Members: Eddie Van Halen, Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen
Active: 1974 - present
Van Halen is an International rock band formed in the early-1970s. The band's first studio album, Van Halen, released in 1978 is widely regarded as a milestone in rock music. With this first release, the band established itself as a leader in the emerging and commercially successful U.S. heavy metal music genre of the 1980s. In particular, the band's guitarist, Eddie Van Halen, quickly gained widespread notoriety for his technical prowess and musical sensibility. Almost overnight, he was touted as one of the most innovative and influential American rock and roll guitarists. The band has also established itself as one of the major live acts of that era, opening up for Journey, Montrose, and later Black Sabbath in 1978. According to Ozzy Osbourne, bringing Van Halen along on the tour was not the best idea because Van Halen simply outplayed them. It also became very popular for the antics, stage presence and larger-than-life persona of its lead singer, David Lee Roth, who was frequently called "Van Halen" by new fans.
From 1978 to 1998 the band released 11 studio albums (all of which broke the Top 20 spot of the Billboard 200 music charts. The band has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide and has received several Grammy nominations. Van Halen is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records with the most number one hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock List. According to the Recording Industry Association of America Van Halen is #19 on the list of Top Selling Artists of all time (having sold more than 56 million albums in the U.S.). Van Halen is one of five rock groups in the world that have had 2 albums sell more than 10 million albums in the U.S. (the others being: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles and Def Leppard).
In addition to being recognized for their artistic contributions, commercial success and popularity, the band is known for drama surrounding the lead singer spot. Although the core instrumentalists and backing vocals have remained constant (Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony), the band has recorded studio albums with three different lead vocalists: David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. Each vocalist has departed (at least once) under cloudy circumstances. Following their 2004 concert tour the band is currently on hiatus; once again they have a vacancy in the lead singer position and an uncertain future.
The Van Halen family immigrated from Nijmegen, Netherlands to Pasadena, California in the 1960s. Eddie and Alex's father, Jan Van Halen, was an accomplished saxophonist and clarinetist (his work was featured on the song "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)" from the album Diver Down (1982)). Jan encouraged his sons' love of music. Alex (the older of the Van Halen brothers) and Eddie were both trained as classical pianists during their childhoods. As they grew older, Alex took flamenco guitar lessons and Eddie bought a drum set. According to folklore, while Eddie was out delivering papers to pay for his drums, Alex would practice on them. After hearing his brother play the drum solo from the song "Wipe Out", Eddie abandoned the drums for guitar.
During elementary and middle school, Eddie and Alex formed several different bands at different times, with names like "The Trojan Rubber Company," "The Broken Combs," and "The Space Brothers." By the time the brothers were in their teens the band had evolved into a power trio named Mammoth (the original lineup included Eddie on guitar and lead vocals, Alex on drums, and Mark Stone on bass). In 1974, Mark Stone was replaced by Michael Anthony, who was then fronting his own band called Snake. With no dedicated lead singer, Eddie and Michael took turns singing lead.
David Lee Roth, a local entrepreneur, and lead singer of a rival Los Angeles band, had begun renting out his public address system to Mammoth in 1973. Eddie and Alex grew tired of paying the "PA Tax" to "Diamond Dave," and in 1974 brought him into the band as their lead singer. Upon discovering that another band in the L.A. area was also named Mammoth, at Roth's suggestion, they changed their name to Van Halen (passing on the name 'Rat Salad', named after a song by Black Sabbath). Roth stated in his autobiography, "I felt that the name Van Halen was like the name Santana, it had power to it.
The band became a staple act on California's Sunset Strip during the mid-1970s, consistently playing at well known clubs such as the Whisky A Go-Go. In 1976, Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS saw one of Van Halen's shows and subsequently financed their first demo tape (this bootlegged demo commonly circulates under the title Zero and features unfinished and alternative lyrics to many of Van Halen's early songs). Despite having a fairly polished demo tape, Van Halen was unable to secure a record dealand Simmons subsequently released his rights to the band. The band continued to play club gigs, eventually connecting with Marshall Berle (nephew of the famous comedian Milton Berle). One night after playing to an empty house at the famed Starwood Club in Los Angeles, Berle, then the band's manager, introduced them to producer Ted Templeman and Warner Bros. executive Mo Ostin. Van Halen soon signed their first record contract. Templeman (who had previously produced hits for The Doobie Brothers) would go on to produce Van Halen's first six albums.
(1978-1985) WITH DAVID LEE ROTH
With Ted Templeman at the helm, the band moved into the studio and quickly recorded their first album. Simply titled Van Halen, the album was released to immediate commercial success, reaching #19 on the Billboard pop music charts. All of the tracks were laid down very quickly (about three weeks), with little over-dubbing or double tracking. Minor mistakes were left on the record and a very simple musical set-up was used to give the record an almost-live feel. After adding vocals, the album was essentially ready to be mixed. Despite the simple studio set-up, Van Halen featured innovations in musical technique, production, and arrangement.
The first album, one of rock's most commercially successful debuts, is widely regarded as one of the most influential rock albums ever producedOver the next four years, the band alternated album releases and touring to increasing commercial and critical acclaim. By 1980, Van Halen was perhaps the world's most successful and influential hard rock band (a legacy the band sustained throughout their career; in 2000, VH1 cited Van Halen as #7 on their list, "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock"). Their third album "Women and Children First" was released in 1980, further cementing Van Halen's status as an elite rock group with such loud and popular songs as "And the Cradle Will Rock" and "Everybody Wants Some!!". In 1981, during the recording of their fourth album, Fair Warning, tensions began to rise within the band. Eddie Van Halen's desire to experiment with more serious songs and complex structures was at odds with Roth's pop instincts and increasingly cartoonish, irony-laden persona. Although Roth (and producer Templeman) acquiesced to Eddie's wishes, Fair Warning was a relative sales disappointment, yielding no hit singles. The following album, Diver Down, featured a hit cover of Roy Orbison's classic rock and roll song "Oh, Pretty Woman". After a successful tour to support Diver Down, Van Halen became the highest paid music group for a single appearance, earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for their inebriated, $1 million, 90-minute set at the U.S. Festival in 1983. (This record was eventually eclipsed in the 1990s.) While it included world famous pieces such as "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love,""Eruption," and "Runnin' With the Devil," the album also portrayed a Kinks cover of "You Really Got Me" and a John Brim cover of "Ice Cream Man." The band toured for nearly a year on the basis of Van Halen, establishing their reputation as a talented and exciting live band. The early chemistry of the band was based upon the interplay of Eddie Van Halen's technical wizardry and David Lee Roth's flamboyant antics (a contrast that would later erupt into full-blown conflict). They returned to the studio in 1979 for Van Halen II, similar in style to their debut. This album yielded the band's first hit single, the poppy "Dance the Night Away."
Van Halen's next album, 1984 (released on January 9, 1984) was their commercial, and many claim, artistic pinnacle. It was also a breaking point for the original line-up. Keyboards, previously heard only rarely, were now fully integrated into the band's sound. The album's lead single, "Jump", featured a bouncy synthesizer hook and anthemic lyrics by Roth. "Jump" became the band's first and only #1 pop hit and resulted in the band's first Grammy nomination. The other huge hits off the album were "Panama," "I'll Wait," and "Hot For Teacher." The album 1984 was praised by critics and fans alike, peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts behind the popular Thriller by Michael Jackson (Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on the hit song "Beat It," from that album). In the midst of their greatest commercial success and tour, the artistic and personal tensions between the musicians reached a breaking point. Roth exited the band on April 1, 1985.
(1985-1996) WITH SAMMY HAGAR
In search of a new lead singer, Eddie Van Halen first offered the position to Patty Smyth of Scandal, who turned down the offer. The band was then introduced to singer/guitarist/song-writer Sammy Hagar. Hagar (who sang lead vocals for the band Montrose in the early '70s) was at that time a solo artist coming off a very successful year (his 1984 album VOA had yielded the hit single "I Can't Drive 55'" that peaked at #26 on the pop charts). Late in 1985 Hagar agreed to join the band and a new era began for Van Halen.
The album 5150, released on March 24, 1986, was an immediate smash hit. Driven by the keyboard-dominated singles "Why Can't This Be Love," "Dreams," and "Love Walks In," it became the band's first release to reach #1 on the Billboard album charts. Filled out with diverse songs ranging from the near thrash of "Get Up," and party rock of "Summer Nights" and "Good Enough," to the more introspective "Best Of Both Worlds" and an EVH guitar tour de force on the title track, 5150 is generally considered the strongest album of the "Hagar era."
The next ten years with Sammy Hagar were marked by two somewhat opposing trends: expansion of the band's commercial success amid increasing fan resentment over Roth's departure. Hagar's style enabled Van Halen to become accessible to a wider audience, with lyrics that were more conventional and refined. Eddie's keyboard work brought a wider variety of sonic textures within each song, and the production was altered toward the pop side. The result was markedly different from the hard charging, rollicking riffs of the group's earlier work, and Eddie's trademark guitar sound was now rarely heard without many digital effects. Die-hard "old Van Halen" fans referred derisively to the new "Van Hagar" sound as "soft" or "fluffy" compared with the raucous, raw sound of the Roth era.
During Hagar's tenure, the band established a musical formula that proved commercially successful in the United States. All four studio albums produced during this period reached #1 on the Billboard pop music charts. Also during this time, 17 singles breached the top 12 of the mainstream rock tracks chart. In addition, Van Halen was nominated for two Grammy Awards, winning the 1991 Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal award for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Van Halen continued to enjoy tremendous popular success throughout the mid-90's, while many of their hair metal contemporaries (such as Warrant and Poison) fell from favor, overtaken by anti-establishment "Grunge Music."
During the recording of their contribution to the film Twister, escalating tension between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers boiled over publicly as Hagar departed on Father's Day, 1996. Hagar claimed that he was fired; Eddie Van Halen claimed that Hagar quit. The media storm surrounding the dramatic exit of Hagar helped him to immediately restart his solo career. However, the publicity wasn't helpful for Van Halen, only serving to shine a bright light on the vacant lead singer spot. The commercial success that Van Halen reached with Sammy Hagar set high expectations ? and fans everywhere were watching and waiting for the band's next move.
(1997-1999) WITH GARY CHERONE
Soon after Hagar's departure, David Lee Roth entered the studio with the Van Halen brothers, Michael Anthony, and producer Glen Ballard. Two songs from those sessions were added to the band's Greatest Hits album (with the Roth single "Me Wise Magic" reaching #1 on the mainstream rock chart; the album The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 was #1 on the pop charts). However, Eddie and Alex were still auditioning other singers ? among them unknown singer Mitch Malloy. Malloy would reveal years later that, during this time, Eddie had hired him for the job. By September, however, David Lee Roth and the rest of the band were asked to present an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. On September 4, 1996, the four original members of Van Halen made their first public appearance together in over eleven years, presenting an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. This appearance was greeted with a standing ovation, and fueled hopeful speculation for a reunion tour. However, old wounds were reopened; while doing backstage interviews with the media, Roth told Eddie not to talk about personal issues such as Eddie's hip replacement. According to Eddie, Roth was very rude and self-centered, causing the relationship between them to sour once again. Mitch Malloy revealed several years later that immediately after the awards, he told Eddie that he did not want to be the lead singer of Van Halen because the public appearance with Dave made it impossible for any other singer to be successful with the group. Several weeks after the awards show, the public and media became aware that Roth would not be reuniting with the band. At this time, Roth released a media statement where he apologized to the media and the fans, stating that he was an unwitting participant in a publicity stunt perpetrated by the Van Halens and Ray Daniels (their manager) in order to sell more copies of the greatest hits album. The next day, Eddie and Alex Van Halen released their own statement, stressing that they were completely honest with Roth and never led him to believe that he was guaranteed to be the next lead singer.
Continuing their search, Van Halen recruited Gary Cherone, the frontman of the defunct Boston-based band Extreme. The result of their collaboration was the experimental Van Halen III. Many songs were longer and more ethereal ("Once"), more thought-provoking ("How Many Say I," with Eddie on vocals), or were just plain different ("From Afar," "Josephina"). These changes alienated many existing Van Halen fans who were followers of Roth's and Hagar's hard rock sound while failing to attract a new audience. Sales were lackluster compared to those of previous albums ? yet the VHIII album peaked at #4 on the charts (it was Gold certified), and produced a #1 Mainstream Rock Track hit, "Without You". However, no tracks from the album ever appeared on the pop music charts. A left over track entitled "That's Why I Love You" found its way onto the internet, leaving fans to wonder why it didn't make the album. Van Halen also contributed a song to the Lethal Weapon 4 soundtrack with the title "Fire In The Hole."
In early 1999, the band started work on the follow up to III with Cherone on vocals. Working titles of demo tracks included "Left for Dead," "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." However, the album was not completed and Cherone left the band amicably in November 1999.
(2000-2004) FOUR YEARS OF SILENCE
From 2000 to early 2004, no albums were released and no official information was provided to fans about the future of the band. However, information about individual members, past and present, trickled in. Some highlights:
During 2000, the band secretly started working with David Lee Roth, and six new tracks were worked on at 5150. However, Roth and the band fell out yet again and no new material was released.
In 1999, Eddie Van Halen reluctantly had hip replacement surgery (when the pain became unbearable). He also underwent cancer treatment soon after (at the Mayo Clinic) and announced his complete recovery on the official website in May 2002.
On October 15, 2001, Eddie and his wife of 21 years, actress Valerie Bertinelli, separated. The couple filed for divorce on December 8, 2005. Eddie keeps out of the public eye but appears at the LAPD charity golf tournament during May 2001. His only live performances during this period were joining Mountain on stage for a rendition of "Never in My Life" in August 2002, and a private audience jam at NAMM January 2003. Eddie only gave one official interview, with Maximum Golf Magazine, in July 2001.
Alex Van Halen continued to work with his brother on new material at their 5150 recording studio.
In the summer of 2002, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar teamed up for the Song For Song, the Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll tour (known tongue-in-cheek as the 'Sans-Halen' or 'Sam & Dave' Tour). It succeeded beyond expectations, drawing large crowds to outdoor auditoriums. In an interview, Roth contrasted his personality with Hagar's, saying "He's the kind of guy you go out with to split a bottle with a friend. I'm the kind of guy you go out with if you want to split your friend with a bottle." During that tour, Michael Anthony guested with Hagar's solo band, The Waboritas, but never played with Roth. Hagar released a live album (Hallelujah), which featured Mike (a few songs) and Gary (one song), and a documentary DVD, Long Road to Cabo, chronicling his tour with David Lee Roth.
During January 2003, the VHND (Van Halen News Desk) website reported a rumour that Sammy Hagar was secretly working with the band.
(2004-2005) REUNION WITH SAMMY HAGAR
In late March 2004, Van Halen and Sammy Hagar announced that Hagar would reunite with the band for a Greatest Hits album release and a summer concert tour.
In July 2004, Van Halen released their second Greatest Hits compilation, featuring three new songs with Hagar: "It's About Time", "Up For Breakfast", and "Learning to See." Again, public reaction to the new songs was mixed. The track list had changed since its unveiling, and now Hagar and Roth songs alternated instead of one disc for each singer; a disappointing strategy for fans who prefer (often strongly) one singer over the other. No VHIII songs made it onto the disc. Nevertheless, Van Halen's second Greatest Hits record would be certified platinum in August 2004.
The summer tour grossed 55 million dollars, and Pollstar listed Van Halen in the top 10 grossing tours of 2004. Most of the concerts received positive feedback from professional reviewers. However, serious problems surfaced. Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony would subsequently admit that Eddie Van Halen had problems with alcohol during the tour that affected everyone involved. Hagar stated that he was "done with Van Halen" and wished that everyone would have "taken it more seriously." It was also revealed in Rolling Stone magazine that promoters had lost money on the tour. Many fans complained that tickets were overpriced (sometimes exceeding $200), and only a few shows were actually sold out. Reports of Eddie being drunk and playing sloppy circulated which is also evident on many of the bootlegs of the tour.
After the tour ended, Van Halen once again disappeared. Hagar returned to his solo band The Waboritas, and Anthony appeared with him on tour occasionally. Eddie's collaboration with Peavey ended (for his signature 5150 guitar amplifier series, replaced with the 6505 amp, and Eddie is now endorsing Charvel, which is reissuing the EVH classic guitar models). As for 2005, no announcements had been made about the future of the band.
In August 2005, Van Halen sued the Baltimore Orioles, claiming that the Orioles reneged on a deal to bring the band to Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 2, 2004, which would have been the first concert at the otherwise baseball-only facility.
On October 7, 2005, newsletter Popbitch reported that Van Halen would be seeking a new lead singer via a reality TV show similar to INXS's Rock Star: INXS. Several other news sources picked up this story but it turned out to be false.
2005 - PRESENT
December 22, 2005: Michael Anthony reveals during a radio interview with Mark & Brian that the band is yet again on hiatus and that he hasn't spoken to the Van Halen brothers for some time. He won't be drawn on any detailed questions regarding Eddie's below par performances on the 2004 tour or what the guitarist's plans are for the future.
January 3, 2006: David Lee Roth reveals during an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he spoke to Alex Van Halen the previous week and a reunion with Van Halen is "inevitable". Moreover, Roth states in an interview with Cleveland Plain Dealer that he has also spoken to Eddie Van Halen recently, though he says "Eddie's off in his own world."
January 21, 2006: David Lee Roth talks about the songs he recorded with Van Halen in 2000 during his radio show. He also hints that he has copies of the tracks and threatens to play them on the air.
February 2006: A new Eddie Van Halen interview appears in the February edition of Hit Parader. He isnt asked any direct questions regarding the future of Van Halen but admits he was "satisfied" with the 2004 reunion tour. Asked if any problems occured with Sammy Hagar during the tour he answers "Sammy is Sammy, and for the most part that's just fine with me."
February 13, 2006: Various news and music websites report that Van Halen is indeed the band to be featured in the new series out, called Rockstar: The Series. The band's publicist, Larry Solters, is quoted as saying "I'm not denying it. I'm not going to answer any questions about it."
February 15, 2006: The New York Daily News runs a story with several quotes from David Lee Roth regarding a Van Halen reunion. "People want the reunion," said Roth. "No one will pay respect to what any of us do [musically] until we get the reunion out of the way.". "Once Eddie (Van Halen) does that, everything else he does can be seen with a fresh eye."
INFLUENCE ON CULTURE, MUSIC AND BUSINESS
The David Lee Roth era remains Van Halen's most critically successful period, having influenced nearly all rock musicians who followed. The band's top selling albums to date are their 1978 debut and 1984. Both albums have reached diamond status, having sold over 10 million copies each, and are both regarded as milestones in rock and roll music, ushering in artistic innovations that were widely emulated throughout the 1980s (The Van Halen track "Runnin' with the Devil" and 1984's "Jump" are listed as two of the top 500 most influential songs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). The band's second and third productions, Van Halen II and Women and Children First, each reached #6 on the charts. After this, every subsequent Van Halen album would breach the top 5 spot on the pop charts.
The Van Halen track "Eruption" introduced the rock and roll world to a new soloing technique called tapping, a technique utilizing both left and right hands on the guitar neck (tapping also exists and did for a long time in its more traditional one-handed form, involving just hammer-ons and pull-offs). Other musicians had developed two-hand playing techniques during the 1950s, and Steve Hackett of Genesis used tapping extensively in the early 1970s, but Van Halen's technique was something else ? a percussive, highly amplified barrage of notes and effects. Nothing like it had ever been heard on record. "Eruption" immediately propelled Eddie Van Halen to immense heights of popularity among guitar players worldwide (articles about Eddie Van Halen's style and technique remain a staple of guitar magazines). According to folklore, before the release of the first album, Eddie would hide his technique from imitators by playing his solos with his back to the audience. Eddie also introduced a never before seen technique in the instrumental "Cathedral". This technique involved Eddie hammering notes on the fretboard with his left hand while simultaneously rolling the volume knob off and on with his right hand. He did two takes, and the volume knob froze completely at the end of the second take due to the heat generated from rolling it on and off at such a great speed. Many beginning hard rock and heavy metal bands of the era have testified that, when trying out new guitarists, being able to cover the song was often the audition criteria asked of the guitarist.
Van Halen also introduced the guitar world to the band's signature "Brown Sound," a nickname given to, among other things, the sonic result of Eddie's guitar/amp combination and technique. With Templeman's warm production, Van Halen produced a distinctive tone sought by other musicians.
As the band began to make music videos for MTV, the telegenic Roth became the visual focus, often to the chagrin of the other band members. Music videos for the singles Jump, Panama, and Hot For Teacher, were wildly popular and became part of the standard rotation on the then fledgling MTV.
The second incarnation of Van Halen also saw broadened use of the Van Halen brand, as they expanded their reach into other media, with high-production films, live concert footage, and even their own cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. If David Lee Roth's innovative, over-the-top style turned Van Halen from a member of the hard rock pack to its leader, Hagar's more conservative 'working man' persona turned Van Halen into a franchise and an icon.
The hit single and award-winning video Right Now (F.U.C.K., 1991) was used to promote the ill-fated soft-drink Crystal Pepsi. The band's Roth-era remake of The Kinks song You Really Got Me was used in a Nissan commercial.
Van Halen pioneered the way for the modern "Rock and Roll Show" with their extensive use of the concert technical contract rider. Although contract riders had existed before, Van Halen's use of them to specify the band's "wish list" (stage, production, transportation, personal requirements, etc.) was new and established a standard practice that is now used routinely throughout the music industry. As one of the first major bands with a full stage show to appear in many smaller cities, Van Halen had an extensive set of technical and logistical requirements including power availability and stage construction details that a venue had to comply with. Many venues in these markets had not previously dealt with such a large-scale show, and were not equipped to handle Van Halen's massive stage and light show, sometimes resulting in damage to the band's equipment and the venue, once nearly killing a roadie setting up the instruments. The band's demands were not limited to technical issues: their now infamous contract rider specified that, among other personal needs, a bowl of M&M candies, with all of the brown ones removed, was to be available in the band's dressing room. According to David Lee Roth (from his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat), this was not due to an antipathy for brown chocolate candy, but rather was listed with the technical portion of the contract in order to check up on whether venue management was honoring the demands correctly. On arrival, if brown M&M's were found in the dressing room, then every line of the contract had to be double-checked, to ensure safety. Some shows were cancelled because of a venue's inability to handle the band's stage or equipment safely.
Influential American punk trio The Minutemen recorded a 40-second cover version of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" for their landmark double album Double Nickels on the Dime (only the third verse, a guitar solo and the "hey, hey, hey!" outro were used) - an irony considering that, according to Roth, the song originated as an affectionate parody of punk rock when it was first written.
Rapper Tone Loc used uncredited samples from Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" extensively on his hit "Wild Thing," but was not sued by the band; in Alex Van Halen's words, "It was 1987, who knew?" 2 Live Crew later sampled the riff of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" for their song "The Fuck Shop" on their infamous 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be; Van Halen sued the band for copyright infringement; the suit was settled out of court.