The other day, an old favorite some came on my MP-3 player as I was going to work, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Roll On Down the Highway.” I was 13 when that song came out in 1974 and I liked it immediately. There was so much weenie-ish music on the radio back then and this stuff just cut right through the crap.
I think I’ve been predisposed since birth to seek out big fat guitar riffs and BTO was good that way. I’d always liked “Takin’ Care of Business” well enough, and the big single off the 1974 album “Not Fragile” was “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” I thought that one was OK; the riff was good but I didn’t care for all the stuttering. But when “Roll On Down the Highway” came on, it just commanded your attention.
The music video, which features the band in their 1970’s prime.
The rhythm guitar dominates from the start with a big fat hook and I love how the drummer plays with such power and energy, like he’s swatting at bees in a moving car.
BTO used two singers. First there was Randy Bachman, who sang on “Takin’ Care of Business.” He was OK, but I really loved the other guy’s voice, Fred Turner. That dude could really belt. He had that deep, gruff sound like he had a cold mixed with ground glass deep in his chest. He’s the guy you see in the video above, singing “Roll On Down the Highway.” He looks like he should be in Lord of the Rings, doesn’t he? Looks like he has a dead llama wrapped around his shoulders. Put horns on him and he cold be the mascot for the Minnesota Vikings.
Anyway, hearing the song again reminded me of when I got to see BTO play live, back in February of 1985. My buddy Brill and I saw them play at Masonic Auditorium, with Rare Earth opening. (For only $10! Yay, 80s!) This was well after their heyday; in fact only Randy Bachman and Fred Turner remained from their 70s lineup.
They billed themselves as a “half a ton of trouble,” as each of the four members were going well over 250 lbs. Their harmonies were always so tight; I wondered how they would sound playing live.
When the lights came up on their set, I immediately recognized the opening riff to “Let it Ride,” which was one of my favorites. They sounded great so far.
Would you let it ride?”
Harmonies were spot. Fucking. On. They sounded brilliant so far. Now I had to see how old Fred would do. Did he still have it? I didn’t have to wait long, as his foghorn voice cut through the darkened auditorium.
“You can see the mornin’
While I can see the light.
(Drive, drive, drive, let it ride.)
“While you’ve been out runnin’
I’ve been waitin’ half the night.”
No video, just the audio. If you don’t know the song, just check out the first minute; you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about.
Oh, man, they sounded terrific. Fred almost blew the crowd out of their seats with his powerhouse vocals, while the drummer played like a man possessed. It was rock and roll, just the way daddy likes it.
The whole show was fantastic. My only beef was with the sound mix on “Roll On Down the Highway.” They had the main rhythm guitar riff way too low and had Randy Bachman’s jangling counterpoint riff too loud. Threw the whole song out of balance, like you were listening to a song in stereo but with one speaker out.
It was also weird hearing “Takin’ Care of Business” without the piano. It just goes to show you how carefully a good song is constructed. You lose any one piece and the whole thing is changed.
But those were minor quibbles. The whole show was great. They could still rock the house the way they did in the 70s.
Best ten bucks I ever spent.