In the 1990s, the era of the super-jam had well and truly arrived, with million-selling musicians from different decades and genres regularly coming together to create memorable musical moments — be it part of a Grammy Awards broadcast, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, or even an iconic artists' birthday bash.
A lesser-known example of one of these events happened on 16 October 1996, when Eddie Van Halen, Bryan Adams, Melissa Etheridge, Richie Sambora, Steve Winwood, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, and an all-star backing band directed by Paul Shaffer (David Letterman's longtime house-band leader) rocked the classics for a good cause.
Appearing collectively as the All-Star Garage Band, the supergroup took to the stage in aid of City of Hope — one of the world's leading medical research centers specializing in improving the quality of life for those suffering from conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes.
The story goes that every year, City of Hope's new Spirit of Life Award honoree is expected to put together a black-tie event to raise money for the non-profit organization. In 1996, that honor and subsequent task fell to the hands of John Sykes, who, as co-creator of MTV and then head of VH1, had one or two names in his phonebook that he could call upon for the job.
On the night, the All-Star Garage Band performed an array of early rock and soul classics, including tracks from Eddie Cochran (C'mon Everybody), Wilson Pickett (In the Midnight Hour), Faces (Stay with Me), and Sam & Dave (Hold On, I'm Comin', When Something Is Wrong with My Baby). As well as, Get Back and Bitch from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, respectively.
Although the star-studded event — held at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California — seems to have been largely forgotten in the annals of history, thankfully, the right people knew of its existence at the time, as the show generated five million dollars for the foundation through ticket sales and merchandise.
With the quality of the performances on show, you'd expect that weeks of preparation would've been in order. Especially with so many band members and moving parts; however, Shaffer confirmed during the broadcast that that wasn't the case. "We only rehearsed once for the whole thing," says Shaffer. "Melissa Etheridge didn't even make the one rehearsal. She was on the road performing. She came in on the day of the show with no rehearsal at all and killed it with Stay With Me by the Faces."
The guitar highlights of the event come courtesy of Van Halen's rookie year, white Peavey Wolfgang with mismatched headstock and black binding, Sambora's Lace Sensor-loaded Strat, and what appears to be a pre-CBS Fender in the hands of Bryan Adams for his contributions on the night.
Photographs from the night make it look like a great time was had by all.
EVH and wife Valerie Bertinelli meet Steve Winwood
EVH and John Mellencamp share a joke (and yeah, that is Matthew McConaughey in the background).
Six months would pass before the live event was broadcast on Sykes' music network — going out on 8 March 1997, intercut with short song introductions from Shaffer. He kicked things off, stating, "This is a show that was never supposed to be seen. Why, you ask? I'm going to tell you why." Curiously though, he never does. Instead, he gives some insight into how he ended up involved with the charity event.
"[John Sykes] called me and said, 'Would you be the musical director of this thing?' He started to mention some of the names, 'We have Mellencamp, we have Henley, we have Sheryl Crow, we have Melissa Etheridge.' He went on and on." Shaffer would explain to the VH1 boss, the importance of having someone to handle the lead guitar, to which Sykes responded, "We got Eddie Van Halen." From that moment on, Shaffer was "all in" on the project.
Even the memorabilia associated with the event appears to have been overlooked. As recently as 2021, promotional material signed by just about every performer on the night, including Van Halen, Sambora, and Bryan Adams, sold at auction way below the estimate for $576.
To this day, the All-Star Garage Band performance for City of Hope has never been rebroadcast, with no official release on any format ever being slated. However, thanks to a VCR capture that day and YouTube, it can still be seen in its entirety.
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The Editor in chief of Guitar Interactive since 2017, Jonathan has written online articles for Guitar World, Guitar Player and Guitar Aficionado over the last decade. He has interviewed hundreds of music's finest, including Slash, Joe Satriani, Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai, to name a few. Jonathan's not a bad player either, occasionally doing gear reviews, session work and online lessons for Lick Library.
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