If Eddie Van Halen wants to record new music, he should consider working outside the band
By ALAN K. STOUT
Bold Gold Media Group
About two years ago, I went to see Van Halen in concert. It was the sixth time I’d seen the band live. In the ‘80s, I saw them with David Lee Roth. In the ‘90s, I saw them with both Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone. And, two years ago, Diamond Dave was back. Sometimes, I went to the show as a journalist, covering the event for newspapers. Sometimes, I was there as fan. (Well, OK ... working or not, I was always there as a fan.) I saw them at venues in New Jersey, at The Meadowlands, and in Philadelphia, at The Spectrum. I saw them in New York, at Bethel Woods, near Woodstock. And I saw them twice in my home region of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, at Montage Mountain. I’ve also seen Hagar, solo, a few times, including a few stops on the 2002 tour that he did with David Lee Roth. I was also able to interview Hagar on one occasion, and on two occasions, I interviewed the great Eddie Van Halen, who I affectionately call “King Edward.”
If you grew up in the ‘80s, Eddie Van Halen was the king of rock guitarists. He literally changed the way, for many, the instrument was played. (In high school, I wore a "VH" necklace, just like Eddie's.) And honestly, when I went to see Van Halen in concert two years ago - (and wore that same necklace) - he was the main reason I went. I love the band, and songs such as “Mean Street” and “Dreams” will always resonate with me. But the last time I went to see them, I was simply in the mood to see Eddie Van Halen play the guitar. It had been a while. And I wanted to see King Edward.
Somehow, Van Halen recently came up in conversation with a friend, and I was talking about what I’d like to see the guitarist do next. Hagar has stated he’d be OK with doing one last tour with the band, and even went as far as saying that, for the sake of the fans, he’d also like Roth to be a part of it, too. And, he'd want original and longtime bassist Michael Anthony there as well. That would be cool. But that probably won’t happen. Maybe they’ll do another tour with just Roth on vocals and Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, on bass. That would be OK, but as a fan, that doesn’t really excite me too much. Another studio album with Roth? Not too exciting either. The last one, 2012’s “A Different Kind of Truth,” was alright, though most of the tracks were re-worked songs that had been demoed in the late 1970s/early 1980s. And what that tells us is that there is no longer any creative spark between Roth and the Van Halen brothers. The fact that it was the first new Van Halen studio album in 13 years, and the fact that they haven’t done another one since, also tells us that there is no prolific songwriting happening in the Van Halen camp. And there hasn’t been in a very long time.
So, what is King Edward to do?
I’ll tell you what I’d like to see him do.
I’d like to see him pull a Santana.
I’d like to see him pull a Santana.
Flashback to 1999. Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana releases “Supernatural,” an ambitious collaborative album that featured an all-star roster of other musicians, some of whom were among the most popular young artists at the time. Dave Matthews appeared on the album, and its biggest single, “Smooth,” featuring Rob Thomas, became one of the biggest singles of all-time. It spent 12 weeks at No. 1 and won three Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. The album hit No. 1 in 10 countries, including 12 weeks at No. 1 in the United States. It went 15 times platinum and, in total, won eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. During the summer of 1999, it seemed that you literally could not walk down the street without hearing “Smooth.” The brainchild of Clive Davis, “Supernatural” was a remarkable career move for Santana and introduced his guitar work to an entire new generation of fans.
Four years later, in 2002, Santana released “Shaman” and again collaborated with young artists. It too hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart and featured the hit single "The Game of Love," with Michelle Branch. It, like “Smooth,” was simply a really great song featuring one of the most beloved guitarists of our time. And I - as a fan - would like to see Eddie Van Halen borrow a few pages from that playbook. He should release an album like “Supernatural.” And if he did, I think it could be one of the most exciting things he’s ever done, both for himself, creatively, and for his fans.
The possibilities of whom Van Halen might collaborate with on such a record are fun to even just think about. Bruno Mars. Adam Levine. Adele. Pink. John Mayer. Blake Shelton. Lady GaGa. Justin Timberlake. Taylor Swift. Beyoncé. Dave Grohl. Trust me, Eddie Van Halen could probably choose whoever he wanted to be on such an album and they’d be lining up to do it. He is, after all, Eddie (expletive) Van Halen. Don’t think he'd have his picking? Who did Michael Jackson call to play on “Beat It” all of those years ago? That time, however, the song was pretty much already done. Eddie just dropped in the guitar solo. This would be different. For this project, perhaps he could write with some of these artists, and hash out some of the arrangements together. And he’d be playing the guitar for the entire song, on every song.
I think the people at radio would get excited about such music because a lot of the people running radio stations these days grew up with Eddie Van Halen, and the idea of matching him up with some of today’s biggest stars could make for some really interesting songs. Bring some great songwriters onto the project. Find a great producer. And just let Eddie do his thing. Maybe he’ll stumble upon a “Smooth.” Maybe, without feeling the need to "shred" on every song, ala the band Van Halen, he’d show us a different scope of his playing. Maybe Eddie Van Halen would not only surprise us, but also himself.
How exciting is that?
Eddie Van Halen doesn’t have to do anything. His place in rock history is secure. He is one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all-time. And his band has released some of the best hard-rock music ever made. But if he’s looking to do something different and something special, and if he’s looking for a challenge, he just might want to think a little bit about Carlos Santana. I think it would be a very interesting move for a guy that, from what I saw just two years ago, can still play that red Fender better than anyone in the world.
(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)