For our music feature this week we spoke with Ted Cohen, a record company man who was essentially tasked with babysitting Van Halen during their glory days in the late '70s and early '80s. Nowadays Cohen lives in the Hollywood Hills and is not associated with the group, but on the eve of their latest tour -- which hits Staples Center tonight and June 9 -- he spoke to us about his experiences with the group.
On the first day he met Van Halen:
Warner Music invited the band to the Petit Chateau on Lancashire in North Hollywood...to discuss their debut album. David Lee Roth showed up half an hour late, explaining his old Plymouth Valiant had broken down a couple of miles from the restaurant. Out of that lunch, we announced to the guys that they'd be going on a major tour to support their first record, and from there, we took them to the Whisky so they could rehearse for us. I later learned Lee Roth never went to pick up his rusty Valiant, and when I asked him why, he told me that it represented the past. All he was focused on was his future.
On why he believed Van Halen would make it:
The band never seemed contrived. They had spent six years trying to get signed, they were promoting their own shows, they had their own sound and lights, they would rent out halls in Glendale or Pasadena to play gigs at and they handled all their own sound and lighting. They worked hard and they were poised for success. This wasn't a band that had come up with a few songs on ProTools or Garage Band and a couple of weeks later had a deal.
On the band's pranks:
We were always playing tricks on each other. Once, I left my jacket in the dressing room, and after the show was over I went to put it on, and I discovered both sleeves were filled with two loaves of bread.
The next morning, we were meant to drive to the airport and I reached into my pocket to get the car keys and both pockets were filled with cold ham, baloney and turkey. At 11 pm the night before, the bread was funny. At 8 am, greasy meat in my pockets wasn't so funny. I popped and went off at them, and all of them denied doing it.
At the airport, I sat on the other side of the waiting area to get on the plane. I didn't want to talk to any of them. And then, one by one, they each confessed to doing it. It went from none of them doing it to all of them doing it. To this day, I still don't know who did it. It wasn't such a big deal anyway - it's just that at 8 am, you're hardly in the mood for pockets full of meat.
On Van Halen's motto:
The guys in the band had a saying that "Van Halen means never having to say you're sorry," which was taken from a line in the Ryan O'Neal movie Love Story.