Born in Nijmegen, Netherlands, Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen are the sons of musician Jan Van Halen, who arranged for them to have music lessons. The Van Halen brothers started playing music together in the 1960s when Eddie played classical piano and later drums, and Alex played the guitar. While Eddie was delivering newspapers on his paper route, Alex would sneak over and play on Eddie's drumset. Eventually Eddie found out about Alex playing his drum set and was so frustrated that he told Alex, "OK, I'll go play your guitar."
Van Halen played clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences, increasing their popularity through self-promotion: before each gig they would pass out fliers at local high schools. This soon built them a major following. Later that year, the band got its first break when it was hired to play at Gazzarri's, a formerly famous but down-at-the-heels night club on the Sunset Strip which closed in 1996.
Earlier, they had auditioned for the owner, Bill Gazzarri, but he claimed they were "too loud", and would not hire them. But their new managers, Mark Algorri and Mario Miranda, who had coincidentally taken over Gazzarri's hiring, did the deal.
Shortly afterwards, they recorded their first demo tape at the now defunct Cherokee Ranch Studios in Northridge where Steely Dan recently had completed an album. Van Halen became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene during the mid-1970s, playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go.
According to a January 4, 1977, L.A. Times article entitled HOMEGROWN PUNK by Robert Hilburn, Rodney Bingenheimer saw Van Halen at the Gazzarri club in the summer of 1976, so he took Gene Simmons of Kiss to see Van Halen. Gene Simmons then produced a Van Halen demo tape with recording beginning at the Village Recorder studios in Los Angeles and finished with overdubs at the Electric Lady Studios in New York.
Simmons wanted to change the band's name to "Daddy Longlegs", but the band stuck with Van Halen. Simmons then opted out of further involvement after he took the demo to Kiss management and was told that "they had no chance of making it" and that they wouldn't take them.
All of the tracks were laid down with little over-dubbing or double tracking. Minor mistakes were purposely left on the record and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a live feel. During this time they continued to play various venues in Southern California, including some notable concerts at the Pasadena Convention Center produced by their promoter and impresario, Steve Tortomasi, himself a fixture in the local rock and roll scene.
Upon its release, Van Halen reached No. 19 on the Billboard pop music charts, one of rock's most commercially successful debuts. It was highly regarded as both a heavy metal and hard rock album. The album included songs now regarded as Van Halen classics, like "Runnin' with the Devil" and the guitar solo "Eruption", which showcased Eddie's use of a technique known as 'finger-tapping'.
The band toured for nearly a year, opening for Black Sabbath and establishing a reputation for their performances. The band's chemistry owed much to Eddie Van Halen's technical guitar wizardry and David Lee Roth's flamboyant antics, strong points which later made them rivals. The band returned to the studio in 1978 for Van Halen II, an album similar in style to their debut. This record yielded the band's first hit single, "Dance the Night Away".
Diver Down performed better. The band then earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-paid single appearance of a band: $1.5 million for a 90-minute set at the 1983 US Festival. Despite this return to form, Roth and Eddie's differences continued, and this caused friction with other band members. Billy Sheehan, after his band Talas completed a tour with Van Halen, claims he was approached by Eddie Van Halen to replace Michael Anthony.
1984 (released on January 9, 1984) was their commercial pinnacle. Recorded at Eddie Van Halen's newly-built 5150 Studios, the album featured keyboards, which had only been used sporadically on previous albums. The lead single, "Jump", featured a synthesizer hook and anthemic lyrics, and became the band's first and only No. 1 pop hit, garnering them a Grammy nomination.
The album, however, was also a breaking point for the band. In the midst of the 1984 Tour the artistic and personal tensions among the musicians reached a fever pitch. Reasons for the breakup vary based on the band member interviewed, but were rooted in control of the band's sound and image.
Roth was also having a successful solo career with a hit song and EP (a remake of The Beach Boys classic "California Girls" (#3 U.S.) and the old standard "Just a Gigolo" (#12 U.S.). Roth was also offered a $20-million film deal for a script entitled Crazy For The Heat. Roth hoped Van Halen would contribute the soundtrack; however, the film deal fell through when MGM Pictures was sold in 1986.
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