Disclaimer: In the following, I discuss my use of illegal drugs. Let me be clear, I no longer do illegal drugs or have plans to ever do them again, nor do I wish to condone or encourage their use by anyone. Illegal drugs were a part of my life in the past and I can’t change that.
Eddie and I first hooked up in the early ‘80s through my bandmates from the Rod Stewart Group, Jay Davis (bass) and Danny Johnson (guitar). We all came in at the same time so we will always have the camaraderie of being called the Septic Tank Yanks (see my post about my days with Rod and the boys).
Back then, Rod wrote songs with the band so we all played on each others demos. Jay wrote Rod’s hit Baby Jane on which I played the alto sax solo.
They had a side project going at the time – ’82 or 83 – called Private Life – There was a female singer, Kelly Breznik, and Jay & Danny were writing and playing on it. Eddie Van Halen was involved with the project as co-producer, so consequently we got to know each other in the studio and rehearsals.
We hit it off immediately. He is such an open and friendly guy – but very intense when it comes to the music. On one song we were rehearsing I had a harp solo. I tore through it as I would with EVH playing along and watching and I did one of my signature fast harp licks. He rolls his eyes and smiles yelling, “Whoa!!!!”
So after the song’s done, he comes right up to me with guitar on and says, “Do that again. Do that riff!” So I do. He starts trying to pick it out on his guitar and pretty much almost got it but says, “One more time. Do it again.” To which I reply deadpan, “Sorry man, one pass is all ya get. After that ya gotta pay.” He looked at me like he was gonna hit me and then we all started laughing and we bonded. He eventually came up with his version of the lick which he probably never played again… lol…
He was and is a musical freak o’nature and a helluva nice guy. He starts telling me how his dad was a sax player when he was a kid, how he loves it, how it really influenced him and he still had his Dad’s sax. One thing lead to another and I found myself being EVH’s saxophone teacher…
He was married to the actress Valerie Bertinelli at the time and she was on his ass about drinking and smoking. It seemed Eddie always had a cigarette and a Coors in his hand all the time… if not a guitar. They had a house at the beach in Malibu and I’d go out there from West Hollywood to give him lessons.
At the first lesson, I brought a beginner sax book so he could learn the fingerings. He took one look at the book and tossed it down saying, “I don’t wanna learn from no fuckin’ book! Just show me some licks!” I tried to reason with him but he was having none of it. So I told him to put his sax on. I proceed to blow a couple of blues licks.
He said, “Ok, cool. What was that?”
– “Hit a Eb to E up to G then A and repeat fast.”
– “How do I hit an Eb?” then looked at me and he knew I had him.
– “Oh what luck. There’s a fingering chart in this book I brought!”
– “Muthafucker!” and I’m laughing.
He started learning the fingering that day.
During this time a gig was booked for a Private Life showcase at the infamous Trancas Nightclub, right down the hill from Eddie’s house in Malibu (see my post about when Eric Burdon & I played there).
Word had got out that EVH was gonna play a few songs so the place was packed. I’d gotten to know Valerie a bit during my lesson visits so we said hello backstage.
We’re all back there drinking and getting psyched to go on stage and everybody goes except me because I didn’t play on the first song or two. I find myself alone in the room and pull out a bindle of coke and proceed to do a couple snorts off a key and the door opens and Eddie pops his head in with guitar on and says “I knew it!!! Gimme a bump!”
For some reason we were right by the door and just as I’m putting a key full of blow up to his nose the door opens and Valerie is looking right at Eddie and then at me as he still sniffs it all up his nose. We were literally in each others face and she loses it, yelling over and over “You motherfucker!!!! I can’t believe you!!!…” and on and on… She gave me the stink eye from hell, yelled at Eddie some more then stalked out.
Eddie just shrugged and wanted more blow. I said something like, “Well, so much for the home sax lessons.”
We laughed and then did a helluva show. We traded licks all night and just tore the roof off the place. Great fucking night.
eddie is awesome
I WAS AT THE TRANCAS SHOW!! I’ve been reminiscing about that, and I posted this on facebook (And yes, Jimmy, I remember you coming out and honking on your sax 😀 )
I worked for a ticket agency in Los Angeles for a couple of years, 88-89 or so.
A regular with whom I had bonded over a similar love of music came in to pick up tickets one afternoon. He said “Rich, you really, REALLY want to be at Trancas in Malibu on such and such a date. Private Life is playing, with special guest stars.”
“Who the hell is Private Life?” I asked.
“They opened for Van Halen for some of the OU812 tour. . . .”
Cut to a couple of months later, and I’m at Trancas, packed into the club side of the establishment. The room maybe holds 100 people, give or take, but it’s elbow to elbow as Private Life does their thing. Nothing spectacular, don’t even remember any of their songs. They finished up, and said they had a special guest in the house that night. Something to the effect of “You may or may not know, but we opened for Van Halen on several OU812 tour dates. Ladies and gentlemen, our friend Eddie Van Halen!”
The place goes NUTS when Eddie walks out with Frankenstein, straps it on, sticks his cigarette under the strings on the headstock, and starts playing.
I don’t even remember what they played that night – I’m sure “You Really Got Me” was one, hell, I don’t remember.
The thing that will always stay with me is me, being a wannabe guitar player (still am) standing ten feet away from one of the greatest guitarists to walk the earth – and even then, in a little club, that damn grin of his. (Oh yeah – Sammy Hagar and Valerie Bertinelli were backstage, and they stuck their heads out of the door, grinning like fools.)
I was so lucky to be there, and I will treasure the memory or that night forever.
RIP, EVH 1955 – 2020
Cool to hear about your perspective on that night. The only thing I would say is it was way before 1988-89.Jay Davis, bass player, with Rod Stewart at the time and Danny Johnson, also either still playing with Rod or had just left the band. Anyway, I left The Rod Stewart Group in 85 so it was either that year or before. Anyway, great memories of a great night. Best,
awesome..love these stories. when is the book coming out?
My media guru Frank is trying his best to get my lazy ass to write or record my stories… maybe you’d be up for interviewing me for all the stories???
Hey Jimmy! I was there too!…I ditched the long line to get in and headed for the kitchen entrance. As soon as I walked in there, I see Klaus Meine, Rudolph Schenker, and Mattias Jabs from the Scorpions!!…It was just us in there waiting around, so we started talking rock and roll, music, and having a great animated conversation, all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder and I thought uh oh I’m gonna get thrown out…I turn around to see and its Edward. In one continuous movement he shakes my hand, say’s ‘Hi I’m Edward” and brushes me to the side As he steals my conversation with the Scorpions! Well I knew I was way out-gunned in this room, So I headed for the bar with a big grin..You guys played great that night…A night I’ll always remember
Wow!! I had no idea those kinds of characters were in the house. That’s awesome!! But that was LA and the world we lived in then. I can surmise when Eddie tapped you on the shoulder he’d just come from me backstage and was fairly jacked up on dummy dust. But that is typical Eddie… on one hand humbly introducing himself and then politely pushing your ass outta the way. Ya gotta love it!!! You handled it well. We were lucky and blessed to witness the genius up close and then of course on the radio!!!
Greg & Cindy OCampo
Yes Jimmy..get off your ass and get working on that book, can hardly wait to read about more of your awsome, crazy stories. We are proud to have a friend making it big in the music scene. You are the BEST harp player on earth my friend.
Peace & Keep Rockin
Point taken… and valid. Ya sound like my Media Guru Frank Colin. Funny though… I keep making money playing music and it takes a lot of my time. If someone would send me a proper advance I think I could get a lot more written. Z
Any idea of the date of the Trancas gig? I was at that show! I saw the tiny ad in the LA Times Calendar section where it said “Private Life — as produced by Eddie Van Halen” or something to that affect—so I told a friend. “We gotta go!” and says, “Why?” and I say, “Because it’s in Malibu where Eddie lives and I’ll bet he’ll be there.” Turns out A LOT of people had the same idea. I met Ed, Valerie, Sammy (nicest dude with the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen) Mick Fleetwood (yes, he’s very tall!), members of The Scorpions (not so tall!). Sammy actually spent a few minutes talking music with me and looked me dead in the eye the entire time — that was awesome, and genuine! At one point, Eddie and Valerie were sitting at a booth sippin’ a beer and people were walking up and trying to get autographs, I felt bad and just wanted to say “Hi” but the guy in front of me was a total tool. Eddie said he wasn’t signing anything that night and just wanted to watch the band play, but this idiot kept pressing and saying, “Aw come on! Just one autograph!” and being totally obnoxious and rude. Ed finally grabbed the napkin he was shoving at him and signed it and threw the pen and napkin back at him, obviously pissed (who wants to get an autograph that way?). The guy walks away and I’m standin’ there with this embarrassed look on my face while he looks at me as if to say, “What do YOU want?” — I just stick out my hand and say, “I’m sorry about that guy. I just wanted to say thank you for all the great music and inspiring me to play guitar.” His face goes into THAT grin and he shakes my hands and says, “Thanks for sayin’ that, man.” Valerie (I always had a crush on her) then takes my hand and says “Hi. Nice to meet you.” and they both smile at me as I back away. Good people. At another point there was a jam session (I think they did “Rock and Roll” by Zepplin and some other tunes) with Ed, Sammy, I believe Mic Fleetwood on drums(?), maybe Michael Anthony on bass(?)—I think Billie Burnette had just joined Fleetwood Mac and played a song or two (so maybe this was ’87-’88?) I don’t drink, but I think there was a $5 or $10 cover charge to get in. That night totally spoiled me for ever going to the Forum to see any of these artists from 50 yards again! It was a magical night meeting my hero, EVH, shaking his hand while saying “Thanks” and standing 3 feet away from him while he played. RIP EVH.
I was there at Trancas that night as well. It was just insanity when Eddie was introduced, but since I was in the far back, it was hard to see. Most definitely it was an elbow to elbow packed tight, crowed. I wish I could remember the year..everything is a blur. I was maybe 20, and was just overwhelmed by the entire vibe. I remember thinking to myself, “this guy isn’t real!!” Eddie was beyond wild on that stage, and he ruled it. He was the king…His playing, vocals and antics were nothing I had ever seen before. His energy was supernatural. I just wish I could go back in time. RIP King Edward….
Also Gary Busey was there. And if I remember correctly the Scorpions were in town right around the same time recording because Zeke Clark got me a gig shooting MSG at the Palace for Gibson Guitars and after the show we were all backstage and that’s where I saw the Scorpions and found out . Here are a couple shots from the Palace the night I shot Michael https://photos.app.goo.gl/VScnqQxQNoVL5tt26 I might add that it was not till later that month that I found out the photo-bomber was Jani Lane https://photos.app.goo.gl/6kgdkq8YKT8rWz5Q8