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New Van Halen = Old Van Halen and that's good

Wall of early Van Halen concert flyers at the unofficial “Van Halen Museum” in Altadena.
Wall of early Van Halen concert flyers at the unofficial “Van Halen Museum” in Altadena.
Steven Cuevas/KPCC

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Few rock bands epitomize ‘80s excess like Van Halen. The hard-partying band formed in Pasadena in 1974 — and it’s had ups and downs ever since.

This month, Van Halen released its first album ("A Different Kind of Truth") with original vocalist David Lee Roth in almost 30 years. Much of the music was written but never released when the band was playing in backyards, seedy clubs and even the bar at the Pasadena Hilton in 1975.

Van Halen, the name the band had just adopted about a year earlier, was forging its heavy rock reputation with original material at backyard beer bashes across the Pasadena area.

Doug Anderson spent a lot of time in those backyards drinking beer and playing in many of his own bands.

“What else do you do on a Friday or Saturday night? Well there’s [a] party, you go for the chicks and maybe get some beers,” remembers Anderson in the workshop of his amplifier and guitar repair shop in Altadena.

“And the band, sometimes they were too loud. That’s where [the nickname] ‘Van Headache’ came from.”

Anderson also runs the unofficial “Van Halen Museum” from the shop. It includes some of Eddie Van Halen’s old guitars, walls of concert flyers and snapshots — and piles of unreleased live and studio recordings from the mid-‘70s.

“They really played as much as they could anywhere and everywhere. In those days they really worked hard. It wasn’t an easy gig,” says Anderson. They started writing songs and getting really good at it.”

For its first album with vocalist Roth since the Reagan administration, Van Halen tapped into its reservoir of material accumulated in the years before its explosive 1978 breakthrough. Some songs get new arrangements and lyrics; others like “Bullethead” barely stray from their garage rock origins: