Visiting Wolfgang Van Halen’s First Day as Van Halen’s Bassist
You are fifteen years old. You are about to play your first rehearsal with Van Halen, on an instrument you've only been playing seriously for a couple of months. You're a little nervous, right?
Well, then you are not Wolfgang Van Halen. According to Eruption in the Canyon author Andrew Bennett, who was there to film the youngster's first day playing with his father Eddie's famous rock band, Wolfgang was cool as a cucumber.
"I was more nervous about my summer jobs mowing lawns than this kid was about joining Van Halen," remembers Bennett. "Wolfgang really enjoyed being there, he was having a great time. You would think a teenager would be like, 'I can't believe I'm about to join Van Halen and play stadiums, I'm nervous about the big crowds.' But Wolfgang was just like, 'nah, man, let's do this.'"
Eruption in the Canyon features photos and stories from Bennett's two stints working at Eddie Van Halen's 5150 studios. In addition to the instantly infamous tale of Eddie allegedly putting a gun to the head of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, the book covers the band's tense and brief 2004 studio reunion with Sammy Hagar, and Wolfgang taking over for Michael Anthony on bass two years later.
"Eddie reached out and said, 'I've kicked Michael Anthony out of the band, I've replaced him with my son, I want you to come up here and film this.' What was supposed to be one day turned into three, turned into a month, turned into months. I was there from day one, I was there for Wolfgang's first rehearsal, I filmed it."
Despite what Bennett describes as very little prep time, Wolfgang's ability to hang with his guitar hero father and drumming uncle Alex Van Halen was immediately apparent to everybody in the tiny studio. "My understanding was that he had rehearsed the catalog on his own for a month or two, and then he showed up for rehearsal and just nailed it."
The first song the trio played together was 1984's "Panama." "If you could see the footage, the look on Ed's face is priceless," says Bennett. "He was excited. Now here he is with his brother and his son, not just like fucking around or noodling around, instead this kid is some kind of a savant. It was so cool to see Eddie so happy and so into it. Usually he just stands still, he doesn't move around in rehearsal. But there was days where he was so excited with Wolf right there, you would see him doing these little stage moves. It was fun to see him happy like that."
The trio spent the next six months rehearsing the biggest songs from Van Halen's David Lee Roth-era catalog two or three times a day. According to Bennett, Wolfgang didn't require much coaching. "There were a couple of times where Ed would point something out to him, or show him how to move his fingers. But those were few and far between. The best part was just watching this 15-year-old kid, who can't even drive a car, who had just learned the Van Halen catalog, and he's standing there, I kid you not, looking like he's bored out of his mind. Don't get me wrong, he was very happy to be there, but he looked like a kid who was at summer school, except his summer school was, 'you have to join Van Halen.'
Bennett was also quick to note that family bonds didn't protect Wolfgang from his father's perfectionism. "As much as Eddie was loving having his son there, and this was such a magical moment for him, the deal was, 'You're still the bass player in Van Halen man, you still have to get this shit right.' There would be days where he would be pushing Wolf: 'No man, get up, we're playing three more songs.'
Like any typical teenager, Wolfgang would occasionally try to shirk his less exciting duties. "Eddie played 'Eruption' one day, and Wolfgang said, 'do I even need to be here for this?' He's standing off to the side, plucking one string. It's just such a sight to see, this 15-year-old-kid leaning against his amp, bored out of his mind while his dad shreds the most infamous guitar solo in history."
According to Bennett, the idea for the band's long-awaited 2007 reunion with Roth came about very casually. "Wolfgang just brought it up. Rehearsal ended one day and he said, 'hey dad you know what we should do? We should call Roth see if he wants to get back together and go on tour.' And Eddie says, 'sure, fucking call him.'
And then, finally, Wolfgang outwardly displayed some anxiety. "So he sat there and wrote out this script with pen and paper. He was really nervous, and then he picked up the phone and called Roth, got his voicemail. He says, 'Hi Dave, my name is Wolfgang Van Halen, I'm the new bass player in Van Halen. We've been jamming lately and we're wondering if you might want to come jam and maybe go on tour. Give me a call..."