The death last week of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen conjured up memories from former Glendale Community College students of the band Van Halen, which had a memorable 1975 performance in the school’s quad before attaining superstardom.
Eddie Van Halen, who died of throat cancer 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. (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 after 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 it was selling out arenas and eventually stadiums, the quartet was honing its skills by playing small area venues, including local high schools and backyard parties. Those performances included stops at GCC and Montrose’s bowling alley 45 years ago.
One of those fortunate enough to have been there was then-freshman Mary Garson, who happened to be a budding young photographer.
“It was really impressive,” Garson said of the performance. “It was their first time [at GCC] and I didn’t know if it was going to be exciting or be a dud. They did not disappoint.
“They were bombastic. They were young, hungry, and had a lot of energy. It was so good between the four of them. They had a good rapport with each other; they were well rehearsed. We thought, ‘These guys are really good and they’re going to make it.’ You knew you were in the presence of greatness; the greatness was in its early stages, but you could tell that it was already there.”
As for Eddie Van Halen’s guitar prowess: “Ed was the best from the very beginning,” Garson said. “He wasn’t just playing the guitar; he was getting sounds to come out of it that pretty much nobody had ever heard before.”
Meanwhile, Roth “seemed supremely confident in himself,” she said. “Personally I thought he was very sexy. ‘Look how low his pants are. Look at how hairy his chest is.’ He was very confident.”
At the end of the midday concert, the 19-year-old Garson introduced herself to Roth. He saw her photos of that performance within the next week, they developed a friendship and she became a regular photographer of Van Halen during many of its performances as their popularity was taking off.
Daniel Sullivan had just graduated from high school and was a freshman at Pasadena City College when he met members of the band.
“I came into contact with what appeared to be a rock ’n’ roll god wannabe, David Lee Roth, and we became friends,” Sullivan said. “I met Alex and Eddie in between classes. I felt the need to promote these guys — they had such intense talent, and Roth’s savvy showmanship was the precursor to what we all came to see on MTV and in concerts in the years that followed. These guys were the real deal and I believed I could put on better shows and help my friends as well.”
Sullivan, indeed, became a promoter of early Van Halen concerts, including helping organize the show at GCC.
For many of its concerts in 1975-76, Van Halen would mix some original songs with covers from the likes of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Deep Purple, Black Oak Arkansas and Foghat.
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.
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, also after a dispute with Eddie, although they got back together 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 “Beat It.”
He also had a long struggle with alcohol and drugs, contributing ultimately to the 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.”
“What a humble and sweet, gentle soul Eddie was,” wrote Sullivan, the promoter. “This is something you’ll hear over and over echoing amongst those that knew him best.
“Rest in peace, Eddie. If heaven has a talent show, I’m sure you’ll put together one hell of a band.”
Eddie Van Halen is survived by his son and his wife, Janie.
City News Service contributed to this story.