A year before Van Halen embarked on the World Vacation Tour in 1979, their first as the headlining act, Eddie Van Halen spoke to journalist Jas Obrecht. Obrecht and Eddie’s paths initially crossed on July 23rd, 1978, when Obrecht was hanging out backstage waiting to interview Pat Travers. Van Halen and AC/DC were among the opening acts for Travers, Foreigner, and Aerosmith. While waiting for Travers to finish cavorting with a gang of groupies, he started shooting hoops in a basketball court set up backstage. A few minutes later, a man, Obrecht described as “lean, muscular, and about his age,” asked if he could “shoot with him.” That lean, muscular man was Eddie Van Halen. But Obrecht didn’t know that.
After going at it one-on-one with Eddie, still not knowing who he was hanging out with, they took a break, and Ed asked Obrecht “what band he was in.” Obrecht told Ed he was sadly just an editor from Guitar Player dispatched to interview Pat Travers, who blew him off to tryst the night away with a bunch of female fans. Being polite, Obrecht asked his new pal who he was and soon learned his basketball partner was fucking Eddie Van Halen.
In a hot minute, Obrecht turned on his tape recorder, and he, unwittingly, became one of the first people to interview Eddie. Eddie considers the 40 minutes he spent talking to Obrecht in 1978 his first “major interview,” published in Guitar Player in 1978. And it all happened by chance. In 1980, Obrecht took a deep-dive with the then 25-year-old guitar prodigy for Guitar Player, in an interview titled “Young Wizard of Power Rock” which has been widely circulated online for decades.
I’ll leave it to you to read it in its entirety here – and you should, as it captures the thoughts and recollections of the young Van Halen guitar wizard a month after the release of their third album, Women and Children First. The only thing I will share from the interview is this: at this point in time, Eddie wanted to believe Van Halen would go on “forever.”
Didn’t we all.
Now, let’s jump back to the year 1979, so we can see and hear Eddie doing what he did best–shred the fuck out of as many custom-made guitars as possible in one live set. In the space of three short years, Van Halen put out three of the most influential rock albums of all time, and in 1979, they had finally earned the right to be the main attraction at a gig, instead of blowing bands like Black Sabbath off the stage as an opening act for far too long.
On March 25th, 1979, the World Vacation Tour started with a bang in Fresno, where 7,333 fans paid the low, low price of $7.26 to see the band’s sell-out show just a few days after VH released their second album, Van Halen II. Aside from having the firepower to burn your face clean off, in the VHII liner notes the band thanked The Sheraton Inn in Madison, Wisconsin for allowing them to pretty much annihilate the hotel’s entire seventh floor and chuck televisions out of the windows.
In this footage, you can witness the power of EVH on March 25th, 1979 in Fresno by skipping ahead to 11:16.
As Van Halen circa 1979 should. So here’s the best thing about this post – the recently restored live footage from Fresno in which we get to see EVH play (as detailed by the Van Halen News Desk) many of his custom guitars before he would tuck them away for safekeeping in later years. Such as the DragonSnake Eddie commissioned to John F. Sterry, a furniture craftsman who made the dragon-eating-a-snake body of the guitar. I’m no gearhead, mind you, but I do remember seeing Eddie on the cover of Guitar World holding the strange and intimidating guitar in 1981 and thinking, “WTF is THAT?” and my initial perceptions have never changed.
Other guitars Eddie wields with a ferocity never before displayed by a human include his white star Charvel before it got its black and white paint job, and the “Shark,” an Ibanez Destroyer responsible for VH‘s early groundbreaking grooves. We also get to see one of the last appearances of Ed’s Frankenstrat literally days before he painted it in its now-iconic red and white tape pattern.
Here you can see Eddie playing his white Charvel Star guitar during ‘Light up the Sky,’ and ‘Runnin’ With the Devil.’
Gearheads know Eddie never got tired of modifying his guitars, and the Shark was no exception. VH historians think Eddie likely bought the white Destroyer in 1975 or 1976, and he has been photographed playing it as early as 1977 at the Starwood in West Hollywood. Sometime after the release of their first record, Eddie painted the Destroyer red and white in the style of his black and white Frankenstrat. He also decided to use a chainsaw to cut a large “V” shape in the guitar’s body below the bridge and named it the “Shark.”
The news of Eddie Van Halen‘s passing had a profound effect on the music and metal community, much like the loss of Lemmy Kilmister or Eddie’s friend, Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who, as we all know, is buried along with another of Eddie’s creations, Bumblebee – his famous yellow and white striped custom Charvel hybrid. The best thing to do when you’ve lost someone you love is to celebrate their life. And that’s just what we’re gonna do for a while by watching Eddie Van Halen, a true GOAT, blow minds with his weapon of choice, a guitar.
In this footage from Fresno, Ed can be seen playing the Shark as well as the DragonSnake guitar during ‘On Fire,’ and ‘Feel Your Love Tonight.’
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