When Eddie Van Halen’s ‘SNL’ Guest Spot Didn’t Go as Planned
When Eddie Van Halen accompanied his wife to the Saturday Night Live studio in 1987, he wasn’t planning to make a live TV appearance himself – until house band guitarist G.E. Smith was able to change his mind.
While the track they wrote together, “Stompin’ 8H,” is fondly remembered among fans, Smith recalled that it didn’t quite go to plan when they performed it with the cameras live.
“He doesn’t want to follow his wife around like a puppy dog,” Smith remembered in the video below, talking of the day when Van Halen’s then-spouse, actress Valerie Bertinelli, was playing the role of SNL guest host for Season 12, Episode 13, broadcast on Feb. 28, 1987. “So he finds out about the music office, and he comes in and hangs out – because you can do whatever you want in the music office. Drinking, smoking, whatever. He was comfortable there. It was his people, band guys.”
At that time, the show was enjoying one of its resurgences, which meant producers were happy for Smith to hijack any big-name artist who happened to be in town. And the fact that the show has always been broadcast live means that there's extra excitement for viewers when a previously unannounced guest comes onto the screen. “A couple of guys from Metallica told me there were times when they’d get off stage and get on the bus and turn on the TV to see who was playing with the band that week,” Smith added.
G.E. Smith on Eddie Van Halen's 'SNL' Guest Spot
The title “Stompin’ 8H” was a reference to Studio 8H at 30 New York's 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where SNL has been staged since its inception. The piece was based on a “little lick” Van Halen had come up with. “I wrote another section, and then Lenny [Pickett, musical director] arranged the horn parts and then there we were,” the house guitarist explained.
There were two performances each week – a dress rehearsal followed by the on-air delivery. “At dress it was fantastic – it was ridiculous how good it was. … He’s a master, he really is,” Smith enthused. “At air it was great, I mean it was super high quality. But he made a tiny little mistake. He forgot where this one very intricate little thing [was]. Nobody would even know about it; maybe three people in the United States. He was so upset that he had made a mistake; but it was great.”
The unique moment can be seen on NBC's website and listen to the audio below, with the reputed mistake taking place around the 2:08 mark.