WOLFGANG VAN HALEN On Playing VAN HALEN Songs At TAYLOR HAWKINS Tribute Concerts: 'I Was Nervous As Hell'
June 8, 2023
Wolfgang Van Halen says that he was "nervous as hell" performing his late father's songs at last year's Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts. The son of Eddie Van Halen played three VAN HALEN songs — "On Fire", "Hot For Teacher" and "Panama" — over the course of two concerts in September alongside Dave Grohl on bass, Josh Freese on drums and THE DARKNESS's Justin Hawkins on vocals.
Wolfgang reflected on the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts in a new interview with Rock Sound conducted at this weekend's Download festival in the United Kingdom. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Oh, man. I was nervous as hell. Taking away any emotional weight to it all, just performing with three musicians who I've loved my entire life and looked up to was crazy enough, but then you add the emotional weight of it all for Taylor. [It was] probably one of the only few times I'd ever really play any songs like that for Pop and for Taylor. Yeah, just an insane thing that I'll never forget."
Wolfgang previously talked about his participation in the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts this past March in an interview with Pablo of the Minneapolis, Minnesota radio station 93X. Asked if it was easy or hard for him to play VAN HALEN songs under those circumstances, Wolfgang said: "More difficult, just emotionally. I don't think people realize how much I don't listen to VAN HALEN anymore. It's a tough thing; it's a tough subject. But it felt like the right thing to do in the moment. Taylor would have been really, really stoked. From the one time I met him — he came to a VAN HALEN show in 2012. He was just the coolest, most friendly guy. He left such a huge impression on me."
As for how he ended up taking part in the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts, Van Halen said: "Dave [Grohl] texted me and I thought it was… I didn't believe that it was him. I had to hit up [FOO FIGHTERS guitarist] Chris Shiflett, 'cause I had just done his podcast. I was, like, 'Hey, is somebody punking me or is this Dave?' He was, like, 'Yeah, that's Dave. You should hit him back.' [Laughs]"
Last October, Wolfgang told Guitar World that he "didn't even know" if he could emotionally handle playing the VAN HALEN songs live. "I had a lot of conversations with Dave. What a kind sweetheart of a man he is," Wolfgang said. "We talked a lot about [it]. Initially he was, like, 'What do you think? Would you be comfortable doing this?' Initially, I didn't wanna disappoint Dave Grohl. And I was, like, 'Sure.' And he was, like, 'Why don't you think about it and get back to me?' And so I did. I thought a lot about it and I was, like, 'You know what? If there was ever a time, this is it.' I talked to him about it and I was just honest. I was, like, 'I don't know if I could do this, but if I do, I need your support. I need you up there with me.' I was like, 'Whatever the incarnation of what it becomes, I need you there with me.' And he was, like, 'Absolutely.'"
Regarding the other musicians tasked with performing the VAN HALEN material at the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts, Wolfgang said: "Knowing that Josh was gonna be there, I was, like, 'Josh Freese is one of the best drummers on the planet.' Seeing the response of people saying, 'Who was on drums?' It was, like, 'Dude, you've gotta learn yourself something and realize that Josh Freese has literally played on fucking every single thing you've ever heard, ever.
"I was pretty sure Justin could do it, but then once we got there and he hit it, it was, like, 'Fuck, this is gonna be amazing.' It was really exciting. He is a sweetheart of a human; he's such a kind man. It was really special, man. I'm super happy and proud with how everything came to be."
According to Wolfgang, he and the other musicians only rehearsed less than a handful of times before the London concert on September 3. "We rehearsed it a couple times in L.A. with just Josh, Dave and I [in] one day," Wolfgang said. "And then we got there and rehearsed one day with Justin. So all in all we played each song maybe five or six times. It was really special."
Wolfgang also responded to those people who have suggested he has an easier time playing the classic VAN HALEN songs because he is the son of Eddie Van Halen. "I didn't just put a CD in and upload it into my head," he laughed. "I practice a lot. It's a really weird backhanded compliment, where it's, like, 'Oh, you did nothing to be able to do this.' And it's like, 'No, I work very hard to be able to do what I can do.' I understand where it's coming from, though."
Last summer, Wolfgang spoke to Rolling Stone magazine about why he was adamant about not playing VAN HALEN covers when touring with his own band MAMMOTH WVH.
"People are like, 'Oh, don't mention VAN HALEN. He hates VAN HALEN.' It's, like, 'It's my fucking name. Why would I hate it? It's my dad. I love my dad. I was in the fucking band.' I don't hate it at all."
He continued: "All I've ever said is I don't want to play VAN HALEN music at MAMMOTH shows. I'd rather bomb with my own stuff than gain attention for playing dad's. Expecting to hear VAN HALEN at a MAMMOTH show is like expecting to hear NIRVANA at a FOO FIGHTERS concert. And getting pissed off that they didn't play NIRVANA."
Eddie died in October 2020 at the age of 65. The legendary VAN HALEN guitarist passed away at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
Eddie was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000 and had tongue surgery. He later battled lung cancer and had been receiving radiation treatment in Germany. Things took a turn for the worse in early 2019 when Eddie got in a motorcycle accident. He was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and received gamma knife radiosurgery to treat the illness.
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