Why Eddie Van Halen Stopped Throwing Picks into the Crowd
People, it turns out, often went to extreme lengths to get their hands on one...
Rock Talk with Mitch Lafon and The Jeremy White Podcast recently invited Van Halen keyboard tech Greg Rule and former Eddie Van Halen guitar tech Tom Weber for a chat about all things Van Halen.
As you might imagine, Rule and Weber have plenty of amazing tour stories between the two of them, and – among others – they shared some particularly amusing anecdotes about why, of all things, Eddie Van Halen was forced to stop throwing guitar picks into the crowd at Van Halen shows.
At one point during a Van Halen tour, Eddie was told to stop throwing picks because, according to Rule “It [throwing the picks] incited a brawl [among the crowd]. And so he agreed, and I think that’s when they started to sell the picks.”
Aside from the thrill and bragging rights of having a piece of equipment held and used by one of rock's ultimate guitar heroes, fans were almost certainly motivated in their aggression by the picks' monetary value, a motivation Weber backed up with an amusing tour story of his own.
“I got kind of potentially in hot water at one point during the ‘07 tour because I carried all of Ed’s picks with me on the bus,” Weber said. “They weren’t in my rig, they were in my bunk in a basically small overnight bag kind of a thing.”
“Did you get caught bootlegging picks, Tom,?” White teased.
“No,” Weber continued. “The thing was, they started showing up on eBay. And the first half of the tour we didn’t have a signature pick. But the second half of the tour these things start showing up on eBay and it’s like, ‘Okay…’"
Eddie had red, white and black striped picks, but he also had a “Herco 50 in silver, which were the picks that he played onstage," Weber explained. "And then we had the same thing in a gold pick, and he carried those around in his pocket basically so that if he wanted to hand one to somebody, the only way you were gonna get a gold one is from Ed himself.
“And I put those out on his mic stand so that he could pitch whatever he wanted to pitch at the time. And we never counted anything, he just said, ‘Line the mic stand with ‘em.’ And I’d always get a stagehand, because the first thing that anybody was gonna do after a Van Halen show, stagehands are gonna go after Ed’s guitar picks on the mic stand.
"So whoever I would pick when we loaded in I’d say, “Okay, come and find me before the show’s over.’ And then when they’d come and find me I’d say, ‘The first thing that you do when the lights go off after the show, you go up on that stage, you bring me Ed’s microphone stand with all the picks attached, don’t let anybody take ‘em. And I’ll take care of you guitar picks-wise from there.’
“Well, at one point it was brought to my attention that management was seeing these things being sold on eBay for three, four, five, $600 apiece,” Weber said.
“And where are these guitar picks coming from? Because obviously the person selling them has multiples of them. And it’s like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what’s going on here, because I carry Ed’s guitar picks like a little old lady carrying her purse in the hood.’
“This goes on and I’m kind of suspect. This isn’t good. And one day I’m day I’m sitting at dinner in catering and one of the video guys comes up to me and says, ‘I know where your guitar picks are going.’
Weber went on to explain the answer to the mystery.
“We used to strike all the microphone stands to the drum riser, and there was a big scrim cloth that covered the drum riser,” Weber said. “And then at the beginning of the show that would go straight up in the air. But all the microphone stands with all the picks on them would go on the drum riser and then the scrim would come down.
"Well, the video guy informed me that nobody knew it, but that day he had installed a video camera pointing straight down at the drum set. And what he saw was one of the guys on the crew was waiting for everybody to go to dinner and then he’d sneak up there and take picks off Ed’s mic stand.”
Once he knew the thief's identity, Weber immediately approached him backstage.
“I found him right after dinner. I said, ‘Okay, I know what’s going on. And if you don’t wanna go home tonight, you stop. Because you’re gonna cost me my job and I’m not having it.’ He said, ‘Dude, I didn’t mean any harm.’ But you’re making, 12, $1,800 a week more than everybody else in your department by selling Ed’s guitar picks.”
As a couple of recent auctions have shown, anything the guitar icon played onstage – even briefly – can fetch quite a bit of money...
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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.