Interview by John Wisniewski
Steven Rosen has been writing about the denizens of rock ‘n’ roll for the past 25 years. During this period, his work has appeared in dozens of publications including Guitar Player, Guitar World, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Creem, Circus, Musician, and a host of others. Long recognized as an authority in the field of electric rock guitar journalism, Rosen has written seminal pieces on a number of musicians. Among them Edward Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Billy Gibbons, Zakk Wylde, and others. Further, Rosen is the author of five books: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince; Bruce Springsteen; The Beck Book (Jeff Beck); Free At Last; and Wheels of Confusion: The Story of Black Sabbath and now, Tonechaser, about Eddie Van Halen.
AMFM Magazine: Why did you call your book about Eddie van Halen Tonechaser?
Steve Rosen: I was three-quarters of the way through the book and I still didn’t have a title. I wanted a title that was epic and beautiful-sounding as befitted someone as rare as Edward. I had messed around with some other titles – A Life This Was; The Things He said; Whammy Bard – but none of them worked. I was listening to one of the last conversations I had with him and he described himself as a “tonechaser” and I knew I had my title. That’s who he was and what he was and in truth, I don’t think he ever caught up to the sounds he was chasing.
AMFM Magazine: How long did it take for Tonechaser to be published?
Steve Rosen: My first thought when I began writing the book was I wanted to find a publisher.
I thought a publisher would fall in love with my book because it was so different than any other book then out there about Edward. One publisher said it was too long and another publisher said he was putting out a book on Frank Zappa because that was more interesting to him.
I reached out to my good friend Neil Zlozower (Van Halen’s official photographer for many years) and he told me to self-publish. I did so and received final copies in hand in September 2022.
From the moment I sat down to write the book until that epic day late last year, two years passed.
Two long, hard years but I am so absolutely happy with the way the book came out and the fact I had complete control over it.
AMFM Magazine: Please tell us how you developed a close relationship with Eddie?
Steve Rosen: I wish I could tell you exactly how that happened but in truth, I don’t have a clue. I know from the first time I met him at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip in June 1977, I felt close to him. I think he felt close to me.
Edward was a guitar player and I was a writer who wrote about guitar players so there was already a framework there. I recognized how brilliant he was and I believe he recognized I was someone who would be honest with him and never hurt him. He could trust me and in his world, I think it was rare to find someone like that.
The more we hung out, the closer we became. I loved being around him. He was an artist of the highest caliber but he was also a positive person and full of good energy. I’m only sorry that relationship ever had to end.
AMFM Magazine: How did you meet Eddie? What were your first impressions of him?
Steve Rosen: I met Edward in June 1977 at the Whisky club on the Sunset Strip. My friend Michele Myer booked the Whisky. She knew I was writing for guitar magazines and always on the lookout for the next cool thing. She introduced me to him that night at the Whisky.
My very first impression of him was how comfortable he seemed to be in his own skin. He was a 22-year old kid who had just signed a major deal with Warner Bros. Records but there was no sign of an ego or anything like that. I liked him from the moment I first met him. He radiated this kind of positive creative force and I was hoping some of it would rub off on me.
AMFM Magazine: What was Eddie’s home life like?
Steve Rosen: We didn’t talk about that a lot though I wish had done so. He talked about his father taking various jobs to support the family and I believe Edward was affected by that because his dad was a fulltime musician back in Europe. He lived at home for about three years after the band was signed so I assumed his home life was cool. Later, he would tell me some things about his mom and I realized there was maybe more turmoil than he ever revealed.
AMFM Magazine: What was the relationship like between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen?
Steve Rosen: From the beginning, Edward was never close friends with Dave. They never hung out together outside the band or if they did, he never talked to me about it. Edward respected Dave but grew tired of Roth’s egocentric side.
AMFM Magazine: What happened between Eddie and David, that made David leave Van Halen?
Steve Rosen: I believe Ed had just grown weary of the shit Dave pulled. When Dave was supposed to be back home working on an album, he would be off on an exotic vacation somewhere. I believe Edward thought Dave wasn’t giving 100% to the band. Edward was working constantly on writing, coming up with new riffs, and wanting the band to move forward.
He built the 5150 studio at his house not for himself but for the band. The culmination of that was the 1984 album, which lifted the band into an entirely new arena of success. But Dave felt like he was losing control and wanted to flex his own musical muscles. He went off to do his solo EP, which Edward supported in the beginning. However, Dave used that as a steppingstone to begin his own career. The manner in which he left and the way he simply tossed Edward and everything he’d done aside, left a very bad taste in Ed’s mouth. Why he would ever agree to tour with Dave years later is something I could never understand.
AMFM Magazine: Was Eddie van Halen difficult to get to know?
Steve Rosen: That’s a loaded question. No, becoming friends with him was simple. Yes, because I don’t think I ever really knew him.
He was a deceptively deep human being. He was incredibly honest in expressing his opinions and sometimes that was a tough thing to deal with. I wish I had spent more time with him in order that I could have known him even better. There were so many more questions I wanted to ask. It tears me up that I never had that chance and now those questions – and his answers – are gone forever.
AMFM Magazine: What will your next book be about, Steve?
Steve Rosen: I’ve written seven books previously to this one but this one was harder than all those other books combined. Honestly, I don’t have any current or imminent plans to write another book. Back in 1978, I wrote a book about Jeff Beck for the Japanese market called The Beck Book. It was the first book ever written about Jeff and I was really proud of it. Through a series of things I had no control over, Jeff ended up hating me. I did nothing wrong but that didn’t matter because Jeff thought I did.
I had been thinking about revisiting the book prior to Jeff’s passing but now that he’s gone, I don’t know. It was a good book and I think there’s an audience for it. I just have to let time pass.
All my energy is wrapped up in Tonechaser. I’m truly proud of this book and the response so far has been awesome.
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