When Bachman-Turner Overdrive released their highest selling album "Not Fragile" in the summer of 1974, the Canadian music industry was still a fairly closed circuit with few Canadian acts breaking outside of the country.
Some 40 years later, it remains clear that the album's success not only helped to solidify Bachman-Turner Overdrive as one of the longest standing Canadian rock bands in history but placed them among a handful of acts that aided in breaking down a barrier that had for so long prevented Canadian musicians from garnering international acclaim.
"Back then it was very hard for a Canadian band to pick up work outside of their own country," says BTO singer and bassist Fred Turner. "Because of the times and the situation, bands like The Guess Who and us and acts that followed such as Loverboy, Bryan Adams and others, we really got the chance to open up a stream for Canadian music to move out of Canada and into other markets. We were able to sort of push a hole open and now Canadian bands are recognized quite readily."
Prior to the release of "Not Fragile," BTO had leveraged Randy Bachman's southern success with The Guess Who to primarily work in the U.S. in collaboration with Mercury Records. In fact, during the band's first foray into Canada, which took place at Vancouver's Coliseum, the crowd mistook them for an American act.
"It was one of our first big shows in Canada and we brought Charlie Daniels and Bob Seger to open," recalls Turner. "The crowd thought we were American, they had no clue. When it came time for us to go on stage, the announcer stepped out and let everyone know that we were Canadian boys and the whole place went silent, then it just erupted."
BTO's "Not Fragile" also marked a crossover moment in Canadian rock as the album, which spawned the hit singles "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" and "Roll On Down The Highway," captured both the album-oriented rock audience and the singles charts.
"See what happened along the way was that the albums were selling more than the singles, so we became known as an album band," says Turner. "People weren't buying the singles when they came out because they already had the album." But that all changed when, while on tour in the U.S., the band was asked to perform at a benefit concert in St. Louis.
"What happened with us was that we were out hounding in the Southern United States, pushing our second album [Bachman-Turner Overdrive II], when we got a call asking if we'd play this benefit concert in St. Louis," says Turner. "They had lost their headliners and needed somebody who wasn't local to come in and perform, so we said yes. For three weeks leading up to the show, KSHE radio, which was such a powerful station [it spanned across 6 states], played album cuts off of our first two records three times an hour. By the time we got there, we were huge!"
A shining example of the manor in which radio stations once had the ability to break rising acts, the promotion helped to set off a series of events that saw BTO crossover into the North American mainstream. "The rack jobbers in St. Louis started ordering thousands of records. When Record World and Billboard found out and reported it, all the rack jobbers across North America started ordering, too. Eventually our second album [which included the hits "Takin' Care of Business" and "Let It Ride"] went gold.
"Unfortunately, radio has changed big time since then. It's now controlled by conglomerates and the announcers really don't have the ability to say 'Hey, I've picked up on this and I want to play it somewhere within my show.' They're pretty much dictated to which means a lot of bands never get the kind of airplay we used to."
Although the musical landscape was quite different back in 1974, there is no denying the impact Bachman-Turner Overdrive has had upon the sound and face of Canadian rock music since. So, how does a rock band remain relevant for 40 years? Well, having the ability to pen countless classic rock hits doesn't hurt, but an enduring friendship coupled with the kind of musical chemistry that picks up just where it left off, sure goes a hell of a long way.
"Back in around 2008 or 2009, Randy and I got together for brunch," recalls Turner. "He was doing a stint with Burton but thinking about making his own record once things were done, so he asked me if I'd like sing one of the songs. I said 'well, sure I would do that,' so he sent a song down to the studio and went in and sang it and sent it back to him. He got a hold of me and said 'you know what, we need to get back out and work together again because this is great.' He said 'people retire because they don't like what they are doing [Turner retired back in 2004], and I can't see any reason why you retired.' He pulled my arm and I came back out," laughs Turner. "Randy's a real dynamo, he never quits working."
Coming up upon the band's induction into the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during this year's Juno Awards in their hometown of Winnipeg at the end of the month, it seems the band is far more interested in looking forward than looking back.
"I think it's great that Canada has this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so that the rest of the world can see that there are things from this country that have influence on an international scale," says Turner. "You know it's funny though, personally I never really look back on things. I'm just glad it wasn't over when I was 39 like I thought it would be. Here I am 70 and I'm still playing and enjoying it, so I’m just trying to look forward more than look back. But it was a great trip. It was fabulous.”
A re-mastered, deluxe version of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Not Fragile: 40th Anniversary Edition" is currently available digitally, on a two-CD expanded set and on re-mastered 180 gram vinyl via Universal Music Canada.