Lost Together is a new bi-weekly podcast featuring in-depth musical discussion and debate with special guest contributors and also conversations with artists, producers and music industry professionals. New and classic artists join Matt Wardlaw to share stories and insights regarding their musical process.
Matt is joined on the first episode by author D.X. Ferris (author of the 33 1/3 book on Slayer’s Reign in Blood, the excellent sequel, Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years and Popdose’s Suburban Metal Dad) and Greg Renoff for a moderated discussion of Greg’s new book, Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, which sets a new standard for rock-and-roll biographies.
If you’re a Van Halen fan, you’re already probably well aware of Greg’s book. But just in case you’re unfamiliar, we’ll set you up with a bit of information about Greg before we begin.
Greg is a lifelong Van Halen fan who witnessed the 1984 tour and later earned a Ph. D in history. To tell the untold story of Van Halen’s formative years, he interviewed well over 200 witnesses to Van Halen’s early years, from Eddie Van Halen’s rival guitarists to Pasadena families who hired the band to play massive keg parties in their back yard.
Researching the project, Renoff dug deep into guitar magazines, civic records, California newspapers, and other unusual sources to painstakingly detail the early history of a group that, in many ways, represents the pinnacle of the classic-rock tradition, and whose larger-than-life stage personas and guitar pyrotechnics set the stage for 1980s heavy metal.
Six years in the making, Renoff’s book was a growing sensation before it was published — and it is living up its advance buzz. A mere two months after its release, the ECW Press paperback has over 200 reader reviews on Amazon.com — which is a lot — and is averaging five-star notices from its civilian fans. (Sammy Hagar’s cookbook has 59, by the way.) It is currently the #1 Best-Seller in US Western Biographies, and has been the site’s #1 Heavy Metal Book for over a month. And the pros love it too.
MTV icon Martha Quinn read it and testified, “Renoff’s writing is consistently punchy and compelling, like Van Halen at its finest. If you’ve got it bad, got it bad, got it bad for Van Halen, get Van Halen Rising.”
Chuck Klosterman, author of Fargo Rock City, wrote, “I thought I knew a lot about Van Halen, until I read this book. It’s exceedingly rare to find such a comprehensive portrait of any band’s pre-history, even for canonical groups like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. So to stumble across this level of research about the early days of Van Halen is like hearing studio-quality demos of songs you did not even know existed.”
Van Halen News Desk, one of the definitive Van Halen resources, said “Let us guess – you’re one of those people who thinks they know everything about Van Halen, right? You don’t. At least not until you’ve read Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal.”
But that’s not all. Renoff’s research not only includes hundreds of fans and witnesses. And not only did he score an exclusive conversation with classic-era Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony. But he managed to interview the reclusive Ted Templeman, the former Warner Brothers executive vice-president who produced the first six Van Halen albums. Templeman later read the finished Van Halen Rising and said, “I couldn’t believe the insight Renoff has into the production process behind the making of Van Halen’s debut. He truly gets it! The book is fantastic.”
Renoff is a career professor, historian, husband, and father of two. He has been promoting the book at standing-room only signings all over the country. And he took some time from his busy travel schedule to discuss this new landmark rock book.
Full disclosure: Greg thanks both of us in the book. But he’s doing well enough that he doesn’t need us anymore. So we have nothing to gain by praising the book and his diligent work on it.
It was a real pleasure to talk about the history of Van Halen with Greg and he patiently put up with some of the nerdiest questions he’s probably had to endure in regards to the actual process of writing the book, which is a piece of the interview that will probably be of interest to anyone who (like us) has always been interested to know how a book like this comes together.
Download or listen to this episode now:
Lost Together with Matt Wardlaw, Episode 1: Greg Renoff
For more information about Van Halen Rising, visit the official website where you can order signed copies of the book and additional merchandise from the merch page.