Over his long career, Eddie Van Halen never hesitated jumping onstage with friends and strangers. In the below list of 19 Famous and Forgotten Eddie Van Halen Concert Collaborations, we’ve rounded up some of the best.
While he’s best known for his studio team-ups – work with Queen‘s Brian May, Roger Waters, Toto‘s Steve Lukather, and the hot fire he gifted Michael Jackson on “Beat It” – there were plenty of times he sat in with others onstage.
From joining the Jacksons for a live take on “Beat It” to lending a hand at Sammy Hagar shows to a truly bizarre solo on Simon & Garfunkel‘s “The Sound of Silence,” Van Halen’s best and most curious live collaborations are a thing of wonder.
The Pretenders, “Wild Thing” (Feb. 14, 1982)
By 1982, Van Halen had become one of the world’s biggest bands. Chasing them, with a totally different sound and in a completely different scene, the Pretenders were pretty big at the time, too. How Chrissie Hynde and Eddie Van Halen ever connected is a mystery, but she brought him onstage to close her band’s show at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion for a performance that included “Wild Thing.” It wouldn’t be the last time the guitarist teamed up with rock royalty on the Troggs classic.
Allan Holdsworth Jam (April 29, 1982)
Eddie Van Halen loved Allan Holdsworth’s innovative approach to the guitar. But the rocker and jazz fusion giant never worked together on a major project. The pair wanted to come together on Holdsworth’s 1983 release, Road Games, but the scheduling never worked out. Fans will have to settle for this live team-up at the Roxy in Los Angeles. “He came down to our first gig at the Roxy, and I was trembling in my shoes at the thought of all the people being out there,” Holdsworth said. “I was talking to him afterwards, and I said, ‘We’re coming down in the afternoon to do another soundcheck. Why don’t you bring your guitar?’ … We thought it would be a good idea to do a jam together at the end of the night, so we worked out one of Edward’s tunes. We finished our set, came back on and played this tune together. It was great. It was fun – kind of a nice contrast to the rest of the gig.”
The Jacksons, “Beat It” (July 14, 1984)
The story of Van Halen’s work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller is legendary: “I listened to the song, and I immediately go, ‘Can I change some parts?’” he said. “I turned to the engineer and I go, ‘Okay, from the breakdown, chop in this part, go to this piece, pre-chorus, to the chorus, out.’” But the music gods truly smiled down on Dallas when Van Halen and Jackson – on the Victory tour with his brothers – crossed paths at their peaks. In front of a massive crowd, Jackson called out, “You got it, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!” before Eddie goes nuts.
John Waite, “Wild Life” and “Head First” (Nov. 7. 1984)
Van Halen really showed his Top 40 leanings in the ’80s. While he connected with jazzier artists like Allan Holdsworth, he also lent his style to a wide range of pop, modern rock and New Wave acts. Late in 1984, John Waite was riding high on the smash single “Missing You” and its hit album No Brakes. Despite Waite’s newfound A-list status, it must have shocked his fans to have the world’s leading six-string wizard walk onstage at the Hollywood Palladium for Waite’s tune and a cover of his Babys classic “Head First.”
Scandal, “Maybe We Went Too Far” and “River Deep Mountain High” (1984)
During Patty Smyth and Scandal’s 1984 tour stop in L.A., the guitarist joined his pal, whom he actually tried to recruit for Van Halen after their break with David Lee Roth. Eddie Van Halen did some shredding on his favorite tune on Scandal’s Warrior LP and a rather New Wave-meets-punk take on Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High.”
Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band (May 16, 1985)
Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth or the whole band showed up on Late Night With David Letterman or The Late Show With David Letterman half a dozen times. But the best bits appeared on the guitarist’s Late Night debut, where he sat in with Paul Shaffer’s house band to stomp through “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “Jump,” “You Really Got Me” and “Sunshine of Your Love.” The appearance was also awesome because Letterman asked Van Halen point blank, “Does David get on your nerves?” All Eddie can do is laugh, blush and cover his face with his guitar. Could Letterman, king of the deadpan, have known the band was splitting with Roth at that exact time?
Sammy Hagar, “Rock and Roll,” Farm Aid (Sept. 22, 1985)
Van Halen had already hired Sammy Hagar to replace Diamond Dave, but most of the world had no idea by the time Hagar was set to play Farm Aid in late September 1985. As the singer told the crowd, he read in a newspaper that Eddie Van Halen was supposed to join him for his performance. That was news to both guys, but they went for it anyway. “We didn’t have time to work nothin’ up,” Hagar added, so they decided on a cover, with the guitarist and the Red Rocker’s band ripping through Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock and Roll” to close the set.
Michael Winslow Jam, National Association of Music Merchants Convention (Jan. 30, 1987)
What do you do after you’ve worked with David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Michael Jackson and Brian May? You hit the stage with actor Michael Winslow, who gained fame as Larvell Jones, the human sound machine from the Police Academy movies. The collaboration took place at the 1987 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show. “There was a big buzz going around that Eddie would be appearing,” recalled Vintage Music Images photographer David Plastik. “They were dueling with Eddie playing a lick and Michael voicing it back.” Somehow the jam landed on MTV. “If you find it kind of hard to tell who is doing what there, apparently that’s the point,” joked VJ Mark Goodman.
G.E. Smith and the ‘Saturday Night Live’ Band (Feb. 28, 1987)
G.E. Smith convinced Eddie Van Halen to sit in with the Saturday Night Live house band when the guitarist’s wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, hosted the show in 1987 (Season 12, Episode 13). “He doesn’t want to follow his wife around like a puppy dog,” Smith recalled. “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.” The musicians hit it off and wrote “Stompin’ 8H,” in reference to Studio 8H at 30 New York’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza where SNL is staged. “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.”
Jan Hammer, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta Jam at the Les Paul & Friends Concert (Aug. 18, 1988)
Eddie Van Halen has stood onstage with plenty of master musicians, but session kings Jan Hammer, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta were some of the best. Among the three aces, they’ve backed up Peter Gabriel, Stevie Nicks, Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and hundreds more. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the trio helped Van Halen pay tribute to guitar legend Les Paul. After some solo fireworks, including a rendition of “Cathedral,” the group explodes into a jam based on “Hot for Teacher.”
Everybody Else at the Les Paul Concert Mega Jam (Aug. 18, 1988)
With the Stray Cats closing down the Les Paul tribute show with “Blue Suede Shoes,” Brian Setzer called out, “Hey, Eddie Van Halen, get your butt up here, man.” The guitarist came out before Setzer started shouting for more musicians to jump into the fray. Before the blues romp was over, Van Halen was joined by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, B.B. King, Stanley Jordan, Steve Miller, Jan Hammer, Waylon Jennings and the guest of honor himself.
Steve Lukather and Brad Delp, “Wild Thing,” at Cabo Wabo Opening (April 1990)
Sammy Hagar fell in love with the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas in the ’80s and eventually convinced his bandmates to open a club south of the border, with a whole bunch of friends helping out at the launch party. In addition to Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and former Boston singer Brad Delp, who sat in on “Wild Thing, the band’s other special guests included Lita Ford, Dweezil Zappa, Kip Winger, Cheap Trick‘s Robin Zander and Ratt‘s Robbin Crosby.
Albert Lee and Steve Morse at NAMM (January 1991)
Three distinct talents and styles came together at the 1991 NAMM conference: Van Halen, rockabilly king Albert Lee and Deep Purple and Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, plus a backing band, became the Biff Baby’s All-Stars for two nights. The show became infamous after a writer for Musician magazine went after Van Halen for not being able to keep up with Lee and Morse. Most of the footage from the show is hard to find, so we may never know if the writer was correct.
Toto at Jeff Porcaro Tribute (Dec. 14, 1992)
The Toto drummer, who died in 1992, got a send-off from his old bandmates and a string of stars including Michael McDonald, Don Henley, Donald Fagen and George Harrison. For fans of epic guitar duels, the night featured pals Steve Lukather and Van Halen ripping through a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Van Halen also powered a stinging version of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and sat in with Toto on the group’s first hit, “Hold the Line.”
Sammy Hagar, Simon & Garfunkel at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit (Nov. 6, 1993)
Those lucky enough to see Neil Young’s seventh-annual Bridge School Benefit concert witnessed a different side of Eddie Van Halen. He joined Hagar on acoustic guitar and piano for a few Van Halen classics in what has been called the band’s first unplugged performance. It was all cheers and smiles for that appearance, but some fans scratched their heads when the guitar god joined Simon & Garfunkel for an acoustic “The Sound of Silence.” Some say the guitarist butchered the song with an off-key solo; others think he played with the melody in new and innovative ways.
Leslie West, “Mississippi Queen,” (August 1995)
Eddie Van Halen and Leslie West had been pals for years and jammed together in the ’80s (West once fondly recalled a nonstop 90-minute session in a hotel in 1987). But a hotel jam can’t compare with the time the Mountain guitarist made a mid-’90s guest appearance with Van Halen. They dug into Mountain’s signature track “Mississippi Queen” – a mutual appreciation between two guitar heroes.
John Mellencamp, Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Richie Sambora and More at City of Hope (Oct. 16, 1996)
A lineup of superstars came together in 1996 for a gala to raise millions for the City of Hope charity. But the musicians outshone the money. The “All-Star Garage Band” featured Steve Winwood, Don Henley, Bryan Adams, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, John Mellencamp, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bobby Keys, Tony Rich, Richie Sambora, Jim Price, Narada Michael Walden, Paul Shaffer, Max Weinberg and Eddie Van Halen. VH1 captured much of the night, including Van Halen dropping into “I Fought the Law” for a face-melting solo, utterly crushing Sambora on “Gloria” and backing up Crow on a screaming take of the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch.”
Steve Lukather and Billy Sheehan Jam at Jason Becker Benefit (Nov. 17, 1996)
Calling themselves the Lou Brutus Experience, Van Halen, Lukather, ex-David Lee Roth bassist Billy Sheehan and Mr. Big drummer Pat Torpey took the stage together in matching black berets. They were loose, silly and mind-blowing, jumping into everything from the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” to Beatles covers. The joy was real, but the jam was for a somber occasion: It helped raise money for guitar ace (and another Roth alum) Jason Becker carry on his battle with ALS.
Kenny Chesney, “Jump” and “You Really Got Me” (June 2006)
Eddie and Alex Van Halen joined one of country music’s biggest names when they took the stage during a tour stop in Carson, Calif. Unfortunately, the collaboration came during the guitarist’s darker years, and he doesn’t seem himself. Despite the rather slapdash performance, Kenny Chesney had kind words for the guitar legend after he died. “He was a friend and a hero to anyone who has ever picked up a guitar and had a dream,” he wrote on Instagram. “Eddie and his brother Alex joined us onstage at one of our stadium shows in Los Angeles, and it was one of the highlights of my touring life in all my summers on the road. I will never forget that night and how happy we both were that our musical paths crossed that night onstage.”