PM: There are so many things we could talk about, but I want you to tell one anecdote because it's great. It's about the song "Taking Care of Business." It's the story of recording that song and the pizza man.
RB: The song was written by accident. It was a song that the Guess Who had passed on earlier, and I desperately put it together one night on stage when Fred Turner, who was the main lead singer in Bachman-Turner Overdrive, had lost his voice and I had to finish the last set. We were going to record it a few weeks later. After we were recording it with just guitar and bass and drums, there was a knock on the recording studio door.
This is in Seattle, Steve Miller was down the hall recording the Fly Like an Eagle
[sic] album, and War was down the hall doing their album, and there is great big guy there. I'm big, so when I say a big guy, I mean a really
big guy — about
six foot six, three hundred something pounds, and hair
like Fidel Castro, big beard. And he was wearing the full army fatigues and the hat just like Castro, standing there with about five pizzas. He said, "Did you guys order pizza?" I said, "No, it must be down the hall." And he's standing there listening to the song, and it was "Taking Care of Business."
So he went down the hall and dumped the pizza with whoever — Steve
Miller or War — and
then he came back and knocked again. And he said, "You know, that song sounds like it could really use a piano." It was two o'clock in the morning, and I said, "Look, we're going home." I'm closing my briefcase and everything and he says, "Please, please, I'm a piano player. Can I have a shot?" And I said, "Oh, who am I not to give the guy a shot, right?" Okay, you have one pass."
He took a napkin and he wrote down the key and he said, "What should I play like?" I said, "Well, Little Richard, Elton John, Dr. John" — all
this kind of stuff. Normally you would try a whole pass like Little Richard, then a whole pass like Dr. John,
then a whole pass like Elton John. He went and did it all at once. When it was all done, I said, "Great, that's it. Thank you very much."
I was going to wipe this track the next day, just erase it. The head of our label, Charlie Fasch, flew in because he wanted to hear this album and hear some songs to get us on Top 40
radio. We played him the song, and he says, "This is really good." Suddenly the engineer brought up the fader that had the piano on and he went, "Wow, BTO with a piano? This gives you a whole different sound on radio — let's
leave it in! Who played piano?"
I said, "I don't know, a pizza guy."
"What do you mean, 'a pizza guy'? What musician did you pay?"
"It was a pizza guy."
"Well, we have to get him and put his name on the album and pay him!"
So I went down the hall and said to Steve Miller, "Where did you order the pizza from?" He said, "Are you kidding? We've all been here two months, and every day about two in the afternoon it's Chinese or Mexican, and every night it's pizza. Here's the Yellow Pages." I went to the front of the studio and I said to the girl, "Would you please start phoning in the As and I'll go half through the alphabet — I'll
phone from the Ms to the Zs."
PM: Come on, you're kidding.
RB: And we asked them if they delivered pizza to this studio on this date. Now two days have gone by, and we had to find him.
PM: And you found him?
RB: I got it, but they wouldn't tell me his name or anything because they didn't know why I was calling. Finally I got a really good Italian guy and he said, "Oh yes, there's this musician that only works for us the last day of the month. When he can't pay his rent, he delivers pizza."
And I said, "Can you give me his name and number?"
"No. But if you order a pizza we'll send him out."
So we ordered a pizza and the guy came out. His name was Norman Durkee, and this was his entrance into show business. He went on to become Bette Midler's musical director on her first national tour. About six years ago I was playing with the Ringo Starr All-Starr Band and we played at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and before us the L.A. Symphony was rehearsing — and
he's the rehearsal pianist. So that's the story of the pizza man.