Here’s an interesting story written about a band called the Granati Brothers and their experiences on tour with Van Halen. They were Van Halen’s opening act for many concerts in 1979 and 1981.
Van Halen’s devotion to music reaches far and wide
Spandex. Brown M&Ms. A revolving door of lead singers.These are some of the things that come to mind when Van Halen is mentioned.
But Rick Granati of the Granati Brothers has a different, more atypical view. He and his siblings — Dave, Hermie and Joey — toured with Van Halen in 1979 and 1981, and stay in touch with brothers Alex and Eddie.
“They’re actually just wonderful people,” Rick Granati says. “Eddie is a sensitive, deep person who is totally devoted to music.”
The Van Halens and the Granatis — by name alone sounding like a couple of Shakespearean street gangs — met in 1979. The Beaver County siblings were in Los Angeles, opening for the New Wave Brit band the Fabulous Poodles at the Whiskey A Go-Go when they were tabbed to open Van Halen shows in Pocatello, Idaho, and Logan, Utah.
The Granatis showed up in a van. The Van Halens had two large tour buses. The Granatis were experts at pitch-perfect pop and rock harmonies. Van Halen made music that seared the flesh of weaker human beings.
The Granatis collectively thought they were in over their heads. But the first night in Pocatello, the crowd demanded an encore. Being the opening act, they were reluctant to go back onstage. Noel Monk, then Van Halen’s production coordinator and later manager, told them to go back on, and made sure Eddie Van Halen was aware of what was happening. Intrigued, Eddie invited the Granatis on the rest of the tour.
“They treated us as equals, like we were their brothers,” Rick Granati says. “They made sure we had a sound check and never shorted us with the amount of stage available to us.”
The Granatis would meet up with Van Halen again in 1981 when the Fair Warning Tour came to Pittsburgh at the then-Civic Arena. They assumed the Van Halens would ignore them.
“But when Eddie saw us, he said, ‘Hey,’ grabbed us and gave us a big group hug,” Rick Granati says. “After the show, we ended up hanging out until five in the morning.”
Eddie Van Halen also promised he would do something for the band, which had just lost its recording contract. Thinking Van Halen would help them get another deal, the Granatis were stunned when, a few days later, they were asked to join the Fair Warning Tour in Philadelphia for the remaining 48 dates.
The Granatis ended up being confidantes (and yes, partners in mayhem) with the Van Halen crew. Rick Granati remembers visiting Eddie in the ’90s at his lavish home in Los Angeles during recording sessions.
“He puts so much pressure on himself,” Granati says. “He told me, ‘I’m a prisoner of my success. I can’t walk down the street, I can’t take my son to McDonald’s or Disneyland. I’m thrilled everyone likes my music, but everybody wants something from (me).'”
In 1985, the Granatis were among the first to learn that the Van Halens were replacing lead singer David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. They protested, telling Eddie, “you can’t do that; you’re the Led Zeppelin of our generation.” But the Van Halens were fed up with Roth’s antics and side projects and wanted to move ahead with the band.
Shortly after, Roth came to Pittsburgh with a new band that included guitarist Steve Vai. He hooked up with the Granatis and made a startling confession.
“He said he’d made the biggest mistake of his life,” Rick Granati recalls. “He said, ‘You guys get along with Eddie and Alex. You gotta tell them I want back in the band.'”
But when the Granatis relayed the message a few weeks later, the Van Halens were not amused, happy or inclined to say anything favorable about Roth.
“They erupted,” Rick Granati says, saying they went on for 20 minutes about their displeasure with Roth.
“And now, they’re finally back together,” Granati adds with a laugh. “It only took 22, 23 years.”
While those days are in the past, the Granatis still have the rock ‘n’ roll bug. They are currently working with Peter Bennett, a promoter who worked with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, on a Beatles tribute show scheduled for October at the Lincoln Park Performance Arts Center in Midland.
It’s like the debate in the old Miller Lite commercials. But instead of “tastes great” or “less filling,” Van Halen fans often are divided among which lead singer was better, David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. But no matter which Van Halen singer is at the mic, the group did exert an influence on musicians who bought into Roth’s theory that “there’s a little Van Halen in all of us.”
Here is their take on the band:
• Mark Scheer, Five Star Dive
“The first time I saw Van Halen, I was 16. I went to see them with Black Sabbath at the Civic Arena. Van Halen had that first album, and they opened the show. … I was there to see Black Sabbath, but they were just heads and tails above Black Sabbath at that time (in 1978). They were just the epitome of fun. I saw them a couple of times after that, and they were still a fun band.”
• Chip DiMonick, Chip DiMonick Band
“Van Halen was one of the first bands that I discovered that made me want to play music. In this town with all the classic-rock stations, you couldn’t escape them. … Looking back through my eyes today, what I always liked about them was that they weren’t afraid to be over the top, from David Lee’s bottom-less pants to Eddie flying on a harness playing guitar. They wanted to be larger than life; they weren’t scared to take chances or look ridiculous. They always made it fun for fans. … In the ’80s, when you thought of guitar, you thought of Eddie Van Halen. He defined a decade of how you play guitar. People did it faster and cleaner than he did, but it was based on him and the big shift he brought to music.
• Mike Oncea, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Five Star Dive
“They are staples, required learning, when you decide you want to pick up an instrument. If you’re going to go out and get in front of people and play, you’re going to be doing ‘You Really Got Me’ and all the other staples of Van Halen. That’s just so much a part of everyday life. And they continue to reinvent themselves. They’re still playing today. And they’re still current. And they still have problems.”
• Dave Wheeler, guitarist, Magic Wolf
“They’re probably one of my favorite bands; they do everything I like, and I’ve always liked David Lee Roth. … A lot of the early albums were almost like punk rock. They were half an hour long, nine or 10 songs, two or three minutes long. They have a direct influence on my playing, although I’m nowhere near the guitarist Eddie Van Halen is. … Eddie has really good taste; he can play pretty much anything he wants to play. A lot of their songs don’t have guitar solos, but they have really good rhythm parts. There’s a really good tone to his playing, and you know it’s a Van Halen song when you hear the opening notes. … What I’ve learned from him is that, because I can’t play like him, I have to be a lot more creative; I have to try harder. And even though he can do anything he wants, he’s still creative. Sometime you go stale if you’re a genius; you turn into a stupid metal guitar player, but not Eddie.”