What’s a “T-Shirt Band” and why was Autograph called one? Did Van Halen really tell Autograph’s guitarist Steve Lynch he wasn’t allowed to finger tap? Lynch had the answers to those questions and more during a recent interview.
Lynch was a guest on Waste Some Time with Jason Green and shared stories of the time his band Autograph opened for Van Halen in 1984.
Autograph was chosen as the opening act on Van Halen’s ‘1984’ album tour thanks to the band’s late drummer Keni Richards’ being a jogging partner of David Lee Roth. Roth liked the group’s demo tape and suggested they hit the road with Van Halen. The newly named Autograph played their first-ever concert together in front of 22,000 Van Halen fans in Jacksonville, Florida on January 18th, 1984.
Green asked Lynch if it was true Van Halen picked Autograph simply because they were an unknown band, also referred to as a “T-Shirt Band”.
“Kenny tells a story – who knows if it’s true and he’s not here to tell us but – that Dave put Eddie Van Halen on the phone and Eddie Van Halen told him, ‘We need a T-Shirt band on the road with us,'” said Green. “[Kenny] said, ‘What’s a T-Shirt band?’ and Eddie said, ‘A T-Shirt band is the band that nobody wants to watch and they go and buy our T-Shirts when you’re playing.’ Have you heard that?”
“Yes, I have,” responded Lynch. “That makes sense because basically that’s what they wanted. They wanted a T-Shirt band [laughs]. We were unknown. Nobody knew who we were, ya know. We just made up a name on our way to go play there. It’s like a Cinderella story. None of us meant for it to happen but it happened.”
On the strength of performances opening up for Van Halen, Autograph signed a record deal with RCA and released their debut album ‘Sign In Please’. The lead single “Turn Up The Radio” has grown into one of the ’80s most popular rock anthems.
Lynch also responded to another story which has circulated over the years. This one alleges that Lynch, who had already been using a multi-fingered tapping technique by 1984, was told by Van Halen not to do any finger tapping on stage.
“One of the managers came up to me, it was their tour manager, I don’t wanna mention his name,” said Lynch. “He asked me, ‘Are you Steve Lynch?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘You’re the one that wrote the book on the two-handed technique?’ And I said, ‘Uh, yeah. Uh huh. I did.’ And he said, ‘Well you can’t do that on this tour ‘cuz that’s Eddie thing.
I didn’t know who Eddie Van Halen was until after I’d already written the book,” he continued. “I wasn’t listening to much radio or anything at that time. The last guitar player I listened to that was an influence was Allan Holdsworth and that was back in 1978. I said, ‘This is not somebody’s technique. The way I do it is completely different technique altogether.’ Anyway he said, ‘No, that’s Eddies thing, you don’t do that on this tour.’ I wasn’t very happy about that. I didn’t even wanna go on stage. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m being taken away my freedoms as a guitar player. I’m kind of being put in a strangle hold here.'”
Lynch said he doubts that it was Eddie’s idea to ban the finger tapping. In fact, he remembers Eddie encouraging him to play however he wanted.
“Whenever I saw Eddie he was totally cool,” said Lynch. “One time I was gettin’ a little bit buzzed on Jack Daniels back stage and he had just gotten off stage and I said, ‘Hey Eddie why don’t you call off the dogs so I can do my own thing?’ And he says, ‘I know who you are. I’ve heard about you from all these different people in L.A.’ He says, ‘You can do whatever you want Steve. Don’t worry about it.’ And so I did. I don’t even think it was his idea.”
Lynch was Autograph’s lead guitarist from 1983-1989 and again from 2013-2019. He’s currently working on a solo album along with a book titled “Confessions Of A Rock Guitarist”.
Below is the entire Steve Lynch interview: