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.