Be yourself (everyone else is taken)

Wolfgang Van Halen: “Unabashedly” determined to be his own man

By Jon Liebman
Week of July 5, 2021

Imagine getting called to fill in for a bass player on a show or for a gig. Not just any bass player, but someone who is respected, well liked, even revered.

Stepping in to fill someone’s shoes can often be a daunting task. The bass world certainly has its share of history in that regard.

Here at FBPO, we’ve published a lot of interviews of bass players who faced similar situations. The list includes Jason Scheff, who took over for Peter Cetera in Chicago; Darryl Jones, who replaced longtime Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman; and Victor Bailey, who assumed the bass chair in Weather Report, succeeding none other than Jaco Pastorius. 

This week’s FBPO interview, conducted by Gary Graff, is with Wolfgang Van Halen. As if it weren’t difficult enough taking the place of VH bassist/vocalist Michael Anthony – much to the ire of countless fans – having Eddie Van Halen for your dad couldn’t have made things any easier.

So how does WVH handle the situation?

“At first it’s definitely intimidating as a 16-year-old to have the world hating on you,” says Wolfgang. “But I just kind of did my own thing ’cause I knew I could do it, and when people told me I can’t, when I know I’m doing it, it almost made me feel better.”

As hard as things must have been, Wolfgang stresses that he put the emphasis on the music, and on what he’s capable of doing in his own right. “To be myself,” he says, “and kind of prove…not really prove but just to show I’m my own person instead of what’s come before, attached to my name.”

On the one hand, Wolfie acknowledges that a lot of people will never be converted to true fans. At the same time, though, he senses others giving him at least a little respect, if reluctantly. “That in their eyes it (sounded) too good for me to actually be doing it,” he says, “I took that as a compliment. I still do.”

The biggest takeaway from the interview is his determination to be true to himself and do his best not to rely on his heritage and his last name. Case in point, his debut album, Mammoth WVH.

“This album came straight from the heart,” Wolfgang says, “and it’s 100 percent, unabashedly me.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Wolf also speaks with some musical maturity, proclaiming that, first and foremost, it’s about the music. 

”Rather than showing off or anything, I’m trying to create the best path for the song to show itself,” he says. “I think it really helps sell the idea that it’s a whole band.”

Wise words from the young man. I’m guessing some of that wisdom came from his dad.

How about you? Do you have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out Gary’s interview with Wolfgang here.

Comments on Be yourself (everyone else is taken)

  1. Andrew Atwill says:

    It’s only my opinion, but for me, any musician who achieves their own identity on whatever instrument they choose has done something remarkable and uncommon. It is easier to achieve an identity in composition than on an instrument, so any instrumentalist who truly sounds like nobody else but themselves and knows exactly what they are doing on their instrument at all times, deserves all the accolades they get.

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