Van Halen is an American rock band formed in Pasadena, California in 1972. Credited with "restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene", Van Halen is known for its energetic live shows and for the work of its acclaimed lead guitarist, Eddie Van Halen. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
From 1974 until 1985, Van Halen consisted of Eddie Van Halen; Eddie's brother, drummer Alex Van Halen; vocalist David Lee Roth; and bassist Michael Anthony. Upon its release in 1978, the band's self-titled debut album reached No. 19 on the Billboard pop music charts and would go on to sell over 10 million copies in the U.S. From 1979 to 1982, the band released four albums (Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, and Diver Down), all of which have since been certified multi-platinum. By the early 1980s, Van Halen was one of the most successful rock acts of that time. The album 1984 was a commercial success with U.S. sales of 10 million copies and four hit singles; its lead single, "Jump", is the band's only U.S. number one single to date and was internationally known.
In 1985, Roth left the band to embark on a solo career and was replaced by former Montrose lead vocalist Sammy Hagar. With Hagar, the group released four U.S. number-one, multi-platinum albums over the course of 11 years (5150 in 1986, OU812 in 1988, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge in 1991, and Balance in 1995). Hagar left the band in 1996 shortly before the release of the band's first greatest hits collection, Best Of – Volume I. Former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone replaced Hagar and recorded the commercially unsuccessful album Van Halen III with the band in 1998, before parting ways in 1999. Van Halen then went on hiatus until reuniting with Hagar in 2003 for a worldwide tour in 2004 and the double-disc greatest hits collection The Best of Both Worlds. Hagar again left Van Halen in 2005. In 2006, Roth returned as lead vocalist and Anthony was replaced on bass guitar by Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie's son. In 2012, the band released the commercially and critically successful A Different Kind of Truth.
As of March 2019, Van Halen is 20th on the RIAA list of best-selling artists in the United States; the band has sold 56 million albums in the States and more than 80 million worldwide, making them one of the best-selling groups of all time. As of 2007, Van Halen was one of only five rock bands with two studio albums that sold more than 10 million copies in the United States and is also tied for the most multi-platinum albums by an American band. Additionally, Van Halen has charted 13 number-one hits on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart. VH1 ranked the band seventh on a list of the top 100 hard rock artists of all time.
On October 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen died from cancer. He had first confirmed his initial cancer diagnosis in April 2001.
1972–1977 Formation and early history
The Van Halen brothers were born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Alex Van Halen in 1953 and Eddie Van Halen in 1955, sons to Dutch musician Jan Van Halen and Indonesian-born Indo Eugenia Van Beers. The family moved to Pasadena, California, in 1962. Young Edward first began studying classical piano, and became quite proficient (although he never fully mastered the art of reading sheet music). Eventually the brothers started playing music together in the 1960s, Eddie on drums and Alex on guitar. While Eddie was delivering newspapers to pay for his new drum set, Alex would sneak over and play them. Eventually Eddie found out about it, and out of frustration he told Alex, "OK, you play drums and I'll go play your guitar."
The Van Halen brothers formed their very first band, called The Broken Combs, in 1964. As they progressed and gained popularity, they started to play many backyard parties and changed the name of their band to The Trojan Rubber Co. In 1972, the Van Halen brothers formed a band called Genesis featuring Eddie as lead vocalist/guitarist, Alex on drums, and Mark Stone on bass. They initially rented a sound system from David Lee Roth but decided to save money by letting him join as lead vocalist even though his previous audition(s) had been unsuccessful. By 1974, the band decided to replace Stone, so Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from local band Snake was auditioned. Following an all-night jam session, he was hired for bass and backing vocals.
The band later changed its name to Mammoth when they discovered the name Genesis was already being used. In 1974, Mammoth officially changed its name to Van Halen. According to Roth, this was his brainchild. He felt it was a name that had power, like Santana. They played backyard parties and on a flatbed truck at Hamilton Park. In one early gig, in December, 1974, Van Halen played a gig at the Christmas Family Festival at the Greek Theatre in San Pedro, California. By the Spring of 1975, they were the regular Tuesday night band at Myron's Ballroom. Van Halen subsequently played clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences, increasing their popularity through self-promotion: before each gig they passed out flyers at local high schools. This sort of self-promotion soon built them a major following.
Later that year, the band got its first break when it was hired to play at the Sunset Strip club Gazzarri's. They had earlier auditioned for the owner, Bill Gazzarri, but he claimed they were "too loud" and would not hire them. However, their new managers, Mark Algorri and Mario Miranda, took over the club's hiring and booked them. Shortly afterwards, they recorded their first demo tape at the Cherokee Studios in Northridge where Steely Dan recently had completed an album. Van Halen became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene during the mid-1970s, playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go.
According to a January 4, 1977, L.A. Times article by Robert Hilburn, entitled "HOMEGROWN PUNK", Rodney Bingenheimer saw Van Halen at the Gazzarri club in the summer of 1976, so he took Gene Simmons of Kiss to see Van Halen. Simmons then produced a Van Halen demo tape with recording beginning at the Village Recorder studios in Los Angeles and finished with overdubs at the Electric Lady Studios in New York. Simmons wanted to change the band's name to "Daddy Longlegs", but the band stuck with Van Halen. Simmons then opted out of further involvement after he took the demo to Kiss management and was told that "they had no chance of making it" and that they wouldn't take them.
In mid-1977, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw Van Halen perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. According to a December 1977 story in the Los Angeles Times, it was Van Halen's first booking at the Starwood and the first time they hired their own roadies. "We wanted to come on with a little class," David Lee Roth said, "and we couldn't be seen setting up our own stuff in Hollywood." Although the audience was small, Ostin and Templeman were impressed with Van Halen and within a week they offered the band a recording contract. The group recorded their debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders studio in mid-September to early October 1977, recording guitar parts for one week and then recording vocals for two additional weeks. All of the tracks were laid down with little over-dubbing or double-tracking. Minor mistakes were purposely left on the record and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a live feel. During this time, they continued to play various venues in Southern California, including some notable concerts at the Pasadena Convention Center produced by their promoter and impresario, Steve Tortomasi, himself a fixture in the local rock and roll scene.
1978–1985 Commercial success
Upon its release, Van Halen reached No. 19 on the Billboard pop music charts, one of rock's most commercially successful debuts. It was highly regarded as both a heavy metal and hard rock album. The album included songs now regarded as Van Halen classics, like "Runnin' with the Devil" and the guitar solo "Eruption", which showcased Eddie's use of a technique known as "finger-tapping". The band toured for nearly a year, opening for Black Sabbath and establishing a reputation for their performances. The band's chemistry was based on Eddie Van Halen's guitar technique and David Lee Roth's frontman skills. The band returned to the studio in late 1978 to record Van Halen II, a 1979 album similar in style to their debut. This record yielded the band's first hit single, "Dance the Night Away".
Over the next few years, the band alternated album releases and touring (see Van Halen concert tours). Their Women and Children First album was released in 1980 and further cemented Van Halen's status. But in 1981, during the recording of the Fair Warning album, tensions rose. Eddie's desire for more serious and complex songs was at odds with Roth's poppy style. Nonetheless, Roth (and producer Templeman) acquiesced to Eddie's wishes.
Diver Down performed better. The band then 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. Despite this return to form, Roth and Eddie's differences continued, and this caused friction with other band members. Billy Sheehan, after his band Talas completed a tour with Van Halen, claims he was approached by Eddie to replace Michael Anthony. The reasons for this were never clear to Sheehan because nothing came of it. During this time, Eddie contributed the score and instrumental songs to the movie The Wild Life, starring Eric Stoltz. The score was drum machine heavy and hinted at sounds and riffs that would come with their next two albums, 1984 and 5150.
1984 (released on January 9, 1984) was a commercial success, going five-times platinum after a year of release. Recorded at Eddie's newly built 5150 Studios, the album featured keyboards, which had only been used sporadically on previous albums. The lead single, "Jump", featured a synthesizer hook and anthemic lyrics inspired by news coverage of a suicidal jumper. It became the band's first and only No. 1 pop hit with Roth, garnering them a Grammy nomination. Other singles included "Panama" (No. 13 U.S.), "I'll Wait" (also No. 13 U.S.), and "Hot for Teacher". Three of the songs had popular music videos on MTV. 1984 was praised by critics and fans alike, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard charts behind Michael Jackson's Thriller.
During the 1984 Tour, Roth decided to quit the group. Group members have given different reasons for the split, but were rooted in control of the band's sound, image, singles released and scheduling. Roth was concerned about Eddie playing music outside of Van Halen. Roth was also launching a successful solo career with two hit songs off his Crazy from the Heat EP, a remake of The Beach Boys classic "California Girls" (#3 U.S.) and a pairing of the classic standards "Just a Gigolo" and "I Ain't Got Nobody"(#12 U.S.), which had previously been paired together by Louis Prima. Roth was also offered a $20-million film deal for a script titled Crazy from the Heat. Roth hoped Van Halen would contribute the soundtrack; however, the film deal fell through when MGM Pictures was sold in 1986.
1986–1996 Sammy Hagar era
Eddie invited Patty Smyth of Scandal to replace Roth but she declined. Eddie was then introduced to Sammy Hagar, via their mutual Ferrari mechanic. Hagar was the former frontman for the hard rock group Montrose, and now a solo artist coming off a very successful year. His hit single "I Can't Drive 55" came from his 1984 album VOA, produced by Ted Templeman who had also produced Montrose's first album Montrose, as well as all of Van Halen's albums up to that point. Hagar agreed to sing as well as play rhythm guitar.
Daryl Hall was also offered the lead vocal position in 1985, but also declined. Hall verified, to Hagar, his musical guest in the May 2015 season premiere of Live from Daryl's House that indeed he was approached after a Hall & Oates concert.
When Warner Brothers president Mo Ostin came to the band's 5150 Studios to hear the band's progress, Hagar said, we band played "Why Can’t This Be Love" live with Eddie on keyboards, after which Ostin proclaimed: "I smell money."
The 1986 Van Halen album 5150 was a huge hit, becoming the band's first No. 1 album on the Billboard charts, driven by the keyboard-dominated singles "Why Can't This Be Love" (#3 U.S.), "Dreams", and "Love Walks In" (Top 30 U.S.). To further introduce the new era for the band, a new Van Halen logo was put on the cover. The new logo retained elements of the original, but now the lines extending from either side of 'VH' wrapped around and formed a ring.
Following the release of the 5150 album, the "5150 Tour" tour was launched to support it across North America. Footage was released on VHS and DVD as Live Without a Net. The band minimized the use of pre-Hagar Van Halen songs in the set, other than the band's best known classics. This was a trend that continued, with the expanding repertoire of Hagar-era songs slowly whittling away at the number of Roth-era songs on the set list.
All four studio albums produced during this period reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop music charts and 17 singles breached the top 12 of the mainstream rock tracks chart. During that era, a single taken from 1988's OU812, "When It's Love", reached the Top Five, peaking at No. 5. In addition, Van Halen was nominated for two Grammy awards. The band won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Van Halen continued to enjoy success throughout the mid-1990s. In 1995, Van Halen released the album Balance and supported Bon Jovi on their European Summer stadium tour. They also made a live album called Live: Right Here, Right Now.
During the recording of songs for the film Twister, escalating tension between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers boiled over and Hagar departed on Father's Day, 1996. The band had recorded "Humans Being", a song for which Eddie, unhappy with Hagar's lyrics, retitled the song and wrote the melody. This upset Hagar, and when they were to record a second song for the soundtrack, Hagar was in Hawaii for the birth of his child. It was not an easy birth as the baby was breech, so needed to be delivered via C-section. With Hagar back in Hawaii and against the idea of doing the project, but having another song left to contribute, the Van Halen brothers alone recorded the instrumental "Respect the Wind". The performance, which featured Eddie playing guitar and Alex playing keyboards, was nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 39th Annual Grammy Awards.
The band was also working on a compilation album. This led to conflicts with Hagar and the group's new manager, Ray Danniels, (Ed Leffler's replacement and Alex Van Halen's former brother-in-law), even though it was Leffler who had renewed their contract with Warner Bros. Records and had added in the Best Of album option years before. Hagar was reluctant to work on a compilation album before a new album came out, but if the rest of the band and Danniels insisted on going forward with one at that time, his preference was that it should include only Roth-era songs, or as a second choice, that two volumes should be released, one of Roth-era songs and one of Hagar-era songs. During this same period, competing personal priorities and creative differences contributed to increasing interpersonal tensions within the band, particularly between Eddie and Hagar. The relationship between Hagar and Van Halen broke down.
1996 Temporary reunion with David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth called Eddie to discuss what tracks would be included on a planned Van Halen compilation (work on which had actually begun before Hagar's departure). They got along well, and Eddie invited him up to his house/studio. Shortly afterwards, Roth re-entered the studio with the band and producer Glen Ballard. Two songs from those sessions were added to the band's Best Of – Volume I album and released as singles to promote it.
In September, Van Halen was asked to present an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. They agreed, and on September 4, 1996, the four original members of Van Halen made their first public appearance together in over eleven years. This helped to bring the compilation to No. 1 on the U.S. album charts. However, unknown to Roth, Eddie and Alex were still auditioning other singers, including Mitch Malloy.
The band's appearance on the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards fueled reunion speculation. But several weeks after the awards show, it was discovered that Roth was out of Van Halen again. Roth released a statement in which he apologized to the media and the fans, stating that he was an unwitting participant in a publicity stunt by Van Halen and manager Ray Danniels. The next day, Eddie and Alex released their own statement, claiming they had been completely honest with Roth and had never suggested he was guaranteed to be the next lead singer.
Eddie later explained (in regard to the MTV Video Music Awards appearance) that he had initially been embarrassed by Roth's antics while on camera behind Beck, who was giving an acceptance speech for the award that Van Halen had presented to him. Immediately following this, the band had been taken to a backstage press conference where press queries about a reunion tour were met with Eddie saying that he needed a hip replacement and would have to record an entire new studio album before any tour. In private Roth told Eddie to avoid talking about negative things like his hip and the two almost came to blows, thereby shattering any chance of a full-scale reunion.
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Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen II (1979)
Women and Children First (1980)
Fair Warning (1981)
Diver Down (1982)
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
Van Halen III (1998)
A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
Alex Van Halen – drums, percussion, backing vocals (1972–present)
David Lee Roth – lead vocals, occasional acoustic guitars (1974–1985, 1996, 2007–present)
Wolfgang Van Halen – bass, backing vocals (2006–present)
Eddie Van Halen – lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1972–2020), lead vocals (1972–1974) died 2020
Mark Stone – bass, backing vocals (1972–1974); died 2020
Michael Anthony – bass, backing vocals (1974–2006)
Sammy Hagar – lead vocals, rhythm and lead guitar (1985–1996, 2003–2005)
Gary Cherone – lead vocals (1996–1999)