Friends in "O" Places: Robert Bailey on Garth Brooks and Animal House

Robert Bailey performing with Garth Brooks (Blues John Photography)

When Garth Brooks performed to an Autzen Stadium-record crowd of 60,000 in June 2019, fans were on their feet all night singing along.

“Two Pina Coladas.” “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’til the Sun Comes Up).” “The Thunder Rolls.” “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” “Friends in Low Places.”

But the highlight of the evening may just have been the one song where the country music legend did not have the spotlight all to himself: a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout!” sung with Robert Bailey, a 1977 alumnus of the School of Music and Dance.

The Portland native left the University of Oregon after his junior year to tour with a professional singing group. Before he moved away, he cemented himself in UO lore as a member of Otis Day and the Knights in National Lampoon’s Animal House, the blockbuster comedy filmed on campus in 1977.

“I met Robert Cray and Richard Cousins and Curtis Salgado and Randy Reese and several other players and singers that would come to town or were around town,” Bailey says. “We started collaborating together, and during one of our gigs at one of the bars John Belushi actually came into the bar and heard us sing. We thought that was kind of weird and wonderful, but then afterwards he said that he was here scouting locations for a movie he was going to make, and would we be interested in being in the movie? So that’s how I got into Animal House.”

Bailey on stage performing with Garth Brooks
Bailey performing onstage with Garth Brooks in Portland in 2015

Bailey eventually settled in Nashville, and since the 1990s has recorded and toured with Brooks and Wynonna Judd as a member of bands backing the country music megastars.

He credits his time at the university—and study with the late Leslie Breidenthal, who taught in the music school from 1967 to 1991—with getting him where he is today. 

Touring with Brooks is not easy: the singer’s 2014–17 world tour included 390 shows, and multiple performances per day in some cases. Bailey estimates he lost more than 50 pounds running around on stage every night; what he never lost, though, was his voice.

“My voice held up better than my body,” says Bailey. “I never lost my voice in those three years, and I think that was the result of Dr. Leslie Breidenthal and my UO training. He was very kind, very brilliant in his approach to me and the things that he taught me . . . about theory and vocal training, those things are still uppermost in my mind now.” 

It all came full circle in 2019 when Bailey returned to Eugene with Brooks, stood on stage, threw his head back, and sang “Shout!” The crowd, used to belting out the classic tune before the fourth quarter of every Oregon home football game, erupted.

Bailey as seen in Animal House
A chance meeting with John Belushi led to Bailey’s turn with Otis Day and the Knights in Animal House

That Brooks and Bailey have been having a hell of a ball together for more than 25 years is testament not just to Bailey’s musical ability. The megastar Bailey affectionately calls “the boss man” respects what the proud Duck brings to the stage, night in and night out.

“I’m not sure if this guy’s not even better on the road than he is in the studio, and he’s amazing in the studio,” Brooks says. “You get him out on the road and the crowd just eats him up. As an entertainer, you cannot get to everybody at once. So the more people you have on that stage that command their corner . . . those people are being entertained while you’re entertaining somebody else. This guy is an entertainer extraordinaire, without stealing the show or taking away from it. That’s a great balance and this guy checks all those boxes. He’s a perfect 10 for me.”

By Damian Foley, assistant director of marketing and communications for the UO Alumni Association