Van Halen exploded onto the national rock scene in 1977 with a distinctively heavy sound, a wisecracking, over-the-top lead singer, and a guitar player whose fiery, innovative solos would earn accolades from music critics and some of his most famous colleagues. Though the band changed singers after achieving their first Number One hit, Van Halen has remained one of the biggest attractions in rock, its combination of heavy metal energy and pop songcraft almost single-handedly preparing Top Forty radio for the bevy of crossover metal acts that followed them.
At the heart of this high-profile show business enterprise is Edward—known popularly as Eddie and, to his wife, Ed—Van Halen, a shy, near-reclusive musical inventor who tinkers with his guitar day and night. “It’s the free-flowing energy and imagination of Edward’s playing that captures the music’s spirit,” commented Musician’s J. D. Considine, who called the guitarist’s solos “flashy, unpredictable and totally idiomatic, adhering to a logic that seems to apply solely to electric guitar.” That sound, along with the thunderous bottom
Members include Michael Anthony (born June 20, 1955, in Chicago, IL), bass and vocals; Sammy Hagar (born c. 1949 in Monterey, CA; replaced David Lee Roth [born October 10, 1955, in Bloomington, IN], 1985), vocals and guitar; Alex Van Halen (born May 8, 1955, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands), drums; and Edward Van Halen (bom January 26, 1957, in Nijmegen; married Valerie Bertinelli [an actress], 1981; children: Wolfgang), guitar and vocals. Alex and Edward are the sons of Jan (a musician) and Eugenia Van Halen.
Group formed c. 1974; performed gigs in Sunset Strip clubs, Los Angeles, CA, 1974–75; signed with Warner Bros. Records and released first album, Van Halen, 1978.
Awards: Named top album rock artist by Billboard, 1991; favorite heavy metal/hard rock album, American Music Awards, 1991, Grammy Award, 1992, and double platinum record, 1992, all for For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
Addresses: Publicist —Solters/Roskin/Friedman, Inc., 5455 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. Record company —Warner Bros., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.
end provided by bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen—Eddie’s older brother—have kept the band at the top of the metal heap despite the departure of theatrical frontman David Lee Roth in 1985 and subsequent arrival of veteran singer-guitarist Sammy Hagar. Though Van Halen’s 1991 album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, received mixed reviews, it shot to Number One on the U.S. charts, and the group’s tour to support the album bucked a national trend of dismally low ticket sales.
The Van Halen brothers were born in the Netherlands in the 1950s. Their father, Jan, a professional clarinetist and saxophonist, fought with the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. He met his wife, Eugenia, in Indonesia. Jan Van Halen encouraged his sons to be musicians, but didn’t approve of rock and roll. Both boys took classical piano lessons. When Eddie was eight and Alex about ten, the family moved to the United States, settling in California. There the brothers discovered rock music. “I got a paper route so I could pay for my $41.25 St. George drum kit,” Eddie told Considine, “and while I was out throwing the papers, my brother was playing my drums. He got better, so I said, ‘Okay, you can keep the damn drums.’” The younger Van Halen picked up the guitar at age 12, thus beginning a long and passionate love affair with the instrument.
Neither of the brothers fared particularly well in school, but they persisted in their musical pursuits, eventually forming a band together, which they called Mammoth. The brothers played various instruments—at one time Eddie played piano and Alex wielded saxophone. Eddie sang, and after going through a number of bass players, he and Alex recruited Michael Anthony. “Then I got sick of singing,” Eddie remembered, “and we got Dave [Roth] in the band.” Roth had been singing in a group called the Red Ball Jets and owned a public address system. The quartet that would become Van Halen coalesced throughout 1974 and 1975, playing Los Angeles hard rock clubs like Gazzarri’s on the famed Sunset Strip.
Eddie wanted to call the group Rat Salade, but Roth felt Van Halen sounded classier. They soon generated a large local following and were signed by Warner Bros. Records; in 1978 they released their debut LP, Van Halen. It took the rock world by storm. Eddie’s lightning-fast solos—characterized by screaming tremolo-bar effects and his patented fingertapping technique-signaled a new era in hard-rock guitar. Roth’s flamboyant vocals, trademark shriek, and quirky humor gave the group personality. The first single, a remake of the Kinks’ 1964 hit “You Really Got Me,” was a substantial hit.
Reviews of the first LP, however, like those of many subsequent Van Halen albums, were mixed. Melody Maker called Van Haien “an outstanding and thoroughly recommended (but only to the converted) debut,” and correspondent Steve Gett referred to it as “unquestionably one of the greatest heavy-rock releases of our time.” Meanwhile, Charles M. Young—reviewing the record for Rolling Stone —noted that “Van Halen’s secret is not doing anything original while having the hormones to do it better.” But critics were never terribly relevant to the band’s career. Metal fans adored them, making a hero of Eddie and cheering Roth’s cock-of-the-walk theatrics. Their 1979 sophomore effort, Van Halen II, sold tremendously and yielded the hit “Dance the Night Away,” a rock anthem that crossed a memorable pop hook with Eddie’s singular riffing. Despite its popularity, Timothy White dismissed the album in Roll-ing Stone, referring to the group’s “stilted instrumental blarings” and chiding Roth for his wolf-whistling improvisations. Melody Maker’s Gett, on the other hand, called Van Halen II “a more constructive and better balanced HM [heavy metal] package than one might at first have expected.”
Soon Van Haien was touring the world, playing to large crowds and sparking considerable gossip about their backstage activities. Stories detailing the band’s demands of M&Ms candies—with the brown ones removed—became legendary in music circles. Alex earned the reputation of a notorious womanizer. Eddie, the perpetually shy one, married actress Valerie Bertinelli; the two flouted expectations by remaining together throughout the band’s spectacular ascent, though 1990 reports of the guitarist’s alleged problems with drugs and alcohol also hinted at tension in the marriage. Roth’s peculiar charisma alternately confused and amused interviewers. “To call him vain would be an understatement,” wrote Gett in a 1979 profile. “Narcissistic would be more appropriate.”
In the same article, Roth, nonetheless, perhaps best described the band’s appeal: “It’s energy, man, it’s youth—that’s what everybody’s about, at least in some way, no matter how many five-syllable words you may know. A part of you is 15 years old, and that’s where Van Halen comes in.” Roth’s worldview made many diehard rockers look tame by comparison. He told Musician’s Young, “You make a few good friends, you burn a trail across the world, leaving a permanent shadow of groupies and rubble as never before in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and one day, it’s Miller Time.”
Van Halen’s third record, Women and Children First, delivered the hard rock goods on “Everybody Wants Some!” and “The Cradle Will Rock…” Rolling Stone’s David Fricke commented, “Megalomania of this kind is an acquired taste, yet the haste with which Women and Children First bullied its way into the Top Ten suggests that there’s a little Van Halen in everybody.” Fricke also praised Eddie’s playing, noting that the guitarist “harnesses feedback almost as well as [sixties guitar innovator] Jimi Hendrix did and displays smarts plus speed in his solos.”
Other musicians were even more emphatic about Eddie Van Halen’s gifts: “That incredible virtuosity combined with that beautiful grin allows me to forgive him for letting David Lee Roth stand in front of him,” Pete Townshend, leader of the famed British rock band The Who, remarked in Rolling Stone; groundbreaking guitarist-composer Frank Zappa thanked Eddie “for reinventing the guitar”; in Musician, Andy Summers of the pop/new wave trio the Police called him “a natural virtuoso,” adding, “What impresses me is his passion, his spirit and his musicality. Really, I think he is the greatest rock guitarist since Hendrix.” For all the comparisons to Hendrix, Eddie revealed in MusicianXhai his guitar hero was actually England’s Eric Clapton, guitarist for the Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, and later, an accomplished solo artist. In the early days, Eddie would play Cream records at a slow speed to learn every single note of every solo.
Van Halen followed up Women and Children First with 1981’s Fair Warning, which included the upbeat single “So This Is Love.” Of the band’s customary recording process, Alex explained to Melody Maker contributor Gett, “We take all the stage gear into a big room and play. [Producer] Ted Templeman just sits there and controls the dials behind a two-way mirror. We play, he sits there and puts it on the album.” The band favored this live approach for its time-efficiency—they were often in a hurry to get back on the road—and for the spontaneous feel of the result. In any case, Fair Warning, which Melody Maker lauded as “a masterblast of American metal,” was a more laborious affair: Eddie told Guitar Player that it “took longer than any album we’ve ever done.” Thus they favored a faster, more simple approach to their next LP, Diver Down. Recorded in 12 days, the album contained a number of cover tunes, including a hit version of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and another Kinks song, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” Jan Van Halen sat in with his sons on one track, leading them on a foray into swing; Diver Down also contained some acoustic blues. Melody Maker didn’t like it much: “The worst yet?” asked a reviewer rhetorically—answering, “Probably.” Even so, the faithful rushed to buy it.
In 1982 Eddie recorded a guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of several huge hits from Jackson’s enormously popular album Thriller. On the strength of the solo alone, Jackson reached a corner of the rock market that had previously eluded him. Despite the immense revenues generated by the song, Eddie accepted no payment for his work on it. As in many other instances, he was playing for the fun of it. The publicity, however didn’t hurt the band. 1984, released that year, featured “Jump,” Van Halen’s first Number One hit. With a simple synthesizer hook, played by Eddie, the song—which Roth had vetoed two years before— brought the group to Top Forty radio and almost by itself created “Lite Metal.” The album contained a number of other hits with popular videos, notably the raunchy “Hot For Teacher.” Rolling Stone would eventually include 1984 in its Top 100 Albums of the Eighties, mostly because of “Jump.”
Despite this breakthrough to mainstream success, Roth left Van Halen the following year. Eddie told Musician’s Considine that Roth was trying to get a film made and that the band was “basically in the twilight zone, not knowing whether Dave wanted to do a record or not.” Eventually Eddie, Alex, and Mike let the singer go. The “musical tension” that critics had admired in the band had at last, reportedly, turned into outright animosity. Roth went on to a successful solo career. After weighing the options, Eddie invited former Montrose member Sammy Hagar to try out for the spot vacated by Roth. Hagar remarked, “It was magic. Boom. Overnight. Instantly. Automatically.” Perhaps no one was as pleased as Eddie. “When we walked out of that studio,” explained the guitarist, standing on a chair to demonstrate, “Pretend the chair ain’t there.” The old tension turned into a new camaraderie; Van Halen was having fun again. “This is the real Van Halen,” Eddie proclaimed. Of the new addition Considine remarked, “Sammy has plenty of range and can scream like a banshee, but his sound is always under control. To a certain extent, it’s the vocal equivalent of Eddie’s guitar sound, combining a cutting edge with an underlying warmth. Best of all, Sammy’s melodic instincts are so in sync with Edward’s that the songs move forward like a sonic juggernaut.”
The reaction of metal fans to Roth’s departure could be measured in part by the results of Hit Parader’s 1986 “Man of the Year” readers’ poll. Roth came in first, and Eddie in fourth; they would both retain the loyalty of Van Halen fans. The first post-Roth Van Halen record, 5150, was another monster hit. Taking its title from police code for an escaped mental patient—a label so beloved by self-proclaimed oddball Eddie that he used it for the name of his home recording studio—5 150 boasted the radio-friendly single “Why Can’t This Be Love?” Critics missed Roth’s eccentricity; Roy Traskin’s Musician review was typical in its declaration that “Van Hagar is just another rock ‘n’ roll band, boasting one brilliant musician [Eddie] and one boring frontman.” Melody Maker pragmatically concluded, “Van Halen used to be flash and sleazy. Now they’re just flash. For the most part the songs are just as good and, anyway, all of their albums have been flawed. So don’t worry about it.” 5150 went to Number One three weeks after its release, and Van Halen continued to sell out huge arenas.
The next album, OU812, was released in 1988 and went to Number One in two weeks. The group fared brilliantly on that year’s “Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock” tour. In 1991, to even greater fanfare, Van Halen released For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which earned them a bevy of awards. Billboard deemed the group top album rock artist, and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge received the favorite heavy metal/hard rock album nod at the American Music Awards. In 1992, Van Halen nabbed its first Grammy award. Hagar was honored as 1992’s outstanding vocalist at the San Francisco Bay Area Music Awards. And the album’s sales were phenomenal—it went double platinum; For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was credited by many retailers as the single impetus for bringing rock fans back into record stores after a long slump. Similarly, the group’s barnstorming 1991 concert tour was one of a very few that flourished in that recessionary season. Critics were harder to please than fans, of course; Rolling Stone’s John Milward complained that with the addition of Hagar “the band has substituted an increasingly dense sound for a distinct personality.” But For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge yielded a clutch of hits, including “Top of the World,” the hard-rocking “Poundcake,” and the melodic “Right Now”—the innovative video of which made it to Entertainment Weekly critic Jim Mullen’s “Hot Sheet.”
And the top of the world is where Van Halen has remained—after more than a decade of touring and recording. A generation of young guitarists has attempted to match Eddie Van Halen’s innovative style, though he averred in a Guitar Player interview, “I don’t like people doing things exactly like me.” In 1991 Eddie unveiled an Ernie Ball-Music Man guitar he’d had designed to his specifications, only agreeing to put his name on it after a rigorous development process. He dismissed persistent questions about a solo album by declaring that with Van Halen he could do anything he wanted. “I tell ya, to boil the whole thing down,” he told Musician’s Considine, “it’s just a whole lot of fun. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”
On Warner Bros. Records
Van Halen (includes “You Really Got Me”), 1978.
Van Halen II (includes “Dance the Night Away”), 1979.
Women and Children First (includes “Everybody Wants Some!” and “The Cradle Will Rock…”), 1980.
Fair Warning (includes “So This Is Love”), 1981.
Diver Down (includes “Pretty Woman” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”), 1982.
1984 (includes “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher”), 1984.
5150 (includes “Why Can’t This Be Love?”), 1986.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (includes “Poundcake,” “Right Now” and “Top of the World”), 1991.
AB, August 12, 1991.
Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 1992; May 1, 1992.
Guitar Player, December 1982; October 1987; May 1991; January 1992.
Hit Parader, Spring 1987.
Melody Maker, June 3, 1978; October 21, 1978; April 14, 1979; June 2, 1979; June 28, 1980; May 30, 1981; May 8, 1982; February 4, 1984; April 5, 1986.
Musician, September 1982; March 1984; June 1984; February 1986; June 1986; February 1987.
Rolling Stone, May 4, 1978; July 12, 1979; June 26, 1980; June 21, 1984; November 16, 1989; August 22, 1991.
Village Voice, July 22, 1981.
With groundbreaking musicianship and energetic showmanship, Van Halen dominated the hard rock scene for more than two decades. Guitarist Edward Van Halen was the one constant draw for fans throughout the years, as the band went through three different singers who brought varying styles to Van Halen’s music.
Beginning with David Lee Roth in the late 1970s, the group established itself as a powerful musical force. When Roth left the band in 1985, he was replaced by established solo artist Sammy Hagar, who took Van Halen to the top of the album charts for more than ten years. Then, in the late 1990s, former Extreme singer Gary Cherone took center stage with yet another change in style and musical direction. Throughout the changes, Eddie Van Halen continued to forge strong musical partnerships with each of the frontmen and ensured the band’s survival by establishing himself as one of the most revolutionary guitarists in rock music. As James Rotondi wrote of Eddie in Guitar Player, “He not only redefined electric guitar technique, but he immeasurably changed the sound, structure, and style of the instrument itself.”
Eddie and his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, were both born in Holland and moved to Pasadena, California, in 1962. Their father, Jan Van Halen, played saxophone and clarinet in jazz bands, and encouraged his sons’ interest in music. In 1965, the Van Halen brothers formed their first band, the Broken Combs, when Alex was just 13 years old and Eddie was 11. Eddie played piano and Alex played saxophone in the Broken Combs’ lunchroom performances at Hamilton Elementary School.
A year after they formed their first band, Eddie decided to buy a drum set with money he made on his paper route. At the same time, Alex bought a guitar and took flamenco guitar lessons. While Eddie was delivering papers, Alex would often play on his drum set, and soon the brothers switched instruments. As teenagers, they formed another band called Revolver, and later performed in a group called Mammoth.
In 1973, Eddie and Alex decided to enroll in Pasadena City College to take classes in music theory. There they met singer David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony. First they convinced Roth to leave his band, the Red Ball Jets, to join Mammoth. At one of their nightclub performances, Anthony’s band, Snake, opened the show, and not long after, they invited him to join Mammoth. When they discovered that another band had already trademarked the name, the Van Halen brothers wanted to change the name to Rat Salade. Roth convinced them that Van Halen would make a better choice.
Members include Michael Anthony (born June 20, 1954, Chicago, IL), bass; Gary Cherone (born July 26, 1961, Malden, MA; replaced Sammy Hagar (born October 13, 1947, Monterey, CA); replaced David Lee Roth (born October 10, 1955, Bloomington, IN), vocals; Alex Van Halen (born May 8, 1953, Amsterdam, Netherlands), drums; Edward Van Halen (born January 26, 1955, Amsterdam, Netherlands), guitar.
Band formed as Mammoth and changed name to Van Halen, 1973; signed record contract with Warner Bros. Records, 1977; released six LPs, 1978-1984; Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth on vocals, 1985; released five LPs, 1985-1995; reunited with Roth for two songs on Van Halen: Best of Volume 1, 1996; Gary Cherone replaced Sammy Hagar on vocals, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694.
As the group developed, Eddie and Roth became the center of attention. Eddie would later demand recognition for his brother Alex’s musical talent, but Anthony remained in the background throughout his career. “It’s a little restricting playing behind a guitarist like Ed,” Anthony told JasObrecht in Guitar Player, “but it feels good because of who he is.”
Van Halen played local clubs and parties for four years before they got the attention of Warner Bros. Records’ staff producer Ted Templeman. He saw the band play to a small crowd at the Starwood in Los Angeles and was amazed attheir performance. “I saw their sets,” Templeman later told Debby Miller in Rolling Stone, “and there were like 11 people in the audience, and they were playing like they were at [a large stadium like] the Forum.” Templeman convinced label president Mo Ostin to sign the band, and they embarked on the beginning of a long, successful rock career with Warner Bros. Records. Their self-titled debut was released in 1978, and the first single was a cover version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” The album went on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide. “The vision was that we would play whatever kind of music we wanted, regardless of trends, and that we would exhibit our true personalities,” Roth told Nancy Collins in Rolling Stone. “Then, if people like it, you’re going to be a star.”
Van Halen went on their first tour, then quickly returned to the studio to record and release Van Halen ll in 1979. This sophomore effort included the hits “Dance the Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls.” The band kept up their fast pace in 1980 with the release of Women and Children First, which took only two-and-a-half weeks to record. With hits such as “And the Cradle Will Rock” and “Everybody Wants Some,” the album climbed to the top ten on Billboards album chart just one week after its release.
Eddie was amazed at how fast the group rocketed to the top. “Just three years ago, I was fighting my way up front with the rest of the kids to see Aerosmith,” he said to Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. “Then, a year later, we were playing with them.... I knew I’d always play guitar, but I had no idea I’d be in the position I’m in now.”
Rode Through Roller Coaster Years
Sales seemed to have peaked with Women and Children First as Van Halen’s next two albums—Fair Warning and Diver Down —sold about half the number of copies of their debut. Eddie later said that he regretted the number of cover songs the band recorded on Diver Down, which included the hits “Pretty Woman” and “Dancing in the Streets.” “I’d rather bomb making music that comes through me than be in the world’s biggest cover band,” Eddie explained to Ray Rogers in Interview.
Van Halen’s slump ended in 1984, and their climb to the top resumed with the release of their number-one single “Jump” and the album 1984. It was the first time the group used a significant amount of keyboards on an album, and fans responded favorably. The band followed the release with more hit songs from the album, including “Panama” and “I’ll Wait,” and a successful world tour.
High on the success of 1984, singer Roth decided to release a solo EP the following year. Herecorded four cover tunes on Crazy from theHeatand began discussing a possible movie deal with the same title. According to the remaining members of Van Halen, Roth decided he wanted to pursue a solo career in music and an acting careerand left the band. Roth explained his sideto David Rensin in Playboy, “Edward wanted to make music that took more than a year in the studio and play it live for two months. I wanted to make music in half that time and play it twice as much.”
Faced with a vacant singer slot in the band, Van Halen began brainstorming for a replacement. They considered recording an album using different singers on each song, then ultimately decided to maintain a group. One day, Eddie was getting his car fixed, and his auto mechanic, Claudio Zampolli, suggested he talk to singer Sammy Hagar. He spoke to Hagar right then from the mechanic’s phone and invited him to jam with the band. Eddie had been a fan of Hagar’s singing and songwriting when the singer fronted the band Montrose in the mid-1970s. They also worked with the same producer, Ted Templeman.
Hagar met with the band, rehearsed with them, and by the end of 1985, he became Van Halen’s new singer. In the beginning, the new incarnation of Van Halen and Roth continued to talk about each other in the press. “One thing about Roth,” Eddie told Steve Dougherty in People, “he’s not half the singer Sammy is, but he is creative. I’m not slagging him about the music. Onstage he was fine. It was offstage that he made having a human relationship impossible.”
Van Halen’s first release with Hagar, 5150, was a huge success and became the band’s first of several number-one albums. It included hit songs like, “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Best of Both Worlds,” and “Dreams.” The group sold out every show on their 38-city tour, and constantly boasted about the strong bond between the members. “I don’t know what it is about the guy,” Alex said in Rolling Stone. “You could be having the worst day of your life, but you walk in and there’s Sammy. And it just makes my day.”
Eddie explained how Hagar freed up his songwriting options, too, in an interview with David Wild in Rolling Stone. “From the first second, Sammy could do anything I threw at him,” he said. “I’m in heaven because now I can write whatever I want and not worry because Sammy can sing it all.”
Van Halen released its second album with Hagar in 1988 called OU812. With tracks like, “Finish What Ya Started” and “When It’s Love,” the album quickly climbed to number one on Billboard’s album charts. In the summer of that year, the group headlined the Monsters of Rock tour, which also included Metallica, Dokken, and the Scorpions.
After taking a couple of years off, Van Halen returned with a vengeance in 1991 with the harder-edged, number-one album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The CD included the megahit “Right Now,” which exposed the band to even wider audiences. “When we first cut ‘Right Now,’ I almost didn’t add a guitar to it because it sounded great with just piano, bass, and drums,” Eddie Van Halen told James Rotondi in Guitar Player. “It’s not that I care less about the guitar, but the song as a whole means more to me.”
Van Halen recorded a socio-political video to accompany the song, which was produced by Carolyn Mayer and directed by Mark Fenske. The video became one of the most requested videos on MTV, and won “Best Video,” “Best Art Direction,” and “Best Editing” at the MTV Video Music Awards.
In 1993, the band released a live album from the tour for For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which was called Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now. Later that year, their longtime manager, Ed Leffler, died of thyroid cancer. This tragic event sent the members of the group into a time of reflection, and eventually was referenced as the turning point that led to the next lineup change.
Their next album, Balance, was released in 1995, and debuted at number one on the charts. Eddie explained his impression of the album’s title to David Wild in Rolling Stone, “I think of it as the balance between the four of us that makes everything work.” While recording Balance, the band hired a new manager: Ray Danniels, Alex’s brother-in-law and longtime manager of Rush. However, the death of Leffler had already began to take its toll on the group. “With Ed dying last year, it was the first time that we have had a reality check in the nine years I’ve been with the band,” Sammy Hagar told Craig Rosen in Billboard.
According to Hagar, Danniels’ involvement with Van Halen began to cause friction between its members. The group recorded the song “Humans Being” for the Twister soundtrack. Alex and Eddie also recorded an instrumental track on their own for the soundtrack called “Respect the Wind.” The group was in the process of recording another song for the soundtrack when Eddie and Hagar got into a dispute about the lyrics. Danniels also informed Hagar that the song would instead be used on a greatest hits record, which Hagar was against releasing in the first place.
On June 20, 1996, Hagar was either fired from Van Halen or quit, depending on who’s recounting the story. Eddie insisted that Hagar left to pursue a solo career, just as David Lee Roth had in 1985. “I did not quit this band,” Hagar told Chris Willman in Entertainment Weekly. “I was forced out of this band. And I would be back in this band tomorrow if they got a new manager and wanted me.”
Van Halen proceeded with the greatest hits album, and recruited former singer David Lee Roth to record two new songs for the release. Van Halen: Best of Volume 1 was released with the new tracks “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic,” and rumors of a Roth reunion spread like wildfire. When MTV invited Van Halen, with Roth, to present an award at the Video Music Awards, it seemed as if the rumors had been confirmed. However, Van Halen insisted a reunion was never part of the plan.
“I asked him [Roth] to do a song for the Van Haien: Best of because I wanted it to have something new,” Eddie Van Halen explained to Anthony Bozza in Rolling Stone. “Then MTV and everybody else—including him—thought it was a reunion.”
After another fallout with the members of his former band, Roth released a public statement on October 2, 1996, explaining his side of the story. “I was an unwitting participant in this deception,” he wrote. “It sickens me that the reunion as seen on MTV was nothing more than a publicity stunt.... Those who know me know trickery was never my style.”
During this same time, Danniels had recommended former Extreme singer Gary Cherone as a possible new singer for the band. Danniels was the manager for Extreme before the band broke up the previous year. After meeting with him, Van Halen hired Cherone as the new f rontman and began writing songs for a new album. Former singer Hagar returned to his own solo career and released his first album since the breakup in 1997, titled Marching to Mars. “I took two weeks to think about what happened,” Hagar told Tom Sinclair in Entertainment Weekly. “Then I went into the studio and started writing songs.” After taking some time to let the dust settle, Hagar also expressed an interest in eventually performing with the group sometime in the future. “If I never walk on stage with Eddie Van Halen again, I’ll be really disappointed,” he said.
In 1998, Van Halen released their first album with their third singer, appropriately titled Van Halen III. On this record, Eddie not only contributed to writing the lyrics, but also sang on the track “How Many Say I?” He described the album to Chris Willman in Entertainment Weekly as “heavier than anything we’ve ever done and deeper on an emotional level; the kind of stuff that gives you goose bumps.” However, some critics and fans didn’t have the same positive reaction. “Cherone has one speed as a singer on III— pained exertion,” Greg Kot wrote in Rolling Stone, “and longtime bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen sound as though they’re lumbering at any tempo.” Tom Sinclair wrote in Entertainment Weekly, “Despite the anointing of yet another lead singer, Van Halen III is more chunky guitar feast than vocal tour de force.”
The members of Van Halen insisted that the album’s decrease in sales and increase in criticism was immaterial. “We have to please ourselves first,” Eddie told Chris Willman in Entertainment Weekly. “And if nobody likes it, don’t buy it! Listen to the Roth and Sammy records if that’s what you prefer. Nobody’s twisting your arm.”
At the close of the 1990s, Eddie claimed he was finished with playing musical lead singer in Van Halen. “If Gary ever develops LSD—lead singer disease—I am quitting,” Van Halen told Ray Rogers in Interview. “No more Van Halen.... Whether everyone likes what I do or not is irrelevant.”
Van Halen, Warner Bros. Records, 1978.
Van Halen II, Warner Bros. Records, 1979.
Women and Children First, Warner Bros. Records, 1980.
Fair Warning, Warner Bros. Records, 1981.
Diver Down, Warner Bros. Records, 1982.
1984, Warner Bros. Records, 1984.
5150, Warner Bros. Records, 1985.
OU812, Warner Bros. Records, 1988.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Warner Bros. Records, 1991.
Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now, Warner Bros. Records, 1993.
Balance, Warner Bros. Records, 1995.
Van Haien: Best of Volume 1, Warner Bros. Records, 1996.
Van Halen III, Warner Bros. Records, 1998.
Billboard, April 17, 1992; September 19, 1992; December 17, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, October 18, 1996; January 10, 1997; May 23, 1997; March 20, 1998.
Guitar Player, October 1981, May 1993, March 1995, July 1995, February 1997.
Interview, April 1998.
New York, May 11, 1998.
People, February 11, 1985; June 23, 1986; April 6, 1998.
Playboy, August 1987.
Rolling Stone, April 17, 1980; September 4, 1980; June 21, 1984; April 11, 1985; July 3, 1986; March 24, 1988; August 11, 1988; February 18, 1993; March 23, 1995; April 6, 1995; April 2, 1998; April 16, 1998.
Stereo Review, June 1998.
Teen, September 1985.
Van Halen 3, http://www.vanhalen3.com (September 23, 1998).
ÒVan Halen Timeline,Ó The Official Van Halen Website, http://www.van-halen.com (September 23, 1998).
Formed: 1974, Pasadena, California
Members: Michael Anthony, bass (born Chicago, Illinois, 20 June 1954); Alex Van Halen, drums (born Nijmegan, Netherlands, 8 June 1950); Eddie Van Halen, guitar (born Nijmegan, Netherlands, 26 January 1955). Former members: Gary Cherone, lead vocals (born Malden, Massachusetts, 26 July 1961); Sammy Hagar, lead vocals (born Monterey, California, 13 October 1947); David Lee Roth, lead vocals (born Bloomington, Indiana, 10 October 1955).
Best-selling album since 1990: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
Hit songs since 1990: "Right Now," "Poundcake"
Since 1990 Van Halen has spent more time in the gossip pages than on the album charts. The band began the decade at their commercial height, but a series of drastic missteps found them at a career low just a few years later. Despite their personal problems and frenzied lead-vocalist changes, Van Halen remained the premiere American party rock band, buoyed as ever by Eddie Van Halen's showy guitar technique and escapist songwriting.
The Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, began playing music together while growing up in Pasadena, California. The sons of a Dutch musician, the boys received classical music training throughout their childhood. After discovering rock and roll, Alex took up guitar and Eddie learned to play the drums. They soon switched instruments and, after forming the band Mammoth, Eddie developed into a guitar virtuoso, creating a signature stock of sound effects and tricks (including "tapping," in which the fingers on the strumming hand bang out a flurry of notes on the neck of the guitar) that eventually became de rigeur for heavy metal guitarists. While playing in the Southern California circuit, they recruited David Lee Roth as their singer and Michael Anthony to play bass. They changed their name to Van Halen in 1974 and soon became the most popular band in the Los Angeles area, with a reputation built on Eddie's guitar playing and Roth's outlandish showmanship. The band released their first album, Van Halen, in 1978, and it promptly went platinum. Less ponderous than the heavy metal of the era, their pop hooks and playful performances made an instant impact on the mainstream. The band released an album every year until their masterwork 1984 (1984), which includes the party staples "Jump," "Panama," and "Hot for Teacher."
By the mid-1980s, tensions between Roth and Eddie Van Halen sent the singer packing and on to a solo career. The band recruited the arena rock journeyman Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist, which began a more earnest but no less successful chapter for the band. Fans and critics initially balked at the news, but the results were surprisingly solid—Hagar brought a credible party persona as well as a penchant for straight-ahead balladry that satisfied the core audience and broadened the band's mainstream appeal. 5150 (1986) and OU812 (1988) sold millions and produced a number of hit ballads. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) saw the band pumping out anthems with renewed energy and scoring a best-selling single with the uplifting "Right Now." The songs on the album are arena-ready, with big choruses driven by Eddie's blinding guitar work and Hagar's warm heavy metal wail. The 1991–1992 tour was a rousing success. The band ripped through their catalog with energy and conviction. The tour was documented and released on album and home video under the title Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now (1993).
The band reconvened to record Balance in 1995, but new tensions between Eddie and Hagar made for less focused work. Eddie, fresh out of an alcohol rehabilitation program, tired of Hagar's hard-partying ways, and the tour was less successful than its predecessor. A year later the band began to prepare a greatest hits compilation against Hagar's wishes and even recorded two new songs with David Lee Roth. It has never been revealed whether Hagar then left the band or was fired. The original Van Halen lineup appeared in public for the first time in twelve years on the MTV Video Awards in September 1996 to overwhelming applause. Days later, the band issued a statement claiming that Roth had not been rehired as singer and that they were searching for a new vocalist.
The band eventually enlisted Gary Cherone from the band Extreme and recorded Van Halen III (1998), a winking nod to their rotating vocalist situation. The lineup change gave the music a sharp edge—the single "Without You" in particular sounds fresh and forceful. But many tracks feel awkward, mainly because of Eddie's sincere attempts at expanding the band's musical scope with new rhythms and topical lyrics. The audience was not won over. The album and subsequent tour faltered, and Cherone was released from his duties in 1999.
All signs pointed to another reunion with Roth, who confirmed unofficially that he had been recording new material with the band. News that Eddie Van Halen had been battling cancer halted the momentum. In 2001 the band left the Warner Bros. label and admitted that they were still without a singer. Eddie emailed the band's official website in May 2002 reporting that his doctors had given him a clean bill of health, but the band's future was still uncertain. While many fans hope for a successful reunion with Roth, Van Halen has proved that they can retool their music to fit a new lead singer. The rock solid musicianship of its core members keeps the band relevant, and the lead vocalist slot remains one of the most coveted in rock music.
Van Halen (Warner Bros., 1978); Van Halen II (Warner Bros., 1979); Women and Children First (Warner Bros., 1980); Fair Warning (Warner Bros., 1981); Diver Down (Warner Bros., 1982); 1984 (Warner Bros., 1984); 5150 (Warner Bros., 1986); OU812 (Warner Bros., 1988); For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (Warner Bros., 1991); Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now (Warner Bros., 1993); Balance (Warner Bros., 1995); The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 (Warner Bros., 1996); Van Halen III (Warner Bros., 1997).
Van Halen, mainstays of heavy-metal music since the late 1970s. Membership:David Lee Roth, lead voc, gtr. (b. Bloomington, Ind., Oct. 10, 1955); Edward Van Halen, lead gtr. (b. Nijmegen, Netherlands, Jan. 26, 1957); Michael Anthony, bs., voc. (b. Chicago, June 20, 1955); Alex Van Halen, drm. (b. Nijmegen, Netherlands, May 8,1955). David Lee Roth left in 1985, to be replaced by Sammy Hagar (b. Monterey, Calif., Oct. 13, 1947), who left in 1996 and was eventually replaced by Gary Cherone (b. July 26, 1961.)
Garnering a huge following among American male youth for their live shows, Van Haien was propelled by the inventive, rapid-fire playing of lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, often regarded as the most influential guitarist since Jimmy Page. The band featured the bombastic, narcissistic, debauched personality of vocalist David Lee Roth until 1985. Van Halen continued their hit-making and best-selling ways after Roth’s departure with new vocalist Sammy Hagar, who brought a mellower and more commercial sound to the group with his songwriting. Maintaining a low profile after 1988’s Monsters of Rock tour, one of the most successful tours of the year and one of the most expensive ever mounted, Van Halen were challenged in the heavy-metal field by upstarts Metallica and Guns N’ Roses by the late 1980s. Nonetheless, their success continued unabated as Roth struggled to establish himself in a solo career.
Edward and Alex Van Halen took classical piano lessons as children, moving with their family to the United States in 1965 and settling in Pasadena, Calif., in 1968. Eddie took up guitar at age 12, and the brothers formed Broken Crumbs with bassist Michael Anthony in the early 1970s. They later recruited vocalist David Lee Roth, a onetime student of Pasadena City Coll., from the Red Ball Jets for the group Mammoth. Spotted by Gene Simmons of Kiss, who produced a demonstration tape for the band, Mammoth changed their name to Van Haien in 1974 and began several years of playing the Southern Calif, bar circuit. The band eventually signed with Warner Bros. Records, with Ted Templeman producing all their albums through 1993.
Van Halen’s debut album remained on the album charts for more than three years, yielded a moderate hit with a remake of the Kinks’s “You Really Got Me,” and eventually sold more than six million copies. The group quickly became established as a hugely popular live act in the United States, particularly among male white youth. David Lee Roth’s sex, drugs, and alcohol party-persona and Eddie Van Halen’s outstanding guitar playing, characterized by extended solos and his unique technique of hammering on the guitar strings with both hands, were major draws. Their second album became an instant best-seller and produced their first major hit, “Dance the Night Away.” Despite scoring only one more major hit through 1983—1982’s cover version of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”—Van Halen’s albums sold in the millions, save 1981 ’s Fair Warning. They reaffirmed their position as the leading purveyor of pop-style heavy-metal music with 1984,which yielded the top hit “Jump” and major hits “ITI Wait” and “Panama.”
By early 1985 David Lee Roth had recorded a mini-album that produced a smash hit with a remake of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and a major hit with his copy of Louis Prima’s rendition of the medley “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.” Buoyed by the success, Roth left Van Halen for a solo career. Recruiting guitarist Steve Vai and bassist Billy Sheehan, Roth toured in support of the best-selling Eat ’Em and Smile (1986) and Skyscraper (1988) albums. The first album yielded the major hit “Yankee Rose” and the second produced the smash “Just Like Paradise,” but Roth never scored another major hit. In the 1990s Roth retired his boisterous and self-serving persona, eventually reemerging for a club tour in support of the eclectic Your Filthy Little Mouth,which included a duet with Travis Tritt on “Cheatin’ Heart Cafe.”
Despite dire predictions that Van Halen would never be the same without David Lee Roth, the band not only survived but maintained their astounding level of popularity with new vocalist Sammy Hagar, a veteran of Montrose and a successful solo recording artist (1982-1983’s “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy” and 1984’s “I Can’t Drive 55”). Hagar favored harmony vocals, perhaps to cover his limited vocal range, and brought a pop sensibility to the band’s basic heavy-metal sound. His debut with Van Halen, 5150,sold more than four million copies and yielded a smash hit with the ballad “Why Can’t This Be Love” and the major hits “Dreams” and “Love Walks In.” In 1987 Sammy Hagar recorded a solo album that yielded a major hit with “Give to Live.”
In 1988 Van Halen recorded the formulaic OU812,which produced the smash hit “When It’s Love” and major hit “Finish What Ya Started.” They toured with Metallica and the Scorpions, among others, on the heavily attended Monsters of Rock tour. Overshadowed by Metallica on tour and challenged in the heavy-metal field by Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen withdrew for several years, reemerging in 1991 with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,its major hit “Top of the World/’ and a new round of touring. Their 1993 tour yielded the live set Right Here, Right Now. In 1994 Van Halen recorded their first album without producer Ted Templeman, Balance,touring once again in 1995. Unboxed,issued in 1994, compiled Sammy Hagar’s greatest hits of the 1980s, along with two newly recorded songs.
Tensions between Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar led to an acrimonious split in 1996, and David Lee Roth was brought in to the studio to record two new songs for a 1996 compilation album. However, the reunion didn’t last, and former Extreme singer Gary Cherone was chosen as the band’s new vocalist, recording Van Halen’s 1998 album; Cherone has since left the band.
V H.(1978); V H II (1979); Women and Children First (1980); Fair Warning (1981); Diver Down (1982); 1984 (MCM-LXXXIV) (1984); 5150 (1986); OU812 (1988); For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991); V H. Live: Right Here, Right Now (1993); Balance (1995); Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 (1996); Van Halen 3 (1998). DAVID LEE ROTH: Crazy from the Heat (mini; 1985); Eat ’Em and Smile (1986); Skyscraper (1988); A Little Ain’t Enough (1991); Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994). SAMMY HAGAR: Sammy Hagar (reissued as “I Never Said Goodbye”) (1987); Unboxed (1994).
The rock quartet Van Halen exploded into the American mainstream in 1978 with an eponymously titled debut album that soon went platinum, thanks to its blend of musical experimentation and an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll aesthetic. Named for Eddie Van Halen, the group's guitar virtuoso, the band's image promoted a hedonistic lifestyle and immediately captured the imagination of many young fans. Drawing from traditions of Southern blues, European baroque, and 1980s America, the band, over the next two decades, weathered major lineup changes and stylistic reinvention to remain one of the nation's most innovative musical groups.
Van Halen came together in Pasadena, California, in the mid-1970s, one of the first of the new wave of West Coast hard rock and heavy metal bands that had grown up on and would eventually replace British acts like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The band's first incarnation centered on Alex and Eddie Van Halen, sons of an accomplished Dutch musician. The boys' intense classical training helped them produce distinctive and innovative music in an era when many metal bands were surrendering to formula. The band added Michael Anthony as bass player and David Lee Roth as vocalist and gigged locally under the name Mammoth before choosing to call itself Van Halen.
Van Halen paid its dues in the highly competitive Los Angeles music scene, where it was discovered first by Gene Simmons of the band KISS and later by a Warner Brothers executive. Its debut album, with Roth's lewd, growling vocals on songs like "Dance the Night Away" and "Runnin' With the Devil" grounded the band firmly in blues and heavy metal traditions, while Eddie Van Halen's creative guitar work, showcased on the extended pseudo-classical solo "Eruption," appealed to other traditionalists.
The band's next five albums all went multi-platinum, even when the band experimented with organs, synthesizers, saxophone, and a capella crooning, as on 1982's Diver Down and 1984's 1984. The latter album showed the band's more lighthearted, pop-friendly approach, as with the single "Jump" and its video that took advantage of David Lee Roth's high-kicking manic stage presence. In 1985, at the height of the band's popularity, David Lee Roth left the group to pursue a moderately successful solo career. Van Halen continued with new lead vocalist Sammy Hagar, already well-known from his work with Montrose and as a solo performer. The band released three hugely successful albums with Hagar at the helm, maintaining its exuberance while adding a nuance of socially meaningful music, as with "Right Here Right Now," a powerful song and carefully crafted video about taking care of one's own life in the midst of problems abroad. In 1996, Hagar himself left and Van Halen responded by releasing live and greatest-hits albums and attempting a reunion with David Lee Roth at the 1996 MTV Music Video Awards. Van Halen resurfaced in 1998 with new lead vocalist Gary Cherone; "Without You," the first single with this new lineup, debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts.
Still, it is Eddie Van Halen who has been recognized as the force behind most of Van Halen's music. From the beginning, his technical mastery and innovation set new parameters for the iconic Guitar Hero. In his unending quest for superb sound, he rewired amps, assembled guitars backwards, converted arias and concertos into searing solos, and tapped the fret board of his instrument with both hands at once. His solo on Michael Jackson's smash hit "Beat It" gave the song a hard edge, a certain legitimacy in a decade where dance and heavy metal fought for control of the airwaves. Eddie Van Halen, who had married teen idol Valerie Bertinelli, spent the 1990s overcoming substance-abuse problems, but he is remembered for having provided the blueprint for rock idols of his era—beautiful, long-haired, positive, and talented.
Considine, J. D. Van Halen. New York, Quill, 1985.
Kitts, Jeff, editor. Guitar World Presents Van Halen: Eddie Van Halen In His Own Words. Milwaukee, Hal Leonard Publishing, 1997.
Morison, Buzz. The Mighty Van Halen. Port Chester, New York, Cherry Lane Books, 1984.
Shearlaw, John. Van Halen: Jumpin' for the Dollar. Port Chester, New York, Cherry Lane Books, 1984.
Walser, Robert. Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Hanover, Wesleyan University Press, 1993.