Video: Van Halen Unleashed in Fresno, 1978!

The classic Fresno bootleg gets a huge upgrade!

Posted by Scott Gilbert, one of the VHND’s bootleg connoisseurs, 4/9/10

“Oh my God! This is outstanding!” Those were the first words that came out of my mouth when I first saw this amazing, rare footage in such clarity. As avid collectors of live Van Halen performances have learned, the early years from 1978 to 1981 were rarely captured on video by amateur filmers. The inability to conceal the equipment and get it past the watchful eyes of the security guards made it almost impossible to get into the arena…ALMOST! The sparse amount of footage that does exist today is mostly a collection of 10th generation VHS copies of 8mm film, most of which are accompanied by poorly synched, highly generated audience recordings that are difficult to listen to, let alone view. The videos are nothing more than washed out, glowing, ghost-like figures, moving about the screen between tracking errors and crumpled tape rolls set to a muffled, almost unrecognizable soundtrack. These are the rare treasures that are listed on most collectors’ bootleg lists as “FOR SERIOUS COLLECTORS ONLY.”

Most avid Van Halen bootleg collectors are familiar with the amateur-shot video of the 1978 and 1979 Van Halen shows at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California. The subject matter couldn’t be better – Van Halen at the absolute top of their game during their young and hungry years – but the quality of everyone’s VHS tapes or DVDs are ridiculously poor. Everyone’s copies are so many generations away from the master tape that the blurry footage is nearly unwatchable. During the entire 25 years of it’s circulation, no clean version of this video has ever surfaced. No fan has ever got to see the footage in more pristine form…that is, until now!

Van Halen, September 22nd, 1978 – Selland Arena – Fresno, CA

Note: It plays just a little bit slow, so Roth’s voice sounds deep. And the film reels were only 3.5 minutes long, so no songs are complete. 

Part 1:  I’m the One / Atomic Punk / Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

Thanks to the original guy who filmed the Fresno Van Halen footage, D. L. Johnson, the lowest generation copies of the 1978 and 1979 Van Halen shows at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California have been converted from analog to digital and then uploaded to Youtube for the world to share and enjoy. Amazingly, the original 8mm film reels were destroyed in a house fire some 30 years ago! Luckily, Johnson had the foresight to make some backup tapes. The original VHS backup transfers are all that remain of this historic footage and, given its age and the story behind the transfer process, this footage is truly amazing!

Being old enough to remember using 8mm film cameras and how bulky and cumbersome they were to carry and shoot with, I often pondered how filmers in the 70’s managed to not only get their equipment into the show and then actually be able to shoot the footage without being detected, but also to pull off the “Trifecta” – Actually getting the footage and equipment OUT of the building undetected. I would imagine how difficult it would have been to be in a crowd of people, trying to transfer film reels and cartridges in low light situations, trying not to expose the film while carefully tucking it away in its case and fumbling another reel as quickly and gingerly as possible, trying to avoid detection from security while still getting your shot. Johnson recalled how he handled the old film cartridges while pulling off this feat. “…They were left in the green Fuji boxes and wrapped in aluminum foil inside the box until they were used at the show. In the dark, with just a small flashlight, it got a little hectic at moments, dodging security and such. A lot was missed.”

As it turns out, Johnson had several years of experience recording audio at multiple shows and he had a brilliant method of achieving his goal. His trick? He rigged up a wheelchair with his equipment and was allowed early access to the arena! “The nice thing about Selland Arena,” he recounts, “was that if you went through the handicapped entrance we always were allowed in early enough to see the soundchecks. And most of the time, with the arena completely empty!” His roommate had the idea of rigging up the wheelchair with a film camera and asked if Johnson could rig it up if he bought the camera, to which Johnson replied, “Sure!”

The 23-year-old Johnson tricked out his wheelchair with a Fuji Super-8 camera and a Sony TC158SD Portable Stereo Cassette recorder equipped with 2 AKG D-1000E microphones to record the shows. Knowing the propensity of other concert goers to over indulge in alcohol and various quantities of illegal substances, which often resulted in an explosion of testosterone induced chanting, yelling and fist pumping (which would surely ruin any chance of getting a descent recording), Johnson cleverly purchased multiple tickets for friends. These chosen few were invited to go to the shows and sit around him and his roommate with the understanding that they would sit and be quiet to assure the best possible recording. Smart thinking, dude!

Part  2: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (cont.) / Eruption / You Really Got Me:

Transferring the footage was equally as challenging. This was an era before home video and audio editing software and digitizing equipment was abundant and affordable for the average “Joe Filmer” to mix and master his treasures. This was no deterrent for our savvy bootlegger. Utilizing his craftiness once again, he set out to make his own transfers using nothing but a projection screen, his projector, and his master tape recorder. “I spliced the dozen or so films together and loaded them on a 7 inch reel.” Johnson says. “Then I set up the projector screen in my living room and projected it on the screen (you can see the ripples on the video) while I [simultaneously] taped it on my Panasonic camcorder [and] ran the audio portion from my cassette into the audio input of the camcorder.” Trying to sync up audio and film footage on the fly proved to be a time consuming challenge, but it was a challenge he passionately accepted. “It took MANY attempts to get it as close as it is. I remember “On Fire 79” was the first one I attempted and it took me like 4 hours to come up with one that I liked enough to save.”

The end result of Johnson’s self described, “Labor of Love” is what we see here some 32 years later!

The footage from 1978 shows Van Halen in their unabashed glory as they’re intentionally taking over the world! Opening for Black Sabbath in what would be legend Ozzy Osbourne’s final tour with the band, Van Halen danced and strutted their way into Rock Gods status. For the first time, the world was not only hearing, but SEEING Van Halen live and slamming them with the “In Your Face” style that epitomized what Van Halen was. “I’m the One”, “Atomic Punk”, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Eruption” and their cover of the Kinks classic hit, “You Really Got Me” were all new to the world and you can see the energy, enthusiasm and hysteria that followed wherever Van Halen landed. For fans who were indoctrinated to Van Halen with Sammy Hagar at the helm, this is a rare look at the genesis of what Classic Van Halen truly was and remains to be to this day. Eddie’s searing tone, Dave’s over-the-top presence, banter and frenzy-inducing stage persona, the rhythm section of Mike and Alex providing the backbone and driving the message home…it doesn’t get any better than this!

For most people, having only seen the aforementioned multi-dubbed, highly-generated, tape-damaged versions of this footage, this will take you back to a time when the Mighty Van Halen planted their stake in the ground and claimed the land as their own. In an era where Disco and Adult Contemporary artists like The Bee Gees, The Commodores, Chic and Chuck Mangione ruled the airwaves, Van Halen pillaged and plundered their way across the country and around the world, making their own rules, corrupting the minds and bodies of a whole new generation and ushering in a whole new musical genre: Big Rock! Now, for the first time, we can see just a small sample of the raw energy, natural charisma and uninhibited grandeur that Van Halen embodied in those early years.

Many thanks go out to D.L. Johnson for all of his efforts, past and present, and for sharing this amazing footage with the fans around the globe. So, crank up your speakers, get emersed in these videos, and as Van Halen would say, “FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS!”

Part 3: You Really Got Me (cont.) / Bottoms Up

Tune in next week, when will feature the 1979 Fresno Van Halen footage!

  • 51yr old fan

    duck i agree 100% with you on this. i’m not trying to get a rise out of you like some others try to do. like you i like to hang on to some of the good old days. just walked in the house from picking up my son at school and he had fair warning cranked my day will remain good.

  • McQuestion

    Gods of rock. No one could touch them. Dave sounded amazing, Mike was the perfect backbone, Al was Bonzo II with shades of Ian Paice, and Eddie… was the master… the true guitar god. Never before or since has there been such a well rounded, totally musical and completely entertaining rock band, not Zep, not anyone. Why can’t I have a box set like this? I’d buy THREE!

  • andy

    Part 2, 4:04 : My ears start ringin’ from just WATCHING him stickin’ his head into the cab like that…

  • RickieVanWhalen

    Panama Red

    Where did you hear DLR is working on a solo project?

  • http://none Dirty Duck

    Time rolls on….
    Thats how it should be….
    Here and gone…
    Seems to move so quickly

    Man, we was happy in our restless hearts
    It was heaven….right here on earth
    Yeah we was laughin’ as we reached for the stars…
    and we had some…..for what it was worth….

    Those were….”good times”
    Damn good times….
    Those were “good times”…
    Damn good times

    Hey look at this picture,
    can you believe that was you?
    And who’e that standin’ in the corner?
    Not me!!!
    Ahh…the crazy things we used to do
    Sure we was acting like a couple of kids
    good to remember….
    “you know that it is”
    I still feel it like the sun on my skin…
    maybe that’s better….for what it was worth…

    So it’s one for the money….
    But that DON’T make the show *(keep that in mind hagar fans)
    count to three and I’ll be READY!!!!
    to follow that road (yes I will)

    You can tell em:

    We’ll be having good times….”Damn Good Times”

    Those were the days! Long live classic VH (1974-1985)

  • Panama Red

    Dirty Duck – You’re a trip man, I swear. There are some strange coincidences in your post from the 15th.
    A couple of weeks ago I was looking up some Van Halen videos on youtube and you know the sidebar where it has other videos to choose from that are similar or related? Well all of ‘em were Van Halen videos except one. And it was the movie trailer for “The Fourth Kind.” I thought that was pretty odd how that video was on the side since it had nothing to do with VH.
    Anyway, I’d never heard of it so I clicked on it and watched it. What made it even stranger was (I don’t want to get to personal here), I could relate to some of what was in the trailer. Specifically the strange owl thing and the time of 3:33. Very strange things have happened at 3:33 or around 3:30. I’ve also always had some strange unexplainable feelings ever since I was a kid when I see an owl, whether it’s a photo, painting, decoration, etc. or the real thing. I don’t want to get into to much personal stuff or strangeness here, but life is certainly a mystery.

    But anyway listen, I’m not a pussy when it comes to watching scary movies. Hell, I grew up watching horror movies but something about that movie seems almost to intense for me.
    When I was a kid I almost walked out of the movie theater when I saw “Communion” (which is not like me to get freaked out about a movie) and “The Fourth Kind” looks like it could be even more intense than “Communion.” But anyway, maybe I’ll watch it sometime, I don’t know.

    But on a lighter subject but still coincidental–Hell Yeah I remember all those games on nintendo. I played the crap out of Castlevania. I don’t think I ever beat it though. They made those games back then that were pretty much impossible to beat. Remember Ninja Gaiden–holy shit that game almost made me lose my mind! I’m glad they made those nintendo controllers indestructible back then because I beat the shit out of mine out of raging frustration from playing that Damn game.

    I’ve always liked playing hockey games and back then I thought Blades of Steel was really cool ‘cause you could fight. Lol.
    As far as the systems I had. I started out with an Atari. I was talking about how I had an Atari once and my wife’s niece said “You had an Atari, wow you’re old?” Lol.
    A few years ago I was helping my Mom move out of her house and I found our old Atari in the Attic with a some of the games. I couldn’t believe it. I put it in my storage space but there is no way it could still work. I haven’t tried to hook it up but it was in that attic for decades. It probably got 300 degrees up there in the summer.
    I also at one time had a Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn. Man I wish I would have kept my old systems and all of the games I had, like you did. I don’t really know why in the hell I got rid of ‘em. Stupid.
    Hey remember Tecmo Bowl. Greatness.

    Rickie Van Whalen – I haven’t heard about a new DLR album from any “official” source. I’ve just heard from different people who said they heard it from-who heard it from….you know how that is. So I don’t know if it’s even true. But I do remember a few months ago someone submitted a comment here on one of the threads that said they bumped into John Lowery at the last NAMM and John said that they were working on a new Dave solo album. I could probably go back and find that comment, I’m sure it was around the time the NAMM news articles were posted here in Jan.
    I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned that I’ve heard about a new Dave album in the works since I can’t back it up with a verifiable source, but it’s just what I’ve heard from a few people. I think the dude that posted that comment here about talking to John Lowery also said that John said Dave was still in VH too.
    Maybe Dave’s working on a solo album in the “down-time” of making the new VH album. Like I said in my other post though, that seems like that would be a sensitive area for Eddie to be cool with, but I don’t know.

    I do hope that Dave’s silence is a good sign. But I keep thinking of the “cease and desist” order Mike got when talking about his BBQ/Hot sauce products around the time of the Hagar reunion tour during radio interviews, so who knows for sure.
    What contracts has DLR signed, who knows?
    Hopefully there will be some breaking news about what’s going on with everybody in VH soon.

  • http://none Dirty Duck

    Panama Red:

    All I have to say is……wow dude! I’m dead serious when I say that I got the chills when I read your post just now.
    To start off….3:30am. For almost 4 years I was waking up at that same exact time. No bullshit. I also have some creepy/weird personal expieriences that I would love to share, but this VH site wouldnt be the place.
    Sucks bro….I have so much to tell you. I’m starting to wonder if “we” do have more in common that VH. I read your posts and it’s like I KNOW you man….it’s like de ja vu (another great NES game, that and SHADOWGATE!) and I wonder man….I truly wonder.
    Communion was one of the first books I read as an 11 year old. The cover freaked me out so much that i had to have it facedown after i read it for the night. It’s as though I SAW that face before. But anyway! I saw the movie years later and HATED it. Thought it was a piece of shit and that walken’s performance was too fuckin’ weird.
    Boy was I wrong! Bought it for fun about 10 years later on a special collectors edition DVD for 10 bucks and let me tell you…’s a gem man. If you havent seen it in awhile, check it out again. Now I watch it once a month….I truly love it. And Eric Clapton’s score is wonderful….perfect mood music so to speak.
    That was weird about the fourth kind man! Shit! Guess we’re on the same wavelength! ;)Man I wish I could say more!!!!!
    Space brothers?? LOL! Actually…that was one of eddie’s and al’s names for a group they formed waaaaaay before VH. 🙂

    Played nintendo again last night……
    Never tire of it….
    Tecmo bowl!!!!? One of my personal faves! “Super tecmo bowl” rocked too cause you could play in the rain or snow! I’ve always loved detail in things.

    Guess thats why I LOVE classic VH. Every little detail of that band (1974-1985)was perfecto. But I dont need to go into another classic VH speech. I know you know your shit. But man were they something. I havent heard a band that had ALL THAT and MORE since. Where have all the good times gone is right! Guess it’s in cabo…….
    No thanks…

    Anyway! Gotta run man! Thanks so much for sharing your intresting post! Damn that’s crazy!
    See you at 3:30….. 😉

  • Panama Red

    Dirty Duck – I know dude, I was thinking before how it seems like we used to live next door to each other or something. It’s a little weird. I wish we could talk more in detail about the 3:30am thing and our experiences. I used to always wake up around that time too. I would have to lie there for a little while, at least until 3:40 before I could think about going back to sleep. I wish I could go into more detail about some of the things that have happened around that time. It would most certainly turn into a loooong in depth conversation though.
    Things like this are better left to talk about in person, I think, with people you trust with sharing this kind of stuff with.
    But real quick, have you ever woke up around 3:30 and then heard 3 knocks in your house that sounded almost mechanical and perfectly identical and spaced apart?

    But anyway dude, I’m pretty ripped and I came to this site after recently speaking to you about alien stuff and weird coincidences and then what do I see when I come here, a fucking alien glaring at me (albeit a computer generated one).
    After reading your posts and then the new alien story – Holy shit, talk about synchronicities.
    Dude I’ve read all of the comments from the new Sammy-Alien story and it’s too bad so many people aren’t ready to open their mind to other possibilities. Not having an open mind IMO does nothing but stunt your growth, mentally, intellectually, spiritually, and even emotionally.
    But you can’t really blame people for not believing those kinds of experiences if they haven’t had their own, I just wish more people would strive to keep an open mind instead of being so quick to judge and ridicule.
    Having a closed mind is really a tragic thing to me. Anyway, I submitted another one of my ridiculously long winded rants on the Sammy-alien comment section. I’m not sure if VHND will post it. I’ve posted A LOT of long-winded rants so I really wouldn’t blame them if they withheld it. And posting one of my “essays” (As they’ve been coined here) about aliens almost seems like a waste of time.
    Thinking outside of the conventional box usually isn’t well received when it comes to people having to question/change their belief systems/religion/ or perceptions on reality. It’s too big of an ordeal for some people to even consider. People want to go on living their lives the way they want to perceive things. It’s easier that way but it hurts yourself in the long run and tragically, holds you back from letting your mind evolve.

    A weird thing just happened as I was typing this. My ipod that I haven’t listened to or turned on in a couple of days started beeping. I went over to it and “Crossing Over” was displayed, I swear. That must’ve been the last song that was playing but why did it turn on by itself?
    I also just noticed that it’s showing that it’s paused at the 3:32 mark and there is 1:32 left to play and I just fucking looked at the time on my computer and it’s 3:33.
    Fuck me. Geez.
    Okay, moving on–

    I wonder if an event will take place in our lifetime that will basically force people to accept some things. Something that will make it impossible for people to deny some things about this universe, you know what I’m saying. Disclosure and/or Mass contact. I don’t know man, but if does happen it will be one of the biggest shifts humanity has ever went through. Scary and exciting.

    Peace, Duck.

  • StratBlaster

    D.L. Johnson…The world owes you a “Debt of Gratitude”!! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…

  • Ron Houston

    I would love to buy a copy of the 78 show on dvd and the 79 show. let me know how much it would be for both and where to mail the money. great job !