Wolfgang Van Halen discusses nerves over covering Eddie's guitar parts at Taylor Hawkins tribute concert: “I didn’t even know if I could do it”

Wolfgang Van Halen and Justin Hawkins
(Image credit: Simon Knight/YouTube)

On September 3 and 27, Wolfgang Van Halen performed at Foo Fighters’ tribute shows to their late drummer Taylor Hawkins at London’s Wembley Stadium and LA’s Kia Forum, respectively.

Wolfgang’s time at each concert was limited, mostly due to the sheer number of artists on each bill, and he used his brief time slots to play a pair of Van Halen songs, paying tribute not only to Hawkins, who loved Van Halen’s music, but also his late father, guitar icon Eddie Van Halen.

It was an apparent U-turn for the Mammoth WVH multi-instrumentalist, who previously stated that he’d never recreate his father’s music onstage – “I refuse to tread the same ground as my dad,” he said last February.

But joined by Dave Grohl on bass guitar, Josh Freese on drums and Justin Hawkins on vocals, Wolfgang delighted the crowds with covers of Van Halen songs: Hot For Teacher and On Fire at Wembley and Hot For Teacher and Panama in LA.

Many who have since viewed footage of the performance have noted the eerie accuracy with which Wolfgang played his father’s electric guitar parts, and how tight the musicians sounded onstage.

Yet Wolfgang understandably experienced a sense of apprehension at playing his father’s guitar parts onstage prior to the show.

“I didn’t even know if I could do it,” he told Guitar World’s Chris Gill. “I had a lot of conversations with Dave. What a kind sweetheart of a man he is. 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.’”

Wolfgang explains that due to the gravity of the invitation, Grohl asked him to mull it over to ensure he felt he was making the right choice.

“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.’

“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. It was really special, man. I’m super-happy and proud with how everything came to be.”

Wolfgang also explains that the group only rehearsed a handful of times before the Wembley Stadium show.

“We rehearsed it a couple times in LA with just Josh, Dave and I [in] one day,” Wolfgang says in a new interview that will feature in the January 2023 issue of Guitar World. “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.”

To those who suggest Wolfgang has it easier as a musician being the son of Eddie Van Halen, he responds: “I didn’t just put a CD in and upload it into my head! [Laughs] 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.”

As for whether we’re likely to see Wolfgang play with a reunited Van Halen lineup in the near-future, his comments in a new Classic Rock (opens in new tab) interview suggest it’s unlikely.

“I think I already did it with the Taylor Hawkin tributes. I feel a lot of closure because my part of the show was a tribute to my father,” he says, adding: “If the Taylor concerts are all that happens then I’m happy with that.”

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).