WOLFGANG VAN HALEN On Playing VAN HALEN Songs At TAYLOR HAWKINS Tribute Concerts: 'It Was Emotional'

July 27, 2023

Wolfgang Van Halen says that performing his late father's songs at last year's Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts was an "emotional" experience. 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, who has been fronting his own band MAMMOTH WVH for most of the last three years, reflected on the Taylor Hawkins tribute concerts in a new interview with AllMusic. He said: "It was emotional. It's not something I take lightly at all. In fact, at first I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to do it. When I talked to Dave Grohl, he asked, and I was, like, 'You know what? I'm not sure. I have to think about it.' I put some time into thinking about it and what I'd be comfortable doing. Because it's been my sort of mission statement with MAMMOTH that I don't want to play any VAN HALEN music, because I would much rather — as my father said when he was getting sick of playing covers with VAN HALEN — bomb with my own material than succeed with somebody else's. And I really would rather build something from scratch from my own and make my own name for myself to the best of my ability. So, I didn't take it lightly."

He continued: "Also, I don't want to play that music without my dad, and he's not here anymore. So, that means I don't want to play it. Knowing that it was for Taylor and I know he was such a champion of my father — after he passed, he always wore the striped shorts and shirts of my dad at shows — it just felt like the right thing to do. Not so much say goodbye to that material, but just to kind of put it to rest a little bit in my mind — on my own terms. And taking the emotional weight of it all, and just playing with three musicians I looked up to my whole life was quite the incredible experience. I'll never forget it."

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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