Pete Angelus, Van Halen’s lighting director and creative consultant from 1977-1985, shares his story of meeting the band at the Whisky a Go Go, and riding the wave of The Mighty Van Halen…
In the Beginning…
It was approximately 1977 when I first met Van Halen at the Whisky a Go Go.
This was before they had a record deal or any actual fans other than the keg-drinking party crowd in Pasadena, California, where they resided. I was a 21-year-old who had recently driven across the country from New York City to Hollywood.
Mario Maglieri, a Mafioso type from Chicago who was the owner of the Sunset Strip’s legendary Rainbow Bar and Grill as well as the world-famous Whisky a Go Go, took a liking to me during my job interview, probably because we both sported pompadours. After some verbal jousting, he gave me a job at the Whisky as the assistant manager and lighting director.
Basically, I knew nothing about the responsibilities of either position, but I did know this: there were a lot of very attractive waitresses and only three male employees at the club, so the chances of having contact with female genitalia seemed pretty good.
On a quiet Tuesday night, an unsigned, unknown band from Pasadena was scheduled to perform.
The singer was a blond-haired egomaniacal type who seemed like he was either on speed or practicing to be an aerobics instructor. With long surfer hair, skintight leather pants, open shirt, profuse sweating, and non-stop crotch thrusting, he didn’t seem human so much as a one-man porno-circus.
The guitarist was doing things that were completely new to the sound of rock ’n’ roll. He was a musical and melodic assault on the senses and a force to behold. The drummer seemed barbaric and prepared to physically attack anyone and anything at any time, but made do by aggressively beating his drums. The bass player seemed like a nice guy who would have been just as happy at home, sitting on a Toro lawn mower with a Budweiser in his hand.
Unfortunately, for all the energy and activity they were putting out on the stage that night, they didn’t have more than three paying customers. With the exception of the waitresses, a few stragglers and myself, the room was empty.
I was sitting in the upstairs sound booth sharing some Jack Daniels with the soundman when, at the conclusion of their performance, David Lee Roth arched his back until his long mane of sweat-drenched hair touched the stage and screamed into the microphone, “Make sure you all come back tomorrow night!” I grabbed the microphone in the sound booth, switched on the talkback and responded, “We have to, asshole. We all work here.”
I was fired immediately for insulting the group, but on my way out of the club, David asked me to join him for a drink. As we drank late into the night, we got to know each other, spoke about my background and my experience directing short films and art, and his aspirations of world domination. Before we parted ways, he invited me to join the band for rehearsals in the basement of his father’s sprawling mansion in Pasadena.
As time passed in the basement rehearsal space, the five of us spent time working on the show, presentation and lighting effects, later incorporating those elements into a showcase for Warner Bros. Records. The band eventually got signed and asked me if I would be interested in traveling with them as a creative consultant and lighting director for their first tour.
One minute I was simply trying to figure out a way to have some intimacy with a waitress in an empty nightclub and the next minute I was traveling down the highway, led by an escort of police motorcycles, with a caravan of five touring busses carrying four musicians, eight security guards, nineteen roadies, an overwhelming number of strippers, “little people” tripping on mescaline, followed by eight semi tractor trailers carrying tons of stage, lighting, and sound equipment, on the way to present the world’s biggest rock ’n’ roll music party to millions of people.
Live, they were untouchable. We would descend upon a different town every night and they would besiege the stage, grab the audience by the throat and perform their music with relentless passion and power.
The mighty Van Halen was tantamount to a musical and visual tsunami, a Level Five hurricane that left nothing and no one untouched. The music, the performance and the show would annihilate everyone in the arena.
But the real party and insanity started after the show. Their dressing rooms were stocked with anything and everything you could imagine, including hundreds of beautiful women, each and every one of them ready, willing and desirous of the depravity du jour.
I spent the next seven years, through 1985, touring the world with Van Halen, designing and directing their lighting and stage shows; directing their videos; designing artwork, merchandise, and album covers; exchanging creative ideas with David; and being a part of one of the most powerful bands in rock ’n’ roll history.
It was the beginning of what evolved into a thirty-year career in the music business for me. I am proud of what we created together during those years and have fond memories of experiences that will never be forgotten.
— Pete Angelus, from the hardcover photo book, Van Halen: A Visual History, by Neil Zlozower.
Photos by Richard Galbraith.