Stuff of Legends: Van Halen

“There is an element of music that is for the people. You make music for people. Otherwise, just play in your closet. And how do you reach the most people? By giving them the band that they know. To do it any other way would be selfish.” – Eddie Van Halen as told to Billboard Magazine

Photo: Courtesy of Neil Zlozower (

With the recent passing of Eddie Van Halen, this post is dedicated to him.

Commonly considered as one of the most iconic guitarists of rock and roll, someone who pioneered a guitar technique for a new generation of players, the reflection on the path that this immigrant son of America took to reach the pinnacle of musical success cannot be understated. It started in a way that is so familiar to musicians in local and famous bands alike…at home, participating in school electives, perhaps private lessons, playing out at local venues, and of course idolizing their heroes.

Photo: Courtesy of
Photo: Courtesy of

When viewing these pictures here on Bands, Bars, & Gigs, it’s illustrative of how many famous bands started out…neighborhood groups that played backyard parties and bars in their area.  Van Halen is one of those bands, and is widely considered one of the best cover groups in Southern California during the early-mid 1970’s. The group got their start performing at high school events, parties, and local bars on the Sunset Strip.

Photo: Attributed to Bo Shannon (Van Halen at the Starwood)

Formed in Pasadena, CA, and first known by the name Mammoth, the band eventually evolved and changed its name to Van Halen in the mid 1970’s when the eccentric frontman, David Lee Roth (DLR), and bass player, Michael Anthony, who replaced the original bassist, Mark Stone, joined the band. As a local group who found their way to Gazzarri’s, a night club on the Sunset Strip, they quickly became a house band. This is where their legend was made before catapulting to the point of recording their first album. The fact is, the band had a master list from which they could perform over 200 cover songs from rock groups they admired, and that the people who followed them wanted to hear. Little by little the band started slipping in one of their original tunes to soften up the front. They wanted to try and make a career of it. This is the stuff of local band dreams!

Photo: Courtesy of Lens/Estrada Media Punch (Van Halen at Whisky A Go Go)

The formula and timing was right for Van Halen. The thing to remember though, it started out exactly the same way so many of you who play in local bands…at the grassroots level. Whether you aspire to make it as a professional, or simply do it to have fun and enjoy the buzz of playing in front of a crowd, regardless of size, always remember…bands like Van Halen started out in the local scene — most bands do. This is the premise of Bands, Bars, & Gigs.

2 thoughts on “Stuff of Legends: Van Halen

  • I was sad to see Eddie Van Halen pass away. I grew up in a household of musicians. They played gigs at the Roxy and other Hollywood venues back in the day. In the 70’s we thought everyone had talent because all these bands from the 70’s made it look so easy. Three Dog Night, Santana, etc etc. Then we got to the 80’s and 90’s and well… you know, things changed.
    Great memories from these times.

    • Carlos Santana! Three Dog Night! Amazing acts. And the cool part is that they all started out as young local talent that worked their way through at the grassroots level to get discovered. While things change through the years, one thing remains the same, no one moves to the big time without having paid their dues. And that’s the power of local. Thank you for the comment, Ingrid 🙂

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