Dutch born guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen died at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California on October 6th, 2020, at the age of 65. Having battled throat cancer over the previous five years, Eddie Van Halen was hospitalized in 2019. Sober since 2008, Van Halen had begun receiving treatment for tongue cancer in the year 2000. Surgery removed roughly a third of his tongue, making him first declared cancer-free in 2002. Eddie himself blamed the cancer on his habit of holding metal guitar picks in his mouth. “I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it’s possible.”
Having played in bands with his brother Alex since 1964, their band Van Halen released twelve studio albums between 1978 and 2012. Van Halen performed their last show in October of 2015 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. At that time, Eddie was joined by David Lee Roth (vocals), Alex Van Halen (drums) and Eddie’s son, the bass player Wolfgang Van Halen.
Wolfgang, born in 1991, was the one who broke the news of his father’s death. “I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop.”
Following the news of Eddie’s death, numerous rock artists saluted him on social media. Former band members Sammy Hagar (Chickenfoot, The Circle, ex-Montrose), Michael Anthony (Chickenfoot, The Circle) and Gary Cherone (ex-Extreme) were joined by artists such as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, Steve Vai (who joined David Lee Roth when he first left Van Halen), Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Ozzy Osbourne, Glenn Hughes, Richie Sambora (ex-Bon Jovi), David Coverdale (Whitesnake, ex-Deep Purple), Joan Jett (ex-The Runaways), Billy Idol, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crue, AC/DC’s Angus Young, John Fogerty (ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival), Journey’s Neal Schon (ex-Santana, Bad English), Brian May (Queen) and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. “Just when I thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, I hear Eddie Van Halen has passed,” wrote Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler. “So shocking – one of the nicest, down-to-earth men I have ever met and toured with. A true gent and true genius. RIP. So sad. Thoughts go out to his brother Alex and his family.”
Metallica commented that they “are enormously saddened to hear about the untimely passing of Eddie Van Halen. We considered him an inspiration, an idol, and after spending a summer together on the road in ’88, a friend” while Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready noted that he “started playing guitar about a year after Van Halen I came out. It sounded like Eddie was from another planet and the energy from Van Halen was undeniable. Amazing songs too.”, he said and added that “Eddie was like Mozart for guitar. Changed everything and he played with Soul.”
Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) concluded that “Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart were just too good for 2020″ while Pantera tweeted that “Van Halen were a tremendous influence” on them, including their late guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul. “Hopefully they are all rocking out together now!”. After “Dimebag” was shot to death on stage, Eddie Van Halen had donated his original black-and-yellow-striped 1979 Charvel “Bumblebee” guitar, which was featured on the back cover of “Van Halen II”, to be included in the Kiss casket donated by Gene Simmons of Kiss. A few weeks prior to his death, Abbott had met Van Halen and asked him for a replica of the Bumblebee. Eddie attended the funeral and said that “Dime was an original and only an original deserves the original.”
An original himself, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on January 26th, 1955. His brother and eventual band partner, Alexander Arthur “Alex” Van Halen, had been born two years earlier. Their mother, Eugenia (1914-2005), was from the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) while their father, Jan van Halen (1920-1986), was a Dutch jazz pianist, clarinetist and saxophonist.
While not a prolific recording artist, Jan eventually featured on the 1982 album “Diver Down”, playing clarinet on Van Halen’s cover of “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”. “My father hadn’t played in a long time because he had lost his left-hand middle finger about 10 years ago”, Eddie commented. “He was nervous, and we told him, ‘Jan, just have a good time. We make mistakes! That’s what makes it real.”
Having lived in Nijmegen, the Van Halen family moved to the United States in 1962, settling in Pasadena, California. Naturalized as U.S. citizens, the brothers began playing the piano aged six. From 1964 through 1967, Eddie won first place in the annual piano competition held at Long Beach City College. Never able to read music, Eddie learned from watching and listening.
The video clip below is in Dutch but it shows the house where the Van Halen family lived in Nijmegen, Netherlands. At 2:23, the first known photo of Alex Van Halen is shown, followed by a wedding photo of Jan and Eugenia.
Wanting to play rock music rather than classical piano, Eddie first bought a drum set. Realising that Alex was a better drummer, the brothers swapped instruments and Eddie soon learned how to play the electric guitar. As a teen, he would often practice while walking around at home with his guitar strapped on or sitting in his room for hours with the door locked. “I’ve always said Eric Clapton was my main influence,” Eddie said, “but Jimmy Page was actually more the way I am, in a reckless-abandon kind of way.”
Calling themselves The Broken Combs, Eddie and his brother formed their first band in 1964, performing with the brothers Kevan (guitar) and Brian Hill (drums) at Hamilton Elementary School in Pasadena. The band lasted two years and featured Eddie on piano and Alex on saxophone.
Having also performed as The Trojan Rubber Co., the Van Halen brothers formed a band called Genesis in 1972, featuring Eddie as lead vocalist/guitarist, Alex on drums, and Mark Stone on bass. Having become aware of the great progressive rock band Genesis over in the U.K., they changed their name to Mammoth and eventually let David Lee Roth join as lead vocalist in 1974. Mammoth had previously rented a sound system from Roth’s band, the Red Ball Jets. Roth had met the brothers while attending Pasadena City College and soon suggested that Mammoth should adopt the brothers’ surname.
Mark Stone was replaced by Michael Anthony later in 1974 but his playing can be heard on early demos, including “Gentleman of Leisure” and “Glitter”. Stone featured in the 2003 documentary “Van Halen Story – The Early Years”, explaining that he “was a straight A student” and “split between these two things.” “We met one day and they actually asked me to leave”, “It was really tough leaving the band because I knew they were destined for greatness. They say, ‘Don’t leave before the miracle happens,’ and I did.”
After keyboardist Jim Pewsey left, Stone and the others in Van Halen recorded at Hollywood’s Cherokee Studios. In addition to early versions of future “Women and Children First” songs “Take Your Whiskey Home” and “In a Simple Rhyme,” the band recorded two tracks that never got an official release: “Believe Me” and “Angel Eyes,” the latter reportedly considered for “Van Halen II”.
Having not become an active musician, Mark Stone died just ten days before Eddie. Wolfgang Van Halen commented that he “met him a few times and he was a wonderful man”. Towards the end of his life, Mark Stone had made a brief return to music by performing with Fan Halen, a tribute band.
The classic Van Halen line-up was solidified by the arrival of Michael Anthony, previously bassist and lead vocalist in the local three-piece group Snake. Snake had once opened for Mammoth, with Anthony lending them Snake’s PA when Mammoth’s PA failed that night. Inspired by Jack Bruce of Cream, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Harvey Brooks of Electric Flag, Anthony had previously played in Poverty’s Children and Black Opal. While recorded in L.A. in 1974, I suspect that the “Michael Anthony” credited with playing guitar on the Johnny Mathis album “The Heart Of A Woman” is likely to be another musician.
The band would grow in popularity throughout the Los Angeles music scene, eventually leading to their first record deal in 1977. By the Spring of 1975, they were the regular tuesday night band at Myron’s Ballroom, subsequently playing clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences. After getting hired to play at the Sunset Strip club Gazzarri’s, they recorded their first demo tape at Cherokee Studios in Northridge. They also played at the Whisky a Go Go during the mid-1970s.
Greg Renoff, author of the 2015 book “Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal”, has posted a Van Halen two-song “Rock Opera”, recorded live at Pasadena High School on April 25th, 1975: “Eyes Of The Night – Forced Entry”. The concert also featured a cover of the Queen song “Now I’m Here”, off of 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack”.
Two original songs performed live in 1976 were “Eyes of the Night” and “Honolulu Baby”. They can be heard in the clip below from May 29th, preceded by a cover of ZZ Top’s “La Grange”.
After seeing Van Halen at the Gazzarri club in the summer of 1976, Rodney Bingenheimer took Gene Simmons of Kiss to see Van Halen. Simmons went on to produce a Van Halen demo tape, referred to as “Zero”, but he also wanted to change the band’s name to “Daddy Longlegs”. Luckily, the band stuck with “Van Halen” and Simmons opted out of further involvement. Many early Van Halen demos have eventually surfaced, both officially unreleased songs (“Babe, Don’t Leave Me Alone” and “Woman in Love”, a different song than “Women in Love…” off “Van Halen II”) and early versions of songs eventually released on the debut album or later records.
Eddie and Alex Van Halen also recorded three demos of Gene Simmons compositions as a trio with Simmons. The so-called “Love Gun” demos – “Christine Sixteen”, “Tunnel Of Love” and “Got Love For Sale” – were eventually announced for release in 2017 on the third disc of “Gene Simmons Vault”, a 10 CD box set. “Usually, I play the guitars and the drums to the extent I can and put down all the parts”, Simmons said. “But I wanted to do three songs instead of one. So we did ‘Christine Sixteen’ and I put the keyboards on, everything else. And Ed did the solo to the rhythm guitar, bass, and Alex was on drums”. “When I brought the songs to the band, unfortunately for Ace, I forced him to learn Eddie’s solo note-for-note”.
Van Halen were signed to Warner Bros. Records after two representatives, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman, attended a Van Halen concert at the Starwood in mid-1977. Ostin’s career began in the mid-1950s at Clef Records, soon renamed Verve. Impressed, Frank Sinatra formed his own Reprise Records in 1960 and hired Ostin to head it. Reprise joined forces with Warner in 1963. Ted Templeman began his career as drummer for The Tikis, who released three singles in 1965-66. They changed their name to Harpers Bizarre in 1966, with Templeman switching to guitar and vocals.
After recording four albums for Warner, Harpers Bizarre disbanded in 1970 and Templeman went on to work as an A&R for Warner Bros. Having discovered The Doobie Brothers, he also produced Captain Beefheart, Little Feat and the two albums by Van Morrison (1971-72) that featured Ronnie Montrose (ex-Sawbuck) on guitar. Having also worked as a session musician for Boz Scaggs and the Edgar Winter Group, Ronnie Montrose again teamed up with Templeman for the first two Montrose albums (1973-74), those featuring future Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar. Ted Templeman went on to produce the first six albums for Van Halen before helping David Lee Roth make his first solo records. Templeman later co-produced Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”.
Templeman first cut a 25-song demo with Van Halen, including new versions of every track they had recorded with Gene Simmons, with the exception of “Woman in Love.” Most of the songs eventually found their way onto Van Halen albums, including four tracks reworked for “A Different Kind of Truth”. “We Die Bold,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Piece of Mind” and “Light in the Sky” (not to be confused with “Light Up the Sky” off “Van Halen II”) remain unreleased, however, and so does the band’s version of the Kim Fowley/Steven Tetsch-penned song “Young and Wild.” The latter was soon recorded and released by Cherie Currie, formerly a member of The Runaways.
“No More Waiting”, “Here’s Just What You Wanted”, “The Shape You’re In” and “One More Time” were other songs performed live by Van Halen in 1977. While it appears that these tracks were never recorded in a studio, the guitar intro of “No More Waiting” eventually resurfaced on 1995’s “Balance”.
Van Halen recorded their debut album in September and October of 1977, recording guitar parts for one week and adding vocals for two weeks. All of the tracks were laid down with little over-dubbing or double-tracking, aiming for a live feel. Ted Templeman supposedly arrived at the studio with a copy of Montrose’s first album, saying that “we’re going to have eight great songs, they’re going to be this long, they’re going to be this tempo”, with “Montrose” as a blueprint. Templeton is also said to have suggested that the band should hire former Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar as early as 1977.
Upon release in February 1978, “Van Halen” reached # 19 on the Billboard charts, going on to sell more than 10 million copies. Their debut single, The Kinks’ 1964 classic “You Really Got Me”, spent three weeks on the charts and “Eruption” popularized the technique of two-handed finger tapping.
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) had used techniques similar to “tapping” on the violin but it was mostly popularized by jazz guitarists. In the world of rock music, one of the earliest such players was Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel, who Eddie Van Halen and Dokken’s George Lynch had seen at the Starwood during the 1970s. Steve Hackett of Genesis had also used tapping as early as 1971 but Eddie Van Halen claims that his own inspiration came from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page: “I think I got the idea of tapping watching Page do his “Heartbreaker” solo back in 1971… He was doing a pull-off to an open string and I thought… I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around?”.
Cactus drummer Carmine Appice claims that “Eruption” was also partly influenced by their 1970 song “Let Me Swim”. “Alex Van Halen told me many times that Cacus influenced them”, Appice said. “I never realized how much until I listened to, well, first of all, they told me “Hot For Teacher” was based on “Parchman Farm”. If you listen to “Eruption”, it’s the same thing as the beginning of our song “Let Me Swim”. I never realized it, but if you listen to both, there’s a chord, then there’s a guitar thing, then it goes “Bim, Bam, Bowmmm,” it changes the key, then there’s more guitar. That’s the same intro we had for “Let Me Swim”.”
The first Van Halen album contained one further cover song, “Ice Cream Man”, originally recorded in 1953 by Chicago blues musician John Brim (1922-2003). The remaining eight songs were all credited to Eddie and the other members of Van Halen. “Runnin’ with the Devil”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, “On Fire” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” were all released as singles, with “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “I’m the One” and “Atomic Punk” used as B-sides. “Little Dreamer” only featured on the album but was nearly as good. An amazing debut album, to say the least! The guitar pictured on the album cover is Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstrat”, before the famous red paint was added.
The subsequent U.S. tour began with Van Halen opening for Journey, along with Montrose, before touring Europe and the United States with Black Sabbath. Eddie Van Halen approached Sammy Hagar in 1978, referring to himself as a “Montrose freak”. Hagar has said that Eddie Van Halen had been heavily influenced by Montrose, saying “Not his soloing as much as the chording – yeah, he took some of that big open chord thing. The big open A, the big open D, the big open E. Everything as open as you could make it, to make it as heavy as possible with one guitar. And that was pretty much Ronnie’s style, too.”
Journey guitarist Neal Schon recently recalled taking Van Halen on their first major tour: “Three months prior to the tour starting, I had received a little red EP, the promotional EP that had ‘Eruption‘ on it and ‘You Really Got Me.’ “And so I proceeded to put it on my turntable in my bedroom with a guitar and amp, and I’m sitting there listening to ‘Eruption’ and I’m going, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing?’ I could not figure it out. I’ve been listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra, all kinds of people, you know, and breaking things down I could just not figure out what he was doing with the hand movements. And it drove me nuts. And we finally got out there and got to know Ed and watched him just kill it, and I was very happy not to be following him – they had Ronnie Montrose. Montrose was in the middle; so Van Halen, and then Montrose, and then Journey.” “It was great, and we had a lot of fun on that tour, hung out a lot, watched him trash a lot of hotel rooms. I think they were wanting to be The Who, you know? Eddie had told me one of his biggest records that inspired him even to come up with the concept of Van Halen was The Who’s ‘Live at Leeds.’” “I was so sad to hear the news the other day, I was really hit hard like a lot of people.”
Following the death of Eddie Van Halen, Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, The Dead) gave Eddie credit for changing the course of history of guitar playing. “I still remember the first time I heard Van Halen”, Haynes wrote. “It was at a party in Asheville, my hometown. The first VH album had just come out and people were raving about the music and about Eddie’s guitar playing in particular.” “At first listen, I can admit now, I was quite impressed but still not ready to give in to the hype. It was obvious that what he was doing was exceptional but he was using a lot of distortion so I wasn’t convinced that he was really pulling it off in a technical sense…. until I heard Eruption. Pretty damn precise! That’s when it hit me. It was a new day in Rock ’n’ Roll. It was a new day in electric guitar playing. Then later when I heard Spanish Fly (from VH2) GOD DAMN!!! He can play that shit on acoustic guitar.”
Released on March 23, 1979, “Van Halen II” had been recorded in December of 1978. It peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 and spawned the singles “Dance the Night Away” (b/w “Outta Love Again”), “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” (b/w “Women in Love…”) and “Beautiful Girls” (b/w “D.O.A.”).
All songs were credited to Eddie and his bandmates, except the opening track. “You’re No Good” was written by Clint Ballard Jr. and first released in 1963 on a single produced by Leiber and Stoller. It was first sung by Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of Dionne Warwick, and later covered by The Swinging Blue Jeans and Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt had appeared on Neil Young’s 1977 album “American Stars ‘n Bars” along with Nicolette Larson. The latter, an associate of Ted Templeman, would appear on the next Van Halen album. “Van Halen II” sold almost six million copies in the USA.
“I personally never looked at EVH as being a major influence on my own playing”, wrote Warren Haynes, “but I was always a big fan of his virtuosity. Also I should point out that, as is the case with the emergence of any highly innovative, groundbreaking new music or new musician, it would soon follow that the airwaves would become inundated with a gazillion copycats, most of which paled in comparison to the trendsetter. This has happened in virtually every moment in history where someone changed the course of a genre or where someone changed the course of an instrument. It has also happened historically with songwriting. When someone comes along with a fresh innovative approach to writing songs suddenly copycats appear out of the woodwork. That’s the way it was with Van Halen, both with Eddie’s playing and with the music itself.”
Released one year later, almost to the day, “Women and Children First” was Van Halen’s first album of the 1980s. Featuring only original material, “And the Cradle Will Rock…” was chosen as a single. Other highlights included “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Take Your Whiskey Home”.
Nicolette Larson provided backing vocals on “Could This Be Magic?”, the only time female vocals were ever recorded for a Van Halen song. Larson had released her first solo album in 1978, produced by Ted Templeman and featuring a version of Neil Young’s “Lotta Love”. Eddie Van Halen provided guitar on “Can’t Get Away from You” off that album.
Back around the time of Van Halen’s first demo for Templeman, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth had also recorded a short parody of Larson’s “Lotta Love” as an inside joke for Templeman.
“Act Like It Hurts” is an unreleased instrumental from 1980.
The 1981 album “Fair Warning” was the band’s slowest-selling of the Roth era, but arguably one of their best. The cover artwork features a detail from “The Maze”, a 1953 painting depicting the tortured youth of William Kurelek (1927-1977), the mentally ill artist. The music was also darker, leading to rising tensions between Roth’s poppy style and Eddie’s desire for more complex and serious songs. Highlights included “Mean Street”, “Sinner’s Swing!” and the singles “So This Is Love?” and “Unchained”, featuring producer Ted Templeman saying “Come on, Dave, gimme a break!”. Eddie Van Halen, a schooled pianist, also started introducing synthesizers.
“Diver Down” (1982) was their shortest album, only 31 minutes long, with five of the twelve tracks being cover songs. Worn out by years of constant touring and recording, Van Halen intended to take a break and focus on song writing. Having scored a single hit with a cover of Roy Orbison’s 1964 classic “Oh, Pretty Woman”, however, the record company soon demanded that they’d record another album. They spent only 12 days making the album, adding the synth-driven intro “Intruder” to fit the running time of the “Oh, Pretty Woman” music video, one of the first videos banned by MTV. Two other cover songs were also released as singles, The Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!” (1965) and the Motown classic “Dancing in the Street” (written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter), first released in 1964 by Martha and the Vandellas.
As previously mentioned, the Van Halen brothers’ father featured on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”, written in 1924 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen. Recorded by numerous different artists since then, Eddie Van Halen recalled that “It was Dave’s idea to do ‘Big Bad Bill’. He bought himself one of those Sanyo Walkman-type things with the FM-AM radio, and you can record off the radio if you like something you hear. He was up in his bedroom at his father’s house and he found that if he stood in a certain spot and pointed his antenna a certain way, he picked up this weird radio station in Louisville, Kentucky. He recorded ‘Big Bad Bill’ and played it to us, and we started laughing ourselves silly and going, ‘That is bad! Let’s do it!’ Dave suggested, ‘Hey, we can get your old man to play the clarinet.’ We said, ‘sure”.
“Happy Trails”, the final song on the album, had previously been added as a joke on Van Halen’s 1977 demo recording. Written by Dale Evans, the wife of country star Roy Rogers, it had been released in 1952 by Rogers and Evans with the Whippoorwills and Orchestra. The song had also appeared on the 1969 album of the same name by San Francisco psych rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The “Diver Down” album also contained three instrumentals, making original band compositions like “Secrets”, “Little Guitars”, “Hang ‘Em High”and “The Full Bug” somewhat lost in the shuffle. “Dave plays the acoustic guitar and harmonica on the intro of ‘The Full Bug.”, commented Eddie. “My lines in the middle of that are different. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Allan Holdsworth, and he inspires me.”
British fusion/prog guitarist Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017, ex-‘Igginbottom, Nucleus, Tempest, Soft Machine, The New Tony Williams Lifetime, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty, Bruford, U.K.) released his second solo album, “I.O.U.”, in 1982. Immediately after the release, Eddie Van Halen brought Holdsworth to the attention of Warner Bros. Records executive Mo Ostin. Eddie had previously enthused about Holdsworth in a 1980 issue of Guitar Player magazine, saying “That guy is bad! He’s fantastic; I love him”, and that Holdsworth was “the best, in my book”. He also told Guitar World magazine that “To me, Allan Holdsworth is number one”. This resulted in the Warner Bros. release of “Road Games”, an EP, in 1983. It was produced by Ted Templeman and received a nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 1984 Grammy Awards.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released towards the end of 1982, with Eddie Van Halen providing the guitar solo on “Beat It”. Also featuring Steve Porcaro (synthesizer), Jeff Porcaro (drums) and Steve Lukather (lead guitar, bass guitar) of Toto, “Beat It” was the third single off “Thriller”, following “The Girl Is Mine” (feat. Paul McCartney) and “Billie Jean”. Quincy Jones, the producer, had encouraged Jackson to include a rock song in the vein of The Knack’s “My Sharona”. Jackson had never previously shown an interest in the genre but agreed to record “Beat It”.
Van Halen used a Hartley–Thompson amplifier borrowed from Allan Holdsworth and recorded his “Beat It” guitar solo free of charge. “I did it as a favor”, Eddie later said. “I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager and everyone else. I was not used. I knew what I was doing—I don’t do something unless I want to do it.” Van Halen recorded his contribution following Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson arriving at the guitarist’s house with a “skeleton version” of the song. Fellow guitarist Steve Lukather recalled, “Initially, we rocked it out as Eddie had played a good solo—but Quincy thought it was too tough. So I had to reduce the distorted guitar sound and that is what was released.” Two versions of the solo were recorded. Eddie Van Halen reported in 2015 that he also rearranged the song and asked Jones to edit the chords so his solo could be in the key of E.
“I listened to the song,” Eddie told CNN, “and I immediately go, ‘Can I change some parts?’ I turned to the engineer and I go, ‘Okay, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.’ Took him maybe 10 minutes to put it together. And I proceeded to improvise two solos over it.”
While not yet dubbed “the King of Pop”, Michael Jackson (1958-2009) was already a huge star by this point. Jackson made his professional debut in 1965 as a member of the Jackson 5, along with his elder brothers. Having signed to Motown in 1968, The Jackson 5 had released five albums before Michael Jackson’s first solo album was released in 1972. After leaving Motown for Epic Records, the brothers renamed themselves the Jacksons and released their eleventh studio album in 1976. Michael Jackson remained a member of The Jacksons until 1984’s “Victory” album but he truly made it as a solo artist with his fifth solo album, 1979’s “Off The Wall”, his first for Epic and the first produced by Quincy Jones. Jones came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger and conductor, before moving on to work in pop music and film scores. Jones had worked with everyone from Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie to Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra before teaming up with Jackson in 1978’s “The Wiz”, a musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz which also starred Diana Ross.
“Thriller” became the best-selling album in the history of the music industry with 32 million copies sold worldwide by the end of 1983! “Thriller” still remains the best-selling album of all time, now with sales of more than 66 million copies worldwide! On July 14, 1984, Eddie Van Halen also joined Michael Jackson and his brothers for a performance of “Beat It” during The Jacksons’ Victory Tour.
“I was once asked by Michael Jackson to play electric guitar on the Thriller album,” Pete Townshend of The Who told Rolling Stone. “I said I couldn’t do it but recommended Eddie, who called and we chatted. He was utterly charming, happy about the connection, but told me how much he was enjoying playing keyboards. His smile was just classic. A man in his rightful place, so happy to be doing what he did. It’s completely tragic that we have lost him. He was not just an innovative and stylish player with great taste, he was also a laidback virtuoso showman who just blew us all away every time. Every shredder today has lost their Master Teacher and Guide. As he got older he became more generous and amusing and self-effacing about his enormous gifts. He shared so many tricks through guitar workshops, online and on TV shows. Immense talent. The Great American Guitar Player. I was hoping he might be President one day.”
Michael Jackson worked with Queen singer Freddie Mercury in 1981-1983, recording demos for an intended album of duets. According to Queen’s manager Jim Beach, the relationship soured when Jackson brought a llama into the studio. Jackson was also upset by Mercury’s drug use.
During 1983, several members of Queen explored side projects, having released “Hot Space” together in 1982. In April, about a year after the release of “Diver Down”, Queen guitarist Brian May was in a Los Angeles studio with Eddie Van Halen. The result of this two-day session eventually resulted in a mini album titled “Star Fleet Project”. The release featured three tracks with a total running time of 28 minutes. “Star Fleet” was a track composed by Paul Bliss, originally the end theme of the cult science fiction puppet series “Star Fleet”. Queen drummer Roger Taylor provided backing vocals on this track. “Let Me Out” was composed by Brain May but the 13 minute track “Blues Breaker” also co-credited Eddie Van Halen, Alan Gratzer, Phil Chen and Fred Mandel. “Blues Breaker” was dedicated to Eric Clapton, who both Van Halen and May were huge fans of. The project was released as the work of “Brian May + Friends”, consisting of May, Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alan Gratzer (of REO Speedwagon), Phil Chen (session bassist who played with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart), and Fred Mandel, a session player who had also served as Queen’s keyboardist on the Hot Space World Tour.
Van Halen, the band, next earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-paid single appearance of a band: $1.5 million for a 90-minute set at the 1983 US Festival. In 1982, Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976) founded the company Unuson (“unite us in song”) with legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, known for running Winterland Ballroom and the Fillmore East and West, providing grounds for San Francisco’s hippie scene through acts like Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin. Wozniak and Graham sponsored two US Festivals in southern California, intended to celebrate evolving technologies. After losing several million dollars on the 1982 festival (featuring The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Police, Santana, The Kinks, Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and more), Wozniak stated that unless the 1983 event turned a profit, he’d end his involvement with festivals and get back to designing computers. He did, but not before putting on four days dedicated to different styles of music. The “New Wave Day” featured INXS and The Clash, the “Rock Day” featured U2, The Pretenders, Stevie Nicks and David Bowie, while the “Country Day” saw Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris take to the stage. Van Halen played during the “Heavy Metal Day”, also featuring Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, and Scorpions.
Eddie Van Halen had married Valerie Bertinelli in 1981. Bertinelli was an actress who aged 15 had made her debut as “Barbara Cooper” in the sitcom “One Day at a Time” (1975-1984), appearing in 208 episodes. Van Halen and Bertinelli eventually separated in 2001 and got divorced in 2007, having given birth to Wolfgang Van Halen in 1991.
Having a desire for more control over the recording process, Eddie Van Halen built a home studio in 1983, near his L.A. home with Bertinelli. He named it “5150” after a police code which allows a qualified officer or clinician to place a person under an involuntary psychiatric hold if the person is, “as a result of mental disorder, a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled.”
The construction on Eddie’s property was passed off to city inspectors as a racquetball court. All albums by Van Halen from “1984” onwards were recorded at 5150, also using the studio name as the title of their 1986 album. After the “OU812 Tour” ended and before starting work on “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (February 1989-March 1990), Eddie remodeled the studio, doubling its size, replacing the main mixing board, and adding an isolated drum room for his brother. When finished, it also featured a small arcade for video games and pinball machines. In 1999, Eddie remodeled the studio once again, adding a 72-input analog mixing desk and a Mellotron.
A tour of the 5150 Studio was given in 1998. In the clip, Van Halen shared some interesting stories about the studio’s construction and the creation of one of Van Halen’s biggest hits. Eddie showed Connelly a wall of shelves filled with tapes of everything he had recorded in the studio. He and longtime engineer Donn Landee had sorted through all the boxes, creating a numbering system and entering the details into a computer so he’d know what was on each tape. Sadly, at some point that information was lost due to a hard drive malfunction. Following the death of Eddie, Van Halen manager Irving Azoff said that Eddie’s family will look through the home-studio vaults for unheard material for possible future release. “Wolf and Alex will go up to 5150, the studio in Ed’s house,” Azoff said, but noted that it’s far too early to speculate about what might be found. “I can’t predict that for sure there will be anything new, but for sure they’re going to look at it.” Eddie himself once said he recorded “tons” of unreleased music, resulting in “close to a million CDs, cassettes, boxes and boxes and boxes.” It reportedly spans classical to world music, and his own intention was that “the stuff is gonna come out.”
Released in 1984, “L.A. Is My Lady” was the 57th and final studio album by Frank Sinatra. It was produced by Quincy Jones who had previously worked with Eddie during the recording of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. The music video for the title track featured cameo appearances by Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Michael McDonald.
Recorded at Eddie’s newly built 5150 Studios, the “1984” album (stylized as “MCMLXXXIV”) featured keyboards more prominently, something only used sporadically on previous Van Halen records. The lead single, “Jump”, became the band’s first #1 pop hit, also resulting in a Grammy nomination. “Panama”, “I’ll Wait”, and “Hot for Teacher” were also released as singles off the album which peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts, behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. 1984 went five-times platinum in the first year of release and has now sold more than 10 million copies.
The synth line for “Jump” had been written by Eddie Van Halen around 1981, but it had previously been rejected by the other band members. According to Daryl Hall, “Eddie Van Halen told me that he copied the synth part from ‘Kiss on My List’ and used it in ‘Jump.’ I don’t have a problem with that at all.” The song “Kiss on My List” had been a number one hit for Hall & Oates, off their 1980 album “Voices”. “House of Pain”, the final track on the album and the B-side of the “Jump” single, had previously featured on the Gene Simmons produced Van Halen demo “Zero” back in 1976.
“I’ll Wait” was co-credited to the band members and yacht rock giant Michael McDonald of Steely Dan (1974, studio contributions until 1980) and The Doobie Brothers (1975-1982, 1987, 2019-present), a band which producer Ted Templeman had worked closely with. It was also Templeman who brought McDonald in when Van Halen had trouble completing the song.
During the 1984 Tour, David Lee Roth decided to quit the group. He wouldn’t make another studio album with Van Halen until their swan song, 2012’s “A Different Kind of Truth”. Roth next teamed up with virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai (having briefly replaced Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz after playing with Frank Zappa from 1980 to 1983), jazz drummer Gregg Bissonette and bassist Billy Sheehan. Sheehan’s band Talas had gotten their first national exposure in 1980 when they opened thirty shows for Van Halen. Sheehan claims that he had been approached by Eddie Van Halen about replacing Michael Anthony, but nothing came of this. Prior to joining David Lee Roth’s band, Sheehan instead filled in for Pete Way on a tour with UFO. Michael Anthony ultimately remained with Van Halen until 2006 when he was replaced by “Wolfie”, Eddie’s then 15-year-old son.
Meanwhile, 1984 also saw the release of the comedy-drama film “The Wild Life”, written by Cameron Crowe. Eddie Van Halen composed and recorded several instrumental tracks for the film’s score. Credited to “Edward Van Halen”, the track “Donut City” was included on the physical soundtrack release. The soundtrack also featured Jimi Hendrix and a title track by Bananarama.
Eddie Van Halen first invited Scandal singer Patty Smyth to replace David Lee Roth. She declined, as did Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates) who was also offered the lead vocal position in 1985. The brothers even considered having a series of temporary singers, including Eric Martin (later to form Mr. Big with Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert) and Jimmy Barnes, the former Cold Chisel vocalist who’d later sing in Living Loud, the band formed by Lee Kerslake, Bob Daisley, Steve Morse and Don Airey. Having released his 1984 solo debut, “Street Talk”, Steve Perry was thinking about leaving Journey. When discussing his situation with Eddie Van Halen, he was invited to a jam session. While never promised anything beyond that, Perry was honored but never felt fit for the job.
After being introduced to Sammy Hagar, Eddie finally agreed to follow Ted Templeman’s old suggestion to hire him as permanent vocalist. In 1983, Hagar and Journey guitarist Neal Schon (ex-Santana) had formed HSAS, a short-lived supergroup with bassist Kenny Aaronson (ex-Dust, Rick Derringer) and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. After leaving Montrose in February 1975, Hagar had also gone on to released eight solo albums by 1984. The last of these, “VOA”, was produced by Ted Templeman and included the hit single “I Can’t Drive 55”.
Neal Schon recalled making Eddie aware of Hagar. “I completed the record with Sammy, the HSAS record, and we were playing each other’s music one night after they played in San Francisco”, Schon said.“Anyway, we got to the hotel, and we had a cassette machine, and he was playing me some stuff, and I slapped the HSAS cassette, and he kept going over to the machine and stopping it backward, forwards, going over this one guitar riff… I’m like, ‘What are you doing, man?’, I said, ‘Ed, let it run, man.’ But he kept doing it 20 times in a row, and then finally, he goes, ‘Who’s this singer, man? I really like this singer.’ “And I go, ‘Sammy Hagar.’ Eddie goes, ‘Who?’ ‘Sammy Hagar. You know Montrose, right?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy?’, and I go, ‘Yeah.’”
Despite his past collaborations with both Hagar and Van Halen, Templeman stopped working as their producer and instead helped David Lee Roth get his solo career going by producing “Crazy from the Heat” (1985) and “Eat ‘Em and Smile” (1986). Templeman was also hired to help the recently re-united Aerosmith make 1985’s somewhat failed “comeback” album “Done with Mirrors”.
Donn Landee took over producer duties for the 1986 album “5150”, having served as engineer on previous albums. Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was also brought in as producer, primarily working with Sammy Hagar on his vocal performances. Featuring a new logo and ESPN BodyShaping’s Rick Valente as Atlas on the album cover, “5150” became the band’s first #1 album on the Billboard charts. “The album went platinum in one week,” Hagar recalled in 2014. “It was the fastest million-selling record in Warner’s history.” The sales were driven by the keyboard-dominated singles “Why Can’t This Be Love”, “Dreams”, “Love Walks In”, “Best of Both Worlds”, and “Summer Nights”. “5150” was the first Van Halen album to not feature any instrumental tracks. The number one position on the Billboard charts would also be reached by the other three albums released during the “Van Hagar” era.
Filmed footage from the “5150 Tour” was released as “Live Without a Net”. Hagar was uncomfortable performing a number of Van Halen’s Roth-penned hits so the tour featured almost the entire “5150” album, a few Hagar solo hits, and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. Of the Roth-era tracks, “Panama”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” and “You Really Got Me” were performed with regularity.
In 1987, Eddie Van Halen accompanied his wife to the Saturday Night Live studio. Valerie Bertinelli was guest host for an episode but Eddie wasn’t planning to make a live TV appearance himself. Not until house band guitarist G.E. Smith changed his mind. They wrote a song together, “Stompin’ 8H,” the title a reference to Studio 8H where SNL has been staged since its inception.
The piece was based on a “little lick” Van Halen had come up with. “I wrote another section, and then Lenny Pickett arranged the horn parts and then there we were,” the house guitarist explained. There were two performances each week – a dress rehearsal followed by the on-air delivery. “At dress it was fantastic – it was ridiculous how good it was. … He’s a master, he really is,” Smith enthused. “At air it was great, I mean it was super high quality. But he made a tiny little mistake. He forgot where this one very intricate little thing was. Nobody would even know about it; maybe three people in the United States. He was so upset that he had made a mistake; but it was great.”
Recorded in ten days as a contractual obligation to Geffen Records, Sammy Hagar’s ninth solo album, “I Never Said Goodbye”, was released in 1987. Eddie Van Halen co-produced the recording and provided bass guitar. He also played “a very brief part on guitar uncredited” on “Eagles Fly”. The singles “Give to Live” and “Eagles Fly” were also addded to the setlist when Hagar toured with Van Halen, as could later be heard on their first ever live album, 1993’s “Live: Right Here, Right Now.” Eddie, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony all also appear in the video for the song “Hands and Knees.”
Originally intended to be sung by Asia’s John Wetton (ex-King Crimson, U.K., Uriah Heep, Family, Mogul Thrash, Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash), “Winner Takes It All” was written by Giorgio Moroder and Thomas Whitlock for the soundtrack of the 1987 sports drama film “Over the Top”. Finding that Wetton’s voice wasn’t “mean” enough, the song was offered to Sammy Hagar and it was his version that ended up being on the soundtrack. Eddie Van Halen provided a bass guitar solo to the song.
Eddie and Hagar were also credited as co-producers of “Meet Me Half Way”, the Moroder/Whitlock song recorded for the soundtrack by Kenny Loggins. Having released three singles with The Second Helping (1968-69), Loggins played guitar in the New Improved Electric Prunes in 1969 before writing four songs for the 1970 album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In 1971, Loggins teamed up with Jim Messina (ex-Buffalo Springfield, Poco), recording seven albums as Loggins and Messina (1972-77) before going solo and receiving an Academy Award nomination for “Footloose” in 1984.
Pronounced “Oh, You Ate One Too”, the album title “OU812” (1988) has been assumed as a disguised response to the title of David Lee Roth’s 1986 solo album, “Eat ‘Em and Smile”. The front cover was an homage to the cover of “With the Beatles”, the second album of 1963 by The Beatles. “Black and Blue”, “When It’s Love” and “Finish What Ya Started” were released as singles and notable album tracks included “Feels So Good”, “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)” and “Cabo Wabo”. The latter re-used a melody from “Make It Last” by Montrose, Hagar’s former band.
Critics of the album noted that the bass guitar parts were low in the mix, something possibly related to the Van Halen brothers’ rumored growing animosity towards Michael Anthony. Anthony would later be forced out of the band and his songwriting credits removed or altered. A few years after “OU812”, Eddie Van Halen himself commented on the mix, saying that “Sonically it was shit.”
The CD version of “OU812” added a cover of “A Apolitical Blues” as bonus track. Written by Lowell George (1945-1979, ex-The Mothers of Invention), it was first recorded by Little Feat and included on their 1972 album “Sailin’ Shoes”, produced by Ted Templeman with Landee as engineer. Landee, now Van Halen’s producer, used the same setup as Little Feat to record Van Halen’s version.
Eddie Van Halen and Donn Landee co-produced two albums by the band Private Life for Warner: “Shadows” (1988) and “Private Life” (1990), the latter with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Domino”.
Fronted by Kelly Breznik, Private Life featured guitarist Danny Johnson and bassist Jay Davis who had recently appeared on “Dangerous Games”, the third and final studio album before Alcatrazz split up. Johnson had replaced Steve Vai when he left Alcatrazz to join David Lee Roth. Having played together from 1983-87, former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo (keys) and Gary Shea (bass) eventually re-united as Alcatrazz and released a fourth album, “Born Innocent”, in 2020.
Danny Johnson had made his recording debut with the band Derringer, also featuring Rick Derringer (ex-The McCoys, Johnny Winter And, Edgar Winter, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren), Kenny Aaronson (ex-Dust and Ian Lloyd & Stories, later in HSAS with Sammy Hagar) and Vinny Appice. Rick Derringer later worked with “Weird Al” Yankovic and recorded the guitar solo for “Eat It”, emulating Eddie Van Halen’s solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. Johnson and Appice next teamed up with Jay Davis in Axis, releasing “It’s A Circus World” (1978) before Vinny Appice got asked to replace Bill Ward in Black Sabbath. Before the Axis duo re-united in Private Life, Johnson and Davis had both worked with Rod Stewart and Vinny’s older brother, the former Cactus and Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice. Davis also joined Joe Cerisano’s band Silver Condor with guitarist Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon, David Coverdale, Little Caesar, New York Dolls, etc.) while Johnson found time to record with Alice Cooper and his own band, The Bandits.
Steve Lukather released his first solo album in 1989. The sole continuous founding member of Toto (1976-2019) was joined on “Lukather” by Richard Marx, Jan Hammer, Steve Stevens, and fellow Toto founders Jeff Porcaro and David Paich. Eddie Van Halen played bass guitar on the opening track, “Twist the Knife”, a song that began as “I Want Some Action” during the “5150” sessions.
Eddie Van Halen later featured on “Santamental”, Lukather’s Christmas album from 2003, performing the 2nd and 4th solo on “Joy to the World”. The holiday album also featured Slash, Steve Vai, Edgar Winter, Gregg Bissonette and Simon Phillips.
The band Van Halen returned in 1991 with “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, or FUCK for short. The term had previously been used as a song title on “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls”, the legendary 1969 debut by Coven, Jinx Dawson’s band that also featured bassist “Oz Osborne” and had a song called “Black Sabbath” before the Birmingham band had yet to release their own debut.
Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” marked a reconciliation with Ted Templeman whom they had not worked with since 1984. Templeman co-produced the album with Andy Johns and the band, resulting in a return to their hard rock roots with guitar driven songs and piano rather than synth sounds. “Poundcake”, “Top of the World” (with guitar and backing vocals by Steve Lukather), “Runaround”, “Man on a Mission” and “Right Now” were released as singles. The instrumental “316” was named after the date of birth (March 16th, 1991) of Wolfgang, Eddie’s son.
According to Eddie, the instrumental basis of “Right Now” dates back to 1983, with an early version of the melody appearing in the 1984 movie “The Wild Life”. At one point, Eddie considered recording the song with Joe Cocker on vocals. Hagar considers the lyrics for “Right Now” to be the best he ever wrote for a Van Halen song. “I was tired of writing cheap sex songs,” he recalled almost two decades later. “Eddie and I wanted to get serious and talk about world issues.” The music video reflected on events that were occurring at the time, using big block letters to display sentences such as “Right now, someone is working too hard for minimum wage”. Hagar was initially opposed to the concept, stating that “People ain’t even going to be listening to what I’m saying because they’ll be reading these subtitles”. The video won three awards at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year.
Van Halen were nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1992 and won for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal. “The Dream Is Over” was the only song off F.U.C.K. not included on 1993’s double-CD “Live: Right Here, Right Now.” It was included on the DVD, however. During the “316” live track, Eddie also played portions of Roth era instrumentals “Spanish Fly”, “Cathedral”, “Eruption” and the “Mean Street” intro. Filmed at Eddie’s 5150 studio to promote the live album, the video below features performances of “Dreams” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
After asking new wave synthpop legend Thomas Dolby for help with his studio equipment, Eddie Van Halen agreed to play guitar on two of Dolby’s songs, “Eastern Bloc (Europa and the Pirate Twins Part II)” and “Close but no Cigar” off his 1992 album “Astronauts & Heretics”. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead also played guitar on the same album.
Private Life lead singer Kelly Breznik had been friends with Valerie Bertinelli, Eddie’s wife. Dolby’s wife, the actress Kathleen Beller, was also a friend of Bertinelli. In his 2016 autobiography, Dolby described the surreal weekend he spent at 5150, with Andy Johns crashing his car into a statue and Alex Van Halen telling Dolby he wasn’t happy with the idea of the two working together. Dolby later said that the time they spent together was a “very fun experience. … I loved jamming with him, and I think he enjoyed it, too, sort of being drawn out and playing a different type of music.”
“You Never Know” and “The Wish” are titles of unheard outtakes from “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, supposedly featuring the “She Blinded Me With Science” hit maker. It was eventually decided that the songs featuring Dolby didn’t fit in on the Van Halen album, however.
After the death of Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro in 1992, a memorial concert took place at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. The all-star line-up included George Harrison, Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen, Don Henley, Michael McDonald, David Crosby, and Eddie Van Halen. Eddie joined Toto for performances of “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” and Toto’s “Hold The Line”.
Eddie was also featured on the “Tribute To Jeff” CD released in 1997. Credited to David Garfield and Friends, Eddie Van Halen played guitar on covers of the Jimi Hendrix classic “If Six Was Nine” and Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”.
“If Six Was Nine” was later included on “The State Of Things”, a release from 2005 by David Garfield & Friends. Eddie Van Halen was credited for “Intro Right Side” and “High Part On Chorus”. The friends on that album also included Allan Holdsworth, Vinnie Colaiuta and Simon Phillips.
Black Sabbath’s 1994 album “Cross Purposes” features a searing guitar solo on the song “Evil Eye”. As the story goes, Van Halen was in Europe around the same time that Sabbath were in the studio, so Eddie called Tony Iommi and invited himself over for a jam session. “Eddie played on ‘Evil Eye,’” Iommi recalled in his 2012 memoir. “I played the riff, and he played a great solo over it. Unfortunately, we didn’t record it properly on our little tape player, so I never got a chance to hear it!”
Despite this assertion, many still suspect that the solo heard on the album is performed by Eddie. The wikipedia entry for “Cross Purposes” says that “All tracks are written by Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Tony Martin, except “Evil Eye” written by Butler, Iommi, Martin, and Eddie Van Halen (who was not credited, due to restrictions from his record label, Warner Bros. Records).” In 2018, Tony Martin, revealed that he’d found a recording of the jam session, though the tape has yet to see the light of day.
The fourth and final Van Halen studio album with Sammy Hagar was released as “Balance” in 1995. Produced by Bruce Fairbairn (ex-Sunshyne with Jim Vallance, producer of Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Prism, Loverboy, Honeymoon Suite etc.), “The Seventh Seal” (supposedly “written before Van Halen became a band”), “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)”, “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You”, “Not Enough” (with background vocals by Steve Lukather) and “Amsterdam” were released as singles.
According to Ian Christe’s book “Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga”, Eddie and Alex felt Sammy Hagar’s lyrics for the song “Amsterdam” did their country of origin a disservice through some explicit references to cannabis use. By this point, Eddie had recently gotten sober and was seeing a therapist. After losing longtime manager Ed Leffler to thyroid cancer in 1993, Alex’s former brother-in-law Ray Danniels had taken over management of the band. “There had been a variety of conflicts brewing between manager Ray Danniels, Sammy, and the band since I quit drinking on October 2, 1994”, Eddie said. “It got so bad that I actually started drinking again.”
“Take Me Back” featured an almost 20-year-old riff that Eddie used in a pre-debut song called “No More Waiting”. A song called “Crossing Over” was released as a Japanese bonus track while “Baluchitherium” was omitted from the vinyl release, despite being arguably one of the better tracks.
Following the end of the “Ambulance” tour, Eddie was on painkillers and walking around with a cane because of a hip injury caused by avascular necrosis, and Alex wore a neck brace due to a vertebra problem stemming from various injuries over the years. Hagar felt the Van Halens should take time out to fix their medical ailments but eventually relented as their manager talked about the financial benefits of writing new songs for an upcoming movie. Tension between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers boiled over during the recording of songs for the disaster adventure film “Twister”, however, and Hagar departed on Father’s Day in 1996. Hagar had wanted to record his vocals from Hawaii, where he and his wife had arranged for a natural delivery of their baby. The band refused, wanting him to work with them at Eddie’s 5150 Studios in Los Angeles. The band had recorded “Humans Being” but Hagar had left for Hawaii when Van Halen were to record a second song. The brothers then recorded “Respect the Wind”, an instrumental with Eddie on guitar and Alex playing keyboards. It was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 39th Annual Grammy Awards. The “Humans Being” music video is an edit with 3:28 of the 5:10 length of the album version, removing several solo sections, a bridge, and shortening the ending.
The pianist Rich Wyman’s second album, 1996’s “Fatherless Child”, featured Eddie Van Halen on both guitar and bass on three tracks: “The Little Things,” “Blinded by Pain” (with “choir” by Eddie) and the instrumental “The Water Sings.” Van Halen also co-produced these songs and album closer “Even The Dog Knows” with Andy Johns. According to Wyman’s bio, Eddie brought him to 5150 after seeing him play in Park City, Utah.
Van Halen’s first compilation album was also released in 1996, “Best Of – Volume I”. Eddie had discussed what songs to include with David Lee Roth, leading to an invitation to 5150 where Roth re-entered the studio with producer Glen Ballard (Michael Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Toto, Aerosmith, etc.). Two songs from those sessions were added to the compilation and released as singles to promote it: “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” (based on a “Balance” session track called “Backdoor Shuffle”) and “Me Wise Magic”, nicknamed “The Three Faces of Shamus” on Eddie’s demo.
Van Halen agreed to present an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, the first public appearance of the four original members together in over eleven years. Unknown to Roth, however, Eddie and Alex were still auditioning other singers and considering Mitch Malloy for the job. Only weeks after the awards show, Roth was again out of Van Halen.
Mitch Malloy had released three solo albums by the time that he was offered to replace Sammy Hagar in Van Halen. He wrote a song with the band but opted out from joining. Eddie gave Malloy an instrumental demo to use, eventually released as “It’s the Right Time”. The same riff was also used during the sessions leading up to “Van Halen III” but the song in question, “That’s Why I Love You”, was scrapped from the record in favor of “Josephina.” Malloy eventually joined Great White in 2018.
A decade after Patty Smyth turned them down, Van Halen may have considered another female vocalist. Having released her solo debut in 1988, Sass Jordan claims that she spent about a month at Eddie’s 5150 Studio in the summer of 1996, singing over previously recorded tracks. Ray Danniels and Skid Row’s manager Doc McGhee also discussed the possibility of Sebastian Bach becoming their singer. “But I didn’t get to audition”, Bach said. “I don’t think Doc was into me leaving Skid Row.” A few years later, having split with Skid Row, Bach was also rumored as a possible replacement for Gary Cherone. He wasn’t interested, however, saying that “there’s only one singer for Van Halen, and that’s David Lee Roth, and if they’ve got no use for him, what possible use could they have for me?”
As mentioned, Gary Cherone wound up with the job. It lasted for one album and some unreleased sessions before having a mutual parting of the ways. Gary Cherone had formed Extreme in 1985 and released four albums by the time guitarist Nuno Bettencourt decided to disband the group in 1996. They’d had a number one hit single with “More Than Words” in 1991.
Cherone became Van Halen’s third lead vocalist in November 1996, with Eddie having taken a liking to Cherone’s lyrics and work ethic. Cherone soon took up residence in Eddie’s guest house and spent the next year writing and recording 1998’s “Van Halen III”. The album produced one #1 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit, “Without You”, but neither the album nor the supporting tour performed to financial expectations. It was their first album to not achieve at least double platinum status. This also turned out to be Michael Anthony’s final album with Van Halen, being finally fired in 2006. Anthony only played on the three singles (“Without You”, “One I Want” and “Fire in the Hole”), with Eddie himself playing bass on the remaining album tracks. Eddie also sang lead vocals on the album closer, “How Many Say I”. Notable album tracks included “Once” and “Year to the Day”.
A follow-up album, rumoured to be called “Love Again”, was planned for release at the end of 1999. Warner reportedly rejected the new album twice because they did not hear a “hit” pop single on it, however. Frustrated, Cherone left Van Halen amicably in November 1999. Prior to re-uniting Extreme in 2004, Cherone formed Tribe of Judah (2001-2003) with former Extreme members Pat Badger and Mike Mangini. At least one of their songs, “Left for Dead”, was supposedly slated for that Van Halen album that never was. Working titles of other unreleased Van Halen songs from the Cherone era supposedly included “River Wide”, “Say Uncle”, “You Wear it Well”, “More Than Yesterday”, “I Don’t Miss You … Much”, “Love Divine”, and “From Here, Where Do We Go?”.
1999 saw the release of the soundtrack of “La Leggenda del Pianista Sull’Oceano” (“The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean”), an English-language Italian film renamed “The Legend of 1900” for its American release. Ennio Morricone wrote the score with former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters collaborating on “Lost Boys Calling”, the soundtrack’s final track. In addition to featuring vocals by Roger Waters, Eddie Van Halen played guitar on the track.
Van Halen wouldn’t release another studio album for fourteen years but they did get back together with Sammy Hagar for a tour in 2004. On some shows, Wolfgang played guitar with his father during “316”. Van Halen also released “The Best of Both Worlds”, a double CD compilation featuring three new songs with Hagar: “It’s About Time”, “Up for Breakfast”, and “Learning to See”.
In 2005, Valerie Bertinelli filed for divorce after four years of separation from Eddie Van Halen. The divorce was finalized in 2007 and a year later, Eddie proposed to Janie Liszewski, an actress and stuntwoman who was Van Halen’s publicist at the time. The two married in 2009 with Wolfgang and Bertinelli in attendance. Alex Van Halen officiated Eddie’s wedding in 2009.
In 2006, Eddie announced that some of his new music would be released on the soundtrack for the pornographic film “Sacred Sin”. That same year, Wolfgang Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony as bass player in Van Halen. Eddie also said he was willing to reunite with David Lee Roth, while also working on a solo album. In January of 2007, it was confirmed that Van Halen would reunite with Roth for a U.S. tour. According to the Van Halen News Desk, the reunion tour with Roth was the highest grossing in the band’s history, raking in almost $93 million.
Eddie Van Halen made one brief appearance in the sitcom series “Two and a Half Men”. He appeared as himself in the first episode of the seventh season, first aired during 2009 and 2010.
Van Halen’s final studio album, “A Different Kind of Truth” (2012) was their first to feature David Lee Roth in over 27 years. Seven of the album’s 13 songs were re-worked songs (“Big Trouble” and “Let’s Get Rockin'” from 1976 becoming “Big River” and “Outta Space”, “Put Out the Lights” from 1977 becoming “Beats Workin'”, etc.) that had been demoed in the late-1970s or early 1980s, but never officially released. It was Wolfgang who discovered rough demos in the band’s archives, bringing them to Alex and Eddie to rework and refine. The first of these tracks, “She’s the Woman,” (1976) was completed by August 2009. “Tattoo” (previously known as “Down in Flames” back in 1977) was released as the first single but there were several album tracks that were arguably much better, such as “Blood and Fire” (based on a 1983 instrumental called “Ripley”), “Bullethead” (1977), “The Trouble with Never”, “Outta Space” and “Stay Frosty”.
In 2012, Eddie donated 75 guitars from his collection to a foundation for distribution to students in low-income schools around the Los Angeles area. “If I can help a kid discover a liking, or even a passion for music in their life, then that’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “Music has provided a good life for me, and, hopefully, it can help make life better for others with this donation.” The foundation’s executive director said that “He’s a lovely man and very shy. It was fun. Eddie’s wife was delightful; they were just so happy that this happened. Eddie did sincerely want to feel that he gave something back, and he did.”
Eddie branched out and collaborated with hip-hop legend LL Cool J on 2013’s “Authentic”, playing on “We’re the Greatest” and “Not Leaving You Tonight”. “The diversity of the songs on this album and the other artists he has collaborated with is outstanding, appealing to multiple genres of music and maybe even creating a few of our own,” Eddie said. “I feel blessed to not only have had the opportunity to work with LL, but also to call him a great friend.” The rapper said he contacted Van Halen because he “just really wanted to work with the best, work with people that I respect, people that I look up to, people that impress me, people that I believe are truly super-talented.” Others featured on the album included Bootsy Collins, Snoop Dogg, Seal, Chuck D, Tom Morello, Monica, Brad Paisley and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 2014, when many celebrities were dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Eddie Van Halen chose to give money instead. He was challenged by former David Lee Roth guitarist Jason Becker, who was diagnosed with the disease in the mid-’90s. “We have been talking lately, and he sent us a donation,” Becker wrote. “People should know that he didn’t ignore the ice-bucket challenge, but wanted to do something less public and from his heart.” Becker added that Van Halen had also helped his album “Perspective” become re-issued on Warner Bros.
Van Halen released their first ever live album with David Lee Roth in 2015, “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert”. Sadly, it also proved to be Eddie’s final album.
“I only got to see Van Halen, the band, perform twice”, commented Warren Haynes, “once in the early 80’s in Asheville and once a few years ago when they reformed the original band. All four members of Gov’t Mule happened to be in LA at the time and we were invited to the Forum to see what they called a “friends and family” dress rehearsal show. Being there watching Van Halen in a 20,000 seat arena with only 700 lucky attendees was quite an experience. Eddie played brilliantly. The whole band sounded great, as they did when I first saw them several decades earlier. It was something I’ll always remember. I never knew Eddie- never had the opportunity to meet him- but as someone who has studied music since I first got the “bug” as a kid I am compelled to say that the loss of Eddie Van Halen today is monumental!
The list of those who changed the trajectory of the electric guitar is a short one and many arguments can be made that I am leaving some out (which I don’t doubt) but in that regard Eddie is joined by the likes of Charlie Christian, Les Paul, and Jimi Hendrix and very few others.
Eddie changed the electric guitar. Eddie changed Rock ’n’ Roll. Rock ’n’ Roll changed the world.” Amen!
The 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction event will feature a special salute to Eddie Van Halen as part of their memoriam section, honoring musicians who have recently died. The salute will supposedly “feature multiple guitar gods paying homage to the Van Halen guitarist.” Van Halen were themselves inducted in 2007 but Eddie did not attend the event as he was then in the midst of rehab.
Van Halen discography:
1978: Van Halen
1979: Van Halen II
1980: Women and Children First
1981: Fair Warning
1982: Diver Down
1987: Live Without a Net (live video)
1991: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
1993: Live: Right Here, Right Now (live double CD/DVD)
1998: Van Halen III
2012: A Different Kind of Truth
2015: Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (live double CD)