We discovered a really cool podcast that interviewed former Warner Bros. promo guys talking about Van Halen’s early days and how they promoted the first album. They shared some fun stories from Van Halen’s first year on tour, and some later VH stories, as well. Enjoy.
It’s the winter of 1978. Disco music has invaded the music charts. Is there no end in sight? Can rock and roll be saved? Enter Warner Bros. Records and “The Van Halen Blitz”.
Fred Meyers was a long-time promotion man at Warner Bros. Records and is the subject of a podcast called ‘The Promotion Man Podcast’ hosted by LA Lloyd. Throughout the various episodes, Meyers reveals the stories behind his days promoting some of the biggest artists in rock history, including Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, U2, The Doobie Brothers, Rod Stewart, ZZ Top, Little Feat, Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones and yes, VAN HALEN. In fact, Meyers’ very first assignment was to promote Van Halen’s 1978 debut album.
“This is a true story about a kid from Detroit who got on a rock and roll ride of a lifetime,” said Meyers in the debut episode. “I started out at low-level record warehouse positions to getting hired as a local Warner Bros. promotion man at 22 years old. The day was March 6th, 1978 and my first day on the job was also the very beginning of Van Halen’s career as a signed major label artist.”
And that’s where Meyers’ Van Halen story comes in.
The Van Halen Blitz
During the third episode of The Promotion Man Podcast Meyers talked about what he called “The Van Halen Blitz”.
“What would happen is you would have a guy like me promoting a band like Van Halen,” said Meyers. “When I started my first week their album entered the top 200 at 148 with a bullet. After that, it started to move up the charts based on the kind of airplay it was getting week after week through the country. The promotion man’s job was to get the song on the radio and then it would start in light rotation and then the song would receive requests and it would start to sell and then, of course, it would start to move up the charts. Our job or our goal was to push it into a medium rotation, and then eventually when you get to heavy rotation that’s when [radio stations] are requesting it like crazy and that’s where we’re so tired of it ‘cuz it’s getting pounded to death [laughter]. But that’s when it’s really starting to sell in huge quantities.”
“The week that I started, March 11th , on the charts ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was dominating,” Meyers continued. “So, what we said earlier was that Van Halen debuted at [#148]. The second week it jumped all the way to 88 with a bullet and it was a direct result of what we call a blitz.
It was on Meyers’ first day that he was given an assignment by fellow Warner Bros. employee Mike Diamond to travel around to area Michigan radio stations and promote Van Halen’s debut. He packed a suitcase and hit the road.
“My good friend George Garrity who was our head of the rock department at Warner Bros. decided to produce a red vinyl of Van Halen and it had the old Van Halen logo prior to their new one and the other side of the red vinyl was the Looney Tunes [logo] ‘cuz we were Bugs Bunny so we can do that [laughter],” said Meyers. “Then he put five tracks on it. He put ‘Eruption’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Jamie’s Cryin’’, ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ which is now a big-time collector item. We were taking these to radio along with the album. We got in the car and headed to Toledo, Ohio and the radio station was WIOT Toledo, Ohio and the [DJ’s] name there was Neil Lasher.”
“At this point, it’s getting dark out and [Neil] welcomes Mike [Diamond] ‘cuz he knows him, he doesn’t know me at all,” Meyers continued. “I just kinda watch and Mike starts talking about the Van Halen record and so [Neil] literally takes the red vinyl, pops it on the turntable and after the break started playing those tracks. What’s amazing about the power of radio, and I’ll always think of this, is right there just imagine there are probably people working on their car in the garage, there’s someone in their bedroom, maybe studying. You think of all these scenarios of the power of radio just reaching all these different people who are now all of a sudden being introduced to this rock and roll called Van Halen which, quite frankly, there was nothing like ‘Eruption’. In fact, Neil said off the record, off the air, ‘Man this is too good. I don’t know if I can play this! [laughs]. I’ve never heard anybody say that about any rock and roll but then again, if you listen to the way Eddie rips in ‘Eruption’ it knocks you over the head!”
Meyers went on to add that “The Van Halen Blitz” helped the band’s ’78 debut album rise all the way to #50 on Billboard by the end of the third week.
The Mysterious Older Woman
Later in the episode, Meyers shared more Van Halen stories including his days traveling with the band on the road. He told one about a mysterious older woman who would appear in the same cities hotels Van Halen was in.
“Every hotel I was in, in the morning, I would see this older lady like a grandma type of lady,” said Meyers. “I was trying to figure out, ‘Why is she going to the same cities we are?’ It was every Holiday Inn she’d be there in the morning. Finally, I asked somebody and they said, ‘Oh that’s a choreographer from Hollywood. She’s on the road with us ‘cuz she’s teaching David [Lee Roth] how to spin, jump, come out of jumps, twirl.”
Drinking Schlitz Malt Liquor…With No Hands
Meyers then served up a tale regarding one of Van Halen’s early radio interviews which took place at WWCK FM in Flint, Michigan. Alex Van Halen was the subject of this one.
“This is probably [Van Halen’s] fourth or fifth radio interview ever,” said Meyers. “Alex loved Schlitz Malt Liquor so he brought some with him and his trick that day was to show everybody how he could drink it without any hands which meant that he had to somehow just put it in his mouth, put his hands behind his back and it would go all over the place. The poor DJ’s goin’, ‘We have electronics all over here. Stay away from my board! [laughs]. And everybody’s all over the place and it was utter chaos [laughter].”
Hear the entire episode below:Listen to “Van Halen Blitz (Episode 3)” on Spreaker.
Meyers had more Van Halen stories to tell in episode three of The Promotion Man Podcast. He began with one about David Lee Roth which took place on an August night in 1978 when Van Halen opened for Bob Seger in Michigan.
Diamond Dave: ‘The Muhammad Ali Of Rock And Roll’
“We end up hanging out at the hotel for a couple of days and that’s where I got a chance to do a one-on-one with David Lee Roth at the hotel bar,” said Meyers. “Honestly, he’s so different than anybody I think I’ve ever met. We’re yucking it up at the bar and he’s comin’ on strong to the barmaid who’s really pretty hot. She isn’t havin’ any of it. She doesn’t give a shit about him but then out of nowhere, he says to me, ‘Fred…we will have more money than any of these fuckers in here,’ as he outstretches his arms. And he was right! He goes, ‘I knew when I found the Van Halen brothers that Eddie was special and my job was to attract as much attention to this band as possible. So I decided to become the Muhammad Ali of rock and roll so whether you like me or hate me you’re gonna know who I am.”
“He took the gig very seriously, which is why he had a choreographer and it’s why he had his attitude and everything kinda down to a science,” added Meyers. “Quite frankly, he was the self-appointed new rock and roll loudmouth.”
Meyers went on to praise Roth for his intelligence and constant thirst for reading and adventure.
“Dave was really deep,” said Meyers. “People don’t really know this but he spoke several languages, he’s an avid reader. I would grab him from his hotel room and he’d be reading ‘War and Peace’ or ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’. And all of those books I ended up reading because of him.”
“He was also a survivalist,” continued Meyers. “When they had a two or three-week break on a tour he would literally go by helicopter, get dropped off in the Amazon and go with coordinates that [he would say to them] ‘Pick me up at this time, this latitude’. He talks about this time in his book, he’s got a great book called ‘Crazy From the Heat’ and it’s about him almost dying ‘cuz he got bit by something in the Amazon and he had a near-death experience from this deadly fever. Who would have thought this flamboyant rock star possessed such a depth of intellect?”
Meyers then shared stories about Michael Anthony, including the day the Van Halen bassist told Meyers about when he auditioned for the band. Meyers also lauded Alex Van Halen’s talents saying he is “one of the best drummers there is, period” while adding that Eddie was “really a cool guy” but often reclusive.
“Every time we were in hotels you’d never see him ‘cuz he’d grab a six-pack of beer and go work on his guitars in his hotel room,” said Meyers.
Listen to the entire episode below:Listen to “Doobie Brothers Van Halen – More Money Than All These F**kers (Episode 6)” on Spreaker.
The Promotion Man Podcast just recently brought in another long-time Warner Bros. promo man on the show. Ted Cohen worked as an artist development rep with Warner Bros. Records back when Van Halen was on their rise to stardom.
“I worked with Van Halen for the first six years,” said Cohen during episode 13. “From their very first date in Madison, Wisconsin in March of ’78 through the middle of April or May of ’84. I left Warner on June 1st of ’84.”
“I would give them feedback at the beginning when they were opening for Journey. [I would tell them] ‘You’re losing the audience about the fourth song in. You need to move ‘Dance The Night Away’ closer up in the set, you need to move this back further in the set. I would say to David [Lee Roth], ‘Talk a little bit less’. At the same time, I was working with the Talking Heads and I would say to David Byrne, ‘Talk a little more! [laughs]. Acknowledge that the audience is there! So my thing was to maximize the potential of the artist from a live perspective to get journalists, radio people, retail people that I knew, that trusted my judgment [and] say, ‘I know you’re coming tonight to see Journey. Get there at 7:30 you’ve gotta see Van Halen, you’re not gonna believe how good this band is.”
Destroying Hotel Rooms: The Beginning
Cohen was with the band on the famous night in 1978 when Van Halen destroyed their seventh-floor hotel room of the Sheraton Inn in Madison, Wisconsin during their first tour with Journey and Montrose. It turns out the seventh floor wasn’t the only floor the boys in Van Halen decided to invade.
“The first night, the first tour we’re in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re staying at the Sheraton in Madison,” said Cohen. “The guys knock on my door, and I’m staying on the 10th floor, and they went, ‘We’re sorry we have to get this out of our system.’ And they proceed to throw my entire room out the 10th-floor window [laughter]. The bed, the TV, the dresser, everything went out the 10th-floor window which they then promptly paid for. They were like, ‘We’re gonna pay for it’. I was like, ‘Why my room then?’ They said, ‘Well…it’s easier.’”
Champagne, Catholic School Girl Outfits & A Drunk DJ
Cohen added another wild story that took place in 1982 when the band arrived at a Seattle’s KISW radio station for an interview.
“We showed up at four o’clock in the afternoon with champagne and two girls dressed as catholic school girls,” said Cohen as he looked at a picture taken from that day. “Look at the DJs eyes. We got him drunk at four in the afternoon. He didn’t know what was happening. I used to joke that Van Halen means never having to say you’re sorry.”