With the sad demise of legendary guitar hero Eddie Van Halen in October 2020, music lovers everywhere have been united in grief and appreciation for a figure who genuinely changed the face of rock music forever. Though the man himself may no longer be with us, we will always have his music – and despite the slew of imitators he’s inspired, no one has ever played the guitar quite like Eddie Van Halen. However, let’s not forget that Van Halen wasn’t just one man.
The band that took its moniker from the surname of its guitarist and drummer (and, in its later years, its bass player) didn’t just revitalise rock’n’roll; the band also lived the rock’n’roll lifestyle to the fullest, following an excess-all-areas ethos that left the members of the band and those close to them with no shortage of colourful stories to tell. Take the following facts, for example…
20. Their gig contracts demanded bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed
Tales of superstar musicians and their lengthy lists of ‘diva demands’ are plentiful, and often eyebrow-raising, but Van Halen made one of the most legendarily ridiculous demands of them all. The band’s official contract for concerts included a stipulation that the backstage area had to be supplied with bowls of M&Ms – but with ‘ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES.’ (Yes, this demand was written in all caps on the contracts.)
Whilst this may seem petty and childish, the band actually had their reasons for the brown M&Ms clause: if they found that the venue slipped up on that, it immediately brought into question the venue’s attention to detail. Frontman David Lee Roth recalled, “when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”
19. They ‘borrowed’ their logo from a Jimi Hendrix poster
The late Eddie Van Halen has long been mentioned in the same breath as another sadly missed rock legend, Jimi Hendrix, with most music critics agreeing they were both the most creative and influential guitarists of their respective eras. The Van Halen guitarist himself generally brushed off such comparisons, insisting that Hendrix wasn’t that great a personal influence.
However, the band did sneakily borrow from the 60s rock legend in an altogether different way. The iconic Van Halen logo, featured prominently on their albums and merchandise, is virtually identical to one which was once used on a Jimi Hendrix poster. This fact did not come to light until fairly recently, and it’s unclear whether the band themselves knew about it; the Van Halen logo was long said to have been designed by artist Dave Bhang.
18. They once made $1.5 million from a single concert – at which David Lee Roth was drunk throughout
The classic line-up of Van Halen were at the height of their fame in 1983 when they headlined the heavy metal day of the Us Festival. This huge live music event in San Bernadino, California featured performances from many of the most popular artists of the era, with an estimated 375,000 tickets sold. For this show, Van Halen earned a salary which put them into the Guinness Book of World Records: $1.5 million, the highest fee ever commanded by a band for a single performance at that time.
However, it wasn’t just a world record that was smashed that night. The band, especially frontman David Lee Roth, were heavily intoxicated during the show. In the years since, Van Halen’s Us festival salary has been dwarfed by The Rolling Stones, who have reportedly commanded $4 million fees per show.
17. The band has had eight official members, including three vocalists
Van Halen have always been a quartet, but that line-up has undergone numerous changes over the years. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex Van Halen are the only members to have played with the band for the duration, initially alongside David Lee Roth on vocals and Mark Stone on bass. Shortly before the band signed to Warner Records, Stone was replaced by second bassist Mark Anthony. (Sadly, Mark Stone also died of cancer barely a week before Eddie Van Halen passed away.) This classic line-up of Van Halen recorded their first six albums – until Roth left the band in 1985 to pursue a solo career.
Roth’s replacement on lead vocals was Sammy Hagar, who also played guitar, but he too left in 1996 over personal tensions. Next, Gary Cherone of Extreme took over as vocalist, but after the lukewarm reception to album Van Halen III he amicably departed. Finally, after a hiatus the band reunited with Roth in 2006, but this time Mark Anthony was replaced on bass by Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son.
16. Gene Simmons of Kiss told them to change their name to Daddy Long Legs
In their early days, Van Halen found a powerful advocate in Gene Simmons, bass player and founder member of the massively successful rock band Kiss. They recorded their first demo with Simmons as their producer, but despite the Kiss founder’s influence in the music industry, he failed to get record labels interested. Anxious to help them get their break, Simmons suggested the band change their name to Daddy Long Legs. Perhaps wisely, they didn’t take his advice.
Van Halen knew a bit about name changes already, having previously gone by Genesis and Mammoth. Years later, when his relationship with David Lee Roth was at a low point, Eddie Van Halen would ask Simmons if he could join Kiss, but Simmons said no.
15. Their former manager shot hours of X-rated home movie footage of the band with groupies
In their early days, Van Halen were managed by Marshall Berle, by all accounts an unscrupulous character with whom the band had a rambunctious relationship. After parting ways with him, the band trashed Berle’s office and stole anything of possible value to make up for all the money he stole from them. However, Berle didn’t just abuse Van Halen’s finances – he’s also alleged to have indulged in some very creepy voyeuristic behaviour.
The manager is said to have shot many hours of home movie footage of the band, in particular David Lee Roth, getting – ahem – better acquainted with some of their female fans. Worse yet, Berle is said to have had that footage transferred to VHS (tapes which have apparently never been found), then held a screening of the footage at the Warner Records office to an alarmed audience of largely female staff members.
14. Journey singer Steve Perry was once left in tears after Eddie Van Halen threw a bowl of guacamole at his head
Before Van Halen broke big, they were once the opening act on a 1978 tour with the more mild-mannered rock band Journey – and the band’s wild backstage antics didn’t always go down well with the headline act. Things got particularly rough during a food fight between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen which got out of hand.
After Roth threw a bowl of peanuts at the guitarist, Van Halen retaliated by hurling a bowl of guacamole. Unfortunately, this missed Roth and instead hit Journey’s singer Steve Perry in the head. Tour manager Noel E. Monk later found Perry crying alone in the bathroom, then helped him get cleaned up and ready to go on stage.
13. David Lee Roth was once restrained in a straitjacket by the roadies
Van Halen may have been known for getting a bit crazy from time to time, but things went to a whole new level in 1981. The band were touring in support of the band’s fourth album, Fair Warning, and frontman David Lee Roth’s behaviour backstage was getting even harder to handle than usual. The story goes that Roth got so over-the-top that the band’s road crew took it upon themselves to physically restrain the singer in a straitjacket. (Why they had one of those to hand is another question entirely.)
It’s likely this incident inspired some photos the band took for their first album without Roth, 5150 (which is California police code for ‘mentally disturbed person’). For this album, the band – with new singer Sammy Hagar – posed for promotional photographs in straitjackets.
12. Rumours that the band took out million-dollar paternity insurance policies are untrue
Whilst the legendary brown M&Ms clause is indeed true, another widely-believed piece of Van Halen lore is in fact false.n According to urban legend, the band members’ activities with groupies – once again, David Lee Roth in particular – resulted in them taking out million-dollar insurance policies to protect against claims of paternity. As great a story as that might be, it pains us to say that it never actually happened.
That having been said, it is true that Roth attempted to take such coverage following a paternity claim made against Eddie Van Halen that was ultimately proved false. The band’s management then allowed this to be leaked in the press, knowing it would get people talking. In truth, Roth has no children to this day: Eddie Van Halen fathered Wolfgang, whilst Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony both have two children.
11. Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates was asked to replace David Lee Roth as singer
When David Lee Roth parted ways with Van Halen, the band had some difficulty finding a replacement – but considering the group’s hard rock credentials, some of the contenders they considered may be a little surprising. Reportedly the first person Eddie Van Halen asked was Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, known for playing somewhat lighter soul-based songs like Maneater and I Can’t Go for That.
Van Halen also considered replacing Roth with a female vocalist, offering the job to Patty Smyth of pop-rock band Scandal (whose hits include Goodbye to You and The Warrior). However, both Hall and Smyth declined the offer, paving the way for Sammy Hagar to take over.
10. The record company suggested the band change their name to Van Hagar when Sammy Hagar joined
Sammy Hagar’s enlistment as Van Halen’s new lead singer didn’t go down well in all corners of the band’s fan base. Many felt that that David Lee Roth’s distinctive persona was essential to the band’s success, and that Hagar didn’t have the same charisma. As a result, the second era of the band was popularly referred to as ‘Van Hagar’ to distinguish from what some considered ‘real’ Van Halen.
Even though Van Hagar is believed to have been coined as a disparaging nickname, Sammy Hagar claims that Warner Bros records suggested the band actually adopt the name officially. The band, Hagar included, refused to do so – and with time, most fans came to accept Van Halen’s new frontman, and the new attitude he brought.
9. They once played an open-air gig during a freak snowstorm
During their 1995 Balance tour, Van Halen played at the Fiddler’s Green, an open-air amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado. This proved to be, in the words of lighting engineer Chris Stuba, one of the “most unusual and memorable” shows of their career. Although it was only September, Denver was hit by a freak snowstorm the afternoon the band were due to play.
Despite safety concerns, Van Halen decided to plough on (pun intended) with the concert, even as the snow kept falling. Stuba recalls, “we ended up with nine inches on the ground! Thankfully nothing went wrong and nobody got hurt.” The band and the crowd alike embraced the bizarre experience, with many snowballs hurled back and forth on and off the stage.
8. Their producer considered replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar in 1977
When David Lee Roth parted ways with Van Halen in 1985, many thought the band would never recover without their iconic frontman – but with Sammy Hagar enlisted as Roth’s replacement, this ushered in a new, very different era of the band. However, it turns out Hagar was (kind of) in the frame to become Van Halen’s vocalist a lot earlier than most people thought.
When the band started work on their self-titled debut album, their producer Ted Templeman reportedly voiced concerns about Roth’s vocal ability. According to Greg Renoff, author of the book Van Halen Rising, Templeman then considered suggesting Hagar – recently departed from the band Montrose – as a potential replacement. However, Renoff stresses this was “nothing more than a thought that he toyed with for a few days in his head.”
7. Mitch Malloy was briefly the vocalist
Officially, Van Halen had three vocalists in their forty year-plus run: David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. However, after Hagar’s departure and before Cherone’s enlistment, another singer very briefly held that position: Mitch Malloy, a North Dakota-born singer-songwriter who was based in Nashville at the time. After auditioning to replace Hagar in 1996, he was given the job.
Malloy worked with the group on some demos of new material, although the news of his hiring was not made public. Ultimately, he pulled out when the band reunited with David Lee Roth on stage at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, which prompted a huge fan reaction. Malloy recalls, “everybody in the world wanted Dave back in the band, including me!”
6. They recorded an album with Gary Cherone that was never released
When Gary Cherone became the lead vocalist of Van Halen in late 1996, he was well known for his earlier band Extreme, who had a huge hit with acoustic ballad More Than Words. Unfortunately, Cherone’s tenure with Van Halen was not considered a highlight of the band. He sang and provided the lyrics on the band’s 1998 album Van Halen III, which was met with lukewarm reviews and far lower sales than the band was accustomed to. This would be the only Cherone-era Van Halen album to be released.
However, the band actually recorded a second album with Cherone which had originally been intended for release in 1999. Rumoured to have been entitled Love Again, the record did not impress the top brass at Warner Bros Records, who refused to release it in fears of another flop. Frustrated with the situation, Cherone amicably parted ways with the band. He went on to form Tribe of Judah before later reforming Extreme.
5. They were fast car enthusiasts
Considering that Van Halen liked their music big, loud and hard, it’s not too surprising that they also liked their cars fast. Eddie Van Halen in particular is known to have been a huge speed freak and automobile enthusiast. One of the band’s best-loved songs, Panama, is about a sports car known as the Panama Express. This track also features the sound of Eddie revving the engine on his 1972 Lamborghini Miura S, a rare and coveted vehicle.
Later, Eddie met Sammy Hagar (whose earlier solo hit I Can’t Drive 55 was car-themed) through cars rather than music, as they both went to the same Ferrari mechanic. Van Halen’s almost-third singer Mitch Malloy recalls being genuinely afraid for his life by how fast the guitarist drove him from the airport to the band’s studio.
4. Sammy Hagar says David Lee Roth refused to sing alongside him
After saying goodbye to third vocalist Gary Cherone, Van Halen did what few thought possible and managed to lure back both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. 2004 saw the release of The Best of Both Worlds, a greatest hits compilation covering both the Roth and Hagar periods. In support of this, the band reunited with Hagar to record three new tracks, and embarked on a tour with both Roth and Hagar on board.
However, during the reportedly tense tour, Roth and Hagar would not share the stage – although Hagar has said he was keen to do so. Hagar told Howard Stern in 2019, “I actually like the guy, [although] he doesn’t like me,” declaring Roth to be the greater entertainer but perhaps not the better singer.
3. Wolfgang Van Halen joined the band when he was only 15
Tensions reached such levels during Van Halen’s 2004 tour that long-standing bass player Michael Anthony was not invited back afterwards. Instead, Eddie and Alex Van Halen decided to enlist Wolfgang, Eddie’s son, as Anthony’s replacement. Born in 1991 to Eddie’s first wife Valerie Bertinelli, Wolfgang was only 15 years old when he joined Van Halen in 2006.
When the band toured in 2008, their young bassist had to be accompanied by a tutor and have a space to study in venues between shows. According to Bertinelli, bringing Wolfgang into Van Halen helped restore his father’s passion for the band. Wolfgang Van Halen has also collaborated with Tremonti and Clint Lowery, and is poised to release his first solo album.
2. Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony formed two more bands together
Although their last Van Halen tour soured their relationship with Eddie and Alex, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony remain friends and collaborators. In 2008, Hagar and Anthony formed rock supergroup Chickenfoot with lead guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This band recorded two albums before informally splitting, the busy schedules of all involved proving a significant obstacle.
In 2014 Hagar and Anthony formed another new band, The Circle, with drummer Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham) and guitarist Vic Johnson. The Circle have since recorded two albums: 2015 live album At Your Service, and 2019 studio album Space Between. As well as performing original material, The Circle also play some Van Halen songs as part of their live shows.
1. David Lee Roth almost broke his nose seconds into a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2015
In what proved to be one of their last performances, 2015 saw Van Halen played in front of 6,000 fans on Hollywood Boulevard for TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live – but things almost went disastrously wrong. In the show’s opening moments, David Lee Roth performed what had become his customary intro moves: twirling his chrome microphone stand at high speed. However, this flamboyant entrance went badly wrong as Roth accidentally knocked himself in the nose.
At the first the band got on with the show as normal, but Roth soon realised he was bleeding, and on reaching the instrumental break in opening song Panama he snuck offstage to get bandaged up. Luckily, the frontman’s nose wasn’t broken – and despite the title of the show, it was not in fact being broadcast live. As such they were able to re-record the performance from scratch, leaving TV viewers wondering what the deal was with the bandage on Roth’s nose.