Van Halen during their ‘house band’ era at the Sunset Strip club, Gazzarri’s (mid-1970s).
“One day, we’re going to be the the Kings of Gazzarri’s.”
—A teenage David Lee Roth accurately predicting Van Halen’s future
The person who uploaded the audio of Van Halen performing as a “cover band” places the year at 1975—not long after VH had transitioned from the name Mammoth, and were in the process of blowing the fuck up after Sunset Strip club Gazzarri’s (RIP) gave the band their first big break.
David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen on stage at Gazzarri’s, mid-70s.
An early shot of Van Halen and the band’s first logo design created by original VH bassist, Mark Stone (Stone is pictured to the far left).
And when I say big break, I mean that before Gazzarri’s, DLR and the boys were literally playing house parties and high schools. After getting the green-light to play Gazzarri’s by the club’s owner, Bill Gazzarri (who initially didn’t like the band, he later maintained that Van Halen was the best band to every play there), the band became Gazzarri’s house band playing the club several nights a week and would often run the dance contests held at Sunset Strip club. VH vocalist David Lee Roth recalls that in addition to getting paid $75-$125 bucks a night, another perk was getting to watch Gazzarri’s famous “Go-Go” dancers who also performed at the club regularly. It was a huge upgrade from their usual gigs. 1975 sounds like it was a pretty sweet time if your name was (or was associated with), “Van Halen.”
VH drummer Alex Van Halen remembers that the “crowd” at the band’s first gig at Gazzarri’s consisted of about four fans. Van Halen would go on to play approximately 90 gigs at Gazzarri’s to ever-growing crowds before Eddie Van Halen told Bill Gazzarri that they were “never going to get anywhere” by honing their ability to kick out disco jams like the 1975 hit by KC and the Sunshine band, “Get Down Tonight.” And as much as I love that song (I don’t judge and neither should you), he wasn’t wrong. Sometime in 1976 KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer met up with KISS loudmouth Gene Simmons to see one of VH’s gigs at Gazzarri’s. Simmons dug what he heard and got the band to record a demo, but things didn’t pan out. Luckily, Warner Brothers Records producer Ted Templeman (the famous voice behind the line “Come on Dave, give me a break” from the Van Halen’s 1981 classic “Unchained”) caught a live gig of the still under-the-radar band, and ushered the boys into the studio to record what would become VH’s seminal debut record, 1978’s Van Halen.
As I’m a huge fan of digging up interesting historical rock and roll artifacts, I have to say I was super entertained listening to 32 minutes of the then-emerging young Van Halen covering songs by David Bowie (specifically “The Jean Genie” during which Roth amusingly confesses to forgetting the lyrics), Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and “Twist and Shout”—all while emceeing one of Gazzarri’s many dance contests. While the audio isn’t good (and the band doesn’t really sound that great either), it truly has its priceless moments. Mostly due the antics of the then just 21-year-old “Mr. Entertainment” David Lee Roth. I’ve included a number of photos of Van Halen’s days at Gazzarri’s as well as a few cool other artifacts from that mythical time when it seemed that most people in LA didn’t know who Van Halen was. Yet.
Much more early Van Halen after the jump…