The History of Van Halen
Long before Van Halen was ever formed, Eddie and his brother Alex needed to get one thing straight; who would play guitar and who would play drums!
Although their parents wanted the boys to become concert pianists, by the time they were into their teens, bands such as the Beatles and The Dave Clark Five grabbed the boy's attention and soon they were into rock 'n roll. Ed and Al can recall pretending to play the drums by banging around on empty ice cream containers and on model car boxes with some of the plastic pieces left inside to make it sound like a snare. After they had lost interest in the piano, Alex was allowed to take classical guitar lessons because it was still considered respectable by their parents. With his brother playing guitar, Eddie bought a $25 Saint George Japanese drum set which was paid for from his paper route. While Ed was out throwing papers, Al would play the drum set and eventually became better at drums than Ed. This caused Eddie to try playing the guitar instead.
During junior high, the brothers played together in a number of covers bands such as "The Broken Combs,"The Space Brothers," and "The Trojan Rubber Company."
By graduation of high school, Ed and Alex had formed a three piece band called "Mammoth" with a bass player named Mark Stone. Eddie had to sing lead and they rented their P.A. system for $35 a night from a kid named David Lee Roth, even though they were only getting about $50 a gig. Roth had auditioned for the band once but at the time he was a terrible singer, so he went and formed his own band called "The Red Ball Jets." Bassist Mike Anthony (who moved to California from Chicago) first saw Mammoth when they were performing at the same annual high school carnival as his band, "Snake," which he was fronting. Mike recalls that the band was playing songs by Cream, The Who and Grand Funk Railroad and he was especially impressed by Eddie's note for note playing.
Around a year later, David Lee Roth had been asked to join the band because Ed hated to sing lead and they figured it would by cheaper not having to rent the P.A. from him. The band's name was also changed to "Van Halen" after some persuasion from Roth even though Ed thought it sounded like the name of a German bomb (they joked about naming the band "Rat Salad," after the Black Sabbath song). By 1974 the band realized that they needed a different bassist because although the band was successful and got many gigs, they had over 100 songs (covers and originals) in their repetoire and Stone had a difficult time remembering all of them.
Mike Anthony got called up by Ed and Al one night in '74 and was asked to come over and jam with them. Mike agreed because he knew that VH was playing Hollywood clubs such as Gazzarri's and the Starwood while Snake was just playing local backyard parties. Although Roth was not at Roth's father's basement (Van Halen's rehearsal space) in Pasadena when Mike arrived, the three of them jammed late into the night. When it was over, Mike Anthony was Van Halen's new bass player. At first, Anthony thought he would just play bass because Ed and Alex were doing back-up, but soon his vocals became a trademark of the Van Halen sound.
When Van Halen would play gigs in Pasadena, everyone thought that they were a Hollywood band because of the way Dave dressed and acted. On the other hand, when the band played at Hollywood clubs, everyone thought that they were a Pasadena band because Ed, Al, and Mike were all wearing blue jeans and T-shirts.
Once, when Van Halen auditioned to play at a hometown club in Pasadena, they were rejected due to their rowdy following of fans. This was, of course, true. At one backyard party four police cars were turned over by fans and one policeman got hand-cuffed around a tree with his own cuffs!
Van Halen used to promote their own gigs by printing out flyers and flyering the cars at nearby high schools (Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia) and also in the parking lots during concerts Civic Auditorium and Anaheim Stadium. This is how they built up such a large following.
In 1976, Gene Simmons (the bass player from "Kiss") spotted the band playing the L.A. club circuit and decided to fly the band to New York to record and produce a demo for them at the Electric Ladyland Studio. The songs on this demo tape were "House of Pain" and "Runnin' with the Devil," with the car horn noise as the transition between the two songs. Ed felt that his playing wasn't up to par on this recording because he wasn't using his own equipment and because he had never overdubbed guitar part before, which Simmons made him do. In the end, Van Halen ended up with a really expensive demo tape but nowhere to take it, so they just continued playing clubs.
Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman (from Warner Brothers) saw the band playing a gig at the Starwood in Hollywood on a rainy Monday night in May of 1977. The band recalls that there were very few people in the audience that night, but Mo and Ted were so impressed with the performance that within a week Van Halen was signed to a Warner Brothers record deal!
In October of 1977, Van Halen entered Sunset Sound Recorders studio to record a 25 song demo tape of original material so Templeman could decide which tracks to re-record for their first album. The only overdubs on this tape were the background vocals but it contained songs such as "Babe Don't Leave Me Alone" and "Get The Show On The Road," which never made it onto the album.
After Van Halen had recorded their first album (it only took three weeks to record in late 1977) they went on to tour as the opening act for the band Journey. Soon into the tour it was apparent that it was Van Halen that was selling out the tickets as word quickly spread about this new energetic group from Pasadena. The two bands hated each other! Van Halen hated Journey because they wouldn't give them sound checks, so they would sneak into Journey's dressing rooms and mess them up. Journey hated Van Halen because they were stealing the show!
For Van Halen's first three studio releases, they had such an excess of material that the band would just pick and choose which songs to use. They'd set up in the studio and basically play the songs live with Dave singing the lead vocal in the vocal booth. Then Ed, Mike, and Dave would overtrack the back-up vocals and later Eddie would dub on a few guitar parts. So what you hear on the record sounds basically like the live shows!
After the tour for the album 1984 was finished, Dave decided to do a solo album called Crazy From the Heat. When that LP was recorded, the rest of the band thought Dave would be fresh to come back to Van Halen to record a new album. Instead, Dave called up Eddie on April 1, 1985 (April Fool's Day) to tell him that he quit.