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Bachman-Turner Overdrive vs. REO Speedwagon Backstage




BTO Gets Last Laugh Over REO & Brownsville Station

Stories Behind The Stories. Rock Journalists relate tall tales and amazing adventures, what it was like hanging out backstage with world famous rockstars back in the day.

bachman turner overdrive, the band that laffs last


Bachman-Turner Overdrive
The Band That Laffs Last


Published October 24, 1974
Zoo World


by Jim Esposito


Currently Posted on

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In September, 1974 I flew into San Antonio to meet up with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I’d met the band before. Earlier that year they’d played at the University of Miami. I’d written a stock formula piece wrapped around an interview with Randy Bachman, with quotes from C.F. Turner and Robbie Bachman.

They were great guys. Canadians. Down to Earth. Randy and Fred were in their 30s, a bit older than most other bands of that era. In addition, BTO were Mormons: did not smoke, drink, do drugs or consort with loose women. A very business-like approach, they attacked the U.S. Music Market through a series of guerilla raids. Booking a string of dates through a region, Bachman-Turner flew in to play the first night. Next morning they’d hop in a rental car, drive to the next. They did 4-5 shows in a row, then flew home to Vancouver, spent a week with wives and families. The week after they’d fly out again, hit a string of dates through the Midwest, California, or the Northeast.

This swing through Texas was a perfect example. They’d played Dallas and Odessa. I met up with them in San Antonio. They had a show in Austin the next night, Houston the night after. The opening act on these gigs was REO Speedwagon.

It was like being on tour with the Marines. I was usually throwing stuff into my suitcase when the hotel room phone rang. Their Manager, Bruce Allen, asking where I was. The car was leaving in five minutes.

Booked at the same hotel I met up with the band and Manager Bruce Allen when they were leaving for the gig. Six of us piled into a car, headed for the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium.

As it happened I’d just read an article in Creem Magazine about Bachman-Turner touring Texas opening for REO Speedwagon. In those days you wrote a story, mailed it to the magazine. It hit the stands 3-4 months later. Riding from the hotel to the show I mentioned how interesting that was, that only a couple months earlier the same two bands had been touring through the same region, only REO Speedwagon had been the headline act. Since then BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” hit the charts, so now REO was opening for them.

I hit a nerve. Bruce, who was driving, made a face, exchanged a glance with Randy.

Turns out that scenario created friction between the bands. For the past couple gigs, Bruce Allen contended REO Speedwagon had mimicked Bachman-Turner’s set in order to steal the show. They structured their energy identically, and the night before in Odessa, REO (who were only supposed to do a 35-40 minute set) played an entire hour.

As a result, Bruce Allen gave orders REO Speedwagon could only play 35 minutes, could only use four lights on either side of the stage, and only two spotlights.

We got to the hall, proceed to Bachman-Turner’s dressing room. We’re not there more than two or three minutes when – BAM!!! The door flies open and seven guys from REO Speedwagon come storming in.

“You guys are really big time now, aren’t you!” snaps one shaggy blonde guy, hands on hips, wearing a goldtop Les Paul.

Allow me to set the scene. BTO’s “dressing room” must’ve been a conference room or something. It was huge: maybe 25-30 feet wide and 40-50 feet deep. (For four guys.) Relatively empty and wide open except for portable tables and chairs, a couple rolling metal clothes hangers. In back, the standard rock ’n roll buffet table – soft drinks, chips and dip, cold cuts and barbecue meat, a veggie tray nobody ever touched.

BTO band members (and I) had been heading for the food. Bruce Allen headed off REO Speedwagon, just inside the door.

Confronted by Bruce Allen the REO delegation clustered in a tight little knot just inside this enormous room. Young guys on a star trip, all wounded artistic indignation, they huffed and puffed, whined and moaned, screamed and cussed.

Standing at the food table with C.F. Turner, one guy bellowed:

“Shit! We’ve been playing this same set for two years!”

Fred and I looked at each other. Can you believe the guy just said that?

For a rock journalist this was pure gold. We seldom got to witness such scenes and I found myself like Tom Wolfe sitting in the middle of Leonard Bernstein’s fund raiser for the Black Panthers. This scene said more about rock ’n roll than most issues of Rolling Stone. Writing the article I tried to portray this scene as faithfully as I could, but I did get off quite a few good lines at REO’s expense:

“The delegation clustered in a tight little knot resembling the formation a herd of wild musk ox assume instinctively when attacked by wolves. Next to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, REO Speedwagon looked like a high school band. They sounded like a classroom scene off a Cheech and Chong album.

“Hey, maaannnn...”

After this story came out I ran into Cameron Crowe and David Rensin at a Crosby-Nash concert at the Greek Amphitheatre. Cameron told me REO Speedwagon wanted to kick my ass. Could hardly blame them. They didn’t come off looking too well. Still, I stand by the accuracy of my account.

Specifically, I heard REO claimed they never said they’d been playing the same set for two years. But that is a direct quote which I heard, with my ears, will always remember, especially since Fred Turner and I exchanged that glance upon hearing it.

Of course, it didn’t mean they were playing the same set of songs for two years. Meant they were playing the same structured set. Which was undoubtedly true. Because EVERYBODY played that set: the high energy intro, get the audience going, then you take it down for a while before kicking it back in for the big finish.

The story got even better, however, when Bachman-Turner went through much the same on the last show of their little swing through Texas, only this time it was with Brownsville Station. I’d written an article on this band, got along with them every well. In fact, they had commissioned me to write the Bio in their Press Kit. Again, however, the last time they’d played with BTO Brownsville Station had been the headliner. Now they were the opening act and there was more wrangling and hard feeling over spotlights.

A few years later Bachman-Turner published a book about themselves, written by a writer who was not me. They lifted the whole scene with REO Speedwagon out of my article. They mentioned my name, but never gave me proper credit, or paid me a dime.

I do have one other enduring memory from that that trip through Texas. Starting out in San Antonio, we naturally remembered the Alamo. Driving to the gig, talking, one of the guys said he heard it was right behind our hotel. We all decided we had to check it out. Definitely. Driving back to the hotel after the show, we made plans to see the Alamo before pulling out of town the following morning.

Next day, in the car, on the highway heading to Austin, hitting the outskirts of San Antonio, somebody asked if anybody had gotten to the Alamo.

We all looked at one another. Everybody shook their head, no.

Randy Bachman said: “I’ve been everywhere. But I haven’t seen anything.”

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