Backroads Returns

By Beacon Staff

In the 1970s, a wave of 20-something ski bums migrated to Whitefish, some shacking up in the now defunct Montana Hotel and 7th Street Commune. A few left town, but many stayed, evolving years later into business-owners. That influx of skiers also ushered in Backroads, a local band popular in the Flathead.

“They were one of the first big rock bands in the valley,” said Jack Waller, adding that his wife Laurie Gaiser was one of the first groupies. “They had kind of a little following. That’s when it was a big thing to drive through all the potato farms to Kalispell to hear them play at Fort Kalispell.”

This past weekend, the band reunited in Whitefish, dredging up their Pure Prairie League repertoire. Crowds waltzed down memory lane through their music, which still packed a punch over three decades later.

In the 1970s, Backroads played weekends at the Bierstube in the Big Mountain Village. “They used to pack them in,” recalled Gary Elliott, who owned the bar at that time. “They were really the start of live entertainment at the Bierstube.” Elliott noted the building was a third of the size it is now, but still crammed in 200 people. “I’d stand at the door to collect cover charges,” he said, “and then go downstairs to see the beams flex from the dancing.”

Early this summer, the resurrected band practiced in Zane Boeugher’s garage before their one-night reunion engagement this weekend. Backroads went through several incarnations, but the reunion featured John Schultz on guitar, Phelps L’Hommedieu on keyboards, Mark Taylor on drums, and Bert Riley on rhythm guitar. Sean Cooksey, a 22-year-old who wasn’t born during the band’s heyday, filled in on bass for Joe Laird who died of cancer.

The band played a couple years together. “We realized we couldn’t make a living at it,” laughed Riley, “so we had to go get real jobs.”