Warm Southern Breeze

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Dating Eddie Van Halen

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, October 11, 2020

Eddie Van Halen performing at New Haven Coliseum, color-corrected image

Rock guitar god and musical innovator Eddie Van Halen (1955–2020) died recently from throat cancer which had spread to his brain, and other organs. For nearly 20 years, from the late 1970’s through the mid-1990’s, through the ascendancy to peak of the band’s popularity, he had made his mark upon the world by and through his musicianship, and a well-known penchant for “tinkering” with his equipment, much like another renown late rock god and inventor – Les Paul – whom is considered the father of multi-track recording, and of the electric guitar.

As well, the Van Halen band’s customary practices brought about significant changes to the live-performance industry in performance contracts, with the addition of “riders” to their contracts – criteria stipulating certain conditions and specifications which must be met. The band was renown for their stipulation of seemingly picayune, senseless and inane requests, such as a bowlful of M&M’s candies which had to be placed in each of their dressing rooms. While deeper within the contract a separate stipulation would require the removal of all the brown-colored M&M’s.

Bizarre as it may seem, however, David Lee Roth, former lead singer and frontman who for 10 years helped catapult the band to success with now-iconic hits and his characteristic ultra high-energy performances, then rejoining for its last 10, said there was rhyme and reason to the seeming madness. It was a test to see if the contract had been thoroughly read and honored, which was critically important because of legitimate safety concerns the band had for their own, and others’ safety and well-being, as well as for preventing costly damage to equipment.

Early in the band’s history, several members of their road crew had very nearly been fatally electrocuted because of various failures by the venues to properly prepare the site, and to protect the band. David Lee Roth said that if either the bowl of M&M’s candies was missing, or had brown M&M candies in it, they could reasonably assume that there were other stipulations and aspects of the contract which had been ignored – most notably for safety and or security – and would therefore have the right of inspection or refusal for the venue’s failure to perform according to the terms of the contract stipulations. Today, such riders are commonplace in performance contracts.

Sadly, Eddie’s years of smoking, and heavy drinking (he’d said that he began drinking aged 12) and drug abuse (his drug of choice was cocaine) finally caught up with him, and in 2000 he had undergone surgery to remove part of his tongue, which had become cancerous. Tragically, he denied that tobacco had any role in the disease, and instead, blamed as culprit the metal guitar picks he used which he would place in his mouth, rather than smoking. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

By his own admission, Eddie had become an alcoholic, relying upon alcohol just to get through the day. For him, it had literally become a necessary tool for survival, one which his body now required in order to function. However late, he fortunately sought treatment, and successfully completed rehab for his affliction in 2007, and remained sober from that time forward.

But by then, the disease had already claimed an early victim – his 1981 marriage to Valerie Bertinelli, whom bore their son Wolfgang in 1991. By 2001, she had separated from Eddie, and 4 years later filed for divorce, which was finalized in 2007.

Eddie remarried in 2009, and three years later in late August 2012 cut short several touring engagements, after undergoing emergency surgery for diverticulitis, and apparently never fully recovering to the extent that he could return to performing. And in 2019, he was again hospitalized, this time with complications from medicines which he’d been taking to treat throat cancer, for which he’d been receiving the past 5 years.

Eddie Van Halen.

May he rest in peace.

But that brief bittersweet biography of him wasn’t what I really wanted to share. It was another story, this one my own, about Eddie Van Halen.

While I never met the man, like many others, his band’s music helped form the soundscape to a significant part of my life. And so, following his recent death, as I was reading the numerous stories and anecdotes about his life, I happened upon an image of him which purported to be made at a 2012 performance at New Haven Coliseum, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Original, color uncorrected image, Eddie Van Halen, New Haven Coliseum

Quite frankly, the original image of him in concert was horrible, and I wanted to color correct it. And as many others in such settings are, it was washed out with powerful spotlights, and colored with an almost sickeningly blue-green hue – an altogether very unflattering presentation and image, regardless of the subject. But that’s part and parcel of rock and pop concerts – brightly flashing colored lights, and more, theatrical tools all designed to excite the concert-goers, and somehow make for a more memorable event.

But there were other problems with the image, besides the horrible appearance of it. And that was, if the image was made at New Haven Coliseum, but not in 2012, when was it made?

You see, the New Haven Coliseum was razed in January 2007.

Upon closer examination, the EXIF data associated with the digitized image showed that it was created by a scanner, not a camera, which fully discredited Date/Time stamp in the EXIF data.

There was yet another correction to be made.

But again, if the image was made at the New Haven Coliseum, when was it made? During his career, he performed there at least 8 times, and the band made a video and DVD of one such performance at that venue.

My work was cut out for me.

Having neither an extensive knowledge of the man nor of the band, I began researching dates, appearances, schedules, and other associated information about the man. Fortunately, there’s a veritable treasure trove of such information in seemingly countless websites, primarily from “deep dive” fansites and crowd-sourced concert databases, but in sites catering to musicians, the music and recording industry, and others, including the band’s own official website.

Eddie Van Halen with the second iteration of his renown “Frankenstrat” guitar – a custom-made instrument which he crafted.

The greatest clue was his guitar.

Renown primarily for the musical style, sound, and technique which he cultivated and perfected, which he called “tapping” – playing the instrument on the fretboard with both hands, rather than forming bar chords with one, and playing the strings with the other – his guitar was the focus of many interviews and photographs. “Frankenstrat,” which Eddie had nicknamed it, was unique, to say the least. With its radicalized angled red background with white and black stripes in an indiscriminate pattern, and other customizations which he made, some of which were quite primitive, it was truly one-of-a-kind. No other guitar even looked remotely close to it. And no other guitar ever sounded like it.

Examining the image more closely, I noticed that the instruments in the two images were different. Such a detail would be naturally more closely scrutinized by an enthusiastic or long-time fan, but it only merely piqued my curiosity. Yet it formed a critical part of the basis of my investigation – a search for an answer to the question: When was that image made?

Eddie Van Halen’s ORIGINAL “Frankenstrat” guitar which he made and customized

Eddie’s original “Frankenstrat” guitar was white with randomized scattered black stripes, and and had a large black pick guard. The one with which most are familiar has a red base, with white and black stripes, and no pick guard.

Eddie was an inveterate tinkerer and made several “customizations” to his guitar early in his career, some of which were rather primitive, the most notable of which were as changes to the pickups. Not wanting anyone to know what he had done and how he achieved his sound, he used the pick guard to hide his work, and his pick hand largely hid the pickup in the bridge position. Early in his career he was initially very secretive about what he had done, not wanting any others to copy him, hence his use of the pick guard.

So the pertinent question to this matter was, “When did Eddie change the color of his guitar?”

Again, recall that we’re searching for the answer to an even greater question, that being, “When was that image of him made?” And supposing the venue to be correct – the New Haven Coliseum – our greatest clue is the guitar.

Turning to a fansite, Van Halen News Desk, there was an item about his guitar, specifically, it was the answer to the question, “When did Eddie repaint his guitar red?”

According to an archived 1997 interview with Wally “Cartoon” Olney, a longtime and childhood friend of the Van Halens, he helped Eddie paint his guitar red, and shared this story about it.

“I just thought of another interesting tidbit. Van Halen was going to play the Los Angeles Coliseum for an event called the CaliFFornia World Music Festival. It was a two-day event, and on the first day there was a shitload of bands. Aerosmith with the headliner, but Van Halen had just begun to become a headliner. Their second album was out by now. They were successful on their first tour [the year before], opening for Sabbath, but were still an opening band at that time. But [in 1979] they were just becoming a major arena-size band. A few days before the gig, I stopped by Ed and Al’s house on an overcast, rainy day. I pulled in the driveway and Ed was in the backyard with his dog, Monty, painting his guitar. It was the black-and-white striped one he used to play. He was painting it red because he was pissed how everyone was copying his guitar. He had a real thing about people copying him. I actually helped him paint that guitar.

“In the midst of our conversation, Ed mentioned that ticket sales for the important show at the Coliseum were very, very slow. As it turned out, it was also the same year as the first Long Beach Grand Prix. Everyone was going to the race.

“The band was really starting to see some success. The money was starting to roll in and Ed was always working very hard. But that day he was so mad, it was like, ‘Fuck this band, fuck this rock concert stuff! Nobody is coming to our show! They’d rather go to a fucking car race!’ His vibe was very strange, like, ‘Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. I’m painting my fucking guitar because everyone’s copying it. I’m going to be different.’ Basically, he was really down that day about the race affecting the ticket sales for such an important gig, and was frustrated that so many people were copying his white and black guitar.”

The CaliFFornia World Music Festival was held April 7 & 8, 1979 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Eddie Van Halen performing on March 31, 1979 at Utah State University, Logan, UT with his freshly painted “Frankenstrat” guitar

An image of him playing at Utah State University in Logan March 31, 1979 shows the now-iconic red/white/black color schemed guitar, sans large black pick guard, which configuration he played the remainder of his career.

Concert Archives website indicates that Van Halen had performances March 25, 26, and 27 in Fresno, CA, Sacramento, CA and Medford, OR, respectively, and on the 28th in Salem, OR, and 30th in Caldwell, ID, with a break from January 16, 1979 until March 25.

So we now have a very close approximate date – sometime in early-to-mid March 1979 – and can work backward from there.

Again turning to the performance archives website Rock Tour Database, we find that on August 12, 1979 Van Halen performed at New Haven Coliseum, as part of the “World Vacation” tour, in which Screams opened for them. But at that time, his guitar would have already been painted the iconic red+white with black stripes.

Finding a performance date BEFORE January 1979 would be critical.

And in 1978, from August 22 – November 20 Van Halen made 35 tour appearances with, and opened for Black Sabbath, including 1 solo appearance, many of which were European dates.

But on September 10, 1978, Van Halen opened for Black Sabbath in a performance at New Haven Coliseum. It was their first show in that state ever, and their ONLY show in Connecticut that year.

The photographer noted that Van Halen had opened for Rick Derringer and Black Sabbath at the concert where he made that image, and so, based upon the aforementioned facts, we can safely conclude that the image was made at New Haven Coliseum on Sunday, September 10, 1978.

 

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