Artists   >   V   >  Van Halen
Van Halen

Van Halen

Fact Sheet

Country  USA
Years active1974-
Van Halen is a United States hard rock band named after the guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his brother drummer Alex Van Halen.

Band Members

  • Michael Anthony, bass, backup vocals
  • Alex Van Halen, drums and percussion, backup vocals
  • Edward Van Halen, guitar, piano and keyboard, backup vocals
  • David Lee Roth, lead vocals (1974-1985)
  • Sammy Hagar, lead vocals (1985-1996), (2004-)
  • Gary Cherone, lead vocals (1996-1999)


The Van Halen family emigrated from Nijmegen, Netherlands to Pasadena, California in the 1960's. Eddie and Alex's father, Jan Van Halen, an accomplished musician himself (who was featured playing the clarinet on the single "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)", Diver Down (1982)), encouraged his sons' love of music. As young children, Alex (the older of the Van Halen brothers) and Eddie were trained as classical pianists. As they grew older, Alex took an interest and began to learn the guitar. Eddie, subsequently, took an interest in playing the drums. As legend goes, in order to pay for his drum set, Eddie worked delivering newspapers. While he was away, his brother Alex would practice on the drum set. As Eddie saw his brother excel on the drums, he decided to switch and learn the guitar. The rest as they say is history.

The original band line-up included Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth and Alex and Eddie Van Halen. Originally beginning life with various names including The Broken Combs, Mammoth, and Rat Salade (after the Black Sabbath song), the band eventually settled on the name Van Halen as suggested by Roth. The band became a hit in the Los Angeles, California club scene of the early 1970's. In 1976, Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS, caught one of the band's shows and financed the production of a demo tape. Unfortunately, KISS' management passed on signing the band, and the tape did not lead to a record contract. Eventually the band was signed by Mo Ostin, a Warner Bros. executive, and Ted Templeman, the band's first producer. The historic moment took place after a show at the famed Starwood Club in Los Angeles.

[1978-1985] Emergence, Influence and David Lee Roth

Van Halen's most successful selling albums to date are their debut album, self-titled Van Halen (released in 1978) and Roth's departing album, the epic 1984 (released at the end of December, 1983). Both albums have reached Diamond status, each having sold over 10 million copies. In addition, both albums are regarded as milestones in rock and roll, ushering in artistic innovations that, although widely imitated, remain inimitable (the Van Halen track Runnin' with the Devil and 1984's Jump are listed as two of the top 500 most influential songs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). The band's sophomore production, Van Halen II, peaked at #6 on the charts and their fourth album, Fair Warning, topped out at #5. After this, every subsequent Van Halen album would break the top 5 of the pop charts.

The Van Halen track Eruption introduced the rock and roll world to a new soloing technique called tapping: a technique utilizing both left and right hands on the guitar neck. Van Halen also introduced the guitar world to the notorious "Brown Sound": a nickname given to the combination of Eddie's own relaxed style coupled with his experimentation in guitar tweaking and effects processing that produced a distinctive tone sought after by other musicians. According to folklore, before the release of the first album, Eddie would play his solos with his back to the audience to hide his technique from imitators.

What their first album did for the electric guitar, 1984 did for the electronic keyboard. This album introduced the use of keyboards into hard rock, something unheard of at the time. The album's lead single, Jump, featured keyboards prominently. Propelled by a great synthesizer hook and "Diamond Dave's" flamboyant personality and high-octane lyrics and vocals, Jump became the band's first and only #1 pop music hit. 1984 was praised by both critics and fans and peaked at the #2 spot on the charts, unable to tumble the stratospherically popular album Thriller by Michael Jackson. Ironically, after their greatest commercial success and subsequent tour, Roth left the band- having been either dismissed or having walked out, according to different reports. Soon after, singer/guitarist/song-writer Sammy Hagar, who had been introduced to the band during a previous tour with Hagar's former band Montrose, joined as the new frontman.

[1985-1996] Iconic Status and Sammy Hagar

Van Halen's period with Sammy Hagar was marked by two somewhat opposing trends: expansion of the band's commercial success and acceptance by a wider audience while at the same time experiencing a growing sense of fan resentment regarding the departure of Roth. Hagar's musical sensibility enabled Van Halen to be more accessible to a wider audience with lyrics that were more introspective and dreamy. This was coupled with expanded instrumentation by Eddie that demonstrated tighter thematic elements brought about through more advanced blending of sonic textures within each song. The result was a more mature, more integrated sound that differed markedly from the hard charging, straight through, run-away riffs of the group's earlier work. Die-hard "old Van Halen" fans derisively referred to the new "Van-Hagar" sound as "soft" or "fluffy" when compared with the earlier Roth-era raucous 80s party, 'hair'-band style- a sound which Roth himself once described as a mix of "religion and hockey".

During Hagar's tenure, the band established a successful musical formula which delivered both commercial and artistic success. All four studio albums reached the #1 spot on the Billboard pop music chart. Also, during this time, 17 singles breached the top 12 of the mainstream rock tracks chart. In addition, Van Halen was nominated for two Grammy Awards- winning the 1991 Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal award for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Amazingly, Van Halen continued to enjoy tremendous popular success through the mid-90's, a period during which the anti-corporate rock, "Grunge Music" revolution, ended a decade of "Glam Metal" and dealt the final blow to many hard rock acts of the 1980s (Guns n' Roses and Poison to name a few).

In addition to the band's success musically, the second incarnation of Van Halen also saw broadended use of the Van Halen brand as the band expanded its reach into other mediums with their music being featured in high-production value commercials and movies. The hit single and award-winning video Right Now (F.U.C.K., 1990) was used to promote the ill-fated soft-drink Crystal Pepsi. The band's Roth-era remake of The Kinks You Really Got Me was used in a Nissan commercial. Finally, the single Humans Being can be found on the movie Twister soundtrack and was featured as the closing theme for the movie. Following this effort, in typical Rock and Roll fashion, Hagar left or was forced-out of the band. Controversy followed.

[1996-1998] The Old and the New and Gary Cherone

Soon after Hagar's departure, David Lee Roth entered the studio with the Van Halen brothers, Michael Anthony, and the band's first producer, Ted Templeman. Two songs from those sessions were added to the band's Greatest Hits album (with the Roth single Me Wise Magic reaching #1 on the mainstream rock chart and the album The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 peaking at #1 on the pop charts). Around that time, the four original members of the band made a public appearance presenting an award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. The appearance was greeted with a standing ovation and the ensuing enthusiasm only fueled speculation of a reunion. However, backstage, personalities clashed and old wounds opened and subsequently the relationship again soon soured and Roth was now the ex-ex-Lead singer of Van Halen.

In need of a lead singer to continue their work, Van Halen recruited the help of Gary Cherone, the frontman from the defunct Boston-based band Extreme. The result was an experimental album, Van Halen 3, that alienated the entrenched Van Halen fan-base and did not attract a significantly new audience. As a consequence, sales were lackluster in comparison to previous albums. The VH3 album did manage to peak at #4 on the charts (it was Gold certified) and did produce a #1 Mainstream Rock Track hit Without You. However, no tracks from the album ever appeared on the pop music charts--confirming the limited popular appeal of the new sound. In 1999, Cherone split amicably with the band after the VH3 tour. A few years later, in 2002, still without a lead singer Van Halen was dropped by Warner Bros., their record company since 1979.

[1996-2004] Reinvention, Hibernation or Extinction?

1996 definitely marked the end of an era for Van Halen as a band. A greatest hits album had been released, their lead singer of over a decade had departed, confusion swirled about the artistic direction and future marketability of the band. Although rumors were plenty, and accusations and hostility were all around, there was very little useful information about the band to "soften the blow" for VH fans. With the disappointing performance of VH3 and the departure of Gary Cherone, it appeared that Van Halen was headed for the history books. Between 1998 and 2004 the band was musically dead and adrift. During those six years, no new albums were released. There was no information for fans about the future of Van Halen. News about individual projects trickled in but die hard fans really had nothing to look forward to. Here is a snapshot of some of the news highlights from those years:
  • In 2001 Eddie Van Halen had hip replacement surgery. He also underwent cancer treatment and made a complete recovery. In 2002 Eddie's 21 year marriage to actress Valerie Bertinelli ended in divorce.
  • Alex Van Halen continued to work with his brother on new material at their fabled 5150 recording studio.
  • In 2003, David Lee Roth brought a court action against Van Halen, their management, and record company claiming he was left out of 1996 royalty renegotiations. Since his departure, Roth has produced a number of albums and toured with his DLR band (his most recent release being Diamond Dave (2003)). He also occassionally performs live as a feature solo act. The last word is that he is developing an adult theatre show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Sammy Hagar remained active musically. After his departure from Van Halen, he released five albums.
  • He also created his own merchandising brand Cabo Wabo which grace his own line of tequila as well as his franchise of cantinas located in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
  • Michael Anthony stays busy outside of Van Halen with various product merchandising projects. He is involved with the annual music industry NAMM Show.
  • Since his departure from Van Halen, Gary Cherone has been busy with various projects including his new band Tribe of Judah.
  • Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the singles Jump and Dancing in the Streets appeared on a list that circulated on the Internet. The list named approximately 150 songs that were recommended to be pulled from airplay. The list had been purportedly developed as a directive from radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications to its subsidiaries. It was discovered later that the list was not an official corporate statement but was the work of a few specific station program directors.
  • In the summer of 2002, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar teamed up for the Heavyweights of Rock (known tongue-in-cheek as the 'Sans-Halen' Tour). A classic quotation from the tour came from Roth. In an interview, he contrasted his personality with Hagar's by saying: Sam is a laid back, friendly kind of guy. The difference between me and him is that "he's the kind of guy you go out with to split a bottle with a friend. I'm the kind of guy you go out with if you want to split your friend with a bottle."
  • In 2003 Bassist Michael Anthony joined part of Hagar's solo tour and performed together with Hagar and his band, The Waboritas.

Other contributions to the entertainment industry

In addition to their musical contributions, Van Halen has contributed innovations to the entertainment industry, having pioneered the way for the modern "Rock and Roll Show" with the use of the concert technical contract rider. Although contract riders had existed before, Van Halen's use of them to specify the band's "Wish List" (stage, production, transportation, personal requirements, etc.) was new and established a standard practice that is now used routinely throughout the music industry. As the first major band with a full stage show to appear in many smaller cities, Van Halen had an extensive set of requirements that a venue had to comply with. Few of the venues in these markets had dealt with a show of that magnitude, and were not equipped to handle Van Halen's massive stage and light show, resulting in damage to the band's equipment and the venue. The memorable anecdote of the now infamous contract rider specified that a bowl of M&M candies, with all of the brown ones removed (surely a sly reference to the "Brown Sound"), was to be available in the band's dressing room. This requirement was listed with the technical portion of the contract, which spelled out how big the stage was, how much it weighed, the power requirements, and the other technical specifications that had to be met for the show to happen safely. According to David Lee Roth (from his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat), the purpose of the M&M's was to check up on venue management. On arrival, if brown M&M's were found in the dressing room, then every line of the contract had to be double-checked, to ensure safety. Some shows were cancelled because of a venue's inability to handle the band's stage or equipment safely.

Finally, the relevance of Van Halen in popular culture can be seen in a humorous quote from comedian David Letterman. In 1996, Letterman succinctly expressed the sentiment of the public who was tired and weary of the Van Halen lead singer saga. In his Top Ten list on the evening of October 21 he sarcastically implied that then Presidential Candidate Bob Dole could gain the popular support of the American People if he would just convince the members of Van Halen to stop fighting so they could "start crankin' out some more bitchin' tunes".

Despite the controversy and chaos in their history, the commercial, artistic and cultural influence of the band cannot be overstated. Van Halen is not a band that should be archived away as a great "has been" rock and roll band of the past. With many avenues and mediums to explore, the history of Van Halen is still being written.