Writer Steven Rosen has taken fans back to the early days of Van Halen when the then unknown began their quest to conquer the world.
Rosen compiled stories as told by the band members themselves along with those who watched Van Halen’s rise to fame.
Here is an excerpt from Rosen’s article titled Backyard Parties and Unbridled Genius: The Story of Van Halen’s Early Years:
Pasadena was not big enough to contain Van Halen – the band. Although they were still appearing at the infamous ‘keg’ parties, slowly the group started getting bookings to play shows outside their local area.
Mike Wolf (Local musician): I saw them play at a backyard party in Azusa. They used to put out these fliers that said: ‘Three kegs… Van Halen… $2.50 donation.’ They just switched the name [to Van Halen]. They had flash bombs, some on top of the PA cabinets, and they’d always be going off. They had these car horns that Alex triggered with foot switches. Edward had this bomb and put his Echoplex in there and he’d walk over and fool with that.
Ron (Bongiovi) Masterjohn (Fan): They used to play in a place called the Handlebar Saloon in Pasadena – a restaurant and bar/club kinda joint; sawdust on the floor. It had a stage that was only as big as a kitchen table, but Van Halen would play there and pack the place. Then they played the Pasadena Civic Center and packed the joint.
David Lee Roth: For a long time before the big record company discovered us we were just doing our natural selves, and everybody was screaming: “No, you can’t play this bar, that’s the wrong kind of music”. “No, you can’t wear that haircut”… And we had a little saying, coming from Southern California, when you get pressure like that, and the people start nailing you to limitations and everything. It’s a very old folk saying, and it’s two words: fuck ’em.
It was later, when the band moved west and started playing clubs in Hollywood, that the true Van Halen mythology was created.
Bill Gazzari (Club owner): They called for an audition. And every Sunday we had the Battle Of The Bands Showcase where we would hear seven or eight bands and they would do one set. This started back in ’64, The Doors auditioning, and Iron Butterfly and all of those. In Van Halen’s case, we hadn’t called them back right away, so David placed a call. I said we could bring them in one night, and they’d be the opening band for two other bands. So they came in, and they were pretty good. ‘They needed a little more work’, was the way I classified it.
I talked with David, because he did most of the business. And he was polite, which was a rarity in rock’n’roll. In the three years that they played here, they played two and three weeks at a time, then they started headlining. Then they would headline at least two weeks a month, five nights a week, and in some cases three weeks a month.
Eddie Van Halen: [Gazarri’s] was a breakthrough, yes. You know, I got kicked out of clubs for playing too psychedelic. We had to audition there at least three or four times. A guy would come running up in the middle of a song because I was too loud. But I didn’t play that loud deliberately, the amp only sounded like an amp if it was all the way up. So I did everything – from keeping the plastic cover on it, to facing it against the walls, to putting styrofoam padding in front of the speakers.
Ron (Bongiovi) Masterjohn: Eddie was doing stuff no one else was doing on the guitar – so fat, and so much bottom end, that all he needed to happen was what did happen – they hit it big. People responded to David Roth differently. Females that saw him could not stand him. And neither could the guys. He was the Jim Dandy, Robert Plant wannabe in his black leather vest and pants, sweating like a mule on and off stage. Loud and repulsive. I would hear girls say: “He is gross”.
You didn’t see Ed and Dave between sets talking much or hanging out together. Alex and Michael and Dave would come out and see bands in the VIP area more than Eddie would; Roth would mingle more than the others. The other three would hang out in the dressing room quite a bit. I personally did not see any drugs and not much alcohol in the VH dressing room. Basically, they were not rude or stuck up, just kinda quiet and kept to themselves.
One night I was at the top of the stairs to the stage at the Starwood, and I said to David Roth, while Eddie was doing the solo Eruption: “Eddie is an incredible player.” And Dave responded, saying very nicely to me in that raspy voice: “Yeah, I spend six hours reading comic books before I go to bed, and Eddie will spend six hours playing guitar before going to bed.”
Kim Fowley (Manager of The Runaways and self-proclaimed legend): I first saw the group at Gazarri’s, where I met David and he told me for a full hour how this was the ultimate band in the world and how all four members had tremendous reasons for being in it. And he went on to give elaborations of the other three – even over himself, which I thought was pretty unique.
I remember we had the conversation on the flagstones in front of the parking lot. Somewhere around this time, around ’77, maybe ’78, I was producing a group called The Runaways. And they told me about this song called Runnin’ With The Devil, and they said it was a good song.
Rodney Bingenheimer (Hollywood scenester): My friend and I went to Gazarri’s to see Van Halen one night, and the crowd was just incredible – a lot of girls. I always thought that bands who had a lot of girls going crazy were gonna make it big. I used to see them setting up. I’d say: “You should come over to the Starwood.” And Eddie would say: “No, we like it here. Bill [Gazarri] treats us so well.” And I said they should get more happening.
Then they finally said: “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” I spoke to this guy Ray who was at the Starwood at the time and he said: “Well, I don’t know. We’ve never heard of Van Halen, and they’re a Gazarri’s band.”
Back then, if a band was labeled as a Gazarri’s band, they never played outside of Gazarri’s. But I said: “Yeah, but these guys attract a lot of beer drinkers.” And he said maybe they’d give it a shot. So we got them into the Starwood. After a few times, I brought Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley down to see them. The rest is history.
There is much more for Van Halen fans to read in Rosen’s article, which you can find HERE.
Official Van Halen Retro 3/4 Sleeve Jersey at Van Halen Store