I begged, pleaded and worked in the tobacco fields in North Carolina to purchase my first Teisco Del Ray guitar from a department store with a small amp. This was one of those three-pickup jobs with all the switches and action so high I couldn’t believe guitar players were anything short of super-human. From there, I got a little stereo set-up with a turntable and spent every dime I had on the early and mid ’70s albums and every waking minute scraping the needle over and over again trying to learn licks by Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, GFR, and any great guitar-driven band of the ’70s.
Clapton was my first rock god guy because he had it all: tone, feeling, phrasing, vibrato… And I knew, whatever it was, I wanted that. From there, I graduated to Jimmy Page, Ted Nugent, Joe Perry, Pat Travers, and then it happened… There are times in your life when you can remember exactly where you were and the circumstances in which something comes to you: this was one of those times.
A kid I knew at school kept telling me about this band and this guitar player that was one of the most incredible things he’d ever heard, because he knew I played guitar. I didn’t really listen to him because I didn’t believe anybody could be better than Jimmy Page or Ted Nugent; it just wasn’t possible. Finally, this kid tracked me down and stuck an album halfway jutting out of my gym locker called Van Halen.
I took the record home and put it on the turntable—in the studio that me and my dad had constructed in our backyard as a full rehearsal place—and dropped the needle down on track 1 of Van Halen’s first record. After the second track, which ran 1:42 (entitled “Eruption”), my life was forever changed. Some people call these things epiphanies, some call them religious experiences—but I can tell you right now I had no (expletive) idea what I’d just heard. But I knew whatever it was was the coolest, most bad-ass recording I’d ever heard up to that point. I was hooked.
I was privileged to see Roth and Van Halen on every single tour up until 1984. I wasn’t really a Roth fan so much as I was an Ed junkie. I had assembled a high school band with the best musicians I could find around me and we had a repertoire of over 50 songs by the time I was 16. We started garnering a lot of local recognition playing bars and high school dances and I was making more in one night with a band than I’d made in my dad’s shop all week—plus there were the chicks.
I’d always been good with books and able to squeak by and I, eventually, was accepted at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. I went to fulfill my parents’ wishes, but I was really looking for better musicians to play with. Within a week or two of being on campus, I’d already formed a band.