“The Opening Bands”
Band: Joe Whiting And The Bandit Band
By VHND contributing writer Zak Wilson
VHND: Can you give me a brief history of what the band was up to before they got the Van Halen opening slot?
Joe Whiting: We were playing clubs and doing the occasional opening slot for touring bands that played in the Central New York area like Huey Lewis and the News, Eddie Money, Quarterflash (Remember them?)
How did you land the the Van Halen tour?
Our agent at the time and for many years after, David Rezak worked with the concert promoter the late Jack Belle. Jack promoted Van Halen’s Carrier Dome show and at the time that was the biggest solo show Van Halen had done. When Van Halen’s opening act at the time ‘After the Fire’ needed to leave to promote their hit “Der Kommisar”, the band approached Jack and asked him to submit any acts he thought might be appropriate. He submitted us among others. We were promoting a regional single that we had out at the time. I’ve included a pic of our record.
What year was it and how many dates did you play?
1982 for the better part of 7 weeks. We did the last part of their Diver Down tour. I’ve included the itinerary.
Were you Van Halen fans at that time?
I was familiar with their cover of “Pretty Woman” and of the buzz they were getting but wasn’t all that familiar with the rest of their stuff.
How were you received by the Van Halen crowd?
Very mixed, let’s face it the opening act is 30 minutes of ‘raw meat’, the fans are there for Van Halen and many times we had to dodge bottles, batteries, shoes and even bullets but we would always connect with a small percentage of fans that were more open minded. Some nights were enjoyable and some were ‘band hell.’
How were you treated by the band?
Quite well, their rationale was that they were treated like shit when they were an opening act and they weren’t going to treat their opening acts the same way. They were professional and pleasant, a bit aloof but they really had to be. At the time they were breaking very big and I’m sure the demands on theme were intense.
Did you hang out with the Van Halen on the road?
Not really, at the end of the show we all pretty much went our own way tho I did smoke some weed with Eddie and ZZ Top at one of the hotel rooms. The boys from Texas were just meeting Van Halen and were very complimentary, letting Eddie know that the buzz on the band was big.
Any crazy tour stories?
I did play ‘Beer Hunter’ with Alex and their guitar tech one night. It’s a game to see who can chug a can of beer the fastest. I learned the secret long ago, you don’t chug, you just open your throat and pour the beer down. I beat them both 3 times out of 3. It helped that they were loaded and I wasn’t.
Any memorable shows or favorite cities to play?
Least favorite was Wichita Kansas. A lot of the fans like to throw shit at the band, including fireworks (at Van Halen as well). Fans were regularly searched as they entered the venues but in Wichita the Civil Liberties Union put up such a fuss that fans weren’t searched. So the show was like a combat zone! David Lee Roth always had good response when stuff was thrown at them. He would say, “Have your fun assholes, because after the show I’m going to kick your ass and fuck your girlfriends!”
How often did you watch Van Halen’s set and what did you think of their live show?
Almost every night, if we didn’t watch the show out front we would listen in the dressing room. I became a big fan, they kicked ass night after night and David Lee Roth was a one of a kind front man – energetic, funny and with vocal chords made of leather.
Anything to add about the experience of touring with Van Halen?
It was a once in a lifetime experience that I still get asked about today over 30 years later. The band was never the same or as good without David Lee Roth.
What’s the band up to these days?
2014 will mark my 50th year as being a professional musician. The road unfortunately did break that version of my band up, though Tony Schimizzi, the keyboard player, is still with me the rest of that band has pretty much retired. I’ve always performed and recorded with my own lineup. From 2009-2012 I sang and played sax with ‘Savoy Brown’ touring the country and world but have always been happiest doing my own stuff. My website is joewhitingmusic.com and I’m on Facebook as Joe Whiting Band.
“Tales From The Road – The Opening Bands” is a new column at VHND where we talk to bands that have toured with Van Halen. More to come!