Posts Tagged ‘Van Halen’

Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal: Greg Renoff

September 30th, 2015
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June 1978. At my high school there’s a guy, that guy, with a van that has a bar and a bed in it. We’re hanging out by the smoking area, playing frisbee, drinking beer with fake “Poopsi” labels on them and he’s got the stereo cranked. “What, who, is this?” I ask.

van_halen_rising_3601“A new band called Van Halen,” he tells me.

As song rolls into song, including a wild version of The Kinks You Really Got Me, it’s obvious this is some band. How did these guys come up with this? Where did they even come from? I wondered. It was obvious to us, even as it wasn’t to the people who ran the music industry, this was paradigm shifting (although, being stoned high school kids, we would have phrased it not as “paradigm shifting,” but as “cool, man.”).

Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal by Greg Renoff answers the question “how did these guys come up with this?” or perhaps more to the point, “where did they come from?” The answer is, as the book title suggests, Southern California’s backyard party scene.

Walking the reader through the cultural and musical history of the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth, the book charts their concerts and performances going back to the original high school band. It charts Roth’s attempts to get into the Van Halen brothers band (Eddie was the original singer) and how Roth’s background at a predominantly black high school influenced him to have a completely different take on rock/pop music.

You learn about the hundreds, thousands of shows the band did. How they rehearsed for hours 6-days a week and Eddie would practice far more than that. And you learn even at that how hard it was for them to get a record contract. You learn about their sudden ascension to the top of the rock ladder as their debut album sells a million copies in it’s first year.

Van Halen Rising is exactly what it promises, the story of an up and coming rock band. It takes you through the teenage rock scene in the LA suburbs of the 1970’s, and up to Van Halen’s first album, first tours, and then it is done, leaving the rest of the story for others to pick up. And it doesn’t disappoint in the process.

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Book Review

The Freedom of Music: Van Halen

April 8th, 2012


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

The spring/early summer of 1978 was one of those beautiful hot sunny springs, made for frisbee, beer and rock and roll. sidebar-1 At my high school there was a large open grass area immediately beside the smoking area (yes, we had a smoking area on school property). One of the grade 12 students had one of those cool 70’s vans, stocked with cans of beer and a good stereo. He and friends would have a drink, throw the frisbee around and blast Van Halen’s first album.

The thing that always surprises me about Van Halen is how many record companies took a pass on them. Sure, record companies passed The Beatles before Van Halen, but you could see their point. The Beatles were, in 1962, nothing too special. If you had already been burned by one group that sounded like The Everly Brothers, why take a flyer on She Loves You? But after Gene Simmons fronted Van Halen the cash for demos, it’s hard to imagine record companies hearing Runnin’ With The Devil or Jamie’s Cryin’ and saying, “nothing special here.” The Beatles would become a great band in just a few years after recording their first record, but Van Halen was already a great band.

As a high school student hearing it that first summer, it was a Wow! album. Nobody had ever played guitar quite like Eddie Van Halen did on that album, (and almost every guitar player since has played too much like that), and Roth was all rock star, sexuality oozing from the speakers. The songs were instant classics, and the way Van Halen owned The Kinks You Really Got Me, it was obvious they were a force to be reckoned with.

Eddie Van Halen saw Led Zeppelin in LA before Van Halen was even a band. He watched Jimmy Page play Heartbreakerand went home to duplicate the solo he saw. While doing so, he stumbled across his two handed tapping technique, and took what Page was doing to a whole new level. His virtuoso guitar solo piece, Eruption, could just as easily have been called Heartbreakier, for that’s what it was (actually, Triumph’s Rock & Roll Machine would be Heartbreakier, Eruptionwould be Heartbreakiest). But what Eddie Van Halen really seems to have learnt from Led Zeppelin was how powerful a rock band could be, how much pure energy can be created with 1 guitar, 1 bass and 1 drum set. Eruption is not just an apt title for his solo piece, but the entire album could be called that. An eruption is exactly what Van Halen’s first album sounded like booming out of bedrooms, cars and vans back in 1978.

Thirty-four years later, Van Halen continues on. This winter the original lineup of Van Halen released a new CD, their first since the mid-1980’s, A Different Kind Of Truth, and toured together. They are, by all appearances, a band again and reviews suggest the raw power and energy of a great rock and roll band still erupts from Van Halen. Sure blasting Tattoo out of the mini-van beside a sign that says, “no smoking anywhere on school property,” isn’t the same thing, and nobody will argue Van Halen isn’t unchanged and unbloodied by their 34-years as professional rock stars. But, as Mick Jagger sang, “it’s only rock and roll, and I like it.” Sometimes, that’s good enough.

The Freedom of Music , ,

Happy 50th Birthday…

July 11th, 2009
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Richie Sambora.

heather-locklearIt’s tempting to offer happy birthday to Bon Jovi guitarist  Richie “no ‘t'” Sambora simply because he was formerly married to Heather Locklear, one of the most gorgeous women ever. However, that would be doing a disservice.

Love them or hate them, when Bon Jovi broke out in the 80’s, Sambora avoided doing a bad Van Halen imitation as every other guitarist was doing. Sambora put some classic oomph back into rock guitar, and listening now his playing is often fresh and interesting sounding.

But ultimately, happy 50th birthday to Richie Sambora for the talk box lick on Living On A Prayer, a classic bit of rock and roll on a classic rock and roll effect.

Birthday Wishes, Rockin' and Rollin' and Never Forgettin' , , , ,