Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH Debut

Wolfgang’s 30 year journey to overnight success.

Photoshopped image of Wolfgang Van Halen playing three different instruments as if there were three of him in the band.
Still from Mammoth WVH music video.

On March 16, 1991, actress Valerie Bertinelli and guitar superstar Eddie Van Halen brought their son, Wolfgang Van Halen, into the world. Do you want to talk about pressure? First, Wolf’s name is a tribute to the legendary classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Next Wolf’s father is arguably the best known and most revered guitarist in heavy rock history. Finally Wolfgang’s mom is widely considered America’s Sweetheart. That brings a lot of pressure to be successful. Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH is that success. But before we go forward, let’s go back a bit.

In the Beginning

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born in 1955 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In 1962, his family (along with Eddie’s older brother Alex Van Halen) relocated to the U.S. to be closer to other family members. They settled near Pasadena, CA. 

Both brothers began studying piano when they each reached the age of six. Although never taught to read music, Eddie would attend classical piano recitals and then come home and improvise, mimicking what he had just heard. He got so good at this, he won an annual piano competition held by Long Beach Community College four years running, from 1964 to 1967.

As Eddie and Alex entered their teenage years, the call of Rock and Roll was too strong to ignore. Eddie wound up playing the electric guitar, and Alex took the throne behind the drum kit. They would form the band Mammoth (remember that name, it’s important later in the story). In 1974, the stars would align, and David Lee Roth (vocals) and Michael Anthony (bass and backing vocals) would join the Van Halen brothers. During this time, Eddie was perfecting a two-handed tapping technique that allowed him to play lightning-fast arpeggios.

A Record Deal

In 1977 KISS bass player Gene Simmons offered to finance a demo tape. The band shopped their tape to practically every record label in L.A., in the end Warner Bros. would offer them a deal

The album cover of the first Can Halen record, a four picture collage, one with each band member with the Van Halen logo in the middle.
The first Van Halen album cover from 1978.

Recorded in three weeks with a budget of only $40,000, the eponymously titled Van Halen record would be released on February 10, 1978. It would soon be certified platinum (U.S. sales of 1,000,000 copies). Suddenly in bedrooms all over the country, teenagers worked for hours trying to perfect Eddie’s tapping technique.

Sammy Hagar Arrives

Five more records were released by this lineup over the next six years culminating in the release of the album 1984. This record proved to be the biggest yet, but this level of fame doesn’t come without a price. Tensions rose between the brothers and Roth. Soon Roth was out, and the band began looking for a new singer.

An Atlas like man hold a globe that has the initials VH circling it. He is also wearing a necklace with the numbers 5150 on it.
The album cover for the first album, 5150, that featured Sammy Hagar on vocals.

They would decide on Sammy Hagar. All five of the studio records with Sammy would go to number one. Their final studio album with Hagar would be 1995’s Balance. But again, success bred tension, and Hagar was gone. 

What followed was a largely forgettable record (Van Halen III) with former Extreme singer Gary Cherone. This would be their last studio record for many years.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Star Rises

Meanwhile, young actress Valerie Bertinelli was making a name for herself on the hit sitcom One Day at a Time. Valerie’s brothers invited her to go to a Van Halen show. Her brothers hoped that her stardom would help them get backstage at the concert. Her brothers were 100% right.

When Valerie and Eddie met backstage, there was instant chemistry. Within weeks they became inseparable. By 1981, they were married. Fast forward to 1991, on March 16, Valerie gave birth to their first and only child, Wolfgang. Eddie felt an instant deep connection to Wolf. On the 1991 V.H. record, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Eddie recorded an instrumental song titled “316” in honor of his sons birth. 

A young Wolf, Valerie, and Eddie sitting on a rocky beach.
A very young Wolfgang with mom and dad. From the official music video for “Distance” by Mammoth WVH

Wolfgang’s Entrance in to the World

While Wolfgang was growing up, both of his parents showed total dedication to their son. They always put their son first, making it to as many soccer games and school events as possible. Wolfgang attended an elite Los Angeles, private school with many children of other celebrities. Wolf admits he wasn’t the best student, but he had developed a love of music even at a very young age. 

“I could see [Wolfgang’s] love of music when he was still in diapers,” Valerie told Spin magazine. She continued, “He was always fascinated by all the musical instruments lying around the house and in 5150 (Eddie’s recording studio where every V.H. record since 1984 was made). Ed was more than happy to encourage the talent he saw in Wolfie.”

Even with Wolfgang’s presence, Valerie and Eddie’s relationship continued its decline until finally, in 2001, the couple separated. The couple remained married until 2007, when their divorce was finalized.

As Wolfgang grew up, he spent a lot of time watching his dad rehearse and record in Eddie 5150 studio. He started to get behind his uncle Alex’s drum kit and try to recreate what he had heard. By age 9, Alex gave his nephew a few drum lessons. Despite the pointers, Wolfgang was primarily self-taught, and on his 10th birthday, he received his first drum kit. After drumming for a few years, Wolfgang switched his interest to playing bass and guitar. He also familiarized himself with keyboards, again being self-taught. To his father’s delight, he immersed himself in music.

By 2004, Wolfgang started making special appearances at Van Halen’s concerts. During his father’s solo spot, he would join Eddie in his playing of Wolfgang’s song 316. Although the shows were a financial success, stressors within the band reached the boiling point.

Wolfgang Joins Van Halen

In 2006 the band stunned its fans by stating that they would resume touring with former singer David Lee Roth back. 15-year-old Wolfgang would be replacing Michael Anthony on bass. This lineup change caused a deep division among their fan base. Wolfgang was savaged in social media, even though most had never heard him play or sing.

Eddie and Wolfgang playing live onstage.
Wolf and Eddie onstage. From the official video for Van Halen’s “She’s the Woman”

Wolfgang’s first tour with the band began on September 27, 2007, in Charlotte, NC. Although still receiving much criticism from some of the fans for replacing Anthony, the tour was a huge success, with 76 dates resulting in a gross of $93 million. These were heady times for the now 17-year-old Wolfgang indeed.

Wolfgang’s Idea

After the tour, Wolfgang had an idea. He began listening to demo tapes of some of Van Halen’s unreleased songs, some dating back to the mid-’70s. Wolfgang’s initial plan was to re-record three new songs and combine them with B-sides from the band’s history. But as he dug deeper into the vaults, he found more and more great ideas. On choosing to re-work the old unused material, Wolfgang said, “I wanted to remind my dad of the mindset he was in when he wrote songs like ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ and ‘Dance the Night Away.” Eddie, Alex, and David Lee Roth were excited about the prospect of a new record encompassing both old ideas and newly written material.In mid-January 2011, recording started on what would become A Different Kind of Truth. This would become Wolfgang’s debut appearance on a record. Wolfgang was heavily involved in producing the album, working closely with John Shanks, the official producer of the record. The band would work on the music 12 hours a day, five days a week, with Roth coming in at night to record his vocals. Needing a record label, the band decided on Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records. This deal would set the stage for Wolfgang.

The cover for Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth featuring an Art Deco style train engine.
Wolfgang’s first appearance on a record.

New Van Halen Music with Wolf

The first single released on January 10, 2012, was “Tattoo.” Wolfgang hit a home run on his first time at bat. By January 23, it was number 1 on the Billboard Hard Rock singles chart. The entire album dropped on February 7 on CD, CD with a bonus DVD, and vinyl. It was an instant success, reaching #2 on the Billboard Top 200, #1 on the Billboard Rock Chart, #1 on the Billboard Hard Rock Chart, and #1 on the U.K. Rock Chart.

The album was critically well-received with Rolling Stone (not known for it’s love of hard rock or metal) saying “Van Halen’s “heard you missed us, we’re back” album is not only the most long-awaited reunion joint in the history of reunion joints. It is also—against all reasonable expectations—a real Van Halen record”. 

Of course, there was a tour that followed. The first leg of the U.S. tour was scheduled to start on February 18 and was to run until April 1. Early reports from the shows were good. From personal experience, I can tell you that the March 28 show in Washington D.C. was incredible. The band was tight, Eddie was playing better than he had in years, and Wolfgang on bass and background vocals was rock solid, sounding much like a seasoned veteran.

A second leg started on April 10, ending on June 26 in New Orleans. This leg received good notices as well. The band scheduled a third and fourth U.S. leg along with four dates in Japan. All of these ended up being canceled, with the band chalking it up to “exhaustion.” 

Shortly after the second leg, Eddie required emergency surgery due to a nasty bout of diverticulitis. V.H.’s third and fourth U.S. legs would not be rescheduled. The four Japan dates were rescheduled for June 2013, after which they played two more U.S. dates. This signaled the end of the tour. 

Wolf’s Next Move

Wolfgang was suddenly left with time on his hands. But this wouldn’t last long. Mark Tremonti (guitarist for both Creed and Alter Bridge) had finished recording his first solo record released (oddly enough) under the band name Tremonti. Mark wanted to tour behind the album, but the bass player (Brian Marshall) who played on the record didn’t. Tremonti called up Wolfgang to see if he’d be interested in playing bass on tour. With the V.H. dates canceled, Wolfgang jumped at the chance. With hundreds of live shows behind him, Wolf fit right in. After these dates, he was offered a full-time position in the band. Wolfgang accepted the offer and remained in the band until 2016. During that time, he played on two Tremonti records, 2015’s Cauterize and the 2016 follow-up Dust.

While playing and touring with Tremonti, Wolfgang got the idea of recording a solo record. Between all of his other responsibilities in 2013, he began writing songs under the name Mammoth (see, I told you that name would prove to be important). Recording began in 2015 back at his father’s 5150 studio.

Wolf in the 5150 studio at the mixing desk
Wolf in the 5150 studio. From the Don’t Back Down official video

Van Halen Comes to an End

Meanwhile, in February 2015, Van Halen (the band) announced that they would be releasing their first live album with Roth on vocals. Live at the Tokyo Dome had been recorded at their 2013 make-up show at the in Japan. Another announcement shortly after said that the band would be embarking on a 39 city North American tour to run from July until October. Sadly this would prove Van Halen’s final tour, ending with two dates at the famed Hollywood Bowl on October 2 and 4. 

Between the Van Halen tour and his duties with Tremonti, Wolfgang would squeeze in recording sessions for his solo project. The bulk of recording took place at Eddie’s 5150 studio. Wolf decided to play all of the instruments on the record and graduated to the lead singer role. That sounds pretty ambitious for someone’s first solo album, but Wolfgang had been building up to this since his first shows with Van Halen in 2007. The recording was completed in July 2018. With the working title of Mammoth, Wolfgang was anxious about using that as his new band’s name. He added WVH to the name to prevent confusion among the fans. He was nervous when approaching Eddie to get his approval and was surprised when Eddie said, of course, you can use that name. It made Eddie very proud. 

Eddie’s Health Problems

Unfortunately, in 2017, Eddie’s health began to decline. He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. In 2019, Eddie crashed his motorcycle. While being treated, the doctors found a brain tumor. This would prove to be the beginning of the end.

During this time, Wolfgang had a decision to make. Wolf had a solo record in the can. Touring behind the record’s release would likely take up to three years. But admirably, Wolf decided to keep the album on the shelf to spend more time with his ailing father. Wolf considers this to be a blessing. During that time, Eddie was very enthusiastic about Wolf’s solo record. He frequently told his son that it was his favorite rock album of all time. Eddie’s health would continue to spiral downwards. On October 6, 2020, he would draw his last breath.

Wolfgang Van Halen sitting playing bass with his father Eddie patting his head and smiling broadly
Wolf practicing with his proud father. From the official music video for “Distance”

Eddie Van Halen’s Passing

Eddie was surrounded by his current wife, ex-wife Valerie, Eddie’s mom, and Wolfgang at the time of his death. Wolf would announce to the world via Twitter the news of his father’s passing. “I can’t believe I have to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift.”

Wolfgang’s First Single

But as often happens, endings can also bring new beginnings. Wolf still had a new record on the shelf. “Distance” was one of these songs on the album. Lyrically it seemed to be about Eddie’s eventual departure, even though Wolf had written it a few years prior. 

A touching music video was released with the song. Using home movie footage of a much happier time, the music video shows Wolfgang at birth then progressing through the years. The love and dedication of both Eddie and Valerie is evident. It’s a fitting tribute as well as a look at things to come. Both Eddie’s fans and newcomers greeted “Distance” with almost universal acclaim.

Wolf’s New Sound

Wolfgang began appearing in the press, granting many interviews discussing his father’s legacy and his plans for the future. His long completed Mammoth WVH record was scheduled to drop on June 11, 2021. Fans were curious. Would this sound like Van Halen? Will Wolfgang adopt Eddie’s unique guitar tone? Would Wolf be playing V.H. songs at the inevitable live shows?

Let’s look at these questions one at a time. So, does this sound like V.H.? No, it doesn’t, and wisely so. Wolf could have easily sounded just like dad and turn the band into a V.H. tribute band. But instead, Wolf worked hard to forge his sound. And it works, his voice exudes confidence and maturity rare among singers on their first record. Keep in mind that Wolfgang performed everything you hear in this record. 

Would Wolfgang adopt Eddie’s unique tone? Once again, the answer is no. He wants to make sure that this is a Wolfgang Van Halen record, not just Eddie’s son’s record. Playing mostly Gibson ES 335’s his tone is a bit more aggressive than his dads.

Will Mammoth WVH be incorporating Van Halen tunes in their live show? The answer is a resounding NO. Wolf is adamant on this point. Mammoth WVH will be playing Mammoth WVH songs live.

So how about the rest of the record? Allow me hit the highlights.

The cover of the new Mammoth WVH album. A man in a business suit and briefcase is standing in a parking lot.A giant crab is holding a car in its claw.
The new Mammoth WVH album.

An Overview

The opening track, “Mr. Ed,” is an in-your-face flat-out rocker. Wolfgang’s main riff, while being rooted in modern hard rock has a vaguely middle-eastern feel. You will be humming this catchy song long after your first listen.

Track 3, “Epiphany,” slows the pace just a little bit. Not as instantly likable as the opening track, I believe this track will reveal its charms after repeated listening. I’ve found that some of my favorite music didn’t start high on my hit list. What is evident, though, is the quality of Wolf’s vocals. He has firm control of this material and isn’t afraid to show it.

“Don’t Back Down” could be my favorite track on this record. Its undeniable swagger will suck you right in. I can envision headbangers in front of the stage going crazy for this one. I should also note that Wolf shot a video for this track. Without giving too much away, the video shows that not only is Wolf a consummate musician, but he has a keen sense of humor as well. It’s defiantly worth checking out.

Mammoth WVH performing live on stage with sparkling lights in the background.
Mammoth WVH live. From the official Mammoth live video for “Don’t Back Down”

“The Big Picture” is a heavy, mid-tempo song. I found its appeal to be immediate. He shows more maturity in his songwriting than many musicians twice his age. I am eagerly awaiting the chance to hear this song live. 

I had mixed feelings about the song “Feel.” Early in the tune, the pacing seems odd with a kind of start-stop feel that didn’t pull me in. But later in the song, Wolfgang shows off his virtuosity on all of the instruments, and I couldn’t help but like it. A bit uneven but still recommended.

“Stone” slows the pace down again but not at the cost of its heaviness. It’s a slow burner, but the fire within it is intense. 

Finally, the album concludes with “Distance,” which we discussed earlier. Wolfgang is saying goodbye as well as looking to a new future without his dad.. 

Overall, this is a solid record that many rockers would be proud to stamp their name on. You quickly forget that this is his first solo record. The album is varied throughout, with some riffs that would feel right at home on a Pantera record while others, could have come from The Cars. If I had to rate this record without figuring in that it’s a debut album, I’d still give it 4/5. 

I’m excited at the prospect of hearing these songs in a live setting. Wolfgang has stated to Eddie Trunk that the band will be 100% live without any backing tracks, which are ubiquitous in many touring bands. If he can maintain his focus, I think Wolf has a shot at bigger and better things in his future.

Post Script

This album dropped on June 11, 2021. It debuted at #12 on the Billboard Top 200. For a hard rock record, that is almost unheard of these days. It reached #1 on the Billboard Independent Chart, The Billboard Rock Chart, and the Billboard Hard Rock Chart. 

Mammoth WVH has landed the coveted opening spot on the Guns N’ Roses 2021 tour. This has the possibility to expand Wolf’s exposure exponentially. Much like when Metallica won the opening slot on an Ozzy tour many years ago, this could blast Mammoth WVH into the stratosphere.

Having the last name Van Halen will get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t necessarily equal chart success (look at Van Halen III for proof). If Wolf can maintain this quality on future records, he could be part of the music scene for decades to come. After all, with everything Wolf’s done, he is still only 30. With artists like Alice Cooper (73) and Ringo Starr (81) still trodding the boards, Wolfgang has a lot for which to look forward.

Written by Viktor Landon

Viktor Landon here, but you can call me Vik. In one way or another I’ve been involved in the music business for over 30 years. From managing record stores to promoting bands and everything in between. My tastes are eclectic, from Prog to Metal to Americana. Outside of music, I worship at the alters of David Lynch, Andy Kaufman, Evel Knievel, Garry Larson, Douglas Adams, and anyone who points out the absurdities in life. Finally my alter ego is the owner of Edge of Sanity Entertainment. We sell all things music and Twin Peaks at record shows and comic cons up and down the east coast. Stop by and say hi.

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