Alexander Arthur Van Halen was born on May 8th, 1953. He was raised in Nijmegen, Netherlands. Through a government-incentive program to reunite families, the Van Halens moved to the U.S. when Alex was about 9 years old.
Because the family spoke little English, Alex and Eddie formed a bond during this time that has lasted their entire lives. Together they adapted to a new country, a new language, and new ideas about music. The brothers still keep a picture of their old Dutch home in the 5150 Studio and revisited the house after the recording of Balance.
Early on, Jan and Eugenia Van Halen impressed upon their sons a love of music that originally meant classical training. In Alex’s case this meant playing classical guitar. He didn’t take to it, though, and preferred playing his brother’s drums. When Eddie took a job as a paperboy to pay for the $125 Japanese St. George drum kit, Alex played the drums instead of the guitar. The practice paid off, and Alex learned to play the drums very quickly. When he learned “Wipe Out,” the two knew it was time to switch instruments.
Having found their musical niches, the brothers began to play at intermissions of their father’s gigs. The audience loved them. Eddie recalled that once his father passed a hat around to collect money from the audience while the brothers were playing. More than $22 was collected. Jan gave each of his sons $5. When they asked about the rest of the money, his father responded, “Welcome to the music business.”
One of Alex’s first jobs was delivering chicken for a restaurant called Chicken Delight. Their ads stated, “Don’t cook at home tonight, order Chicken Delight!”
Alex was the real rocker in the family, partying like a rock star well before Mammoth formed. However, Alex has always remained the most silent member of the band. Not much is known about his personal life.
No other drummer in his generation has a technique that is as distinctive. As early as his late teens, Alex was baffling the other musicians with his skill, including in his music theory class at Pasadena Community College. Alex is a strict composer as well, making arrangements and arguing with his brother over theory.
In the early days of Van Halen, Alex had a signature bushy hairstyle and a stage presence rivaled only by David Lee Roth. Though he never changed his stage persona, he did shave his head bald in 1986. When asked about this, Alex explained that the entire band was going to shave their heads, but chickened-out after seeing what the barber had done to him.
Alex almost lost a finger working in a machine shop before the band got signed. Luckily he kept the finger and pounded out the grooves that made Van Halen the revolutionary debut it was. Van Halen II was fans’ first real exposureto the gifted playing of this drummer, though. “Outta Love Again” showcased the previously lesser-known Van Halen brother.
Since then Alex’s beat has inspired later songs like “Poundcake” and “Without You.” His arrangements are evident in songs like “Pleasure Dome” and “Doin’ Time,” and every tour has introduced a new and improved drum solo.
While not much may be known about the man himself, fans can deduce all they really need to know by listening to his music.
We wish Alex all the best, and we thank him for all the music and memories that he and his band have given us over the years!
Here’s a tribute to Alex from MercuryNews.com:
Hicks: Former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, drummer Alex Van Halen top my list of underrated musicians
With the Rolling Stones coming to town (Oakland on Sunday and San Jose on Wednesday), one hears hopeful rumblings among fans about seeing former guitarist Mick Taylor on stage again.
Taylor — who played with the Stones from 1969 to 1974 — has made a few appearances onstage with them in various tour spots. He’s not the most famous Rolling Stone, but he represents what many fans (me included) think was the band’s best period, to which his excellent guitar skills and musical taste contributed mightily.
Yet one doesn’t hear Taylor’s name much during conversations about the best rock guitarists of all time.
That’s right — he’s underrated.
There are many reasons why various musicians are underrated, most of which involve them playing with people who are either more famous or perceived as even better musicians (or, if you’re a drummer or bassist, it’s called hanging around singers and guitarists). Some never had the chance to get as big as they should have, including a generation of blues players whose names we may only know because of bands like Led Zeppelin and the Stones covering their music.
Still others play a genre of music that isn’t mainstream enough.
Taylor isn’t the only talented musician to be dwarfed by more famous bandmates.
Take drummer Alex Van Halen, for example. There’s a guy in his band who happens to have the same last name who pretty much revolutionized rock guitar playing 30 or so years ago. But while little brother Edward was making history downstage, Alex was taking his jazz and swing chops, adding a ton of muscle and developing a driving style that fuels the whole Van Halen franchise.
(Purchase Alex Van Halen’s signature drumsticks here).