Longtime Warner Bros. President Lenny Waronker Remembers Eddie Van Halen: 'It's Like the Guitar Was Made for Him'

Eddie Van Halen
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Eddie Van Halen

Lenny Waronker, Warner Bros. Records president from 1982 to 1994, was vp/head of A&R when Van Halen signed with the label in 1977.

Ted [Templeman, Warner Brothers vp/staff producer,] was the driving force, and Mo [Ostin, Warner Records CEO,] had an enormous amount of respect for Ted, who could tell Eddie had a real gift. They signed Van Halen on the spot [after seeing them at the Starwood nightclub in West Hollywood].

When you sign an artist like Van Halen, what happens to the label — it’s a special thing. They got off to a quick start, and people started to realize they were cool. They weren’t just a rock band — they were beyond that.

Eddie was special. As a person, you just felt good being around him. He had this glow, and that smile, man! Every time we saw him play, it was amazing. It's like the guitar was made for him. He just had so much control over the instrument. You could see two things going on: somebody in total command who’s gifted, and somebody who loved what he was doing.

When [singer David Lee Roth left], I went to see Ed with the idea of possibly changing the name, but it was like talking to a kid: He looked at me and said, "That's my name!" And I just shut up.

The closest I got to Eddie was during the breakup, getting the politics straightened out when Sammy [Hagar] joined the band. Sammy was on Geffen Records. Eddie couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just say, "Sammy’s in the band — let's go." It worked out, but it was messy for a while, and that was hard on him. I remember them playing the first record with Sammy and how enthusiastic he was.

Eddie was special. His playing, his writing, his approach — all of that will live forever.

—As told to Melinda Newman

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