Very few people can say they had an up-close view of Van Halen as they went from Southern California club act to becoming the world’s biggest band. Doug Messenger is among the lucky few.
The producer and Van Morrison guitarist recently sat down for an interview [view above] with the hosts of the Sunset Sound Recorders YouTube channel at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles. The channel has been rolling out exclusive Van Halen content all month long.
“My main thing was to tell Warner Bros., ‘You gotta see this guy [Eddie Van Halen]. Ted [Templeman] wants a guitar hero? THAT’S IT!’ It’s this guy,” said Messenger when talking about the time he first saw Van Halen perform. That performance prompted Messenger to contact Warner Bros. thinking producer Ted Templeman would be the perfect man to help break the band.
“They were playing in a bar. It was February ’77,” he said. “I don’t know if I called Warner Bros. five times or ten times or two times I just know calling and saying, ‘You gotta get Ted to see this guy!'”
Being a guitar player Messenger was focused more on watching what guitarists could do while casually observing the rest of the band and the songs they performed. On the night he saw Van Halen, however, he was completely zoned in on Eddie Van Halen.
“They did some R&B tunes, I think they did ‘Highway Star’ by Deep Purple,” added Messenger. “I don’t remember what they did I was just blown away by this kid did on the guitar. I don’t even remember the other guys!”
Messenger went on to tell of more stories including seeing Eddie and the band recording the 1981 album ‘Fair Warning’. Messenger recalled a “major battle” between Eddie and producer Ted Templeman over the song “Unchained”.
“I put my two cents in when Ted left the room during ‘Unchained’ ‘cuz he had erased the part that Eddie had done the day before,” said Messenger, who was on hand during the ‘Fair Warning’ sessions at Sunset Sound. “He was working with Eddie on a new part for ‘Unchained’ and Ed was resisting. Ted said, ‘Goddammit Ed!’ I still remember Ed saying, ‘Ted, that’s what I want for the song. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written!’ I remember him saying that. He said, ‘It’s an amazingly different thing and it’s great!’ The fight got crazy and Ted left.”
“I heard [later] that Ed did another track while Ted was gone and that’s what’s on the record,” added Messenger. “Ted didn’t even notice that it had been redone. Or he was fed up and said, ‘Fuck it, let’s just go with it.'”
Messenger also talked about Eddie’s “out of tune” guitar solo on the band’s 1979 hit single “Dance The Night Away”.
“[Eddie] called me one day and he said, ‘We just finished mixing a song called ‘Dance The Night Away’,” said Messenger. “He came up [to my apartment]. I think he had a little black Volvo? He pulled up on Fountain Avenue in front of my apartment and he says, ‘Come out to the car!’ And he had a cassette and we listened to ‘Dance The Night Away’. I heard it and I said, ‘The guitar’s way out of tune in that section in the middle when you run through the phase shifter.’ I said, ‘It’s horrendous!’ He goes, ‘Yeah, but the producer likes it and I like it so the hell with it.’ It was one of those moments where they both opted for – this is isn’t a serious Van Halen song. And, of course, Ted being a bright guy already was thinking, radio single! [laughs]