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Van Halen: The Early Years

Updated on February 22, 2017

Van Halen Bros. Introduction to Music

Alex and Edward Van Halen were born and raised in the Netherlands. Their father Jan was a musician and played the clarinet and saxophone as a means to make a living. The first instrument that the brothers learned how to play was the piano around the ages of 6 and 7. Although they were exposed to music at such a young age it wasn’t until the family moved to Pasadena, California in 1967 that the brothers found hard rock music.

Alex & Eddie Find Their Instruments

Interestingly upon moving to America it was Eddie who first took up the drums and Alex who first took up the guitar. Alex was taking flamenco guitar lessons at the time. But when it became apparent to Eddie that his brother was more talented at playing the drums he stopped playing drums and took up the guitar. Musicians such as Jimi Hendrix an Eric Clapton inspired Eddie to want to play electric guitar.

David Lee Roth & Name Change

David Lee Roth had been singing in a band called Red Ball Jet, and renting PA equipment to Mammoth. Eddie realized it would benefit him to have David Lee Roth in the band, because he was tired of singing and paying money to rent the equipment. In 1974 David Lee Roth joined the band and he suggested a change of name. Thus the band became Van Halen.

In photo above, from left to right, Mark Stone, Alex, Eddie & David Lee Roth taken circa 1974.

Michael Anthony & Club Gigs

On April 4th 1974 the band first performed at Gazzari’s Hollywood A-Go-Go, which was the first time they played in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. The band had been denied playing on stage at 19 other clubs but now they would finally get their first big break at fame and fortune. The band mostly played covers of pop, rock and disco music but was beginning to gain recognition for their own original sound. Mark Stone did not project the flashy showmanship of David Lee Roth and he did not add any value to the band. Michael Anthony was singing and playing bass in the band Snake around 1974. He auditioned for the band an easily got the position of bass guitarist after Mark Stone was fired. On October 7th 1976 the band performed for the last time at Gazarri’s. By this time Van Halen was playing in an ever increase of clubs, like the famous Whisky, and was known to many young southern Californians.

Rat Salad Anyone?

Back around 1974 the band was considering officially changing their name to Rat Salad. The name is based on the song “Rat Salad” by Black Sabbath released on Paranoid in 1970. Eddie Van Halen was, and still is a huge fan of Black Sabbath. Around this time he would sing lead vocals on Black Sabbath songs like “Paranoid”, “Into the Void”, and “Lord of this World.” Years later after the band had released its debut album in 1978 Van Halen would tour with Black Sabbath and Eddie and Tony Iommi became close friends.

Before It Was Called Van Halen

The first notable band the brothers formed was Genesis in 1972. (No relation to the band Peter Gabriel and later Phil Collins was in.) It was a 3 person band with Eddie on guitar and vocals, Alex on drums and Mark Stone on bass. They would play at houses, weddings, and at the high school they attended. Later the band name was changed to Mammoth and played about 200 songs consisting of original songs and covers. Even at this early point in their youth the Van Halen brothers were drawing crowds, some of which had to be broken up by police.

Gene Simmons Gets Them Signed

Gene Simmons played a part in getting Van Halen signed to Warner Bros. records. He met the band in 1977 at Starwood Club in L.A. and paid for demos to be recorded. After Gene Simmons convinced Warner Bros big wigs Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman the band had real talent the band finally had a record label.

Making Their Debut Album

Their self-title album was recorded in just 3 weeks. There were 40 songs recorded in just one day, 9 were chosen to appear on the album. It was mostly recorded live, the only overdubs were on “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin” an “Ice Cream Man.” The backing vocals for choruses were recorded separately. It took about 2 weeks to fine tune the vocals on the record. “Eruption” was originally not planned to be on the record, but producer Ted Templemanheard Eddie practicing his blazing guitar playing and mentioned it should be featured. Eddie’s philosophy for making this record and every other record is just to do whatever comes to him, and to not over think, which has served him well over his career.

Sammy Vs. Dave

It’s is interesting to note that David Lee Roth was influenced by Montrose, fronted by none other than Sammy Hagar. Yet the feeling wasn’t mutual, Sammy had no respect for David as a singer. He acknowledges that David was great at entertaining audiences but gives him no credit musically.


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