Sunday, October 10, 1999

Easy ridin' with . . . Dave Otto

Bellevue printer can go backstage anywhere, but would rather be on his Harley

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dave Otto on his prized Harley-Davidson.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Nobody goes backstage without Dave Otto's help. Oscar winners off to the Green Room at the Academy Awards show? Headliner at Woodstock chasing down a chilled Heineken? Barbra Streisand off to pick up her $10 million paycheck after her New Year's Eve '99 concert?

        Without Dave Otto, they can just cool their heels outside the stage entrance.

        Mr. Otto, see, owns Bellevue's Otto Printing and Entertainment Graphics, a big gun in the world of backstage passes.

        How big a gun? This big: “Without question, the largest in the world,” he says, sitting in a corner booth at F&N Steakhouse, decked out in a black leather Harley-Davidson vest, black cowboy boots and faded jeans. Only the neatly trimmed blond hair and well-shaved face keep him from looking every inch the biker.

        Which he is. Out in the lot, his brand new Harley is cooling its pipes.

        “I can't think of one major concert tour in the past couple of years that we haven't done. Same goes for festivals, sporting events like the Super Bowls, World Series, boxing matches in Vegas.”

        His firm has its own chapter in Goldmine Price Guide to Rock 'n' Roll Memorabilia, an encyclopedia-like volume where badges he did for a 1976 Kiss tour go for $50 and his old Metallica badges command even more.

        So how did a 25-employee printing house on the banks of the Ohio River become the global capital for entertainment's backstage elite?

        And how did a 49-year-old Campbell County Commissioner from Fort Thomas get to be its Crown Prince?

        It began in the mid-1970s when the rock group Boston had the nation's No. 1 album and was about to embark on a world tour.

        “They had this graphic of an upside down guitar on the album cover,” Mr. Otto says. “I took the graphic off the cover and designed a laminated backstage pass. At the time, nobody was doing that. Backstage was anarchy.

        “Then I met with Boston's people and said, "Look, I know you didn't authorize this, but I did it anyway. Your tour is going to be chaotic and you need something for security.

        “They loved the idea. I cut a deal where I'd give them the passes cheap if I could add our logo, name and phone number on the back. They agreed and for the next several months, everyone in the industry saw the name "Otto Printing' on the passes and wanted something similar.

        “That was the birth of it.”

        And the birth of a company everyone in the entertainment world knows about, even if most of Cincinnati doesn't.

        What Cincinnati needs is a tour of his offices, where hundreds of passes in chrome frames line the white walls, alternating with autographed pictures of Mr. Otto and celebrities — with Paul McCartney on the golf course, Huey Lewis in a golf cart, Metallica, Boston, Journey, Steve Perry, Bryan Adams. Copies of gold and platinum records given by various stars, thankful he found a way to keep their dressing rooms peaceful, take up the remaining space.

        Then tour his pressroom, where a six-foot German press is catching its breath after cranking out 50,000 passes for a Phish tour.

        Off the record, he explains the complicated technology he's using so the passes can't be counterfeited. On the record, he explains that “holograms, special glowing ink, pictures of Telly Savalas and Clint Eastwood, they're all involved. I just can't say how.”

        But he can talk about the large electrified security cage tucked in a corner of the pressroom. Pointing to crammed shelves lining the walls and groaning skids all over the cage, he says, “It's full of backstage passes of immediately past, current and upcoming tours. You have to be careful with these things.”

        Cher's in there. So are several boxes of wristbands for a Black Entertainment Television concert coming up. Another shelf is lined with leftovers from the MTV Music Video Awards. Any day now, Ricky Martin will go in. So will Ms. Streisand.

        But these passes, these treasures fans beg for, are only his job. His life is wife Beth and daughters Nicole, 25, and Olivia, 6.

        And his passion, well, that's parked outside . . .

        It's a $28,000 Harley-Davidson Springer he won by using a Harley Visa card.

        “I've had bikes since I was 17. I don't think there'll ever come a time when I don't.”

        Even when forced off the road by a car last November on Dayton Pike, hitting the pavement hard enough for concrete to chew through his leather bomber jacket, flannel shirt, leather chaps and jeans, right down to bare skin?

        “Yeah, I got a pretty good road rash from that one. My head bounced off the pavement and it did $5,000 damage to the bike, but I got back on right away.”

        He got back on in July, too, when he won the new Harley. He had ear surgery a few days after picking up his winnings and his doctor told him not to ride for two months. Equilibrium, you know.

        “I lasted two weeks.”

        Then he was out in his 105-year-old barn, ripping the waterproof cover off his bike and zooming out to meet up with the Pink Fairies.


        “The Pink Fairies. The group I ride with.”

        Some group, that. It's a club of 40 prominent and well-heeled locals who love their bikes. Secret Communications founder and former Jacor CEO Bo Wood is one. So is Chamber of Commerce president John Williams. Ditto Jack Hahn, a Cincinnatian known around Hollywood as dentist to the stars because of his success with tooth implants.

        He loves the Fairies, but they probably won't be going with him on his next adventure — an Oct. 15-17 Harley-sponsored ride commemorating the 30th anniversary of Easy Rider, a film Mr. Otto has seen, “Oh, a hundred times.

        “I have a trailer, so I'll drive to New Orleans with my bike, then spend three days touring Louisiana, out in the Bayou and into the heart of the state.

        “The film's stars, (Peter) Fonda and (Dennis) Hopper are supposed to be there. I heard (Jack) Nicholson might show up, too.”

        So they'll need passes, right?

        “I'm going to pitch them.”


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