Alex Van Halen

Alex Van Halen’s place in the pantheon of rock ’n’ roll drummers is legendary. The incredible body of work that he created alongside his brother Eddie is memorialized in Van Halen’s historic catalog of genre-defining music. With each new album, the group, which initially also featured bassist Michael Anthony and vocalist David Lee Roth, further developed its unique brand of music. Since Day 1, the foundation of that sound was the bottomless rumble and stratospheric crack of Alex Van Halen’s drumming.

Though informed by the heaviest of classic rock’s first-generation bands, from the outset Van Halen also had an ear to the future, retaining and even expanding their popularity in the midst of the new wave era, when they unabashedly incorporated keyboard hooks yet never betrayed their hard-rock base. Alex, like Eddie a self-described “tone chaser,” was deeply invested in keeping the VH sound contemporary and exploratory, imbuing his drum performances not only with gargantuan beats and blazing fills, but captivating and idiosyncratic tones.

As much as any drummer in the history of rock, Alex Van Halen helped define the signature sound of his band—which is all the more startling given the fact that his guitar-playing brother is among the most influential players in the history of the music. Alex’s energetic and unpredictable playing style and the unique bark of his sonic attack add an air of excitement to the music, and set the stage for the band’s larger-than-life persona. Blending many influences, such as big band swing, blues, early rock ’n’ roll, and even African drumming, Alex chooses from a wide palette. Advertisement

And as his playing evolved from album to album and tour to tour, so did Alex’s setup. Usually going for higher-pitched toms and ultra-deep bass drums, he would often experiment with different gear and technology to bring something new to the table. Incorporating Rototoms, timbales, cowbells, tube drums, and electronics, Alex spares no expense when it comes to finding the right equipment to achieve the sounds that are in his head.

The combination of Alex’s drumming and Eddie’s trailblazing guitar wizardry has always been the symbiotic backbone of Van Halen. The band’s lineup certainly experienced upheavals, most dramatically in the vocalist department. In 1985 David Lee Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar, who fronted the band during several of its most successful albums and tours. Roth made a highly publicized reappearance with the band during the 1996 MTV Music Video Awards, but was soon replaced by Gary Cherone, who himself stepped aside after the Van Halen III album and tour to make room for the return of Hagar. Roth was back again in 2006, the same year that Michael Anthony’s role was taken over by Eddie’s son, Wolfgang.

Perhaps the most significant event in the recent history of the band, however, came in late 2020, with the passing of Eddie Van Halen. The compilation of this book, including Modern Drummer’s most recent interview with Alex Van Halen, was completed prior to the news of Eddie’s passing. Given that the constant throughout all of Van Halen’s achievements—and what guaranteed their stature not only on the charts but in popular culture—was the bloodline of the Van Halen brotherhood, this book can be viewed not only as a tribute to one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, but to the glorious music that Alex and Eddie created together. Advertisement