Bachman recounts BTO tour with Van Halen

Randy Bachman has recalled Bachman Turner Overdrive’s US support tour with Van Halen when the headline act had just changed singers – and says Sammy Hagar made sure he stacked the odds in his favour.

Bachman says they were invited on the road in 1986 because Hagar wanted a solid opening outfit – something he felt Van Halen fans weren’t used to.

Bachman tells Songfacts: “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.

“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.”

But he says that wasn’t good enough for Hagar, who wanted to ensure the 112-date tour went as well as it could. So he called BTO, who’d regrouped three years previously.

“Sammy was a friend of mine –we’d written a bunch of songs together,” Bachman remembers. “Sammy said, ‘I want BTO to come and open, I want you to do 35 minutes of hit songs 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. 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.‘”

Hagar’s pre-tour strategy worked exactly as planned, Bachman says. “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.

“Nobody yelled, ‘Where’s Dave?’ Sammy came out and rocked.”

5150 delivered Van Halen their first US No. 1 album and went on to sell more than 6 million copies in the States alone, while achieving Silver status in the UK for sales of more than 60,000 copies.

Bachman will release a new album, Heavy Blues, on April 15. Produced by Kevin Shirley, the project includes bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Dale Anne Brendan with guest solos from Neil Young, Joe Bonamassa and Robert Randolph, as well as the late Jeff Healey.