“I can’t believe I pulled that off”: Wolfgang Van Halen on playing Van Halen classics for the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert – and why he’ll never cover his dad’s band again

Wolfgang Van Halen in 2021
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Wolfgang Van Halen has long been determined to stand on his own two feet rather than build a career from his famous name and two excellent records under the Mammoth WVH handle shows the approach has paid off. But the guitarist did make one poignant exception to his rule, playing two Van Halen songs alongside an all-star line-up at the Taylor Hawkins Tribute shows in September last year. Appearing on Talk Is Jericho, the podcast hosted by Fozzy singer Chris Jericho, last month, Van Halen spoke about the performance.

"It was wonderful. It was the exception where it was like, this would be the time to do it,” he said. “Taylor was such a huge fan and to get my own satisfaction of doing a direct Van Halen tribute for dad, it felt like the right thing to do in that moment. I’m really proud of it.”

He also paid tribute to the artists he shared the stage with at the two shows in London and LA, the group comprising of Justin Hawkins on vocals, Dave Grohl on bass and Josh Freese on drums alongside Van Halen on guitar. “Taking away all the context and the emotional moment and jamming with three musicians I’ve looked up to my whole life was crazy,” he said, “then you put everything back in and it’s like man I can’t believe I pulled that off.”

It marked a one-off, he explained, with no plans for his own shows to draw on any Van Halen material. “I’m happy to be able to prove myself,” he told Jericho. “The important key distinction is that I’m not doing what my dad did, I’m my own person, I’m my own musician… it’s why I don’t play any Van Halen music or have a plan to play Van Halen music during my sets. Even my dad hated doing covers back in the day, his quote resonates with me all the time where he says I’d rather bomb with my own music than succeed with somebody else’s, and that’s exactly how I feel about playing Van Halen music. I’d much rather fail on my own than succeed heartlessly by playing Panama.”

Wolfgang Van Halen spent much of the summer with his group on tour supporting Metallica. Mammoth WVH will join the band again for more shows in November.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.