Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rock N Roll Birthday: Wolfgang Van Halen

Inspired by your existence, your dad names a song after your birth date once you hit the atmosphere; at the age of 5, your dad names a guitar after you; at 13, you play on stage with your dad during his famous solo spot; and by 15, you’re re-teaching your dad some of his most popular songs so that you can go on tour with him when you’re 16 – the year before a second guitar is named after you.

Your dad is Eddie Van Halen.

Happy Birthday to Wolfgang Van Halen, who turns 19 today.

Wolf has grown up in the most unusual of circumstances: the child of two celebrity parents (ahem, Valerie Bertinelli), VH fans were aware of him before he was born in 1991. Legend has it that Eddie would play a quiet instrumental piece while placing his guitar on Valerie’s stomach, and that the music soothed the child within; it was titled “316” and first appeared on VH’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (’91).

Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - 316 Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - 316

Wolfgang grew up during the Sammy Hagar years, and it was all he knew: once Hagar joined, VH essentially stopped playing Roth-ear material, with the exception of “Jump,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Panama.” It was during the "Balance" tour (’95), that Wolf stumbled upon classic VH on the car radio, hearing “Hot For Teacher” for the first time but, while recognizing his dad’s guitar sound and style, had no idea who was singing.

Van Halen - 1984 - Hot for TeacherVan Halen - 1984 - Hot for Teacher

Van Halen - Hot For Teacher (1984)

The Peavey EVH Wolfgang was introduced when Eddie launched his own guitar line in ‘96; with a reputation in the Canadian music industry as a VH authority, Warner Music Canada approached me to help introduce the instrument by designing and running a national radio/online contest across Canada, which I did for the Rock Radio Network (RRN). Three years later, I finally snagged my own Peavey Wolfgang, and it plays ridiculously well to this day.

Taking to music at an early age, Wolf picked up drums and piano, and then the most daunting instrument of all: for Christmas ’03, Eddie gave him one of his three original guitars, which hadn’t seen the light of day since the "1984" album and tour. Few people have changed the nature of an instrument the way that Ed changed guitar; now his son was picking it up – much pressure, there?

The public got their first look at Wolf when he briefly joined Ed on stage during the 2004 “reunion” tour with Hagar: in the middle of Ed’s solo, Wolf walked out playing “316,” sat down next to his dad at the edge of the stage, and the two grinned from ear-to-ear.

On the home front, Ed played with his son at Wolf’s junior high school grad in 2005: Wolf’s band was called “Die Sheise” – German for “The S**t.”

Picking up bass at 14, Wolf has largely been credited for VH reconnecting with David Lee Roth and its roots: jamming in their home studio with dad and ‘Uncle” Alex, legend has it that Wolf not only picked the set list, but helped Eddie relearn parts of his early VH songs – material that formed the foundation of the band’s career (aka ‘the Roth years’). In the fall of 2006, Eddie announced that Wolf was joining VH as bassist, leaving Michael Anthony to his own devices.

There was six months of jamming before Roth walked in to Eddie’s “5150” studio on August 15, 2007, for the first Roth-VH rehearsal in years; everyone was impressed with the fit. Wolf was taken out of grade 11 for the 2007 tour, but still had work to do: 3-4 hrs a day of tutoring while on the road, which kept him on track to graduate in spring 2009. With graduation behind him, reports are that Wolf has been working on VH material for a new disc, possibly due later this spring, with rumours that a summer tour may be on the horizon.

Trivia: Wolf joined Ed in April 2008 for the first father-son cover in Guitar World magazine history.

After Ed road-tested prototypes on the '07-'08 tour, the EVH Wolfgang was introduced in 2009. Wolf has also impacted the VH franchise in other ways: when Guitar Hero: Van Halen was put together for release in ‘09, it was Wolf who selected the non-VH tracks for the game, based on his gaming expertise and personal tastes.

On the 2007 tour, there was certainly a lot of talk about Wolf’s role and whether or not he could actually play. Here’s a couple of videos from the Oakwood School Arts Fair in 2009 that should put any further speculation to rest….

Jimmy Eat World - Jimmy Eat World - The MiddleJimmy Eat World - Jimmy Eat World - The Middle

Wolfgang Van Halen – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)
The Oakwood School Arts Fair 2009
(Wolf on lead vocals & guitar)

Papa Roach - Infest - Last ResortPapa Roach - Infest - Last Resort

Wolfgang Van Halen – Last Resort (Papa Roach cover)
The Oakwood School Arts Fair 2009
(Wolf on guitar)