Like Father, Like Son: Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen Discuss the New Face of Van Halen
This feature is from the April 2008 issue of Guitar World magazine.
Eddie Van Halen put the fire in the group that bears his name. It took his son, Wolfgang, to rekindle the passion and get the group on the road for one of the most anticipated reunion tours in rock history. In this world exclusive interview, the father-and-son duo talks about working and performing together in Van Halen.
Is musical talent genetically inherited? If your test sample is the Van Halen family, the answer undoubtedly would be yes and the proof would be the current Van Halen tour, which features the Van Halen brothers—Alex and Ed—on drums and guitar respectively, as well as Ed’s 16-year-old son Wolfgang on bass. Although Wolfgang picked up the bass less than two years ago, his comfort on arena stages in front of crowds of 20,000 fans suggests that it was always in his DNA to be a performer.
Wolfgang’s membership in the band may now seem like fate, but Ed was careful from the beginning to let Wolfgang’s musical interests and talents develop naturally, even though Ed often hinted that he hoped his kid would follow in his footsteps. “I’m going to let Wolfgang be whatever he wants to be,” he stated in 1995 when Wolfgang was only four. “I don’t see how he won’t somehow be into music, being exposed to it all the time. But I’m not going to force him to play piano or take music lessons like my parents did to me.”
Wolfgang’s guest appearances on guitar during Van Halen’s 2004 tour showed that Ed’s kid had not only taken an interest in music but he had also quickly developed true talent as a musician. Even so, devoted fans were taken by complete surprise when Ed revealed in late 2006 that Wolfgang was Van Halen’s new bass player. A few months later when news leaked that David Lee Roth was returning as the band’s vocalist and a tour was in the works, critics wondered if Wolfgang was truly qualified. Playing one of the most anticipated tours of the past 20 years is a hell of a first job for anyone, let alone someone who was just 16 years old and never played in any other bands before.
What seemed like a risky move on paper proved instead to be an overwhelming success as Wolfgang breathed new life into the band with the right balance of youthful enthusiasm and devoted reverence to the band’s classic songs, all of which were recorded years before Wolfgang was even born. While the tour gives Van Halen fans an opportunity to see the band with David Lee Roth again, the presence of Wolfgang onstage opens the door to a new chapter in the band’s history. What lies ahead in the future is anyone’s guess, but with Wolfgang joining the band its foundation is now stronger than ever as is its potential to grow in new directions.
Talking with Ed and Wolfgang, several unusual qualities become evident. There’s no generation gap between the two, but more importantly they reveal an undeniable mutual respect and admiration for each other that even Wolfgang’s occasional rebelliousness and Ed’s playful displays of parental authority can’t hide. The two are truly in awe of each other’s talents. One gets the feeling that Wolfgang would be a huge Van Halen fan even if his dad wasn’t in the band and that Ed would want to make music with Wolfgang even if Wolfgang wasn’t his son.
With rave reviews coming in for the band’s current tour and a lifetime of possibilities lying ahead to explore, the future for Van Halen as a band looks very bright thanks to the addition of a new family member. As the saying goes, the family that plays together stays together, and this family positively jams.
In the new April 2012 issue of Guitar World, we count down the 50 best Van Halen songs of all time. That issue is available now at the Guitar World Online Store.