When Van Halen was about to hit the road in 1986 in support of 5150 (their first with Sammy Hagar) they knew they might be facing in uphill battle. After all, their former singer, David Lee Roth, was arguably the most popular rock frontman on the planet at the time, and the band were about to tour North America without him.
Greg Prato from Songfacts recently interviewed Randy Bachman and asked him about memories of when BTO opened for Van Halen’s 5150 tour. His response was quite interesting:
Songfacts: I remember BTO opened for or played shows with Van Halen in 1986, which was Sammy Hagar’s first tour with Van Halen. What sticks out about those shows?
Randy: Well, Sammy called me and he said, “Why don’t you open for Van Halen? I just joined the band, and I don’t want anybody yelling, ‘Where’s Dave?'”
I’d seen Van Halen a lot with David Lee Roth, and normally they’d have a really crappy opening act, which they’d call the “merch act,” because everyone then is buying Van Halen merchandise and popcorn and getting to their seats. So this band would come out and play 20 or 30 minutes, then they’d have a 10 or 20-minute break where they were still selling merchandise. Then Van Halen would come out.
Sammy called me up. He was a friend of mine, we’d written a bunch of songs together. He said, “I want BTO to come and open, I want you to do 35 minutes of hit songs: blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, and do a five-minute switchover. We don’t want to hear anybody yelling ‘Where’s Dave?'”
I said, “Fred Turner can’t tour. He’s got a problem at home with his wife and kids.” Sammy said, “Well, who sang ‘Takin’ Care of Business’?” I said, “Me.” “Who sang ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’?” “Me.” “Okay. That’s all I need. I need 35 minutes of you. Can you sing a couple of Fred songs?” I said, “Of course I can.” So he said, “Great, you come and open for Van Halen, do a 35-minute opening. We’ll test you out for a weekend.”
So we played with them for a weekend, and they came to us later and said, “We want you to open the 5150 tour. It’s going to be 11 months.” So we went on the road opening for Van Halen for 11 months! But it was those hit songs and getting the audience riled up, especially ending with “Takin’ Care of Business,” and then the audience screaming on their feet and yelling, and then the changeover wasn’t even five minutes. Our amps would be off in two minutes, Van Halen would be on, blam blam. If you saw us play, you saw how quickly they were on and picking up the energy we left behind with the audience. And nobody yelled, “Where’s Dave?” Sammy came out and rocked, whether he was singing Dave’s songs or singing his own.
We called it “Takin’ Care of Breakfast” and “Why Can’t This Be Lunch.” [Laughs]
But the hit songs achieved the ultimate goal, which was getting the audience off their feet and their hearts pumping.
Click here for the complete interview.
Here’s a shot of Eddie Van Halen onstage in Casper, Wyoming on October 10, 1986, after Bachman-Turner Overdrive opened the show. A crowd of 9,178 were in attendance.