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The story of Van Halen's nightly destruction of Black Sabbath

Eddie Van Halen onstage
(Image credit: Fin Costello )

Paul Brannigan's new book Eruption: The Eddie Van Halen Story is out next month. 

Published to mark the first anniversary of the guitarist's death, it tells the story of Eddie Van Halen's life, from his earliest days in Amsterdam, through the band's formative years as Van Halen learned their trade in Hollywood clubs, to the release of the debut album that revolutionised rock and the decades of success that followed. 

"With unique insights," say publishers Faber, "Paul Brannigan's Eruption reaches beyond the headlines to explore the cultural and social contexts that shaped this iconic guitarist, while also turning up the dial on a life lived at volume eleven."

In this excerpt it's 1978. Van Halen has been out for six months, and the band have been on the road since the beginning of March. They've supported Journey, and Montrose, and The Rolling Stones, and they've completed a run of UK dates with Black Sabbath. Precision-tuned after so many shows, Van Halen are on fire. And now they're ready to head back home.

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On 22 August, the quartet re-joined their friends in Black Sabbath for their US tour. The promoters should also have hired a crime-scene investigator to document the tour and draw chalk outlines around Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill onstage, for it was clear to all in attendance that Sabbath were being murdered, night after night. 

"The record company was all over Van Halen," recalls Geezer Butler. "They already thought we were old-hat and over the hill, so Van Halen were getting all the star treatment from the record company, and we were getting nothing. When the Never Say Die! album came out, we went to a reception for it at Warner Brothers, and they were playing Bob Marley’s album and they didn’t know who we were! Our sales had dipped, and I guess they were on the verge of dropping us." 

"I remember being in a hotel room in San Diego with Geezer and one of the reps from the record company," says Osbourne, "and we’d had a few drinks, and one of us said to this guy, 'Be honest, you’re only using us on this tour to promote Van Halen, aren’t you?' And he said, 'You’re right.' And if you’re with a record company that won’t back you... 

"When a band goes on stage before you and goes down better than you, you either say, 'Right, we’re going to go out there and fucking show them how to do it,' or you just fold up. And they had years on us, and we’d been fighting this lawsuit with our old manager for fucking years, and I was just fucking tired of fighting. We never joined a band to become lawyers or fucking accountants, and that’s how it ended up. We didn’t have a clue." 

With a few days off during a short Midwest club run with AC/DC, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, Scott Gorham and Gary Moore went along to the 14 September show at Detroit’s Cobo Hall to check out the Pasadena band. 

"We were on the same label in America, Warners, and whenever we hooked up with anyone from the label, you always heard, 'Wow, man, I was just out with Van Halen – what a fucking band!’" California-born guitarist Gorham recalls. "It got to the point where Phil would tell them, 'Look, if you get into this fucking car, you’re not going to talk about Van Halen, all right?'

"So we were interested in this band we’d heard so much about. And these boys came on and just shredded everybody a brand-new asshole. They were amazing. When Eddie started doing his tapping thing, I turned around to Gary and said, 'What the fuck is that? What is he doing there?' Gary was just staring at him, and he said, 'I don’t know.' 

"Ten minutes later, I went to ask Gary another question, and he was gone. The next day, I was standing in his hotel room, and he said, 'Hey, check this out...' and he started tapping away. He’d gone back to the hotel the night before to teach himself how to do it."

UK music journalist Sylvie Simmons caught up with the tour in Fresno, California, on 22 September and was equally smitten by the energetic young Californians. 

"For sheer crowd-pleasing, Sabbath are hard to beat," Simmons wrote in Sounds, "or they would be if it weren’t for a band like Van Halen. In some respects, they’re like a young version of Sabbath, fresher, without that embalmed-from-ten-years-ago look. 

"Dave Lee Roth must be the most energetic front man on the rock circuit today, but louder, bigger. Even the flares on his pants are bigger. His jack-knife leaps from the drum kit have to be seen to be believed. His singing is peppered with wows and pings and squeals. His between-song spiels are shameless – “Fresno, the rock'n'roll capital of the world?” C’mon! 

"Women just flock to him. All the girls in this mostly-male crowd seem to have made their way to the front of the stage and are grabbing his legs. The rest of the band are rock heroes of the old mould and they really know how to play."

Songs Simmons picked out as highlights included Runnin’ with the Devil, Jamie’s Cryin’, Feel Your Love, Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love and the quartet’s set-closing cover, You Really Got Me – "a really macho, suggestive version of the Kinks’ classic that has the audience going wild". 

"Any other band but the confident Sabs", she concluded, "would refuse to follow this group. They’re that good live."

Later that night, in a hotel bar in the city, to the soundtrack of a jazz trio playing Barry Manilow hits, Ozzy Osbourne told Simmons, "Van Halen are one of the most high-energy trips I’ve seen in America for years. They’re fucking great. It’s like watching an early me when I see that David up there. When I was 21, you know? I only hope that they last as long as we’ve lasted."

Paul Brannigan's Eruption: The Eddie Van Halen Story is published on September 23. Paul is also the author of This Is A Call: The Life And Times Of Dave Grohl and the co-author of two Metallica books: Birth School Metallica Death: Vol I and Into the Black: The Inside Story of Metallica, 1991–2014 (Birth School Metallica Death Book 2).

Paul Brannigan: Eruption: The Eddie Van Halen Story

(Image credit: Faber)