Park City’s Rich Wyman remembers friend Eddie Van Halen
Tuesday’s loss of Grammy-winning musical innovator Eddie Van Halen after a long fight with cancer hit music fans all over the world, and one of those who acutely felt the blow was Parkite Rich Wyman.
Wyman’s connection with Van Halen is personal. Not only did the Park City-based pianist, singer and songwriter know the Van Halen family — including the guitarist’s son Wolfgang, ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli and Bertinelli’s photographer brother David — the guitar god appeared on and co-produced four songs on Wyman’s 1996 album “Fatherless Child.”
So, when news about the death hit the airwaves, Wyman went into a state of shock, although the two hadn’t talked in 20 years.
“I had set my phone down that day so I could sit at the piano and do some improvising,” Wyman said. “I took a break from the jamming and saw all of these texts from people I knew in Europe and across the United States on my phone. When I read them, I replied, ‘What the?’ and when I read Wolfie’s post, I broke down and cried.”
Since then, a “movie of memories” has looped nonstop in Wyman’s brain. The memories range from Wyman being the best man at David Bertinelli’s wedding to recording sessions for “Fatherless Child” to just hanging out with Van Halen and laughing together at the Jerky Boys prank-call comedy act.
“While those memories bring me down, I’m happy to have them,” he said. “I’m so happy I was able to share so much time with him, not just in a musical sense, but also a familial sense. He really took me into his family.”
Wyman, who performs with his Wife Lisa Needham in the duo Park88, met Van Halen on March 17, 1992, a day after Wolfgang’s first birthday.
“David told me Ed and Val were going to be in Park City and asked if I wanted to have dinner with them,” Wyman said. “The night of the dinner, David called me, because I had written the wrong time down. So I was an hour late.”
To make matters worse, Wyman had to leave the dinner early to play a gig at Pop Jenks, which is now Flanagan’s on Main.
“So much for first impressions,” Wyman said with a laugh. “But I asked them if they would like to come see the show, and they said yes.”
Wyman pulled aside Pop Jenks owner John Jenkins and asked him to save a table for the Van Halens.
“I told him to keep it quiet, because it was during ski season, and I didn’t want to cause a scene,” Wyman said. “But within 15 minutes word was up and down Main Street and the place was packed.”
A few minutes later, David Bertinelli walked in and gave Wyman the thumbs up.
“I knew we were on, because I would have felt really dumb if they hadn’t showed up,” Wyman said.
Wyman said he gave the performance of his life.
“I played as if it was the last time I would ever play,” he said. “There was such an energy and so much love. I even threw in an Elton John set, because I knew Valerie liked the Rocket Man. And when I got done, Ed grabbed my head and slapped a kiss on my lips.”
After that, David and Wyman would take monthly and sometimes weekly trips to Los Angeles.
“Since David was a photographer, he would set up shows and do some promotion,” Wyman said. “Then we’d hang out with Ed. We would sit at the piano and play or watch some funny videos.”
During one of the piano sessions, Van Halen and Wyman informally began preproduction of “Fatherless Child.”
“One of the things I learned from Ed was how to trim the fat off my songs,” Wyman said. “I like complicated pieces with different sections, and when I played he would say, ‘You have three songs there.’ So, he helped me cut the excess so we could get to the meat.”
Although Van Halen never asked Wyman to play keyboards with his band, he offered Wyman a production deal in 1993.
The deal included recording sessions at Van Halen’s own 5150 Studios with famed producer Andy Johns, who is known for engineering albums by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and producing Van Halen’s 1991 album “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.”
“Eddie told me to pick the musicians, and I picked the best musicians from New York, where I had lived before I moved to Park City,” Wyman said. “I even picked a guitarist, because I didn’t assume anything.”
During the record sessions, the band laid down the tracks for a song called “Blinded by Pain.”
“After we did that, Ed asked if he could try out a guitar solo for the song,” Wyman said. “It was incredible to me that he asked, and I said yes as soon as I could get my mouth to talk again.”
Van Halen asked the band to wait outside while he worked out the solo.
“We didn’t even have to put our ears to the wall because he played so loud,” Wyman said with a laugh. “It was during that time I really learned how much of a perfectionist he was. I mean, he spent hours and hours playing, replaying, picking, cutting and punching, until he was happy with it.”
Van Halen’s perfectionism wasn’t just for himself. He set the same standards for the band, which touched Wyman.
“I’d sing something, and he’d be like, ‘No,’” Wyman said. “I would say, ‘It was just like the one before,’ and he’d say, ‘No. I know you can do better. Do it again.’ And we would do it 100 more times, until he said, ‘That’s it.’”
When Van Halen said, “That’s it,” Wyman knew he nailed it.
“Ed had integrity, and there was no BS,” Wyman said with emotion in his voice. “He said what he meant and meant what he said. Every cell in his body was down to earth, and you could count on him. I know whether he was famous or not, he would still be the same guy. He was just Ed.”
After hearing the news of Van Halen’s death, Wyman wrote a song about his friend.
The yet-untitled song includes some of Van Halen’s catch phrases, according to the songwriter.
“When Ed wanted to turn things up, he would say, ‘Turn it up top!’” Wyman said. “And another thing he would say was, ‘throw some cheese on that,’ when he wanted the engineer to put some effects on a solo or guitar track. So, I threw some of those lines, as well as, ‘Do it one more time,’ in the song.”
Wyman will perform the song during a Facebook Live performance at noon on Sunday, Oct. 11.
“I’m happy I was able to write it,” he said. “I want to make Ed proud, because he was such a giving guy. I’m very lucky and honored that I got to be his friend, know his family and be one of his musical collaborators.”
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