The jury seems to be divided which wild front man made for a better Van Halen (David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar), but there's one veteran tribute group that chooses to color within the lines of the band's musical artistry by remembering it at its most prolific and popular time, the 1980s.
Putting the music first is one of the reasons Fan Halen has a fan base all its own.
Van Halen started in 1972, with Eddie Van Halen shredding guitar and his brother Alex Van Halen pounding out the beat on drums. When song and dance man Roth joined along with bassist Michael Anthony in 1974, all hell broke loose and the band's self-titled debut album reached No. 19 on the Billboard pop music charts.
By the early 1980s, Van Halen was one of the most successful rock acts of the time. The album 1984 was a hit — its lead single, "Jump," jumped to the No. 1 spot on the charts, and the band's videos were in heavy rotation on MTV. The band is credited with restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene. Van Halen sold 56 million albums in the U.S. and more than 80 million worldwide, also charting 13 No. 1 hits in the history of Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Egos plagued Van Halen the more popular the band became. Eddie and Roth locked horns, resulting in Roth leaving and being replaced by former Montrose lead vocalist Sammy Hagar in 1985.
However, it is the original incarnation "the world's most authentic tribute to Van Halen" focuses on. Fan Halen recreates the whole spirit of the era, by setting the stage for a night with the Van Halen brothers, Roth and Anthony.
Based in Southern California, Fan Halen consists of Ernie Berru as David Lee Roth, Derek Fuller as Edward Van Halen, Brian Nussle as Michael Anthony, and Scott Brooks as Alex Van Halen. For more about Fan Halen check out their website, www.fanhalen.net and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fanhalen.
From the talent required, to the look, the same equipment and energy levels, Fan Halen captures every detail, every nuance and guitar riff note-for-note — so much so they have appeared on the AXS-TV hit series "The Worlds' Greatest Tribute Bands" twice. Among their many accolades and accomplishments, Fan Halen also was voted No. 1 Van Halen tribute by the world's most popular tribute band website, TributeCity.com.
We talked with Derek Fuller, a.k.a. Eddie, about the band, the music and the show they bring to Harrah's Laughlin as the Summer Beach Concert series nears the end. Fan Halen's show on Saturday, Aug. 3 is the next to the last concert. Here is his take…
This isn't your first trip to Laughlin, is it?
We've played in Laughlin a couple times before. We always enjoy ourselves coming to Laughlin. That's always fun.
From what I understand, Van Halen is as popular as they ever were.
They're very popular and they're really the quintessential party band, right? People love to enjoy and party with that music. It's part of the soundtrack of our summers for many years.
How much of a challenge was it for you to recreate his style and his swagger on his weapon of choice?
I think that's a great way to phrase it — swagger — because he had such swagger. He's got this child-like grin on his face. He's not one of those guys that just comes out all fierce. He's always smiling, always jumping around, having a really good time, obviously. When he played live, he had a lot of freedom and a lot of liberty to do whatever he wanted, so he wouldn't always play a song like the record, he would do a lot of improvising.
As a tribute artist, people are familiar with those records so we have to note-for-note replicate what's on those records. So when I have to perform like Edward, it becomes a little more challenging. You have to have all that energy and jumping around and running around and play it exactly like the record. The way I look at it now, how I've been able to do it and why it's a little easier — Eddie's the master artist and I'm going with the paint-by-numbers. I can just jump on YouTube and I can watch where his hands are and watch how he plays things and since the last tour was in 2015, there's a lot of that material up that's very close up, very high definition and I can see exactly what he's doing. It makes things a lot easier compared to when I was a kid, when I would just listen with my ear and play the record and try to figure out what the heck is he doing there? It's kind of fun. I learned the material way back when I was a kid because I was a huge fan — just like everybody else playing guitar. Now when you have the luxury of YouTube and can see how he's really performing it, you go, "Oh, that's how he's doing it, very interesting." OK that's cool. It makes it kind of neat.
Tribute bands have sort of come into their own over the years, validated the fact that a lot of you guys are doing honest, respectful tributes to these different artists. You guys have a huge fan base on your own probably because of your attention to detail?
Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. The whole idea is to bring some of what they do to the show — I always say, "If you squint your eyes and you squint your ears, you're at a Van Halen concert."
What do you think it is that sets you guys apart?
I think it is the attention to detail, certainly. The other piece of it is and this is a true challenge, when you start playing. Obviously you have to be proficient and I lived it, I was born and raised on Van Halen. So growing up, through high school, I was the kid — everybody had their favorite band — mine was always Van Halen. I went to those concerts and I watched it, lived it and breathed it — it became part of my guitar playing. So that's important, but the other big factor is our David Lee Roth, Ernie Berru has the uncanny ability to not only to sound, but to scream the way he did. They call it like a train whistle scream and that's not easy to do, and he just nails it. His banter in between songs is just like Dave. He really studies it, he's absolutely amazing. There's nobody out there that can touch this guy as far as sounding like that so that's a big factor, of course. We're having fun. We're having a great time.
Talk a little more about the other guys.
The bass player, which is Brian Nussle, that's another key ingredient because Van Halen was a lot like the Beach Boys in their backing vocal harmonies. Our former bass player left so when we went looking for a bass player, we put an ad out and said, "We're looking for a singer that happens to play bass." That piece is so important, because the person has to be able to sing those harmonies. We found him singing in an Eagles tribute band, and you know those vocals. This guy resembles Mike (Anthony) and he's a master bass player and he's really fantastic.
Then our drummer, Scott Brooks is just so strong, and Alex had just a unique way of playing the drums — very jazz, very swing, he grew up playing in his father's polka band, so you've gotta have that ability to not just to play rock and roll, but to be able to play swing and jazz. That's what Alex brought to Van Halen and it also makes them unique.
This is our 16th year. I started when I was in my 30s, I can't believe I'm still doing this. What I didn't expect as we roll, by the time you get to your 50s, you're thinking there's no way you're going to be doing this. But what I didn't realize is that my fan base was growing older with me. So they keep showing up and actually the crowds are getting bigger so it's pretty amazing that we continue to do this. We've played all over the world —we've played in Europe, Japan, South America, Central America, Canada, Mexico and of course, all over the United States, so it's been quite the adventure.
Do you do Sammy era stuff?
We do not. We were on AXS TV's "The World's Greatest Tribute Bands" twice, and the second time we were on it, we brought out a Sammy, a guy who performs Sammy Hagar out of Arizona. He performed four or five songs. It's very rare that we've done it. When we play in Arizona sometimes we'll bring him up for a song but we really focus on what we call Van Halen instead of Van "Hagar."
Talk about the Laughlin show.
Hopefully people are going to be transported back in time when it was the summer of '83, they were juniors going into their senior year and taking their best dates to the concert. It's about just reliving that time, to let go and enjoy, get into it, and it'll bring you right back.