15 Years On: Eddie Van Halen Interview Revisted

Eddie Van Halen performs in Park City, Utah, on July 14, 1998 — one week after our interview. (Daily Herald photo)

The following is an Eddie Van Halen interview from 15 years ago with new commentary by the interviewer, Doug Fox.

“Why?” asked the voice on the other end of the phone. “I’m just a normal schmo like anyone else.”

Like Michael Jordan was just another dude that laced up Nikes.

Like Walt Disney was just your average everyday daydreamer.

Like Beethoven was simply another cat that tickled the ivories.

It’s not often in life that one gets the opportunity to pick the brain of someone who is universally recognized as not only a true game changer in their profession but also on the short list of those considered the best ever — whatever the category may be.

When the subject is greatest rock guitar players of all time, the name Eddie Van Halen is in the conversation. And that’s whose voice was on the other end of the line 15 years ago today.

It was right at the beginning of our interview and I was merely trying to convey what a privilege it was for me to talk with him, when he responded with the above quote. Eddie went on to say a lot of interesting things over the course of our 40-minute conversation, but none of them have made me smile over the years as much as that spontaneous introductory declaration.

“I’m just a normal schmo like anyone else.”
Anybody that knows me, recognizes my passion for the music of Van Halen — speaking of both the guitarist and the Hall of Fame band that bears his name (and that of his brother, Alex). I wrote some time ago about how and why that dedication came to be (“My Introduction to the Mighty Van Halen”), so I’ll spare the rehash here.

Looking back, I’d have to say my chat with Eddie was both the easiest and hardest musician interview I have ever done. Easy in the sense that I was well versed in every possible tidbit of Van Halen history — having read pretty much every interview I could find throughout the band’s career, which featured 20 years of “Behind the Music”-style story lines at that point in time.

The flip side was recognizing the rarity of the opportunity — and worrying that I might somehow screw it up.

The interview almost didn’t happen. The morning it was originally scheduled, I received a call from the record company rep who arranged it, informing me that Eddie had been working on a project all night in the studio and that he would be unavailable that day after all.

“Would you instead like to talk with Gary Cherone?” she asked, referring to the ex-Extreme frontman who had recently replaced Sammy Hagar behind the microphone for the “Van Halen 3″ album and tour.

Child, please. No offense to Gary, and I would certainly relish talking with him someday, but I simply couldn’t give up on the chance to interview the king of 10 fingers and six strings so easily.

Luckily, the publicist sensed my predicament — and rescheduled the interview with Eddie for a couple weeks down the road. Even then, on the afternoon the discussion did go down, Eddie had been up again the entire previous night working in the studio between tour dates. Tour manager Scotty Ross called me about 15 minutes prior to make sure I was ready, informing me that he was just going to wake the weary guitarist up.

In our pre-serious interview banter, Eddie mentioned that he was looking forward to the Park City, Utah, date — our local show — the following week because his brother-in-law owned a home there and his wife, Valerie Bertinelli, and son, Wolfgang, were going to fly in and meet him since there were a few off days between shows.

“It’ll be good,” he said, “because every time I’m home, I seem to be working. I didn’t sleep until 8 o’clock (this morning) because I’m trying to cut ‘Josephina’ down to below 4 minutes, you know, editing for a possible single.”

When the real interview commenced shortly thereafter, I learned that our original discussion had been postponed because he was working on a new version of “Once,” at the record label’s request. I thought it odd at the time that a record company would make such demands on a band of Van Halen’s renown. But “Van Halen 3″ was struggling in both sales and radio airplay, especially when compared to previous efforts, so I figured Eddie was doing anything he could to up the profile of the new lineup.

Interviews generally serve as a snapshot in time. Certain sections are sure to seem outdated when glancing at them in the rearview mirror. Opinions and thoughts expressed may have since proven inaccurate or misguided. Looking back over this interview now, there are certainly points where that is true. But I think it mostly holds up and provides a look into the state of Van Halen at a very specific time, even if it was an era that ultimately proved unsuccessful when compared to previous VH standards.

A few of my favorite parts include:

* Eddie’s insight into the recording of his guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” He recently discussed his involvement in much more detail, corresponding with the 30-year anniversary of the historic “Thriller” album. But 15 years ago, I had never seen him share some of this information before.

* Our discussion about his sobriety and alcoholism. His comment that “when you hit 40 and you don’t cut the crap, you know, you either kick the bucket or just lose it in the turn” proved somewhat prophetic. Completely off the wagon again by the mid-2000s, if he didn’t lose it in the turn he was at least careening around corners with two wheels hanging over the edge. Today — after another stint in rehab several years ago and the added incentive of having his son join the band, not to mention the strong influence of his new wife, Janie — he appears to have rebounded. In fact, his playing on the band’s 2012 “A Different Kind of Truth” tour was turning-back-the-clock phenomenal and better than anything since the “III” tour.

* Eddie’s mention of how he’s not knocking people on the Internet, but he just doesn’t have time for it. I’m guessing he never envisioned a day when even his dog (Kody Van Halen) would have his own Facebook page.

* His slight scoff that there’s “still people that want (David Lee) Roth in the band, you know?” Even he came back around to wanting the exact same thing eventually.

* His memories of the band’s triumphant homecoming show at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Oct. 7, 1979 — the final date on the World Vacation tour. The Forum was the place every Los Angeles band dreamed of playing back in the day. It was the sure sign that you had made it. During his guitar solo that night, Eddie happened to look over and see his father sitting at the soundboard, unabashedly crying with pride. It’s a story I had read years earlier and never forgotten. Probably because earlier that very day, a few friends and I had stopped by the Van Halen home in Pasadena, on a lark really, and met Jan Van Halen, Eddie’s and Alex’s dad, and enjoyed a brief but fun conversation with him. I’ve promised to write that experience up, and am finally committed to getting it done. Check back in the next few weeks for that writeup.

I remember typing up the interview into the wee hours of one morning at the office — and immediately sharing it with the Van Halen Mailing List, a tight-knit Internet fan club of sorts with some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated fans the band has ever known. The response and feedback was extremely positive — and that eventually led to it being published in The Inside (in Issue 11), the band’s official magazine, in 1998. It was a gratifying moment for me.

It was the last real interview with Eddie in The Inside before it eventually ceased publication amid the band’s years of inactivity and media cone of silence starting in 1999 after parting ways with Cherone. The band wasn’t really heard from again until the 2004 reunion tour with Hagar, and after that ended somewhat disastrously there was nothing until re-forming with Roth in 2007, this time with Wolfgang VH on bass in place of Michael Anthony. Even at that, the band in general, and Eddie in particular, have done very few interviews in the intervening years since the “III” project fell apart.

A few years after the interview, my wife and I were in a class where the teacher, attempting a grand object lesson, asked us all to envision having the opportunity to interview anyone in the world, whether it be famous athlete, celebrity or public figure. He then asked us to imagine how we would prepare, what questions we would ask and how we would react to such a unique challenge.

I offered up no response. I figured the exercise was for those who could truly imagine the assignment — not those who had already experienced it.

Besides, I’m not sure a normal schmo would qualify.

The interview follows. Enjoy!

Caution: Normal schmo at work. (Daily Herald file photo)

DOUG FOX: Originally, I was supposed to interview you about two weeks ago, but it was postponed because you were up all night working on a project.

EDDIE VAN HALEN: Yeah that was for “Once,” they wanted an adult contemporary version of it. They didn’t realize what was quite involved in having to do that. I had Gary (Cherone) re-sing parts of it, it’s not a whole different song, but it’s quite different. I’m happy with the way it turned out. It’s not the way I wrote it. You know, Van Halen is not a pop band. But we write all types of different music. I don’t know, it’s like a big square peg trying to fit into a little tiny round hole, you know? And we’re not Spice. We’re not Hansen. We’re just Van Halen, you know? It’s not flavor of the month. I mean, I’m in the business of making music, not in the music business so to speak. There is a bit of a side to it and if they ask, “Can you do this please,” I go, “Well, if that’s what you want I’ll try my best to give it to ya.” But they just didn’t realize how much work was going to be involved. It took two weeks because I had to start from scratch.

DF: But you’ve said before that anything you do, no matter what you do, it still ends up sounding like Van Halen.

VAN HALEN: Oh yeah. Put it this way. I removed all the heavy guitars and replaced them with acoustic guitars and we had a friend of Gary’s, a girl, come in and do some backgrounds because when Mike and I did it, it sounded a little too manly. And just edited it.

DF: So that means I’ll be hearing it the next time I go to the dentist’s office?

VAN HALEN: There’s still no guarantee that they’ll play it because we’re Van Halen, ya know? It’s like a lot of radio stations when they hear the name, they won’t even give it a chance. It’s like in L.A., there’s not one station that will play us. There’s no AOR station, there’s no album-oriented rock station that will play us, and you know, I’ll be very, very surprised if they play us on top 40 radio.

DF: That’s amazing. I grew up there and I graduated in 1978 right when you guys came out and I think the station that I listened to then was like KWEST or something like that …

VAN HALEN: Hey, right, right, right … it’s very bizarre because every record that we make, you know, it always feels like that (first one). … I’ll never forget hearing “You Really Got Me” at two o’clock in the morning the very first time on the radio. I ran and woke up my mom and dad, going, “We’re on the radio! We’re on the radio!” And it’s like that every time, even 13 albums later. Except this time it’s like, “oh,” you know, the album’s released and nothing. But I still get just as excited hearing us on the radio now as I did then. I have not yet heard anything on the radio. It’s kind of depressing, you know. Like wow.

DF: I’m sorry about that, but I’m hoping that this new album will get out cause it’s really good.

VAN HALEN: Well in a funny way, if I have to relate it to any other record, it’s kind of like “Fair Warning,” which was also a sleeper so to speak because there was no hit. It was the first record where I really started experimenting and overdubbing, layering and stuff, I don’t know. Radio wouldn’t play it. A lot of people didn’t get it, but they did a few years down the road. Then they went back and went, “Hey, that was a good record.”

DF: It’s funny you mention that because that’s one of my favorite albums …

VAN HALEN: But it probably wasn’t when it first came out.

DF: Well, actually I was gone for two years on a church thing, so I didn’t hear it, but when I got back, I went right out and got it.

VAN HALEN: A lot of people when it first came out went, “Well, what is this?” This (new) record is not a one-listen record, you know? There’s a lot of depth to it and lot of diversity. To me, rock and roll is free-form music, and it’s there to take chances — to not fit a mold or be trendy, or this and that. So, no, it wasn’t the right time with a brand new singer to start experimenting and doing tripped-out stuff. But, hey, it’s rock and roll. Ask me if I’ll do it again and yes, you know, that’s what rock and roll is all about to me. It’s not about fitting into any mold or, “Hey, this is flavor of the month” or “Hey, let’s do that.” We do what we do. So we know what we do.

“I think when you hit around 40 and you don’t cut the crap … you either kick the bucket or lose it in the turn.”

DF: So going back to your music theory class at Pasadena City College, I remember your teacher said, “If it sounds good, it is good.”

VAN HALEN: Yeah, his name was Truman Fisher, and he was a great teacher. Frank Zappa was one of his students. That shows you right there the difference, what a great teacher he was, you know, to not have molded his students, like, “This is the right way to do it.” I mean, it’s called music theory — not music fact.

DF: Hey, how’s Alex doing?

VAN HALEN: Oh, that guy, he never ceases to blow my mind. I mean we had a month off, we had to cancel our European tour because of the ceiling coming down. A brick just about the size of a cinder block, broke his arm (right forearm), during soundcheck. An inch and a half torn muscle, and our first gig (back) was Phoenix last week. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been in the studio, so I hadn’t played guitar in like a month, which is a long time for me to not play. So for the first gig, it was like, “Whoa!” It was like an athlete not keeping in shape, man, it’s like my fingers were locking up. And here’s Al just cooking, you know? And he hadn’t played in a month, on top of being injured. It just blew my mind. He can’t put a hard cast on because it heals short, the muscle’s torn. There’s a fine line to how much you move it. You can’t overuse it. I just don’t see how he pulled it off. He’s playing better than ever. I think the whole band is. I mean, I really think that if you don’t see the band live, you’re missing it, because this is the best we’ve ever been.

DF: I was wondering how much a process of development goes on since you’ve added a new member, is it taking some time to get used to each other?

VAN HALEN: Not at all. It’s like we’ve known each other, it’s like he’s a long-lost brother. I swear. In a funny way, when I think about it, my father was a traveling musician, so who knows? (laughs) The first gig we did together was at the Billboard Club the evening of the record release party, and it was like we’d played together all our lives. There was no need to get comfortable, no feeling each other out. It was just (makes sound like “VAROOSH”). He just fits like a glove. It was just meant to be.

DF: I’ve been reading the reviews of your shows on the Van Halen Mailing List and everyone is commenting on how happy you seem and how exuberant.

VAN HALEN: (I’m the) happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

DF: Is that mainly because of the musical situation, or is simply everything in your life combining to make it that way?

VAN HALEN: Everything. I think everything kind of relates. If you’re not happy at your work, you come home and kick your dog, you know what I’m sayin’? So yeah, it’s got a lot to do with Gary and (having) a musical soulmate, and he actually lives here with us in the guest house. And he’s just a wonderful human being. His passion for music is the same as mine. It’s not about money or how many records we sell. There’s just no ego, it’s truly a band now. You definitely feel that when you see us live.

DF: I read where originally you got a tape from Gary, and weren’t really impressed with it.

VAN HALEN: No, I wasn’t at all. Because what he tried to do was second guess me and do what he thought I would want. And that’s the last thing I want. So I told him, why don’t you just come out. You know, over the phone just doesn’t work.

DF: At what point did you know he was your guy?

“(I’m the) happiest I’ve ever been in my life.” — EVH, 1998

VAN HALEN: Actually when he hopped out of the car, I just looked at him and said, “He’s a brother.” Just no attitude. Just a real sweetheart from heaven. We blazed through eight older Van Halen songs, four Roth-era tunes and four Sammy-era tunes, and he just blew our minds. We took a little break and 45 minutes later “Without You” was written — the first day. And if that ain’t chemistry, I don’t know what the hell is. That evening I played him all kinds of bizarre music that I make (laughs) just to let him know that he is not in any way confined to “Panama” or “Jump,” hey, anything goes in this band. Any idea is worth pursuing. I just wanted to let him know that there are no boundaries in this band. I kind of overloaded him and the next morning I just told him, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re in the band, you’re the guy.” I hadn’t spoken with Mike and Alex, but I just told him, you know, “They’re going to make up their own mind, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re in.”

DF: Speaking of stretching boundaries, you’re singing lead for the first time on “How Many Say I” …

VAN HALEN: Well, that wasn’t on purpose. That was not my call (laughs). It just so happened, this is like a milestone in my life. Never ever have lyrics inspired me to write anything. It was always music first, then squeeze a melody out of it and throw some lyrics on it. Well Gary just kind of stuck me some lyrics and goes, “Here check these out when you got time.” Well, of course, I looked at them immediately, and as long as that song is is as long as it took. It just came right through me. Not to get bizarre or spiritual on you, but it was almost like an out-of-body experience. I was like sitting there watching myself while I’m singing and playing. I had goosebumps, and I’m going, ‘Where is this coming from?’ I’ve always known, you know, where do ideas come from, if you really think about it? Once you start thinking you’re responsible, forget it. I mean, I’m just a conduit. The ideas are given. Now, it’s like I can’t write without him handing me lyrics. Then I write the melody, and I sing it and he re-sings them. That one, Mike Post and Gary said, “Hey, why should I sing it when the vibe is there?” That’s kind of a Tom Waits kind of, you know, I’m not really a singer.

DF: How hard was it to sing the first time in concert?

VAN HALEN: I was a little nervous, but you know, I sing backgrounds. I mean, I used to lead sing for the band before Roth was in the band. It’s just I never learned properly how to sing, so after about four or five songs my voice would be shot.

DF: In the past you’ve compared the band’s albums to children, obviously the newest child will get the most attention …

Michael Anthony and Gary Cherone. (Daily Herald file photo)

VAN HALEN: No, that’s another thing. We’re playing everything. Gary asked, “How come you never do any of the old stuff?” You know, certain people didn’t want to sing it. So we gave him free rein and we said, “Yeah you pick the tunes and we’ll do ’em.” So I had to go back and listen to “Van Halen I” and learn “I’m the One.”

DF: Was it challenging to have to relearn some of those older songs?

VAN HALEN: Oh, it sure blew my mind — I didn’t realize how much my playing has changed over the years. You know, it’s an unconscious thing, but there’s a lick in the beginning that I’m going, “Man, how in the hell did I do that?” And it took me a while to learn.

DF: Now you know what the rest of us go through when we try to learn it!

VAN HALEN: (laughs) I guess I know how you feel now.

DF: At least you know you were able to do it once.

VAN HALEN: Yeah, well I can still do it. It’s amazing after 20 years you just kind of evolve or change and not necessarily for, I’m not saying I’m any better now or anything. But let’s say (Eric) Clapton for instance, you know? Look at him during Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes — and what he’s doing now, it’s completely different. I’m sure unconsciously, you know what I mean? I just think it’s a natural evolution or growth or whatever you want to call it. That’s the way I look at the band, too. I kind of look at it like we’re kind of like this huge oak tree that the seed was planted back in ’74 and it sprouted in ’78 with the first record, and we just continue to branch out and experiment. I think once you stop branching out and moving forward, then the tree dies.

DF: Well, you’ve sure provided a lot of shade for people over the years.

VAN HALEN: Well, it’s my life. I thank God every night for having found my gift, so to speak. I love doing it. I don’t know. That’s what I’m here for. I think everybody’s born with a gift, some people just never find it or bother to try and find it, you know?

DF: What’s the hardest song for you to play each night?

VAN HALEN: I don’t know. None of them are really hard. It just depends on if I remember how to play it or not! (laughs) ’Cause sometimes you get so wrapped up, I don’t know, it’s such a loose thing that we just kind of have a skeleton of a setlist, and sometimes we don’t follow it and we’ll go into a song that we haven’t played in a while and, yeah, then it’s tough. Then I’ve got to think — and I don’t like to think.

DF: Hey, do you mind if we talk about your sobriety for a minute?

VAN HALEN: No, not at all.

DF: How’s everything going there?

VAN HALEN: Excellent.

DF: What’s it been, like two to three years?

VAN HALEN: Oh, more than that. See, Oct. 2, ’94. Whatever, I’m not an A.A. kind of guy where I count the days. I’ve had a glass of wine here and there, it just doesn’t control me like it used to.

DF: I’d read where your dad had given you your first drink before to calm you down before you played …

VAN HALEN: Yeah, my first cigarette and my first shot of vodka.

DF: I was wondering, with everything you’ve gone through and the experience of hindsight, if you were offered that first drink again, would you still take it?

VAN HALEN: I have no idea. I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. ’Cause I’ve never really looked back … put it this way, if I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would change anything ’cause I think it took that to get to where I am.

DF: ’Cause I was wondering if it was the kind of thing where having gone through the experience, you’re better off now, knowing what you know than never having done it?

VAN HALEN: Probably, yeah. But I wouldn’t know because that’s the way it was, you know what I mean? I think I caught it just in time. I think when you hit around 40 and you don’t cut the crap, you know, you either kick the bucket or just lose it in the turn.

The full Van Halen 3 lineup rockin’ it in Park City on July 14, 1998. (Daily Herald file photo)

 DF: One of the other more memorable things I’ve heard you say, because you were talking about your dad just a little before, when he went and watched you play at the Forum …

VAN HALEN: Oh, yeah …

DF: I grew up there and I went to a lot of concerts there, so that was always the big place in my mind. I imagine it was for you, too?

VAN HALEN: It was always a dream to play there. A friend of Alex’s drew a poster when we used to play backyard parties, you know the band used to be called Genesis before it was Mammoth, and then we walked into a record store and go, “Hey, we’ve got a record out, Alex.” (laughs) Then, of course, we changed it. But the poster said “Genesis at the Forum.” You know, that was the place where we used to go see Zeppelin and Grand Funk and, you know, so yeah, it was a dream come true to play there.

DF: But you mentioned that you were playing there (at the first Forum show), and you looked out during your guitar solo and saw your dad was sitting there and he was crying …

VAN HALEN: Oh, yeah, he was sitting by a monitor board. He was so proud.

DF: You know, when I used to crank up the guitar at home my dad used to cry, too, but it was for a different reason than that … (laughs)

VAN HALEN: Well, that was my mom. My mom, used to always say, “Why do you make that high crying noise?” … “It bought you a house, didn’t it?” (laughs)

DF: That must be very special to have a moment like that that you can remember and look back on.

VAN HALEN: Oh, yeah. The funny thing is, my father who was the musician, did not at all push us, you know? It was my mom who pushed us, to “Well, if you’re going to make music, do something respectable. You’ve got to play classical piano.” So we did that for a few years like the movie “Shine.” You ever seen the movie?

DF: “Shine?” No.

VAN HALEN: The Australian guy? Well, basically, you sit there and you practice one piece of music for a whole damn year, and they put you in a category of how many years you’ve played and what piece of music and it’s a contest. And, you know, I actually won three years in a row, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea, you know? There was no room for improv or to do what I wanted to do. You had to play what was on the paper. It was so funny because I never really learned how to read, so the judge’s comments were, “Very interesting interpretation.” I thought I was playing it right! (laughs)

DF: It probably sounded good though.

VAN HALEN: Well, (laughing) I won!

DF: How do you think your dad would enjoy the third incarnation of the band?

VAN HALEN: Oh, he would love it! Definitely. He’s up there, you know, watching over us.

DF: That’s a good feeling.

VAN HALEN: Oh, yeah.

DF: With the Internet and everything, you know, I’m on the Van Halen Mailing List, I get so much information and I can’t get enough of it, but then again, I look to the show next Tuesday (in Utah) and in a way, I wish I knew nothing about the show going in.

VAN HALEN: I still think that whatever people say, you’ve got to read the book, you can’t have someone explain it to you, you know what I mean?

DF: Having so much information out there about what you’re playing …

VAN HALEN: I don’t even know ’cause I don’t even know how to run a computer. Valerie does and every now and then she goes, “Ummmmmmm errrrrrr ehhhhh” and I go. “OK.” There’s people that still want Roth in the band, you know? Of course. Now, I just think it’s funny, I mean, I’m not knocking people on the Internet, you know, but I just don’t have the time for it.

DF: What CDs have you been listening to?

VAN HALEN: I’m so into cello right now, Yo Yo Ma. He’s a Japanese-American cellist. I just listen to him and just like with guitar, I just listen and emulate.

DF: You’re not going to start playing cello now too are you?

VAN HALEN: Yeah, I am playing cello. I sit in a racquetball court. It just sounds amazing.

DF: You should have put that on “Once.”

VAN HALEN: No, I wasn’t that good yet. Oh, you mean for the remix?

DF: Yeah, for the top 40 (version).

VAN HALEN: (Laughs) I didn’t think about that.

DF: Have you ever thought about including the “Beat It” guitar solo in your guitar solo during the shows?

VAN HALEN: Oh, it was just an improv you know? I just walked in, blew two solos, “You guys just pick whichever one you want,” and then I left.

DF: That’s one of my favorite solos. Just hearing it when the song came out, you knew it was you.

VAN HALEN: Yeah, it’s funny, of all people, Ted Templeman happened to be in a record store and the song was playing and there were some people standing next to him and they said, “Oh, it’s just someone else trying to copy Eddie Van Halen,” and he goes, “It is.” (laughs) He’s the one, Quincy Jones called him and Ted gave him my phone number. It’s funny, when I walked in the studio I asked Quincy, “What do you want me to do?” And he goes, “Anything you want.” So I ended up rearranging the song, and little did I know the trouble I caused because there were two 24-track machines locked up with SMPTE code. It wasn’t my fault, but the engineer should have known that you don’t cut master 2-inch tape with SMPTE code on it. So he was editing master tape with code so it wouldn’t lock up afterwards. So thank God the idea I had worked, because, “Hey, let’s try this.” I thought he was just doing it on the two track and testing it. But it took them like months to piece it back together — and all they had was my guitar solo and Michael’s voice.

DF: Well, it turned out good!

VAN HALEN: Yeah, I guess it was fine. It was funny too because back then the guys really didn’t like me playing on other people’s records and stuff. Everybody was out of town and I figured, “Ah, who’s going to know if I play on this kid’s record?” And it ends up being song of the year. It was hilarious.

DF: That phantom riff at the end of “Women and Children First” (called “Growth”), that would have made a great song. Have you ever thought of developing that? Do you know which one I’m talking about?

VAN HALEN: I think you mean at the end of the second record. (Hums “Growth” riff.)

DF: Isn’t that on “Women and Children First”?

VAN HALEN: No, it’s on the second album, I think? I think it’s on Van Halen II.

DF: Yeah, but that is the riff. That would make a great song.

VAN HALEN: Yeah, I forgot about that. There’s so much music, you know? I mean, we were actually thinking about putting out a double CD with Gary, you know, the first one, we have so much material. You just keep writing and writing, just about every day.

DF: I bet you just have tons of tape …

VAN HALEN: Oh, I’ve got so much music. I look at all the tapes and I go, “Ugh, I don’t have time to go back and listen to all of that, I got new stuff, you know?”

DF: I know Eric Clapton was your idol growing up, if you could ask him one question, what would it be?

VAN HALEN: Wow. I wouldn’t have any questions, I would just say, “Thank you.” And I have. I’ve met him a few times and it’s, you know, it’s just amazing because now, over the years I’ve met … Jeff Beck is a really good friend, Jimmy Page is a real sweetheart, David Gilmour is just incredible. All these guys, Clapton … you know, we’re just normal people making music.

DF: I guess that’s what I’d like to tell you is just thanks for all the years of making music. I can’t even begin to tell you how much listening to your music has meant to me over the past 20 years.

VAN HALEN: Thank you very much. I think that’s what music is all about. It’s a universal language. I think if it comes from the heart, which definitely with Gary now it does, it’s not contrived, you know? I mean, it’s not, “Hey, skateboarding’s in, let’s write a song about that,” you know what I mean? It’s definitely heartfelt and we don’t let it out unless we like it. And the whole purpose is to maybe touch some people’s lives with it, you know? Whether it be 10 people or 10 million.

DF: Well, you definitely have, and I just wanted to tell you thanks.

VAN HALEN: Well, you’re very welcome and I thank God for having the opportunity to do it.

My wife, Jenn, and I got to meet up with the band one week after my interview.

Related content: I have waxed poetic about the world’s greatest rock band on more than one occasion. Here are a select few of the many other stories.

My introduction to the mighty Van Halen.
A ‘Different Kind of Truth’ sets Van Halen fans free.
Running with the Tiger: Van Halen at Tiger Jam XI
Where Have All the Good Times Gone? Fractured Van Halen inducted into Hall of Fame.
You Had Me at ‘I Live My Life Like There’s No Tomorrow.’
Van Halen Rocks Delta Center on 2004 Tour.
Sammy Hagar, Alex Van Halen Discuss 2004 Reunion Tour