Here’s a RARE, intimate look into a fan’s visit to Van Halen’s 5150 Studios. Exactly 20 years ago today, Michel Schinkel, the president of the Dutch Van Halen fan club, got to visit Van Halen at their studio headquarters.
At the time, Michel published a fan magazine in Holland, called “5150.” The magazine was written mainly in Dutch, with occasional parts in English, and was published from 1990 to 2004. It ran for 54 issues, and included the latest news, interviews, bootleg reviews, and more.
Here, Michel’s shares his story with the Van Halen News Desk. And it’s a very special one, because it’s very rare indeed that a die-hard VH fan makes it into the hallowed grounds of 5150!
“5150” at “5150”
by Michel Schinkel
Ever since the making of ‘Balance’ I was in close contact with Van Halen’s Dutch sound engineer, Erwin Musper. Many times I interviewed him for “5150″, the Dutch Van Halen magazine, about the progression on the album. It turned out to be a rare view in the kitchen. Same when Erwin worked on the ‘Twister’ project and the two new tracks with David Lee Roth. And again when Gary Cherone joined the band and they started working on what would become “Van Halen III”.
When I was having diner with my friend Erik I came up with the idea to go to see Edward at “5150”. To interview him and the rest of the band about the new album. So the next thing to do was contacting Erwin and explaining our plan. Not longer than 24 hours later I got the okay. We were welcome at “5150”! So I called Erik to told him the good news. “We have to let him know when we want to come, so he can make some time to show us the studio and let us hear some new stuff.” “Did Erwin say that?”, Erik asked. “No, Edward”, I replied. “What?” Erik was full disbelief that Eddie Van Halen was willing to see us in his home studio.
Next time Erik and I meet is at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Friday February 28th. For Erik it will be the first time to meet the band and even the first time to fly. When we arrive in our hotel many hours later we directly contact Erwin who informs us that the band is going to do rehearsals for new songs on Monday. The idea is to visit the studio several times for short periods of time so the working process will not be interrupted too much and that way we are able to interview everyone in the band.
On Sunday night we call Erwin again to verify next days plans. But he tells us that Edward has the flu. Rehearsals are put back to Friday, the day that we will be leaving again! What a bummer!
By that time Erwin’s duties are taken over by Scotty Ross, the band’s tour manager. He is surprised that we didn’t arrange this trip through him. Understandably he feels left out because after all this is part of his job. He is even more surprised that Edward had agreed to see us because the policy is not to do interviews since the band with their new singer Gary Cherone is not officially presented yet. Keep in mind this is a year before the release of ‘Van Halen III’. We get a bad feeling about this.
Erik and I are in Los Angeles for six days. On one day Erwin takes us for a ride in his red Oldsmobile through Hollywood. On the stereo he plays us some recordings of the new Van Halen. The vocals were done the day before so this is brand new and sounds better than the final result. I got lots of respect for Edward but the way Erwin was treated in the end is not okay. He ended up in the credits as Erwin (mucho mic’s) Musper. The real deadly remark towards him is ‘mixed and fixed by Robbes and Edward’. Later Erwin told me he wished his name wasn’t there at all. I think Edward owes Erwin an appology for that remark. Deep in his heart Edward knows that he did wrong on ‘III’. Don’t forget that Erwin Musper was the man responsible for the sound on ‘Balance’, ‘Humans Being’, ‘Respect The Wind’, ‘Me Wise Magic’ and ‘Can’t Get This Stuff No More’. Those were the best sounding tracks since the debut. By the way, that makes Erwin Musper the only engineer to work with all three singers.
On Monday, Edward luckily already feels much better. In the meantime, manager Ray Danniels had showed up. He single handedly changed the plans: no interviews with Mike, Alex and Gary. A group photo is no option. No scoop on that part. The positive thing about this all is that Erwin tells us that Edward will be more relaxed since the band is not recording at the time, so he will have more time for us.
On Tuesday we get the okay from Scotty that we are welcome the next day. He will call us around noon for the exact time.
That next day was March 5th, 1997.
Since we don’t have a cell phone yet, we stay in the room waiting for the call which comes around two in the afternoon. It’s Erwin asking us to come over in an hour. Gary and Mike are still there at the moment but they are about to leave. So instead of waiting in the hotel we decide to leave directly and wait at the gate of the Van Halen mansion instead. That turns out to be a good choice because not long after we park the car we see Valerie leaving. Next is Michael and we don’t let him slip away. He is with ‘the family car’ and about to pick up his daughters from school but is glad to say hello to us. I hand him over some “5150” magazines to sign. They will end up as prizes to win at the second Van Halen fan meeting in The Hague, Holland in June. While talking to Michael, Gary stops next to the family car. The black Trans Am is actually Alex’s. Since Gary is from Boston he didn’t bring his own car to Los Angeles. While in L.A. he stays at the guest house at the Van Halen mansion.
So this is our first meeting with Gary and it’s a good one. Our first impression is that he’s a very nice person. I don’t have to introduce myself as the Dutch Van Halen Fan Club president. Mike is doing that for me. Gary is on the cover of the magazines I give him to sign and he has to laugh when he sees himself with long hair. Seems like a long time ago for him. When Gary is gone, Mike tells us to go to the studio. It’s okay if we are early. Before leaving Mike asks us to call him before we go back home. He’s sorry he’s not able to spend more time with us.
When we drive up to the gate the tension builds when we call in through the intercom. A quite exciting moment when the gate at Eddie Van Halen’s house opens for you, I can tell you! On our way up to “5150” we pass the house on the right and the guest house on the left. The first to welcome us is Sherman, Edward’s Dalmation dog at that time that can be heard on ‘Baluchitherium’. He especially likes Erik.
One of the studio doors is open and there is Ken Dean, who was I believe the manager of “5150” at the time. Also there’s Craig DeFalco, Michael’s bass tech when Kevin Dugan is not around.
We have to wait for a while so we enjoy the outside view, looking down on the house. We spot the indian shown on the “F.U.C.K.”-album. Back in 1997 the big “5150” numbers were not on the wall yet. That must have been done later.
Then Edward comes walking out of the studio and greets us in Dutch with “Hé kaaskoppen!”. Directly he has to go back in again but would return soon. Through the years I’ve seen Edward in different kind of moods but today at “5150” he’s in the best we could wish for. When he returns he walks up to us, greeting us very friendly and he doesn’t just hug us but he even kisses us on the cheeks. He makes us feel so very welcome. For me it’s the tenth time I see Edward but even I didn’t expect such a welcome.
When going inside we end up in the ‘living room’ where the band relaxes between recordings. In the corner we notice the Twister pinball machine which Edward describes as shit because it plays ‘Humans Being’ but “It’s not us!”. On the wall there’s a big black carpet/rug with a red VH-ring logo. On the wall to the kitchen there’s the award for the sale of 60 million records and a concept cover for the single ‘Me Wise Magic’. There’s also the written message from Erwin saying “The Dutch VH Fanclub president is in L.A. next week (March 1-7). He would like to interview Ed / Al / Mike & Gary on separate occasions (so the recording process will not be interrupted). Please let the guy know when he is welcome at 5150 (thru Erwin)”. Good job, Erwin!
Edward makes us feel welcome by pointing at the fridge saying we are free to take whatever we like. I remember seeing some non-alcoholic Coors Light beer. There was absolutely no alcohol to be found there.
After some time Edward noticed that my voice recorder wasn’t turned on, and asked, “Why don’t you turn it on, it’s an interview right?” I then realized I forgot to turn it on, so I finally did. That statement made me a bit nervous, because I’m not a professional. Edward grabs an acoustic guitar and proudly tells us that he only paid $75 for it. With a smile he adds that he had to pay $300 to put a different bridge on it. He wouldn’t let go of the guitar for the entire interview. Still the musician as he is.
As usual I never go and see the band empty handed. There’s always Dutch goodies like liquorice and Ed’s favorite: ‘rolmops’ (raw fish in sour). Edward responds with “Héérlijk!” (“Delicious”).
My original interview that day was conducted about 70% in Dutch. So this is a rare occasion where Edward’s words have to be translated to English instead of the other way around.
Some years earlier I got my hands on a video tape of Eddie’s live performance with the Jacksons. That was a one off. I decided to bring that tape, just in case. Remember that this was long before YouTube. As it turns out later, Edward never saw the footage but is curious to finally see it.
Edward: “I got to see that!”
Michel: “But it’s a very bad quality.”
Edward: “Well, it was a pretty bad show, too.”
So there I sit next to Edward on the couch forwarding the video tape to the part were Eddie comes in. Because I don’t have the NTSC [USA’s] video system at home [in Holland], I wasn’t able to put it on the right spot. But Edward remembers it was towards the end of the show. Then Scotty Ross walks in and is surprised to see the footage. During the forwarding of the tape the stories come up. About what went wrong during that performance. It seems nothing went right.
Edward: “Here’s what happened. We were backstage and I tuned to the guitarist except he wasn’t in tune yet. We were all standing around, outside of the stage. Two seconds before I had to go out and play I said “Fuck… wait!”.”
Michel: “You have this on video?”
Michel: “Did you ever see it?”
Since we have to fast forward the tape, we continue the interview. I show Edward a cassette tape which contains different songs that all have samples of Van Halen songs, including “Money” by The Decadent Dub Team amongst others. We also brought two CD-single’s which one of them is Apollo 440’s “Ain’t Talkin’’bout Dub”. It doesn’t ring a bell to Edward but he’s surprised that Van Halen got credits.
Michel: “Last time I was in L.A. there were the Rodney King riots and now there was a shooting after a bank robbery. When you moved from Holland wasn’t it very difficult for Alex and you to adjust?”
Edward: “It always has been like this. Where I used to live in Pasadena was even worse. As a kid the shit was kicked out of me. I was treated like a minority because I didn’t speak the language. All my friends were black. So I know how it feels to be part of a minority group.”
Then Erwin walks in with a picture of Edward on the toilet with a guitar. As you may know Edward has a small recording studio in his bathroom. “He comes up with some good shit”. “Leave the shit and fresh shit comes straight from the pot”, Edward adds with a smile.
Michel: “I took some questions from the [Intenet’s] Van Halen Mailing List. Many people ask the same questions. One of them is if you are planning to go on tour with a striped Wolfgang.”
Edward: “So far it never crossed my mind. Maybe, maybe not.”
Michel: “You got striped ones?”
Edward: “Yeah, I got one.”
Michel: “People want to see that. They like it when you go out and play an old guitar. For instance doing your solo spot on the old Frankenstein.”
Edward: “That one doesn’t work anymore. I made that one myself long ago. Not done so well. For many years it was lying somewhere with a broken neck. Just a month ago I put it back together. The Wolfgang is a far better guitar. I can’t believe that for so many years I played that old stuff. I will show you guys the Frankenstein later. It’s a piece of shit!”
If Eddie Van Halen offers you to show his Frankenstein, the Holy Grail, that makes your heart go beating faster!
Michel: “At the ‘Right Here, Right Now’ tour, the show opened with the national anthem…”
Edward: “Oh, Hendrix!”
Michel: “People on the internet wondered if you played it.”
Edward: “No, it was tape. A couple of times, I fucked around.”
Michel: “Oh, maybe that’s why there was confusion.”
Michel: “You got all digital recording machines here at “5150”?
Edward: “No, I got, we had two Studer Analog. I sold one and bought a Studer 48 Digital. I still got another 24 track analog. So now we have the best of both worlds.”
Michel: “For the best sound.”
Edward: “Yeah. So we record analog and save it to digital… (to Erwin) You explain.”
Erwin: “Analog is not as good as digital but sometimes you don’t want it to be good. You know what I mean? An old speaker sounds better than a new one. An old pair of jeans fits better than a new one. So if that is your goal, you record analog and save it to digital so it stays good. Analog gets worse every month. Digital not.”
Edward: “So we still record analog.”
Michel: “About the Wolfgang. When will the availability get better?” (At that time they were hard to get)
Edward: “They only can make thát many, you know. They make as many as they can and I don’t want them to make more than than because of the quality that would get less.”
Michel: “It wasn’t exactly right, was it?”
Edward: “No. It took extra time because so many guitar companies forget the most important part… Look a guitar is just a piece of wood with strings on it. But it’s all about how high they are put on the guitar. If a string is that high (he pulls on a string on his guitar) and the neck is not straight, a kid is gonna pick it up and go ‘fuck this shit’. And he will buy the one that plays good. So I wanted to be sure that every guitar is okay. They send them all to me. The first hundred or two hundred came in here first and I send them out. Now, every once in a while I let them send me one, just to spot check, you know? The newer ones are better than the first ones because now they know what I want. You got guys at the end of the line who actually do the set up. One guy goes ‘Oh, I want it to be like this.’ Another guy goes ‘I want it to play like this.’ Hey, it hasn’t got your name on it! I want it to play like I want it to be! So now they get it. If you make your own guitar you can do whatever you want. But as long as my name is on it, I want it to be done the way I want it. And it’s not for everyone, you know? In my opinion this is a much better guitar than the Music Man. It’s got the D-tuner. The neck is slightly angled. It sounds better. It sounds better to me, it’s my personal opinion. Some people don’t like neither one. They don’t like the Music Man, they like the Telecaster or a Strat.”
Michel: “A friend of mine has got a Music Man and played on a Wolfgang and still likes the Music Man better. Feels better.”
Edward: “That’s because he’s used to that. It’s not for everyone. But it’s a better guitar. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. I wanted to add something else. Because of the shipping by UPS or Federal Express, sometimes things can happen, too. Accidents happen, you know. But if erverything goes well and you open the case, tune it, it’s ready to go. Perfect.
I just did a benefit for City of Hope with a lot of people like Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley and John Cougar Mellencamp and there was that girl Michelle. She endorses Fender basses and she needed a bass for the show so they sent her a bass but she couldn’t even play it! My guitars don’t come like that. I saw some Music Mans… the editor of Guitar World of one of those guitar magazines. He brought one to an interview I did with him and he asked me to sign it. I asked him: ‘Did you buy it like this or did you do the set up yourself?’ He said: ‘I don’t even play guitar.’ The strings were up real high and it wasn’t the way like I did it. So I wanted to be sure that this time the Wolfgang is exactly what I use. No bull shit about it!”
Michel: “So you will keep checking every once in a while?”
Edward: “Oh yes! Like last week there was one with a cold solder joint. It might work and an hour later not anymore. So the solder was not done right. They did it too quick. So the front pick up didn’t work. So I call up, start yelling and screaming you know, because if someone buys that guitar and it don’t work they go ‘Hey, what a piece of shit is this?’ For me it’s quality control.”
Michel: “They look at you if it’s not good.”
Edward: “It’s got my name on it. But it’s cheaper than the Music Man. And it’s got a D-tuner. It’s costs a lot of money to make.”
Michel: “In Berlin (June 1995) you told me that it would cost around $900.”
Edward: We come out with one that will cost between $600 and $900. We don’t know yet what we will do. I’m not sure but I want to call him Wolfgang Jr.. But I don’t know if I’m allowed to because of Les Paul.”
Michel: “The Les Paul Jr. You had a little Wolfgang made especially for Wolfie, didn’t you?
Edward: “Oh yeah, for him.” (Edward says it very proudly)
Michel: “When did you start writing new songs? The songs that you are recording now, did you write those from the start when Gary joined or is there also older material?”
Edward: “Everything is new.”
Michel: “Do you have any plans working on older stuff?”
Edward: “There is so much music. A whole wall full with tapes. The same as the song ‘Right Now’. I wrote that in 1983.”
Michel: “That’s from the movie ‘The Wild Life’.”
Edward: “The intro part yeah. But the whole song I had already written.”
Michel: “You don’t like it, the music you did for ‘The Wild Life’, do you?”
Edward: “It was just a drum machine. Bullshit!”
Michel: “But there’s a lot of good stuff.”
Edward: “I remember when I was at Universal at the dubbing of the sound to the movie. It was all union, so I wasn’t allowed to touch anything.”
Michel: “You didn’t have any control on it?”
Edward: “I asked that gentleman ‘Could you do a little bit like this?’ I asked ‘May I try?’ ‘No, don’t touch anything!’ Then I said: ‘Okay, but how about… you put your hand on the faders… (Edward demonstrates this by showing us that he put his hand on the man’s hand and through that way working the faders without touching them himself.). He went so mad! I just left. See you later, fuck you!”
Michel: “So that’s actually the reason you don’t like that movie?”
Edward: “I swore to myself that I’d never do anything for a movie again.”
Michel: “But you also said that if it don’t work out with Gary, you will quit the band and go make soundtrack music.”
Edward: “Working with Jan de Bont was a pleasure.”
Michel: “But did you mean what you said?”
Edward: “Oh yeah, He’s the last singer. But it works! He’s really normal. Just as normal as Alex, Mike and I.”
Michel: “But didn’t you have that same feeling when Sammy joined the band in 1985?”
Edward: “I was drinking so much. I didn’t even know… we were only glad we had a singer.”
Michel: “No kidding!”
Edward: “He’s the biggest con I ever met in my life. In an interview for a guitar magazine he says that everything I say is a lie.”
Michel: “I don’t believe that.”
Edward: “If you believe hím, that I am… I don’t even know what to say. It’s fucking ridiculous. Call Jan de Bont.
Michel: “That doesn’t sound fair.”
Edward: “That’s what I mean. He’s not fair. And for years I didn’t know that.”
Michel: “When I got to know him, I think he was a very nice guy.”
Edward: “Yeah, he’s good at it! I only found out when I stopped drinking. I saw who he was and he didn’t like it.”
At some point during our visit Wolfie comes running in and his dad asks him to greet us in Dutch but the little one gets scared when he sees us. He was less than two weeks away from turning six years old. He leaves the room as quick as he entered. If someone would have said that less than ten years later he would be the bass player in Van Halen we would have died laughing.
Michel: “So now there are two box-sets released.”
Michel: “In Japan there are two Van Halen box-sets.”
Edward: “Oh, really?”
Michel: “Didn’t you know? Two years ago one with all CD’s with Sammy until the live CD.”
Edward: “Really? I don’t know anything about that.”
Michel: “You don’t know? How is that possible? Now just in January a set with the first six CD’s was released.”
Edward: “Through Warner Brothers?”
Michel: “Yes, in Japan.”
Edward: “In Japan they can do whatever they want. Don’t ask me.”
Michel: “You don’t get involved with things like this?”
Edward: “Our manager should now about it. Japan is different. They always want a bonus track. In Japan everything is different.”
Michel: “But the songs are also remastered.”
Edward: “So who did that? Is there a name on it?”
Michel: “I don’t have the box yet but on the internet there’s talk about ‘Fair Warning’ sounding so much better. So someone did something.”
Edward: “The old tapes sound like shit. You digitally remaster something, you get highs and lows, you get more punch. Of course that sounds better. But anyone can do that. Just add bass and treble. That’s all there is.”
Then Edward takes a break to go to the bathroom.
So we turn to Scotty who still is behind the computer. He’s probably the best tour manager a band could wish for. He never forgets a detail. (Years after he left Van Halen, he won the well deserved award of ‘Best Tour Manager’). Scotty has always been very good to me when on tour. But he’s a man of not many words.
Michel: “What do you do when you’re not on tour?”
Scotty: “What you see, taking care of little stuff.”
Michel: “Full time?”
Scotty: “Yeah, full time”
Michel: “Sometimes they don’t tour for a couple of years.”
Scotty: “It has been a year and four months, right now. November 5th was our last show.”
Michel: “And when are you planning on going again?”
Michel: “And this time you start in Europe?”
When Edward returns he says in absolute real Dutch “Ik vind het altijd zo moeilijk om zonder peuk te schijten.” (you go figure it out, haha)
All the time the Jacksons video is still playing.
Edward: “You don’t have any clue after which song it is? I remember he said: ‘Come on Eddie, come on Eddie!’”
Michel: “I like to see it myself.”
Edward: “Yeah, me too. It was not in the beginning that I played. It was one of the highlight songs of the show.”
Michel: “You only did it once, didn’t you?”
Edward: “Oh yeah, I didn’t go on tour with them, no! We did three or four nights at the Reunion (July 14 to 16, 1984 – Michel)… is that Dallas?
Edward: “He did two nights at the Stadium.
Scotty: “Wasn’t it one of the encores?”
Scotty might be right here because soon after the lights go out and everyone is waiting for the encore — The people in the audience back then, and now ourselves at “5150”. There’s a tension. Everyone is looking at the big screen in the room.
Edward: “I don’t know. Maybe it was. Yeah, I guess that’s right because I was tuning in the dark. I couldn’t hear a fucking thing! They’re all surrounding me. I’ve seen a picture in Billboard, it was a great shot. They’re circling around me, all the brothers and I was going ‘I can’t hear anything’. But they were really nice to me. ‘Beat It’ was a big thing. When I came out, the crowd went nuts.”
Finally we come to the point were we all have been waiting for. Edward can’t resist it and starts to play ‘Beat It’ on his acoustic guitar.
Scotty: “The Jackson Six. Didn’t you change that whole song Ed?”
Edward: “Oh God, that’s a story to tell.”
Michel: “They put your part in another segment of the song didn’t they? You played the solo but it was completely cut afterwards, wasn’t it?”
Edward: “No, I cut the whole fucking song apart. I rearranged the whole fucking song.”
Michel: “So the solo wasn’t cut at all? That’s what I always read about it.”
Edward: “No, they’re interpreting it backwards. I walked in and I asked Quincy (Jones – the producer), ‘What do you want me to do?’ ‘Anything you want.’ And I said ‘Anything?’ He said ‘Yeah’. I said ‘O.K.’. I turned to Bruce Swedien, the engineer and I go, ‘Cut this tape here, take that part out, because I wanna have a solo over that part. Make a copy of this part, put it in here.’ You know, I changed the arrangement of the whole fucking song. Then, when they put it together, I played two solo’s over it and I said, ‘You guys pick which ever one you want.’ That was it. But the thing is they forgot that you can not cut master tape with SMPTE (a time code to keep two machines synchronized). I didn’t find this out until Steve Lukather, who played the rhythm guitar said ‘Don’t you know what you caused? It took them six months to figure out how to restripe that tape with SMPTE.”
Michel: “You almost fucked it up.”
Edward: “It was their fault! Bruce, the engineer and Quincy should have fucking known that you can’t cut master tape with SMPTE stripes on it. They cut the master tape right there in front of me. They could at least used a safety. I didn’t know if my ideas would work. In my head they did. But I had no fucking idea that it would work or not. Thank God they did! It took me half an hour to have them edit the song the way I wanted it. Played two solo’s and left. And it took them six months to put it back together. I didn’t say ‘Hey don’t forget, it got SMPTE stripes on it.’ That’s not my job! But no if they think they edited my solo, it’s completely backwards.”
Michel: “That’s interesting!”
Edward: “Yeah, because they wanted me to solo over… (plays the rhythm guitar intro to the solo on the acoustic guitar). Over that, just that. I said, ‘No, no, no let’s just start with that.’ I didn’t want to solo over one key. What makes ‘Stairway to Heaven’ good is that it’s the same progression (plays the rhythm part during the solo of this classic). If it was just in A, it sounds like shit. That chord movement underneath makes the solo interesting.”
Michel: “I like the result of ‘Beat It’.”
Edward: “Yeah, I cut out a lot of crap. I can’t believe it. I heard it thirteen years later. Steve Lukather just told me when we did the Jason Becker benefit [October 5, 1996 ] . Somehow we came talking about Quincy. ‘You know what you fucking caused, man?!’”
Michel: “So you didn’t know all that time?”
Edward: “No, I had no idea until recently. No one told me. Well, I’m sure they’re not going to tell me what idiots they were. At least Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien who were both Grammy, Grammy up their ass winners and they were so stupid to edit master tape with SMPTE on it. I mean, I love them both, I’m not bad rapping them, but I guess they were excited or whatever and they overlooked a very, very big thing. You know, because all the electronic drum machine stuff, it wouldn’t sync up anymore. It would all run off the SMPTE. They just went straight to the master tape, just like I had it all planned out! I just came up with the idea right then and there. I said, ‘Try this.’ Thank God it worked musically. I didn’t find out until a few months ago. I thought it was hilarious actually.”
Having this conversation on tape feels like having gold in my hands. It’s the first time Edward tells this story and would until today never tell it again in so much detail.
Edward and Erik are smoking all the way through and everytime Erik grabs a cigarette, Eddie lights him up for Erik.
Michel: “This week we were at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood and we noticed a Van Halen striped guitar but it looked fake. Did you ever give them one of your guitars?”
Edward: “How would I know? What can I do? Walk around every Hard Rock and check? That is not my job.”
Michel: “I ask this because I want to do a story for “5150” about Van Halen stuff at the Hard Rock Café’s.”
Edward: “Peter Morton who owns Hard Rock Café, he’s a great guy, a good friend of mine. He doesn’t know… It’s like the Hard Rock I think in Vegas bought from Sotheby’s, which is a very famous auction place. Now, they claimed that they had my original Frankenstein.”
Michel: “No way!”
Edward: “Yeah. And Hard Rock bought it for $ 20.000 or more. And I said ‘How much did you pay for that?’ It was an outrageous amount of money. And I’m going, ‘I’m sorry, that guitar… mine is at home. That ain’t for real. Where did you get this?’ They went ‘Sotheby’s’, I went ‘How can Sotheby’s do that? They’re respectable. They need documentation.’ So they gave the money back. But it’s very strange. Peter Morton is a great guy but he’s got other things, so many things going on. I don’t think he personally walks by and goes, ‘Is that really Eddie’s?’ I’m not bad rapping Hard Rock at all. They treat me well, they’re very nice to me.”
Matthew Bruck, Ed’s longtime assistant, is about to leave and depite the fact that he will be back tomorrow he says goodbye like he will not be back for weeks. “Drive safe” his boss says.
Michel: “You produced the demo of Matt’s first band Zen Boy, didn’t you?”
Edward: “Yes, but it was not… the guys that played in there were not serious about it, you know? Matt is the same as me. It’s his life. Music is his life. Now finally he’s got two other guys who feel the same. Like us, finally. After twenty years. It’s not just for the fame and money but it’s it’s for the music, you know? It’s easy for me to say because you come here and see the big house and this and that. If you see my bathroom were I spend 99% of my time, it’s like a jail cell. That’s were I write… spend most of my time. That’s were I’m happy. For ten years I lived in that house (he points at a smaller house behind the studio) and the only reason that we built that house (points at their current, larger house) is because we thought it would be too small to raise a child. But if I look back, I would never have done it. It doesn’t rain here very often but when it does, the roof is leaking. So next month we have to move back because everything has to get fixed. For me it’s how bigger the room, the more junk I get. We have so much stuff, if the house is smaller you say ‘We don’t need that’. Now with a big house, you just leave it. And sometimes you bump onto things ‘Oh, here it is.’ Just because the house is too big. I use the bathroom, the bedroom… the kitchen. That’s it. The rest I don’t even use.”
Michel: “You have any plans to work with others in the future?”
Edward: “We just begun working with Gary!”
Michel: “I ask this because in the past you played with people like Alan Holdsworth and you’ve said that you would like to play with Peter Gabriel.”
Edward: “Everybody dreams. I first want to live this dream. It’s all going so slow. My mom had cancer… so many things going on. We just began working finally, a few weeks ago.”
Michel: “So is your mom doing better now?”
Edward: “Yes, she’s amazing. She’s didn’t even believe she had cancer. She’s so stubborn. How do you say that in Dutch? She thought that cancer could not get to her. For two months, four doctors said ‘You have a tumor.’ You could feel it. I said, ‘Mom, you’re not pregnant and you didn’t eat a basketball. So what is this?’ ‘Oh, that’s nothing.’ It took us two months to finally get her to the hospital. She said ‘I’m only going if it just takes one day.’ ‘Okay’, I said and I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell her the whole truth. I told her ‘Yes, one day’, because the surgery takes one day. But you have to stay in the hospital for one week. I didn’t tell her that.”
Michel: “How is your hip doing?”
Edward: “It’s okay. Believe it or not but if my mother didn’t have cancer and all this and all that. The interviews we had to do and all that bullshit. That took months. I had thought that we would have been half way the new record around Christmas. So I had set an operation date for December 18th. Oh, and I was alone with Wolfie for two and half months because Valerie was in Park City, doing a mini series. So for two and half months I got up at half past six, made his breakfast and lunch and brought him to school. Pick him up after school. And what else… yeah, I was Mr. Mom. So I had my hands full. I still could write but we didn’t have the time to record. So we have just started.”
Michel: “You are still planning on the operation?”
Edward: “Oh yeah, I have to. What I wanted to say, it hurts when I sit too long and don’t walk around. So if I sit here for two hours… If I have to fly from here to New York, I can’t walk if I come off the plane. The bone is dead. It’s not broken, it’s dead bone. Every two weeks I go to the doctor and he checks if it’s time. He said ‘You’re still okay, don’t worry about it. Just as long as before you go on tour, before you do any jumping or anything.”
Michel: “You did well, last tour [‘Balance tour in 1995].”
Edward: “Yeah. But actually it doesn’t hurt that much. For a while I took pain killers, two years ago. But when I quit, I didn’t have a clue how it would feel like to quit pain killers. It was even worse then when you have been drinking for years. You get shakes… detox, you know? So I told him ‘No more fucking pills. No pills please.’ He said, ‘But I thought they helped.’ ‘Yeah, they helped me feel like shit.’ It’s a strange phenomena. Ever since I was twelve years old I smoke and drink and I play guitar. So I don’t know anything different. For almost thirty years, twentynine years I did it only one way. When I stopped drinking… the music comes from… God gives it to me. When I still was drinking, I always was afraid. ‘Ah I have to write’. But now it comes natural.”
Michel: “But in the past songs came spontaneously, too, didn’t they?”
Edward: “Yeah, but it became more difficult each time, you know? Drugs are just a funny thing. It’s like the first time you drink a beer, it’s probably the best beer you’ll ever drank by the first time you get drunk. After that you’re chasing that same feeling. It like cocaine addicts or whatever. The first time they do it, it’s the best. That’s why they do it again. They want to get that same high. More, more, more. It’s the same with alcohol except it takes longer before it stops working. And it didn’t work for me anymore.”
Michel: “It’s not good for your health either.”
Edward: “No, not at all.”
Michel: “Too many died because of it.”
Edward: “Yes… I stopped drinking October 2nd, 1994. Then I did the tour and only took a few beers at the last show in Japan.”
Michel: “And that’s what Sammy used against you in an interview.”
Edward: “Of course! But I got the tape and he sang like shit. Because he was more plastered than me! I got the tape. He’ll get his.”
Michel: “So how do you feel now? What if you walked onto Sammy?”
Edward: “I don’t have a problem with the guy. I just don’t understand why we can’t be friends. I mean… he quit! I didn’t kick him out.”
Michel: “That’s what he claims, isn’t it?”
Edward: “That’s what he says. I wish I had recorded the conversation. Valerie stood next to me. He even claims that I called him. And he has to say it was Father’s Day. I don’t even think it was Father’s Day. Valerie stood next to me and he claimed that I was plastered. If I had been plastered, Valerie would have kicked my ass! And she couldn’t believe it. She was counting, one, two… how many times I told him over and over ‘Sammy, if you want to do one more record and one tour, you’ll have to be a team player. It’s not your way or no way. It can not go on like this.’ I told him over and over and over. I said, ‘Sammy, forget the past. Forget everything. If you want to do one more record, you have to be a team player.”
Michel: “And Gary?”
Edward: “Ooh God… first time in my life that I… he just gives me lyrics. And I write the music and the melody and everything.”
Michel: “A lot of energy is coming off of it.”
Edward: “Actually, he’s one lost brother. There’s a reason for everything, you know?”
Michel: “People talk a lot of bullshit.”
Edward: “God yeah!”
Michel: “On the internet there were rumors that Mike is gone. The worst is that people make it bigger and bigger.”
Edward: “Yeah, I can’t stand that! You know what it is? There are only two or three people doing that. It seems like a lot of people do that but there are only two or three people saying the same things. Same shit. Ah, it’s fucking ridiculous.”
Michel: “But because of that, it got to the press. Total Guitar published it.
Edward: “What? That Mike is out? You gotta be kidding?!”
Michel: “And Kerrang.”
Edward: “That is… that is crazy!”
Suddenly Mrs. Valerie Bertinelli is in the door opening around 5.10 p.m.. She’s not in her best mood and doesn’t really bother to say hello to us. She asks how much longer this interview is gonna take. Edward had planned time for us until 6 p.m. but his wife disagrees with this. He has to spend time with their son. She asks Edward to round up in ten. She sounds kind of harsh but then again Erik and I are in their home environment. Because of Valerie’s interference, Edward has to rush and end our visit. So quickly we take our cameras and start shooting some pictures. That isn’t a problem for Edward at all, after he has put on his sunglasses. He’s even okay when we film. So I hand over ten “5150” magazines for Edward to sign as prizes to win. While he was doing that, I was filming it.
Edward: “I’m writing on Gary’s face. No I better not. He can sing like an angel with elephant balls. Ever heard an angel sing with elephant balls?”
Erwin Musper: “Heavy angel!”
Edward: “And they don’t fly so good either.”
My filming turns out to be silly. When I zoom in on Erik he suggests to film Edward instead. The guitarist resonds funny by looking the other way. Then he says ‘Film this’ and puts on ‘Beat It’ again. It turns out that this recording is the best quality of this footage I own and I filmed it straight from Eddie Van Halen’s TV! Isn’t that weird? Since I can’t play the tape at home, I decide to leave it at “5150”, so now Edward owns a copy as well.
Edward invites us to go upstairs where he keeps his guitars and amps. Below the stairs there’s a stack of Wolfgang bodies. When walking the stairs we pass a lot of guitar necks on the wall. Also on the wall there was a T-shirt with the very first logo as designed by Mark Stone, the original bass player.
In the room upstairs we see amps on shelves on the right side and guitar cases on the left. In the middle of the room there are mostly double neck guitars. One of them is a red-striped Kramer which according to Edward was made for him. The other one is the famous yellow-black-striped one that Edward used during the ‘Diver Down’ tour for ‘Cathedral’ and ‘Secrets’. There’s a studio used Ernie Ball guitar pick lying around. Edward picks it up and put it in Erik’s hand. “Keep it”, he smiles.
Because the second Fan Club Meeting is coming up, we ask Edward if he is willing to give the people a message. He agrees so we keep the camera rolling. He shows the camera an old suitcase which was his fathers. It is older than Edward himself because his father used it at the time he travelled the world and ended up in Indonesia where he met his wife Eugenia.
Edward informs the viewers about the upcoming album and tour with Gary. He ensures everyone that the new material will be to everyones satisfaction. After shooting the message it is time for Edward to go and spend time with Wolfie. But before he leaves he comes up with the mini synthesizer he used for ‘Sunday Afternoon In The Park’. It’s made of carton. In front of our camera he starts ripped it apart. With laughter he says “See, it’s just a kid’s toy I plugged in to my Marshall.” Hilarious!
While outside again and saying goodbye Edward asks Erwin if he could make a copy of the tape I showed him earlier. After all he was curious about the recordings using Van Halen samples. I’m not surprised because I learned Edward’s a control freak.
Because Edward is still waiting on his hip operation to take place his walking isn’t going so well and therefore even small distances he travels by car. So after saying goodbye he steps in his Ferrari to drive back to the house downstairs. By honking, the Ferrari even makes more noise than it already does.
Erwin and us leave together and while driving down the lane and passing the house and guest house the gates open up for us again. When back in traffic, in the real world, we wonder if this just really happened.
The next day Erwin comes by our motel to return the tape and to bring some drum sticks and a bag of Eddie’s guitar picks. I guess about 30 of the same picks which were never used during touring. These collector’s items all have found their way to Van Halen fans. Not for crazy e-Bay prises. For free.
Before leaving home, we call Mike like he asked us to do. He promises to take care of us when Van Halen will tour Europe next time. Again he apologizes for not being at the studio the other day. He don’t have to do that because we know it was down to their manager. That’s the way Mike is. Always good to talk to him.
This story is based on my publication in “5150” issues 41 and 42, the Dutch fanclub magazine. Because it was done in 1997, much has happened since. Michael did end up getting replaced, but that was nine years later. First the band reunited with Sammy in 2004. Edward’s mom died on August 4, 2005, aged 89. And all our looks have changed a bit over the years. We lost some hair, and Erik now got more tattoos than Mike.
Erik and I spent about two-and-half hours at “5150” but we never got to see the studio itself. Later Erwin told us that the reason was the fact that there was ta lot of stuff that Edward didn’t endorse. If he had asked me not to mention it, I wouldn’t have. Now twenty years later I guess it’s safe to mention it.
Edward was very open in other departments. Even without asking about it, he told us that he had an almost death experience at the time Van Halen was still playing the clubs. He must have been referring to the story as described later in ‘Van Halen Rising’ by Greg Renoff. He concluded that story by telling us that the Bridge Benefit concert in 1993 was the last time he used coke. Unfortunately the cassette ran out of tape before replacing it, so there’s no proof he ever said it, but he did. But Edward had no problem it being recorded otherwise he would have turned off the recorder like he did a couple of times during the interview. And that was not even during heavy subjects. Not when he was talking about Sammy or anyone else but when he was telling a joke. He didn’t want that to be recorded.
People change so maybe some opinions published here are different nowadays. Reworking this story I see I wasn’t the best interviewer but I also think it was a good conversation between two people, not necessarily called an interview. I’m especially proud of the ‘Beat It’ and ‘Wild Life’ stories. Those were exclusives at the time and still are. And of course the fact that Edward was very open to talk about private matters like his mom. Edward was very honest to us and we believed him. But maybe he lived his own truth. Maybe he forgot about the fact that during the making of ‘Humans Being’ Sammy was living in Hawaii and was about to become a father again. Sammy had his reasons not to come to “5150” to work as a team player. Like Edward had reasons for the delay of ‘Van Halen III’.
I never understood why Edward was so upset about Sammy originally writing lyrics about twisters for the song ‘Humans Being’. For a Dutch movie program he himself proudly spoke about how the break part in the song sounded like a twister. What’s the difference? To this day, I don’t wanna take sides. I love them both equally.
Most pictures here are screen shots from the video and therefore not the best quality. No pictures were shot digitally anyway.
I had doubts to go public on the internet with this story because I wanted to save it for a book I might write in the future, but I decided to give it to the VHND anyway. I hope you liked reading it. Erik and I sure enjoyed the experience!
— Michel Schinkel