Michael Anthony’s long-time bass tech Kevin “Dugie” Dugan shared stories from his 30-year history with Van Halen during a recent interview with Ultimate Guitar.
Here are some excerpts from Just Beckner’s interview, which you can find at ultimate-guitar.com.
On Getting The Job As Michael Anthony’s Bass Tech
In the early years, I worked for the Beach Boys for a little bit. I had met them on tour with The Raspberries. Then through this company called Flag Systems, which is how I met Michael Anthony a few years later, that company builds cabinets and sound systems, I ended up hooking up with a lot of black acts like Stanley Clarke, George Duke, and stuff like that. Then this gal I dated who worked at the Agora back in Cleveland, her roommate was the assistant road manager for Fleetwood Mac. Anyways, I got an offer to work for Bob Welch, and for years, I was Bob’s main guy. His guitar player was a guitar player out of Cleveland who now lives in Nashville, named Todd Sharpe, who’s incredible.
Todd has his own amp line now. I met Todd when he was 11, and I was 13 — we were in a battle of the bands and his band won, we came in second. Todd was 11 but he was shredding. When he was 16 his band opened up for Hall & Oats, and they told him, ‘when we come back next year, have your bags packed because we’re taking you on the road.’ And they did. From there, he never looked back. He went on to work with so many different people, like Bob Welch, and Mick Fleetwood on his solo projects, Rod Stewart…
So I was with Bob Welch when he was in Fleetwood Mac and then when he left the band he was still managed by their management company by Mick Fleetwood, a gal from Warner Bros. named Gabrielle Aras, and their road manager John Courage. Anyways, if you ever see Spinal Tap, the road manager is a British comedian named Tony Hendra and he was friends with John Courage, and he based that entire character off him. He did a really good job too, because when I watch the movie I think, ‘that’s JC’. He carries a cricket bat around in the movie, but JC actually used to carry a baseball bat. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple years ago. So after Fleetwood Mac….
Q: This was in the 70s? Mid-70s?
Yeah, the 70s. Then the Flag guys called me up and asked if I had a resume. I said no, they told me to hand-write one and they’d get their secretary to type it out. They told me Van Halen’s bass player was looking for a tech. Turns out they didn’t have time to type it up, so I hand wrote a resume in pencil, they sent it to Michael like that. I was embarrassed as hell. Anyway, I got a call to go meet Michael and audition for the job. There were six guys there and three of us were named Kevin.
I actually jumped right into it. I was told not to go backstage, and the guy mixing front of the house was another one of my mentors — Roy Synder. He said ‘hey son, what are you doing out here, go back there…’ This was at a showcase four days before they were going on the road for Fair Warning and they were playing in front of maybe 1000 people. I said I was told not to go backstage, or I’ll be kicked out. Well, he called back there and said he was sending me back. [Michael Anthony’s] tech had been hired away by Black Sabbath, they actually hired him on as their road manager, so he took the gig, obviously, because it was a lot more money and they leased him a car and all this stuff.
So the guy who was taking care of [Michael] was a guy from Flag Systems and he didn’t know anything about guitars, he was just there to set up and tear down the gear. So I jumped into it and started teching. And he tells me, ‘Michael tunes those before the show so don’t touch the guitars.’ I said I’m not going to hand him a bass that I’m not certain is in tune. So Michael comes back and goes, ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ I said, ‘I got this.’ He says, ‘Do you know how these transmitters work?’ I said, ‘…In my sleep. Here’s your drink, here’s your towel. You better get out there, I think they’re waiting for you.’ He checks the bass and he goes out and comes back, grabs me and yells in my ear, ‘you better know what the fuck you’re doing!’.
So when it was over, they called everyone up and told them they wouldn’t leave us hanging, they’d let us know by tomorrow who got the job. I was the last one to be called up. It was the only time in my life I had a real job and I had to go to work at 3AM. So I was like, ‘hey guys I gotta go, tell Michael it was nice to meet him’ and I hear a voice from behind me going, ‘So, you don’t want the gig or what?’ and it was Michael. That was 40 years ago. Since that day, Michael is my number one priority. He’s not just an incredible boss, he’s a wonderful friend and the nicest rockstar in the business. He’s a gem in a field of rock. He’s the best.
You know, in the Van Halen days, we’d do rehearsals for six or seven weeks — full rehearsals with 82 guys. The first week of rehearsals he’d be going around asking everyone’s name and what they do and trying to get to know everyone and invite them over to bass world to do a shot of Jack [Daniels]. During rehearsals, he would take everyone out for dinner twice — during the second week, during a night off, he’d take everybody out — 80 guys! And he’d pick up the tab. Then, at the end of rehearsals, he’d take everybody out again and say “order whatever you want and whatever you want to drink…” he’s just the nicest, most down-to-earth guy and the most incredible singer. He’s under-rated as a bass player. He plays a ton of different instruments too.
The US Festival/Spinal Tap Story
There are a lot of them, but the one that comes to mind was the US Festival. It was the only time Michael was ever on a cable. When we’re jamming with someone or something, sometimes he’ll just tell me to put him on a cable. But most of the time, he likes the freedom of having a wireless. But back then, when we were playing those big stages, it’s the only time he was ever on a cable was when he would do his bass solo. His solo would start out on a bass synthesizer. At the beginning of 1984, the album, that’s the beginning of Michael’s solo. We had written that and worked it out on a Roland Bass Synthesizer. Edward liked it so much that he made it the intro to the 1984 album.
Anyway, the bass synthesizer has a 46-pin cable input. So I had to get a special one made that was 50 feet long. Van Halen’s normal stage was 46 feet wide. So when we played the US Festival, it was 68 feet wide… so Michael’s cues for the beginning parts of the solo were at his mic, his second cue was center stage, then his third cue to do it was Edward’s mic, on the far side of the stage. So he goes out to start the solo and he’s on stage by himself in front of 500,000 people. Neither one of us thought about the fact that the stage was that much wider. When he would play the part, he would lift the bass up in the air and be very theatrical. So when he gets to Edward’s mic, I look over and I see the cable is off the ground, stretched out and when he lifted the bass up, he yanked the whole fucking housing out — there were bare wires hanging- the whole 46 pin housing came out of the bass and it went dead silent. Michael is on stage by himself, so he throws the bass and it comes down and sheers three of the tuning pegs off.
Then for the next part of the solo – the drum tech would come out and put his regular bass on a wireless on the edge of the drum riser. The gag was that Michael would throw the bass down and pretend he was jumping on it and I would hit an A/B box and I’d be playing a bass through a fuzz tone making racket as if he were really jumping on it. So now he’s on stage by himself, totally dead in the water. It all happened really quick and the audience thought it was part of the show… I could see he was kind of lost, so I ran out on stage and grabbed him and said “go to the next part of the solo, but act pissed at me right now. Push me!” He goes, “what?!?” I said, “Push me!” and I kind of hit him on the shoulder. And he shoves me. I started to run back, I turned around and gave him the finger. But I see he’s running over to get his other bass to do the next part of the solo. I ran back and grabbed him again and said “wait until I get back to switch to the bass [so I can make the fuzz noises]” and he said “oh yeah, right!”. I told him to take a swing at me, so he did, and I ran back, switched over so he could throw the bass down and pretend to jump on it and everything.
We finish the solo and everything. It was funny because his wife was on the side of the stage when I ran back there and she says, “you know, I really liked you too, damnit!” [she thought it was a real fight]. He came off stage and hugged me and said, “thank you, man! I was drawing a blank. You were so on the game”. It’s all on film. It’s kind of hard to find because Showtime filmed the whole festival for a special. We were headlining. The band got paid more than anybody had every been paid, in entertainment, for that. But anyways they edited it down to about 20 minutes. But yeah, that was a very Spinal Tap moment.
US Festival Bass Solo (1983)
The Story Of The Jack Daniels Bass
Ok, in the old days, the band had their own bus. It was a really nice bus. Sometimes if it was a really long drive – a submarine ride is what techs call that… if we had two days to get somewhere, the band would fly and the bus driver and his woman, who was our wardrobe changer, Joe and Denise, they would just drive the bus. Michael decided he didn’t want to fly so he told me after the show, grab your golf clubs and grab a bag. I think we had three days off, so we were hoping to get there with time to play golf. Anyways, he invited me to come with him on the band bus. I remember I brought “Retrospective”, by Buffalo Springfield with me and we were sitting there, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking hash…oops… Michael wasn’t smoking hash, I was [wink wink].
We were listening to Buffalo Springfield. He said, “I want you to start thinking of how we can build a custom bass that will be associated with just me. It doesn’t have to be fantastic, but just something where people will see it and immediately think of me. We just have to come up with some sort of a theme.” He’s telling me this as he’s handing me a bottle of Jack and I say, “that’s it!” He says, “what do you mean?” I said we’ll build a bass that’s shaped like a bottle of Jack Daniels. Everyone knows you drink Jack, its perfect. He thought it was the stupidest idea he ever heard. He kept making fun of me. The next day, I brought it up again, and he said “that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. But I tell ya what… it’s your baby, you run with it.” There was another guy on our crew named Dave Jellison who was a bass player. I think he was the first bass player for Ratt, when they were starting out, actually, when they were in San Diego and they were called Rat Salad. He became a lighting guy – nowadays he’s a TV producer who does a lot of commercials. He’s a really knowledgeable guy and he worked at Charvel when he wasn’t on tour.
So he and I started to work this thing out. We kind of co-designed it. The first thing I did is I went to Jack Daniels and I told them the whole idea and asked for permission. So we made this handshake deal that we would never produce more than three of them without their permission. We ended up becoming Tennessee Squires. Anyways, we got the bass built and the first time Michael ever used it was when we shot the “Panama” video.
In the video, the guys are flying through the air on cables. When Michael was hanging on the wire, the union guys were using big poles to move the guys around and get them swinging and everything. They put three huge dings in it on day one! But we’ve made three of them over the years. The first one is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is cool because I’m from Cleveland… so, I guess I made it in there. The second one was built by James Tyler Guitars in North Hollywood and that one is in Michael’s warehouse. The third one was built by the guy who has been building Michael’s guitars for the majority of his career, he’s now the head engineer at Fender, his name is John Gaudesi. He built it while he was at Yamaha, so it’s a Yamaha built product, but that’s the one we use on tour to this day.
Fondest Eddie Van Halen Memory
Well, a few times, I ended up playing bodyguard for him and Valerie at NAMM and stuff after Michael would go home. I’ll tell ya a great one…it was very weird. This is not my favorite memory but… watching him work was incredible. One time I was coming to meet him to play bodyguard for him. His second tech, named Zeke Clark [who works with Kenny Chesney now…] threw together this rack just to do this thing at NAMM. One of the things they were doing was Edward was going to jam with some people, but before the jam, he was going to do this guitar battle with this guy who, it turns out, was a friend of mine. He was a comedian named Michael Winslow — he was the guy from Police Academy who made all the sound effects. I was really good friends with Michael. Anyways Edward was supposed to have a guitar battle with Michael Winslow. So Kramer had made Michael this guitar that had a painting of Hendrix on it, but it had a mic stand that came out of it so he was going to battle Eddie, using his sound effects.
Well, this rack that Zeke had put together, he put the main input power amp at stage level. It was just a small stage and the rack ended up right at the top of the stairs. There were all these people and hanger-ons hanging out at the top of the stairs and I was trying to get security to move those people out of there. One guy turned around to leave and he kicked the rack and he kicked the plug sideways, of course the amp shorted out and fried. There was no spare and Edward didn’t have another amp, so Edward grabbed Michael Winslow and said “you gotta cover me!” so they worked it out where they did this battle, but Winslow would do sound effects for both parts! It was so funny.
There was a lot of good memories. Watching Edward in the studio and seeing how songs change from one thing to another and then becoming hit. I was the only tech that was there when Sammy came in to audition with the band for two days and I remember Edward played him some of the stuff they were working on and he plays “Summer Nights” and Sammy started scatting to it and writing lyrics down and it sounded so close to what ended up on the record — it was pretty phenomenal to watch.
Another really touching thing I’ll tell ya, is that when my daughter was really young she came home one day and she says “I told my friends that you work for Van Halen and you know Eddie Van Halen and that you’ve met him. And they don’t believe me.” I said, two things — first, they’re not really your friends if they’re saying that, and two, we’ll show them. So I told Edward that and I said when we play San Diego, I’d like to bring my daughter and get a picture with you. He said when you get the picture developed, bring it back and let me sign it so she can bring it to school. So he did and that was very cool that he did that.
He was always very friendly and giving to people. He was always very shy. At first, he hated it when people would call him the best and all that. He was a very humble guy back then. Him and his brother couldn’t even speak English when they came here from Holland — they came from nowhere and they worked their way up and become this big success.
Were David Coverdale And/Or Daryl Hall Asked To Audition For Van Halen?
No. Not to the best of my knowledge. I know a lot of people claimed that they were considered for the band and maybe their name was kicked around. I’ll tell you another one that bothers me is when people say in 1982 that Edward called up Gene Simmons and begged him to join KISS. That never happened. Gene called Edward and asked him if he would consider [joining KISS]. Gene said, “we’re so tired of Ace’s bullshit.” I remember Edward’s reply to that was “I have my own band, and we’re doing great. We’re out-selling you. Why would I want to quit my band to join your band?” I was there. Edward never called Gene to ask him to join KISS. It was the other way around. Gene called Edward, and Edward said Fuck no. That’s a rumor that always bugged me.
As far as the auditions, when Dave left the band, the two people they had auditioned, they had called Eric Martin and then the thing happened with Claudio, and Sam was in. Then when Sam left, Gary Cherone got in the door immediately because the band was being managed by his manager, who was a guy named Ray Cluff, and that was a done deal. I loved Gary. I made a wonderful friend, he’s just the most wonderful man, but it was a bad choice for Van Halen. He was still an incredible singer, but it was doomed from the get-go and when things went south, Edward blamed it all on him, which was so wrong. Anyways, what other rumors do you have?
On Allegiance To Michael Anthony
[Van Halen] asked me if I wanted to stay [after Michael Anthony was out of the band], of course there was never a doubt about what I would do. When they fired Michael, and Michael had to read about it in Rolling Stone, because we hadn’t been working for a long time. Edward said his son was going to be the new bass player in the band. When they started putting rehearsals together, I got a call from the production manager and he asked me if I’d be interested in staying, he said “the brothers would like you to stay” and I said no. My allegiance was to Michael and that’s why I left.
I love Van Halen. It had nothing to do with Wolfgang — he’s a great guy and very talented. I mean look at his record — he played everything on that and the tribute he did for his father brought the world to tears. But I left to be with Michael — we left and within a couple months we were putting Chickenfoot together. That was a phenomenal band! Chad and Sammy and Joe and Michael…wow! That was magic — one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen in my life.
On Working With Michael Anthony For 40 Years And Counting
Yeah, 40 years! I think I had the record in the business. Maybe the only guy who’s been with somebody as long as I have is Paul McCartney’s guy, and Mike Manning, who’s worked for Satriani for a long time, but not as long as I’ve been with Michael. Actually, when we aren’t working, I’d go out with other people too. I worked as a stage manager and a production manager. I worked for bands like Coal Chamber and Stryper. I was the production manager on their first major tour. Those guys are great. I joke, I say it’s the first time I ever had to hire a bible tech! I’m not making fun of them — they’re an incredible band and they’re one of the heaviest metal bands I’ve ever heard. I worked for The Cult… Here’s the thing, I did 30 years with Van Halen and a lot of the 80s bands opened up for Van Halen. Michael and I would always go and introduce ourselves to them. Michael would take a bottle of Jack and give it to them at the first show. I was always nice to them, so a lot of the time, I’d get calls from those guys asking me to come out with them. So I worked for Ratt a lot, Poison — I was Poison’s crew chief and I was Bobby Dall’s bass tech and Bret Michaels’ guitar tech for five tours. Great White… a lot of other bands that I’m missing. But a lot of the 80s hair bands got their shot opening up for Van Halen so I ended up working for a lot of them.