Van Halen on stage. There was no show like it before or since. Turns out, Van Halen back stage was every bit the show for those lucky enough to witness it. Karl Sandoval is one of those lucky guys and he recently shared that experience with fans.
Sandoval is a custom guitar builder, best known for making a polka-dot finished guitar for Randy Rhoads in the style of a Gibson Flying V. Before building a career in creating custom-made guitars he was in a band called Smokehouse. Smokehouse opened for Van Halen back in the mid 70s and, some forty five years later, his memory of seeing the band get ready for their gig remains crystal clear.
“Van Halen was…they were in a class way up there…waay beyond just playing local gigs and Pasadena. They were ready for stardom. They were stardom,” Sandoval said in the video posted to his YouTube channel.
Sandoval went on to talk about how David Lee Roth, Eddie & Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony warmed up before the show.
“Eddie, Mike, Alex and David, they’re back there, each one of them doing there own thing,” he said. “Really exciting because you’re seeing [the band] right before they explode onstage. It’s like an accumulation of their talents and their personalities just starting to explode. What they’re doing is they’re generating a big, classic, energetic vibe that will explode on that first introduction song.
“The excitement is building,” he continued. “The laughter, the jokes, the entourage that was always there. Trust me, bands of this stature, they had an entourage, they had a following. Guys and girls, hot girls that would just hang around. Not everybody got to go backstage, it seemed to be a selected few. They were adding to the ambience of excitement and it’s like this little tornado starting off and then it’s generating and generating. You’re hearing David Lee Roth sing a few lyrics, doing some vocals, and the crowd’s right there. Everybody’s watching, everybody’s there, patting them on the back and creating this excitement.”
Then, here comes Eddie Van Halen…
“He’s there and he’s got his guitar on,” said Sandoval. “Whatever he was using, if it was that Explorer slash Destroyer or Strat or a Les Paul, whatever he was gonna use on stage. That’s the guitar that he’d have on, plugged into a small Fender amplifier. It could have been a Princeton, could have been a Deluxe. I don’t remember…I don’t remember if they were modified or not but, knowing Ed, probably they were. And there he is man! Here comes the Eddie Van Halen licks. From the finger tapping, to the speed, to the flutter picking, fan picking, whatever you wanna call it, he’s going at it.
“The optimism, the positivity, the showmanship, the explosive showmanship that was about to happen was generating and generating big,” continued Sandoval. “You can’t help but just sit there and, even though I’m warming up, I’m just looking at ’em in fascination. I’m just totally blown away at the amount of energy that was there and each one of the band members would stimulate some sort of explosive energy.”
Sandoval concludes the video with his final thoughts on the band.
“Van Halen was tops, still is tops,” he said. “They were all fantastic musicians. I was just totally in awe being there in this time of pre-gig warmup.”
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