Foreigner and Van Halen released their debut albums within a year of each other and both bands dominated the singles charts for years to come. So when Van Halen enlisted Foreigner guitarist and kindred spirit Mick Jones to produce 5150, their first record with Sammy Hagar singing, they knew they could trust him. He helped them refashion their sound into something a little more mature, and the album became a Number One hit, thanks to singles like “Dreams,” “Best of Both Worlds,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.” Here, Jones looks back on how he helped Van Halen through a precarious time and how he knew Eddie didn’t need his help in the studio.
The news of Eddie’s death was pretty shocking. I’m still trying to digest it. I had no idea that he was sick. It’s just a huge loss.
I look back with a lot of great memories of working with him and getting to know him. I haven’t seen him for a while, but we kept in loose touch and it’s just tragic for rock in general and for what he really meant to rock guitar players. He was just a phenomenal player and somebody who I thought would be around forever.
I first met Eddie when I flew into to L.A. and Sammy Hagar came to pick me up. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know how things were going to go, and Sammy was sort of prepping me. Eddie was a provocative guy. I remember he and Alex had quite a few incidents between them at the time. They were having a bit of a problem, but I know that that put itself right. And they loved each other very much. They did use to scrap and mess around with each other quite a bit. I remember Sammy told me, “Mick, we’ve worked with a lot of crazy people in our lives going back to the days of [the Small Faces’] Steve Marriott,” but there was a certain madness that was going on up at 5150 [Studios], and it was a little crazy. But those were the times when things were crazy, and I guess we were all willing to be a part of that.
But Eddie, from the moment I met him, was one of the sweetest people I’d ever met. He was just a great guy, very humble. No pretense or airs or anything or attitude. He was just a lovely guy.
I was just mesmerized with working him. In the control room, I remember he was wrestling up against me when he was playing solos. I was receiving the vibe.
It was an important time for Eddie and the guys. They have parted company with David Lee Roth. And for me, the challenge was following in Ted Templeman’s footsteps. He had produced most of their albums so there was a little pressure on me to live up to that standard that he had created. But Eddie didn’t need a great deal of coaching [laughs]. And writing “Dreams,” in particular was a very intense process; it wrote itself in a way. But I pushed Sammy and I pushed Eddie. That’s probably the song that I felt I had contributed to the most. And songs like “Get Up” at breakneck speed, those kinds of things, Eddie didn’t really need much help with that.
We just had we had a good time together. We used to race cars after the sessions. We used to race a selection of high-end sports, racing cars and zoom along Mulholland. I think he had a Lamborghini. I think Sammy had a red Ferrari. And I had a good old American car. And I have to say, I whipped him several times.
It was a great experience just with all the guys. And I send my best and my thoughts to Eddie’s family and to the guys from the band that played on 5150. It was fantastic to be a part of it. Yeah, I’ll always thank Eddie for being the gentleman that he was and the inspiration to me and so many other guitar players. I think it’ll be impossible to actually follow him because he was so unique and had such feel. He was an inspired player and the kind of guy that you feel something has come down from above and passed through him.
I was fortunate enough to hang out with Jimi Hendrix in the beginnings of his career and between those two guys; I figure I’ve had one of the greatest gifts that could be given. They were two phenomenal players. And Eddie changed the shape of a guitar playing.
I feel very sad, and I know he still have a lot more to give. I’ll miss him. And I’ll reflect on some great times we had together.