By Michael Wilton
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.
On the band's attitude:
A lot of people claimed that Van Halen were sarcastic and arrogant and full of themselves, but I would always explain that even though they could party anyone under a table, they were some of the nicest guys I'd ever met.
On their legendary rock'n'roll rider:
Van Halen were one of the pioneers of the rock'n'roll rider. They did it as a test to see if the promoter was actually reading their contract. They famously asked for M&Ms but infamously stipulated that all the brown ones were to be removed. In all seriousness though, this was really a visual test to make sure that their other requirements in relation to the show were taken seriously.
They did request condoms and lubricant jelly, and I had fun because it was the first time I was ever asked to be included on a band's tour rider. So for six years, as requested on the rider, I had a six-pack of Tab diet soda set aside for me.
On Lee Roth before he was re-instated into the band:
I saw David Lee Roth at the Hard Rock in Orlando in 1996, doing the David Lee Roth Band which seemed just as good as Van Halen. He had a guitarist that was an Eddie van Halen clone. You closed your eyes, and musically it sounded like Van Halen at the height of their success.
In the dressing room after the show, Lee Roth told me, “I'm getting back with the band” and I was like “Uh huh.” A few weeks later they all appeared on stage together at the MTV Awards and everybody presumed Lee Roth was back with the band, but something went down backstage and he was banished again.
In 2002, Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar went out and did the former lead singer tour – the Sam and Dave Tour. Supposedly they never spoke for the entire tour, and they would alternate every night. One night Sammy would go first, then the next night Dave would open the show.
On the band's penchant for tossing furniture out the window:
If you check the liner notes of the band's second album, Van Halen II, you'll see they dedicated it to the Madison Sheraton. That was to make up for their antics on their first tour.