Happy 60th Birthday to Eddie Van Halen!!
Eddie and Alex Van Halen hanging out with legendary KMET personality Paraquat Kelley.
Paraquat Kelley. better known as Pat Kelley is a legendary KMET personality who is fighting Multiple Sclerosis. Ed and Alex donated the signed guitar to him during their visit.
Paraquat will be honored at The Mighty Met Acoustic Flashback December 14 with special guest George Thorogood. http://thesound.la/KMET-Acoustic
Plus a whole recording of the Ed’s jam 316 (Courtesy of Jeff Osters)
Almost three decades ago, Guitar World writer Steven Rosen brought together Les Paul and Eddie Van Halen for a quick chat. It would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two great guitar innovators.
By Steven Rosen
In the summer of 1986, Guitar Center opened a mammoth music store on Sunset Boulevard in the center of Hollywood. Eddie Van Halen and Les Paul were being honored along with several other musical giants, including Stevie Wonder and amp builder Jim Marshall, as part of the store’s opening celebration.
It seemed natural to take the opportunity to put Ed and Les together in the same room to talk about what they knew best—playing the guitar. The following is an excerpt from the story that originally appeared in the November 1986 edition of Guitar World.
EDDIE VAN HALEN When Leo Fender was doing his thing and you were doing yours, was there ever any competition?
LES PAUL No, not at all.
VAN HALEN Did you ever collaborate or talk about your ideas?
PAUL Absolutely. Leo Fender would come over, and so would his engineers. They saw the Log and some of the other guitars I had built. They saw it all happening. There was never any friction. It was just the opposite.
Here’s the story of how Leo really helped me: When I developed my first solid-body guitar in 1941, I took it to Gibson and they dismissed it. They called it that “broomstick with the pickups on it.” From 1941 to 1951, I couldn’t convince Gibson to do a damn thing about putting out a Les Paul guitar. Finally, Leo decided to come out with the Fender solid-body line, and immediately Gibson said, “Find the character with the broomstick with the pickups on it!”
And so they asked me to design a guitar. I thank Leo for coming out with his Broadcaster, because it woke Gibson up. Gibson was asleep and Fender was not asleep. That’s the way it goes. Fender was the first to market, but I was way, way out front.
VAN HALEN It’s kind of like the car business—Toyota woke up GM.
PAUL Sure. Sometimes you gotta wake somebody up, and sometimes I need some help from my friends. And I consider Leo Fender a very dear friend. To me, I am a Gibson man, but that doesn’t make any difference, because I also know exactly what Fender is all about.
VAN HALEN With my guitars, I guess I’m trying to bring together what you and Leo have done. There are things I’ve always liked about Gibsons and things I’ve always liked about Fenders, but neither one did everything that I wanted, so I’ve created a combination of the two. My guitar is essentially a Strat body with Gibson humbucking pickups.
PAUL I can’t always get what I want out of a standard Gibson guitar either. There are so many times that I’ll go into Gibson battling to win a point and come out with a compromise. The world is a compromise and so this is what you have to do. It can cost millions of dollars to retool and move something a quarter of an inch. I understand that some of my ideas would cost a fortune.
Another thing that comes into the picture is the preoccupation with how something looks. I’ve had executives veto an improvement because their wives didn’t like the way it looked. They’re not thinking about the sound.
VAN HALEN I’ve had that problem with companies I’ve worked with. I’ve had difficulty getting something the way I wanted it, because they claimed that other people want it a different way.
PAUL Which may be right and may not be right.
VAN HALEN Yeah, yeah, but if they want my opinion, then I’m giving it to them. I’ve had to say, “I don’t want my name on it if it ain’t the way I want it.”
PAUL I had a case where they put out a guitar without my blessings and I tried to make ’em stop! The funny thing is they didn’t stop it, and it turned out to be their number-one seller. [laughs] So you can be wrong. Gibson put out an SG, and it wasn’t with my blessings at all. They put the pickup in the wrong place, they made the body too thin, and there were a lot of other things I didn’t like.
So I said, “Clean it up a little bit, will ya, before you put my name on it.” So they took my name off of it and continued to make it, and it’s their best-sellling solid-body guitar to date. Sure, it’s a cheap guitar and it doesn’t sound as good as the others, but it’s a different thing. And it turned out I shouldn’t have said what I said.
VAN HALEN When you design guitars, do you design them for sound or cosmetics?
PAUL Sound. But don’t get me wrong, design is important.
VAN HALEN It’s got to look cool, but it better sound good.
PAUL Exactly. It’s nice to have both elements. I wanted the Les Paul to look good. That’s why we put that finish on it and made it with a [sculpted] top, so you could have that clean, violin look to the guitar. It makes it look like a Stradivarius, and you associate it that way, too.
VAN HALEN When you pick up a guitar, which guitar do you pick up?
PAUL I like the feel of my 1975 Deluxe the best. It’s actually a reject.
VAN HALEN Those are the ones I love. Got any extras around? I’m serious.
PAUL Yeah, sure.
VAN HALEN I’m serious. If it’s a reject and you like it, I know I’ll like it.
PAUL Well, not necessarily, because everybody has their own feel.
VAN HALEN I can guarantee you…
PAUL Everybody has a certain thing in their head of what they want to do and how to do it and their own technique. Everything about them calls for certain requirements.
VAN HALEN I’m getting the feeling from you that you go for the same goddamned fucking thing that I go for. It’s not the appearance of the goddamned thing. I don’t care if it’s a flametop or whatever. It’s the feeling of it and the way it sounds.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR LES PAUL THANK YOU FOR CHANGING THE WORLD OF MUSIC..
By Mary Johnson, Editor
I spent a good 40 minutes on the phone with Lisa Roth recently — and waited a polite 30 before asking the question everyone wants to ask her: What’s it like to be David Lee Roth’s sister?
“How do I describe that?” she said with a laugh.
Roth loves her brother, the lead singer of Van Halen — even got a little choked up at one point as she talked about his influence on her. She didn’t piggyback on his success to launch a singing career of her own; she admits she can’t carry a tune. But she is in the music business.
Roth makes records that turn rock and rap anthems into lullabies.
Roth, 56, is the vice president and creative director of CMH Label Group, which launched Rockabye Baby back in 2006. The brand has since created more than 50 albums sold in specialty baby retailers around the country and online through Amazon, iTunes, Target and Best Buy, among other sites. The latest, a compilation CD and picture book called “Good Baby, Bad Baby,” will be released June 24.
The product is niche, but that has been good in a constantly changing music industry, Roth explained. While music buying has gone almost entirely digital, Rockabye Baby CDs are gift items, meant to be wrapped and presented to a glowing mother-to-be. That said, the label is thinking digitally, and selling that way too. Combined CD and digital album downloads over the past nine years total nearly 1.6 million for Rockabye Baby, and single track downloads come to more than 1.3 million.
All that is to say that Lisa Roth is much more than David Lee Roth’s little sister. Here she is on everything from the brand and the business to her preference for red M&Ms.
On the big idea: Roth doesn’t have children of her own, but she has lots of friends who do. And when those friends hit her with multiple baby shower invites all around the same time, inspiration struck.
“I love music, and I was looking at what was out there for music, and it was not anything that appealed to me, nor did I think it would appeal to the personalities of the recipients,” she said. “I am not a mother, and my real interest was in entertaining adults.”
At the time, she was one week into her job at CMH, a small, independent label that’s been around for 40 years.
“I had no clout, no insight,” she said. “I was brand new here and happened to have about three baby showers that I had to provide gifts for.”
One of her coworkers, Valerie Aiello, had a similar idea, so together, they pitched Rockabye Baby. It clicked.
On the beginning: No one on the Rockabye Baby development team had kids or was even close to having kids at the time, and Roth now firmly believes the label never would have happened if parents were involved. The business plan centered on the idea that parents would willing play softer renditions of Tool and Metallica for their children.
“Who would do that if you had a child?” she said with a laugh. “I think you would feel more protective. You would want to protect them against that. But for me, it was the irony of it that I just loved.”
So did the press. Soon after the business launched back in 2006, Roth was at a music convention in Florida and got a phone call letting her know the company’s website had crashed. The New York Times had featured the company. All that attention was too much for the site to handle.
The label took the crash to mean the product would have mass appeal. But when they released it to mass markets, sales lagged far behind expectations.
So the label stopped and hired an outside marketing expert, who suggested pulling Rockabye Baby from mass distribution and keeping it to mom-and-pop baby boutiques and specialty stores. For the most part, that’s the retail model that still works for the brand, Roth said.
(Full disclosure: I unwrapped Rockabye Baby’s Metallica CD at my baby shower. My aunt, the one with the Tool tattoo, gave it to me.)
On making the music: Each Rockabye Baby album can take anywhere from three months to a year to produce.
But the process starts with data. There is a running poll on the Rockabye Baby website and Facebook page that collects feedback from customers on what artists they’re interested in for future releases. The label also polls people within the company, to tap into their broad tastes and music industry savvy.
Once a year, the company takes that data and analyzes it, picking from that information the next six to eight releases for the coming year. You might think there could be no bad ideas for something like this, but Roth sees them all the time. It may seem like weird logic, but while someone like Kanye West is a resounding yes, someone like James Taylor — one of Roth’s favorite musicians — is a no.
Taylor’s original music is already sweet and melodic. No Rockabye baby necessary. But Kanye West, although not technically a rock star, has that “strident rock attitude,” she explained.
“We try to stick to the artists with the attitude that we intuitively feel is correct for the brand,” she said.
Once the artists are selected, the label licenses each individual song so everything is above board, and then they get to work producing the music. That’s the part that takes time. The label has worked intensely to refine the sound of the brand, which Roth describes as “a very organic sound, a lot of clunk, a lot of tinkle,” she said. “It has to have the right amount of clunk and tinkle.”
On her big brother: Roth waited five years to do a Van Halen Rockabye Baby album, in part because working with family isn’t easy, she said. But she also wanted to do it right. Her brother is crazy — she joked that he ran around screaming at the top of his lungs as a kid and then made a living doing the very same thing — but he’s also “one of the smartest, most creative, interesting, talented-in-ways-you-don’t-even-know person I’ve ever met.”
And he’s given her a profound appreciation for musicians.
“The way that I approach the brand and the way I want to represent the artists is informed by my respect for my brother as an artist,” she said, stopping when her words get caught in her throat. “I’m getting emotional. That’s so funny.
“For what he had to do at the beginning to make a name for himself, it’s not like it is now,” she continued. “Those guys pounded the pavement and put in years and years and years of work, and I know the amount of effort and thought and energy that goes into a career like that.”
In the end, the Rockabye Baby Van Halen album has become one of her favorites. “Not because of my brother but because the sound of it is so nuanced and beautiful. I love it,” she says.
On M&Ms: One last point about her brother: You know that urban legend about the brown M&Ms? How Van Halen’s performance contract stipulated that a bowl of M&Ms be placed backstage, with all the brown candies removed?
It sounds like a diva move, but in reality, that was David Lee Roth’s way of ensuring that every line of that contract had been read. It was a test, and anyone who failed to remove those brown M&Ms likely failed to read the more important provisions in the contract.
“That is a perfect example of the ingenuity and the care for what he does,” Roth said.
If it were her, she added, the M&M color would have been red.
By Ruth Blatt
Entrepreneurial skills aren’t crucial just for starting companies. They are crucial for initiating any creative commercial endeavor. A new biography argues that without the entrepreneurial skills of David Lee Roth, none of us would have heard of Van Halen.
Histories of Van Halen invariably begin in 1978, when the band released their debut album. Not much is known about the band before then other than that they had gotten their start playing back yard parties and moved up to playing clubs in Los Angeles.
That is about to change. Greg Renoff, an Associate Professor of History at Drury University and author of The Big Tent: The Traveling Circus in Georgia, 1820-1930, is writing a book about Van Halen’s early days.
Renoff explores in depth Van Halen’s reluctant journey from back yard band to superstardom and, in particular, the role of David Lee Roth’s ambition and entrepreneurial skills. Unlike the Van Halen brothers (Alex on drums and Eddie on guitar), Roth came from money. He owned amplification equipment, and he used it to work his way into the band.
“The Van Halens were always looking to scrounge equipment because they didn’t have a lot of money,” told me Renoff. “One thing that Roth did was use his PA system as leverage. He’d say things like, ‘You guys can use the PA system but how about I sing a song tonight?’” Eddie Van Halen was the band’s singer at the time, and even though he didn’t have a great voice, the band was not impressed by Roth’s vocal abilities either. But they eventually let Roth joined the band, which consisted of Eddie and Alex and bassist Michael Anthony, in 1973.
Roth’s presence stirred up the band. Whereas the Van Halen brothers were into heavy metal, Roth loved the Beach Boys, Motown and funk. “Those guys wanted to have Roth sing Black Sabbath, but Roth can’t sing Black Sabbath. He wanted to do things like James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat.’” The outcome of this negotiation was a hard rock band with a pop sensibility.
Roth also began pushing the rest of the band to think beyond playing back yard concerts. According to Renoff, the Van Halens were content making good money playing shows in the Pasadena area that they would promote themselves for thousands of kids at a time. Roth pushed them to audition at clubs and expand their reach. He also pushed them to start dressing up. He wanted them to become rock stars, and for that they needed to look the part.
“They were wearing jeans and t-shirts, flannel shirts. It was grunge wear before grunge. They would wear Pendleton shirts and overalls,” said Renoff. “Roth told them they needed to glam it up, to wear stage clothes.”
Eventually they end up getting a gig playing in a Hollywood club called Gazzarri’s, which became the epicenter of hair-metal in the 1980s. “At the time Gazzarri’s was a dying club. Its moment had passed. It was much more of a 1960s go-go dancer place,” said Renoff. “But the owner, Bill Gazzarri, would advertise on a local radio station and they would say ‘Tonight at Gazzarri’s, Van Halen.’ Their name was on the marquee and it was a start for them.”
Gazzarri’s was a cover band club, not the kind of place where bands that write original songs get discovered and signed by record labels. Record executives look for bands that have an album’s-worth of original material. But at Gazzarri’s, Van Halen was expected to play disco songs and pop hits.
Yet Roth was a savvy networker and created opportunities where there were none. He would take advantage of the occasional visit to Gazzarri’s from people like radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley, who managed The Runaways. Roth was a relentless self-promoter and got Van Halen on their radar. “I’m not saying the brothers were completely clueless about business, they weren’t,” said Renoff. “But Roth was the guy who was willing to get out front and promote, promote, promote. Of course they never would have made it without Eddie writing the songs and without their talents. But Roth was the guy who said, ‘Look at me!’”
Van Halen had original songs, and through Bingenheimer they got a gig playing their songs at the Starwood, a club owned by the infamous Eddie Nash. According to Renoff, the Van Halens were again hesitant about leaving their comfortable Gazzarri’s gig. But Roth convinced them to make the leap to a place where they could showcase their original material and play alongside bands like ZZ Top. It wasn’t long before a deal with Warner Brothers materialized.
David Lee Roth’s entrepreneurial spirit eventually rubbed off on the Van Halen brothers. In the early 1980s, Eddie Van Halen formed a relationship with Kramer Guitars to make the Eddie Van Halen Guitar and later he created the EVH brand that offers a complete line of guitar, guitar straps, amplifiers, strings and other gear.
“Eddie’s evolution is really interesting in that he went from a guy who was reticent about promotion, who didn’t want to dress up in stage clothes and who didn’t want to take risks to where now he realizes that you’re a business you have to market yourself,” said Renoff.
When David Lee Roth left Van Halen in 1985 to pursue a solo career, they replaced him with someone just as entrepreneurial: Sammy Hagar. Hagar founded the Cabo Wabo Tequila brand and restaurant chain, in partnership with the Van Halen brothers, as well as Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, which he sold to Gruppo Campari for $91 million.
“By the 1990s, Van Halen had gotten religion about how to run a business,” said Renoff. Having an entrepreneur on their team TISI +2.8% from the start helped Van Halen turn their musical talent into a successful business.
Greg Renoff’s book, Van Halen Rising, will be published by ECW Press in 2015.
Eddie Van Halen is back with a new edition of Ask Eddie.
This month, the question comes from Al Costante of Corpus Christi, Texas. Costante is wondering if the legendary guitarist reads music or plays by ear. We’ll let Constante take it from here…
Costante: Hi Ed. My question is do you read and write music or do you play by ear? How do you write a piece of music? Do you actually write the notes down, or just the placement on the fretboard, or …? Your music seems very complicated, just wondering how you actually write the music. Thanks.
Van Halen: Hi Al,
Do I read and write music or play by ear? I was lucky to have been born with a pretty good set of ears. I took piano lessons for years, starting at the age of 6 in Holland, and I realized at a very early age that I couldn’t look up at sheet music and see what my fingers were doing at the same time, so I opted to look down at what my fingers were doing. The teacher would play a piece of music for me, and I would watch his fingers and – of course – listen to what he was playing. Because of having a good memory and musical ears, I got very good at emulating or copying exactly (or close enough) what the teacher was showing me, to the point of years going by, and no one ever even suspected that I couldn’t read, at all!
So when I started playing guitar, it was pretty much the same thing. I would listen to a record and just copy it. For some reason it was very easy for me. After about three years or so, I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m getting pretty good at this. I can play along with just about anything I hear on the radio or records that I purchase.” When I started coming up with my own music, riffs etc., I simply recorded them to cassette tape.
Sometimes I wonder if Beethoven or Mozart would have bothered writing their ideas down on paper if they had access to recording equipment. It would have saved a lot of time.
Also when you’re reading music, it’s very open to interpretation. For example, if it says “vivace,” which I believe means up-tempo, lively, fast. Well, you never really know how fast, up-tempo and lively the composer meant. But if he had a recording of it, you would know exactly what he meant. The downside of not being able to read is obviously that I can’t sit around a campfire and open a guitar songbook and play songs in the book. Sometimes I wish I could read, but it’s more for learning other people’s songs. So you don’t have to know how to read and write music to create it. I hope this long-winded explanation answers your question, Al.
All the best, Eddie
Submit your questions for Eddie Van Halen here.
In the early-to-mid-1970s, hard rock and heavy metal were still in their gestation periods as sub-genres. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin helped plant the seeds with massive guitar riffs, punishing grooves, and dark subject matter, while the punk movement brought a bold attitude adjustment.
But even those bands weren’t about fun so much as perilous adventure. Sabbath weaved murky tales of wizards, fairies, and war. Zeppelin peppered lyrics with Lord of the Rings references and indulged in Robert Plant’s fascination with mythology. And the Sex Pistols defied a monarchy and cried for social revolution.
Then, along came Van Halen. Touting the most influential guitar player of his time in Eddie Van Halen, and a frontman that was equally dynamic on the stage and the microphone in David Lee Roth, they eschewed the hard rock aesthetics conceived by Sabbath and Zeppelin. Not that hard rock was in need of a change – or arguably even existed to that point in time – but Van Halen changed it nonetheless. And they did it with an unprecedented combination of musicianship and showmanship.
The band’s first headlining tour, which rolled through Boston’s Orpheum Theater on May 14, 1979, was their American introduction and an astonishing kick in the ass to rock and roll that the genre didn’t know it needed.
Van Halen’s arrival on the rock music scene was “the first real advent of the new face of hard rock,” said Mike Mullaney, music director at our sister station Mix 104.1 and longtime Van Halen devotee. If Sabbath and Zeppelin’s ear-splitting riffs and fantastical images were rough charcoal sketches of hard rock, Van Halen’s electrifying musical energy and fun-loving attitude were vibrant color portraits.
“He is the only guy you could imagine to have the bravado to match the amazing musicianship going on.”
– Mix 104.1 Music Director Mike Mullaney on David Lee Roth’s stage presence with Van Halen.
Mullaney added that Eddie Van Halen’s transcendent guitar work played one of the biggest roles in hard rock’s shift from brooding to lively. Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi wrote (and continue to write) riffs like no other guitarists in history, but Eddie’s blistering chops and sprightly phrasing injected rock guitars with an unexpected shot of adrenaline.
“Here’s the most important guitar player since Hendrix…Everyone was buzzing about the way he changed how the guitar sounded,” he said about Eddie’s innovative finger-tapping techniques and next-level shredding – in both solos and straight riffs. He displayed an extraordinary combo of dynamic skill and bombast in songs like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Unchained”, and of course, “Eruption”. As obviously great as Eddie was, he was still only part of Van Halen’s appeal. Frontman David Lee Roth also took rock vocals to new heights with his wailing five-octave vocal range and dizzying on-stage gymnastics.
Roth and the rest of the band’s relentless exuberance was a direct response to the “corporate rock” of the ’70s that dominated the radio and still gets regular time here on ZLX and on every other classic rock station, like Kansas, Boston, and R.E.O. Speedwagon. While these bands were very talented and had plenty of great songs, they just didn’t have the live energy to match. Even Robert Plant, while an amazing singer, still just kind of stood there and “looked pretty” when he performed.
Mullaney saw Van Halen for the first time in 1980 on the “Women and Children First” tour, and staggered out of the arena in awe at the band’s live performance. Roth opened the show by leaping spread-eagle off the drum riser, and the energy never let up. Roth held everyone’s attention like a master of ceremonies, nailing all the high notes and kicking and strutting his way across the stage.
“[Roth] is the only guy you could imagine to have the bravado to match the amazing musicianship going on,” said Mullaney. “Every guy wanted to be David Lee Roth and every woman wanted to be with David Lee Roth.”
Roth and the band’s wild on-stage antics also translated off the stage. Mullaney described their aesthetic as “smiling metal”, focusing more on soaking in the California sunshine, tapping a keg of beer, and getting laid. The “hair metal” craze of the 1980s was a direct result of Van Halen’s striking persona, spawning the likes of Motley Crue and Poison.
While they also put out a litany of hugely popular hard rock songs and performed with similar fervent intensity on stage, they still came off as imitators of what Van Halen and Roth brought to the scene, starting on their first tours in the late-’70s.
“These guys [Van Halen] came out and they were fierce and bold,” said Mullaney. “It was incendiary.”
By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
Post courtesy 100.7 WZLX
BY JAS OBRECHT,
Edward Van Halen’s clean, powerful lead playing was first recorded earlier this year on his band’s predominately heavy-metal debut album, Van Halen [Warner Bros.]; at the time he was 21. Eddie imigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands during the rock and roll heyday of the late ’60s and soon abandoned his piano for drums and electric guitar. He spent years playing small clubs, beer bars, backyard parties, and dance contests, collecting the band’s current lineup along the way. Van Halen’s discovery in March 1977-described by Eddie as “something right out of the movies”-came one night when Mo Ostin, then president and chairman of the board of Warner Brothers, and producer Ted Templeman saw their act at the Starwood club in Los Angeles. With Eddie’s brother Alex on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, and lead singer Dave Lee Roth, the band recorded 40 songs in three weeks, including “Running with the Devil,” a searing guitar solo aptly titled “Eruption,” and a remake of the Kinks’ classic “You Really Got Me.” Eddie joined the legion of musicians on the road when Van Halen embarked on a nine-month tour in February.
Eddie was born in Holland on January 26, 1957. His father, a professional saxophonist and clarinetist who played live radio shows, got Eddie and Alex interested in playing music at an early age. “We both started playing piano at age six or seven,” Eddie recalls, “and we played for a long time. That’s where I learned most of my theory. We had an old Russian teacher who was a very fine concert pianist; in fact, our parents wanted us to be concert pianists.”
In 1967 the Van Halens moved to the U.S., and Eddie got his first taste of rock and roll. “I wasn’t into rock in Holland at all,” he says, “because there really wasn’t much of a scene going on there. When we came to the U.S. I heard Jimi Hendrix and Cream, and I said, ‘Forget the piano, I don’t want to sit down-I want to stand up and be crazy.’ I got a paper route and bought myself a drum set. My brother started taking flamenco guitar lessons, and while I was out doing my paper route so I could keep up on the drum payments, Alex would play my drums. Eventually he got better than me-he could play ‘Wipe Out’ and I couldn’t. So I said, ‘You keep the drums and I’ll play guitar.’ From then on we have always played together.”
Eddie bought himself a Teisco Del Ray electric guitar-“a $70 model with four pickups“-and began to copy licks off of records. “My main influence was Eric Clapton,” Eddie says. “I realize I don’t sound like him, but I know every solo he’s ever played, note-for-note, still to this day. My favorites were the Cream live versions of ‘Spoonful’ [Wheels of Fire, RSO] and ‘I’m So Glad’ [Goodbye, RSO]. I liked Jimi Hendrix, too. But now no one in Van Halen really has one main thing that he likes. Dave, our singer, doesn’t even have a stereo; he listens to the radio, which gives him a good variety. That’s why we have things on the Van Halen album that are a change from the slam-bang loud stuff-like John Brim’s ‘Ice Cream Man.’ We are into melodies and melodic songs. You can sing along with most of our tunes, even though many of them do have the peculiar guitar and the end-of-the-world drums.”
Eddie and Al Van Halen formed their first bands while attending high school in the suburbs of Los Angeles. During the early ’70s they teamed with a bass player to form Mammoth, the last band they played in before forming Van Halen. “I used to sing and play lead in Mammoth,” Eddie explains, “and I couldn’t stand it-I’d rather just play. David Lee Roth was in another local band, and he used to rent us his PA system. I figured it would be much cheaper if we just got him in the band, so he joined. Then we played a gig with a group called Snake, which Mike Anthony fronted, and we invited him to join the band. So we all just got together and formed Van Halen. By the time we graduated from high school everyone else was going on to study to become a lawyer or whatever, and so we stuck together and started playing in cities in California-Pasadena, L.A., Arcadia. We played everywhere and anywhere, from backyard parties to places the size of your bathroom. And we did it all without a manager, agent, or record company. We used to print up flyers announcing where we were going to play and stuff them into high school lockers. The first time we played we drew maybe 900 people, and the last time we played without a manager we drew 3,300 people.”
The band worked on their own material and got gigs playing Southern California clubs and auditoriums, including the Santa Monica Civic, the Long Beach Arena, and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Soon they where working as the opening act for performers including Santana, UFO, Nils Lofgren, and Sparks. Their appearance at the Golden West Ballroom in Norwalk, California, brought them to the attention of Los Angeles promoter Rodney Bingenheimer, who booked them into the Starwood. They played the club for four months, and there met Gene Simmons, Kiss’ bass player, who financed their original demo tape sessions. “We made the tape,” Eddie says, “but nothing really came out of it because we didn’t know where to take it. We didn’t want to go around knocking on people’s doors, saying, ‘Sign us, sign us,’ so we ended up with just a decent sounding tape.” While playing the Starwood, the band also came to the attention of Marshall Berle, who would eventually become their manager. It was through Berle, Eddie explains, that the band had its fortuitous meeting with Ted Templeman and Mo Ostin: “We were playing the club one rainy Monday night in 1977, and Berle told us that there were some people coming to see us, so play good. It ended up that we played a good set in front of any empty house and all of a sudden Berle walks in with Ted and Mo Ostin. Templeman said,’ It’s great,’ and within a week we were signed up. It was right out of the movies.”
Van Halen entered the studio, and within three weeks they emerged with enough material for at least two albums. “For the first record,” Eddie recalls, “we went in to the studio one day and played live and laid down 40 songs. Out of these 40 we picked nine and wrote one in the studio–‘Jamie’s Cryin’.’ The album is very live–there are few overdubs, which is the magic of Ted Templeman. I would say that out of the ten songs on the record, I overdubbed the solo on only ‘Runnin’ with the Devil,’ Ice Cream Man,’ and ‘Jamie’s Cryin”-the rest are live. I used the same equipment that I use onstage, and the only other things that were overdubbed were the backing vocals, only because you can’t sing in a room an amp without having a bleed on the mikes. Because we were jumping around, drinking beer, and getting crazy, I think there’s a vibe in the record. A lot of bands keep hacking it out and doing so many overdubs and double-tracking that their music doesn’t sound real. And there are also a lot of bands that can’t pull it off live because they have overdubbed so much stuff in the studio that it either doesn’t sound the same, or they just stand there pushing buttons on their tape machines. We kept it really live, and the next time we record it will be very much the same.
“The music on Van Halen took a week, I would say, including ‘Jamie’s Cryin”-I already had the basic riff for that song. My guitar solo ‘Eruption,’ wasn’t planned for the record. Al and I were picking around rehearsing for a show, and I was warming up with this solo. Ted came in an said, “It’s great, put it on the record.” The singing on the album took about two weeks.”
Eddie’s strategy within the band, he says, is “I do whatever I want. I don’t really think about it too much-and that’s the beauty of being in this band. Everyone pretty much does what they want, and we all throw out ideas, so whatever happens, happens. Everything is pretty spontaneous. We used to have a keyboard player, and I hated it because I had to play everything exactly the same with him. I couldn’t noodle in between the vocal lines, because he was doing something to fill it up. I don’t like someone else filling where I want to fill, and that’s why I’ve always wanted to play in three-piece bands.”
Eddie assembled his main guitar with parts he bought from Charvel. “It is a copy of a Fender Stratocaster.” He says. “I bought the body for $50 and the neck for $80, and put in an old Gibson PAF pickup that was rewound to my specifications. I like the one-pickup sound, and I’ve experimented with it a lot. If you put the pickup really close to the bridge, it sounds trebly, if you put it too far forward, you get a sound that isn’t good for rhythm. I like it towards the back-it gives the sound a little sharper edge and bite. I also put my own frets in, using large Gibsons. There is only one volume knob-that’s all there is to it. I don’t use any fancy tone knobs. I see so many people who have these space-age guitars with a lot of switches and equalizers and treble boosters-give me one knob, that’s it. It’s simple and it sounds cool. I also painted this guitar with stripes. It has almost the same weight as a Les Paul.”
Eddie’s other guitars include an Ibanez copy of a Gibson Explorer, which, he says, “I slightly rearranged. I cut a piece out of it with a chainsaw so that it’s now a cross between a [Gibson Flying] V and an Explorer, and I put in different electronics and gave it a paint job. I’ve also recently bought a Charvel Explorer-shaped body and put a Danelectro neck on it and an old Gibson PAF pickup. And I also found a 1952 gold-top Les Paul. It’s not completely original-it’s got a regular stud tailpiece in it, and a Tune-o-matic bridge. I have rewound Gibson PAF pickups in it, too. I use a Les Paul for the end of the set because my Charvel is usually out of tune, and the Les Paul’s sound is a little fatter.
“Nobody taught me how to do guitar work: I learned by trial and error. I have messed up a lot of good guitars that way, but now I know what I’m doing, and I can do whatever I want to get them the way I want them. I hate store-bought, off-the-rack guitars. They don’t do what I want them to do, which is kick ass and scream. Take the vibrato setup, for example. You have to know how to set it up so it won’t go out of tune, which took me a long time to get down. It has a lot to do with the way you play it-you can’t bring it down and not bring it up. Some people just hit the bar and let go-you have to bring it back right. Sometimes you’ll stretch a note too far with your fingering hand, and it’ll go flat. Here you have to pull the bar up to get it back to normal. I’ve also found that gauged set of strings will work better than one you make up. Like, I used to use heavier bottom strings with light top strings, and it didn’t work very well. I also buy a different spring from Fender for my vibrato-one that’s a little looser-and this makes a big difference. You also have to watch out for the little string retainers Fender uses, because sometimes the strings can get caught in them and go out of tune.”
Onstage, Eddie uses an Univox echo unit that is concealed in a World War II practice bomb. “I had a different motor put in it,” he says, “so it would delay much slower and go really low. I use this for ‘Eruption.’ I also use two Echoplexes and a flanger for subtle touches. And I use an MXR Phase 90 phase shifter that gives me treble boost for solos, too.”
On a recent return flight from Japan, Eddie’s original 100-watt Marshall amps were lost in air freight, and he’s replaced them with Music Mans, Laneys, and new Marshalls. “I like three 100-watt amps for the main setup,” he says. “After I do my guitar solo I change guitars and amps to the second setup, and the third setup, also three amps, is for back-up. I have each guitar plugged into a different setup so that if anything goes wrong all I have to do is grab another guitar. This saves my worrying about trying to fix the amp. I use voltage generators, which can crank my amps up to 130 or 140 volts. Amps sound like nothing else to me when they are cranked so high, but you have got to keep a fan on them because they blow so often. You have to retube them every day, and they usually don’t work for more than ten hours of playing.”
Eddie seldom formally practices with his guitar, preferring instead to “play when I feel like it. But I am always thinking music,” he says. “Sometimes people think I’m spacing off, but really I’m not. I am always thinking of riffs and melodies. Lately I’ve thought up acoustic-type riffs.”
Nine months on the road has given Eddie a fair share of experiences, but it hasn’t altered his feelings about rock and roll. “I have never given up on rock,” he says. “There are people out there who used to say that rock is dead and gone-bullshit. It has always been there, and it is still the main stadium sellout thing. If you want to be a rock guitarist you have to enjoy what you are doing. You can’t pick up a guitar and say, ‘I want to be a rock star’ just because you want to be one. You have to enjoy playing guitar. If you don’t enjoy it, then it’s useless. I know a lot of people who really want to be famous or whatever, but they don’t really practice the guitar., They think all you do is grow your hair long and look freaky and jump around, and they neglect the musical end. It is tough to learn music; it’s like having to go to school to be a lawyer. But you have to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, forget it.”
Asked about his plans for the future, Eddie Van Halen answers, “Man, just to keep rocking out and playing good guitar!”
© 1978 Guitar Player
Van Halen Sophomore Effort Dances Onto Radio 35 Years Ago
Eddie And Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony Recall Early Years InTheStudio
North American syndicated Rock radio show and website InTheStudio: The Stories Behind History’s Greatest Rock Bands celebrates the 35th anniversary of Van Halen II with a look back at four formative Van Halen albums.
The quintessential American hard rock band Van Halen’s 1978 debut all but guaranteed their election to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on the first ballot, quickly becoming a benchmark for every hard rock band ever since. Six years later they even topped that with 1984, one of the most popular and influential albums ever. Every one of the four Van Halen albums in between, II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning and Diver Down would all sell millions and each would top its predecessor on the album sales chart.
These early years, although undeniably successful, came with a price, and by 1982 Van Halen had become a series of contradictions: even though selling a million each on Van Halen II and its successors, as well as hundreds of thousands of concert tickets, their record label was concerned over a lack of mainstream hits and a shallow well of songs. Creative frustration along with personal conflicts within the band would eventually lead to a post-David Lee Roth Van Halen.
Alex Van Halen describes to InTheStudio host Redbeard how visceral and primal their creative process was on those formative albums.
“ When we’re in the studio and the amps are cranked to eleven on the dial and you’re having a great time playing it, I think that’s the one thing you shouldn’t forget. We’ve been looking at songs, how do we write them, how do we come up with the ideas, but once we start playing, it’s a perpetual thing.”
Van Halen II /InTheStudio interview is available now to STREAM
Direct Link to InTheStudio broadcast affiliate radio station list:www.inthestudio.net/radio-stations”
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