young guys today are thinking. I
don't know what Eminem or Britney Spears are thinking - do they see a
band like us and say, "Wow, am I going to be doing that in thirty
years?" We are proving now that it's possible. Guys like
Frank Sinatra and
Tony Bennett were still rockin'
and rollin' into their seventies. If people want us to play, we're going
to be there playing.
BTO can be heard on Top Tracks, Deep
Tracks, and 70's on 7.