"It was fantastic – it was ridiculous how good it was": In 1987 Eddie Van Halen appeared on Saturday Night Live and displayed the full range of his talents

Eddie Van Halen on SNL
(Image credit: NBC)

On February 27, 1987, the cop drama Number One With A Bullet opened at cinemas. Two days later, the first episode of a new miniseries, I'll Take Manhattan, was broadcast in the US. Both starred Valerie Bertinelli, a.k.a. the then-Mrs Eddie Van Halen

In the first, Bertinelli played Teresa Barzak, the beleaguered ex-wife of a psychotic cop played by Robert Carradine. In the second, she was cast as Maxime "Maxi" Amberville-Cipriani, a daughter fighting her siblings to gain control their father's publishing empire. Just like Succession, it would appear.

To promote Number One With A Bullet, Bertinelli hosted the 226th episode of long-running US variety show Saturday Night Live – with which it shared writers – on February 28. The Robert Cray Band were lined up to be musical guests, but SNL has always been able to adjust to changing circumstances, and when Mr Eddie Van Halen personally delivered his wife to the studio, the show's producers were determined to make the most of the opportunity.  

“He doesn’t want to follow his wife around like a puppy dog," house band leader GE Smith revealed in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation in 2015. "So he finds out about the music office, and he comes in and hangs out, because you can do whatever you want in the music office. We’re in there drinking, smoking, whatever. He was comfortable there. It was his people, band guys. He got that. He could relax."

Smith – who'd previously played with Hall & Oates, and would go on to write the theme to Waynes World and work with Roger Waters on the Wounded Warrior charity project – was determined that Van Halen should perform. Eventually the pair settled on a blues jam they called Stompin 8H, named after the studio the show was filmed in. Smith played rhythm, while Van Halen displayed his full range of riffs and divebombs, soloing wildly, hammering on and pulling off with gleeful abandon. 

"At dress [rehearsal] it was fantastic – it was ridiculous how good it was," Smith recalled. "He’s a master, he really is. At air it was great. It was super high quality. But he made a tiny little mistake. He forgot this one very intricate little thing. Nobody would even know about it. Maybe three people in the United States went, ‘Oh, Eddie made a mistake.’ He was so upset that he had made a mistake, but it was great."

That wasn't all. A clearly uncomfortable Eddie and an entirely comfortable Valerie also appear in a hastily-assembled skit called Dinner At The Van Halens, during which the pair entertain cast members Phil Hartman and Victoria Jackson. Chaos, of course, ensues, as a trio of over-efficient Van Halen roadies – played by Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller – interrupt proceedings at every possible moment.

As if that wasn't enough, there were further Van Halen-related shenanigans during SNL's traditional Weekend Update section, where Dana Carvey portrays former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth as an overtly manic Diamond Dave, terrifying the unfortunate winner of a "Lost Weekend With Dave Lee Roth" competition.

Sadly, footage of the latter skit appears to have been largely scrubbed from the known internet, although the whole episode can be found at the web archive

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.