It’s time to shine the spotlight on one of rock’s greatest children on this week’s Artists in Focus blog. It’s one of the most successful rock bands of all time: Van Halen.

Whilst the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, were born in Amsterdam in the 1950s, Van Halen the band wasn’t born until a little later on. It was after a journey to sunny California when the brothers first picked up some instruments. They both started out on classical piano, before Eddie picked up the drums and Alex the guitar. The big Van Halen fans amongst us may well be thinking, “But Eddie is the guitarist and Alex is the drummer!”, which is true of course, but it didn’t start out that way. They eventually swapped instruments and the rest is history.

From Local to Global

After a few different band names (one of which was Genesis before they realised that Genesis were already a successful rock band - oops!), Van Halen was officially born in 1974. Their popularity soared entirely by their own self-promotion - think playing loads of local gigs and handing out flyers to high school kids! By cementing themselves as a key part of the LA music scene, Van Halen were able to garner a really loyal following.

To us, this really highlights the importance of supporting your local music venues and bands. Even in a digital world, music really begins in your town’s pubs, bars and nightclubs, and on local radio too! In 2021, it’s very easy to feel like we must be global stars from the beginning, but by getting out there in your area, you could be laying down the foundations for a solid fanbase that may help you to sell out arenas in the years to come. A fantastic reminder - thanks Van Halen!

Local success led to a 29-track demo tape, and then a showcase in front of music industry giants Warner Bros. The gig was severely lacking in guests, but the executives didn’t seem to care about that, as they’d written their letter of intent on a napkin before they even went home for the night!

In the years that followed, Van Halen would see international success with multiple multi-platinum albums, solidifying their place as one of the best-selling groups of all time and restoring rock back to the front of the music scene! What an achievement.

Drumming Dynamite!

But since it’s drums week here at RSL, we’re interested in taking a closer look at Alex Van Halen, the group’s drummer! He has become renowned for his enormous drum kits, featuring some pretty crazy items including an on-fire orchestral gong – yes, you read that right. He’s also known for his super complex live solos that wouldn’t be out of place in a prog band!

In the Rockschool Grade 3 Drums syllabus, you can channel your inner Alex Van Halen with a tune from their hugely successful debut album, “You Really Got Me”. A rock classic, this tune has an exciting tempo and must be played with absolute authority and conviction! You can really imagine yourself as part of the original band with this one. However, despite the excitement, you’ve really got to make sure that accuracy is a priority, as we don’t want any unwanted flams appearing.

It’s definitely worth immersing yourself in some Alex Van Halen drum recordings to really nail the style here. There are plenty of live recordings out there to get your teeth into!

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, why not check out some of our other heroes featured on the Drums syllabus like Billy Cobham, Queen and Aretha Franklin!