EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the real story behind how Van Halen’s first live album came to be
Back in 1991-1992, Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album and tour were hugely successful. But behind the scenes, David Lee Roth was starting to make some noises. He was threatening to sue Warner Bros. in an attempt to force them to release an album entitled “Van Halen: Greatest Hits, Part 1″ that would highlight the years he was in the band (1978-1984). Roth wanted to include songs from his solo career to complete the package, such as “Just a Gigolo,” “California Girls,” “Just Like Paradise” and “Going Crazy.” He was pushing Warner Bros. hard to comply with his demand.
Van Halen’s manager at the time, Ed Leffler, met with Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker from Warner Bros. to discuss the situation. Leffler tried to convince them that a greatest hits record with Roth would really hurt Van Halen’s momentum with their second singer, Sammy Hagar. He insisted it would hurt the band and their record sales, and divide the group’s audience once again. At one point during the conversation, they actually asked Leffler if Sammy would consider re-recording some of the Roth-era songs with his own vocals. Leffler told them that Sammy would be willing to sing Roth-era tunes, but only if they were recorded during a live concert. From that conversation, Van Halen’s first live album was born.
Leffler brought a compromise to the label that he was sure would make everybody happy. How about a live album from Van Halen that featured some of the group’s hits with the previous singer, but with their current singer’s vocals? A double live album, with Sammy singing songs from both eras? And the band would then go out and support the album with a tour. Warner Bros. went for it, and Mo put the hammer down on a greatest hits package with Roth.
A few months later, the massive For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Tour, otherwise known as the F.U.C.K. Tour, had just ended. After three wildly successful albums and tours with Sammy Hagar, Van Halen finally was going to release an official live album, as well a their second live-in-concert video. (The excellent Live Without A Net was their first, released in 1987 on VHS and then in 2004 on DVD. Even fans who don’t prefer the “Van Hagar” era of the band appreciate the band’s bodacious performance on that video).
The band was filmed over the course of two nights, May 14 & 15, 1992, at the Selland Arena in Fresno, CA. The Westwood One radio network recorded the audio from both shows for a radio broadcast. The audio recordings were mixed by Ed, Alex, and Jon Ostrin at 5150.
The broadcast became known as the “Cabo Wabo Radio Festival,” which aired nationwide on 8/20/92. It included live interviews with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony from the Cabo Wabo Cantina. Sammy and Mike led a jam session during the broadcast with Bret Michaels and Richie Kotzen from Poison, David Lauser from Sammy’s solo band, and Craig Chaquico from Big Bad Wolf and Starship. When the Fresno recordings were aired, the fan response was very positive.
David Lee Roth had said that Alex Van Halen had always blocked live recordings because Led Zeppelin (at the time) had never done a live record (besides a lackluster soundtrack to their concert film). But at last, one of the greatest live acts in rock and roll was determined to finally release a live album! It would be their official answer to hundreds of unofficial bootleg releases. The album would also give the band an excuse to tour Europe without releasing a new studio album. And perhaps most important of all, it would get Warner Bros off their back in regards to putting out a Roth-era Greatest Hits package.
The Live: Right Here, Right Now double album was released on 2/23/93 and peaked at number 5 on Billboard. It was certified gold and platinum on 5/04/93 and double platinum on 9/20/93, and would go on to sell over 2.5 million copies in the U.S. The home video was released on VHS and laserdisc the same day. The DVD version was later released on 6/08/99.
LRHRN captured a typical Sammy-era live set in its prime. Included among 27 tracks running well over two hours were four Roth-era songs (“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Panama”, “You Really Got Me“, and “Jump“), the band member’s individual solo spots, a crowd-pleasing cover of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with Eddie playing the keyboard part on guitar, and Sammy’s personal contribution of “Give To Live” and “One Way To Rock.”
Is it live or is it studio?
Van Halen started to mix the live album by themselves. After a month, however, Alex and Eddie reached “terminal mixing capacity.” They lured Andy Johns back to 5150 one last time for mixing. In interviews, the band said that they hired Johns partly to make sense of miles of disorganized tape from remote truck recordings. They said they reached back as far as the 1986 and 1988 tours for good performances of a handful of songs. Over the years since the release, however, many fans have questioned if any recordings from the ’80s were used it all. The truth is, the band may have indeed sifted through older recordings, but the final release contained absolutely nothing that was recorded during the ’86 and ’88 tours. Everything released on the album was recorded in Fresno 1992, or – believe it or not – inside the 5150 studio later that year.
Sammy Hagar complained in his autobiography about the album not being completely live (which is a practice that’s actually common in the industry). “The problem was they re-recorded almost the entire live album, because Eddie was out of tune, or Al had sped up or slowed down. They fixed everything. Only now that Eddie was playing in tune, my singing’s off-key. And where Al sped up in “Runaround,” now I’m singing ahead of the beat. Now I had to go back in the studio and redo all my vocals. I wanted to kill those guys.
“Kari and I flew back to Los Angeles from Hawaii. I told Eddie to stay the hell out of the studio. They put me in a room with the video of the concert, gave me my microphone, and I stood there and sang the whole fucking concert one time through. Just like it was a live performance. I barely went back to fix anything. It took me three hours and I went to dinner. The brothers were pissed. They took out the microscope, trying to find places that weren’t reasonable, that I needed to fix again. When they found something, I went out and fixed it.”
VIDEO Track List
02. Judgement Day
03. Man On A Mission
04. When It’s Love
05. In ‘n’ Out
06. Right Now
07. Ultra Bass
07. Pleasure Dome/Drum Solo
10. Finish What Ya Started
11. Eagles Fly
13. You Really Got Me/Cabo Wabo
14. The Dream Is Over
16. Top of the World
The two-hour video contains 15 of the 27 songs from the double-CD album, plus 2 songs which weren’t on the album: “Eagles Fly” and “The Dream Is Over.” The track list could have been more well-rounded. As with all the tours with Sammy Hagar, the Roth-era was barely represented. The For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album is performed in it’s entirety, leaving only 3 songs from OU812, none from 5150, and only “Jump” and half of “You Really Got Me” from the entire Roth-era. Basically, the band performed the complete F.U.C.K. album, and not much else.
Band member solos:
Mike’s “Ultra Bass” solo is pretty over-the-top. He is accompanied by Alex Van Halen in parts. The solo included parts of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Sunday Afternoon in the Park,” the ominous keyboard track performed by Eddie on Fair Warning.
Alex’s Drum Solo is Masterful! A powerhouse 8-minute drum solo, where you get the see Alex’s drum riser elevate about 30 feet in the air at the end. Jan and Eugenia Van Halen surely must be proud.
Eddie’s “316” Guitar Solo: Along with the gorgeous “316″ song itself, Eddie’s solo also incorporates several other key solo pieces and signature riffs, including “Cathedral,” the “Mean Street” intro, and of course “Eruption.”
Sammy’s solo song: The home video version contains the Sammy Hagar solo number “Eagles Fly,” which he performs alone on acoustic guitar.
A promotional video was filmed that included interviews and live footage from the 5150 Studio. During the interview, Alex half-jokingly spoke his mind to Sammy. “I have a philosophy–it’s safety of the past. You know why? There’s safety in the past, because it cannot be changed. There’s comfort.” Van Halen were growing more comfortable with putting their past on display.
Some fans criticized the album’s loud crowd noise and over-polished sound. As for the video, many people are bothered by the editing, laying the blame squarely on the director, Mitchell Sinoway, who used footage from both nights throughout each and every song. At countless points throughout the video, you see a band member’s clothes switch back and forth from the two nights during the same song. Many fans find it very distracting. It’s one thing to combine footage from different shows, but please not multiple edits back and forth per song! This led to some audio/video synchronization problems too, and it didn’t exactly make for a great “live” feel. On top of that, many feel the editing was A little hectic; the camera moved too fast and the cuts came to fast and frequently.
But even with it’s faults, we’ll have to take what we can get, as this band doesn’t release much live footage. Even with the editing flaws, it still kicks our ass!
Watch the full concert video below.
|Release Date:||February 23, 1993|
|Recorded:||May 14–15, 1992 at Selland Arena, Fresno, CA|
|Producer:||Van Halen, Andy Johns|
|Preceded By:||For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge|