5 Things You Might Not Know About Alex Van Halen
Today we celebrate the birthday of drummer Alex Van Halen, who you probably know best from the band that he formed with his brother. We’re blanking on the band’s name right this second, but it’ll come to us eventually. Anyway, to honor Alex, we’ve put together a list of five things you may not know about this outstanding percussionist, and we’ve also offered up the official Van Halen playlist for your listening enjoyment.
1. When he and Eddie first started playing music together, Alex was on guitar and Eddie was on drums.
“After about a week or two we decided to change, because I didn’t care for the guitar and Ed didn’t care for drums,” Alex told The Georgia Straight in 1995. “I had taken flamenco lessons and all that, and I could read, but there was no connection between me and the instrument. To me it was just a piece of wood with metal strings. But when Ed picked it up, he just connected with it instantly; it was as if it was meant to be there all along.”
2. He took music classes at Pasadena City College, including a composition class in which he arranged West Side Story for a fourteen-piece orchestra.
No, Alex never graduated, but in his defense, he had a heck of a lot of other things going on at the time. In addition to directing and managing his own band with Eddie, he was also a fill-in player for his father’s wedding band. In Ian Christie’s book Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, Richard Kreis, one of the wedding band’s bass players, discussed how impressed he was with Alex’s performances. “I was surprised by how well Alex played our kind of music – polkas and waltzes,” said Kreis. “He carried the rhythm of the band! And while we set up before the bar opened, he’d watch the door while I got the beer from the tap.”
3. His high respect for John Bonham led him to stop reading Circus Magazine.
In an interview with Drum Magazine, Alex praised Bonham to the heavens, calling him the most underrated drummer. “He had a lot of finesse, a lot of stuff that he did in between – other than just the two-four,” said Alex. “He brought dynamics and sensitivity to the instrument. When the guy only gets, upon his death, a half a page in Circus Magazine… That’s when I stopped looking at the magazine.”
4. In addition to his drumming, it’s arguable that he also emulated Bonham’s hotel room shenanigans to a degree.
Van Halen were a band whose members could always be counted on for a good party, but it would be fair to say that sometimes the parties went on a bit too long. As Christie wrote in his aforementioned Van Halen biography, “The name Alex Van Halen soon dominated damage reports issued by band management, detailing lamps that had been drummed to pieces, smashed hotel room mirrors, bathroom doors off their hinges, toilet seats found in the parking lot, telephones hanging out the window, and room service carts wrecked from Mississippi to California.”
5. He used to set his drumsticks on fire and do a lights-out drum solo.
As you might imagine, this trick looked pretty amazing onstage. It had its hazards, though, which is why you may not recall having seen him do this. “After Alex finally lit his hair on fire by accident onstage,” wrote Christie, “he no longer doused his sticks and entire drum set with burning lighter fluid. The band decided to leave pyrotechnics to the professionals.”
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