The death this week of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen conjured up memories from La Cañada High School graduates and teachers of the band Van Halen, which had memorable 1970s performances in La Cañada Flintridge before attaining superstardom.
Eddie Van Halen, who died of throat cancer on Tuesday at age 65, was the master guitarist who teamed with his drummer-brother Alex to create Van Halen, one of the era’s most influential and memorable “hair bands.” Lead singer David Lee Roth and bass player Michael Anthony were other members of the band’s 1970s lineup, all of whom attended Pasadena City College. (Sammy Hagar replaced Roth as lead singer in the 1980s.)
They went on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, particularly following the release of their chart-topping album, “1984.” The band pumped out hits such as “Panama,” “Jump,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and “Hot for Teacher.”
But long before they were selling out arenas and eventually stadiums, the quartet was honing its skills by playing small Pasadena-area venues, including local high schools and backyard parties. Those performances included stops in La Cañada Flintridge with concerts at Lanterman Auditorium and La Cañada High School during the 1975-76 school year.
“We had a ton of bands who came and played [during the students’ lunch break],” said Mary Lou Coutant Langedyke, who served as LCHS ASB director in the 1970s. “Most of them were eager to be there; this was publicity for them. All the bands wanted to get a following [and they hoped the students] would go to the club on Friday night where they would be performing.”
Jim Harvey, who taught at LCHS for 38 years before retiring in 2011, remembers Van Halen’s performance vividly. “One thing the ASB did was let a bunch of bands play. They played in front of the gym and all the kids were gathered around. The 1970s were a great time. One thing you remember — and I was there — was that this band was so good. They had David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers. They went on to become one of the greatest bands of all time. It’s really special. I’ve told my classes [through the years] that Van Halen played here. They would say, ‘No way.’ I said, ‘Yes. They did.’ It’s a great story when you think about it.”
One of the students who witnessed Van Halen’s performance at LCHS was Rick Myers, who was a sophomore during the 1975-76 school year.
“There was nobody in their league. They had pyrotechnics; they launched their rockets,” Myers recalled of their approximately 35-minute lunchtime concert at LCHS. “It was a very cool presentation. And then when they became big, it was cool that there was this Pasadena band that a lot of us had seen … to receive this kind of notoriety.”
Memories seem to have become somewhat foggy five decades later. None of the subjects interviewed for this article recalls for certain if Van Halen performed more than once at LCHS.
However, the band’s other documented local performance occurred on Nov. 22, 1975, at Lanterman Auditorium. Van Halen joined musical acts the Tales (featuring LCF residents) and Wilbur Godsmile. According to an old edition of the Valley Sun, the show was promoted by Dan Sullivan and Shamrock Productions. Tickets were $2.50 each, with 10% of the proceeds benefitting the American Cancer Society.
A decade later after the band had reached superstar status, infighting between Eddie Van Halen and Roth led to the singer’s departure from the band in 1985. Interestingly, before being PCC students, the Van Halen brothers both attended Pasadena High School while Roth was a student at rival John Muir High.
Roth was quickly replaced by another established rock star, Sammy Hagar, who remained with the group for a decade, continuing to pump out chart-topping albums.
Hagar eventually left the group in 1995, again following a dispute with Eddie, although they reunited in the early 2000s for a reunion tour. Roth later rejoined the group for another reunion tour, this time featuring Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s son) on bass.
Eddie Van Halen was consistently ranked as one of the top rock guitarists of all time. He famously provided the lead-in guitar track for Michael Jackson’s smash hit song “Beat It.”
He also had a long struggle with alcohol and drugs, contributing to the ultimate end of his 16-year marriage to actress Valerie Bertinelli, City News Service reported.
“During his legendary career, Grammy Award winner Eddie Van Halen contributed to some of the world’s most iconic music,” the Recording Academy said in a statement. “His explosive guitar playing and approach to the musical process solidified him as an undeniable force in his field and forever established his place as a true guitar hero. The world is lucky to have witnessed Eddie’s genius as a guitarist, and we know he will influence and shape rock music indefinitely.”
Eddie Van Halen is survived by his son and his wife, Janie.
City News Service contributed to this story.