Meeting Eddie Van Halen in 1983 – Mark Litsky recalls the day he and Joe Holmes met EVH

by Mark Litsky

“In 1983, Van Halen was written into the Guinness Book of World Records as the “highest paid band of all-time” for its 90 minute set headlining the US Festival. Additionally, the band’s guitarist, Eddie Van Halen – already internationally-known for “re-writing the rules of the electric guitar” – performed one of popular music’s most famous guitar solos on Michael Jackson’s 1983 #1 Billboard hit, Beat It. Each successive Van Halen album had charted higher than its predecessor – and, by 1983, Van Halen was arguably the most popular rock band in the world; however, during 1984 – with Van Halen’s album, 1984, the band achieved the pinnacle of its “commercial and critical success”.

In the summer of 83, one of my closest friends, Joe Holmes (who is now best known for playing guitar for David Lee Roth and Ozzy) was just starting his first band Terriff.    With Jose’s reputation on the rise, every guitarist started wanted their heads done — including Joe, who just had to have him work on his gear. In addition to not having an apprentice, Jose also ran a small vacuum cleaner repair shop all by himself.  Joe became good friends with him and gave him his first heads to work on.  Joe told me Jose was very proud of his relationship with Eddie (as he should be) and told Joe that he comes into the shop all the time when he’s in town.   Eddie was also local and you would see his Lamborghini around town occasionally, cause it really stuck out.

One day, we were driving down Ventura Blvd. on our way to Guitar Center for something.   While we were stopped at a red light, we noticed a Black Lamborghini headed in the opposite direction.  We knew it was Eddie and Joe says, “I bet he’s on his way to Jose’s — want to meet him?”   I said, “Fuck yeah”.   Joe instructed me to quickly turn left, as he knew a short cut. and that the shop had both a front entrance on the main street and a back entrance in the alley.   Joe said we need to make it look like a happy coincidence that we were there, so we need to get there, park and be in the shop before he gets there.   We manage to get there, park and hurry in. 

Once inside, Joe says, “Hey Jose, I was in the area and thought I would check the progress on my heads”.  He then introduced me to Jose and we shook hands.  Less than 3 minutes go by and through the back door Eddie Van Halen walks in.  Jose obviously got excited and said, “You have to meet my friend Eddie” (and introduces us by also calling us his good friends as well).   Eddie shakes our hands.  As he was checking his empty pockets (and keep in mind it’s around 10AM), Eddie says “Pops, I need a dollar so I can get a beer.”  Jose hands him a couple bucks and Eddie said he’ll be right back.  I remember thinking as he’s leaving that the cashier at the store sure was in for a real surprise.

What a cool guy Jose was to introduce me as his friend.  At the time, Eddie was the most famous rock star in the world… well, our world for sure.  Jose said, “Guys, come out back and check out his car.”   So, we follow him out there, look in the window and see that famous red guitar sitting in the front seat.  The car was thrashed inside with cigarette butts all over the console like it was an old Chevy or something.   We went back into the shop as Eddie came back in with his Olde English 800.   Jose asked him what was new and he told us he really excited because he was recording his new album (1984) at his new home studio and how he was using 16 tracks doubled for 32 total and how fat it sounded.  We split after about a half hour giggling all the way to the car.  

Jose and Joe became very close. He would come down to rehearsals to help dial in Joe’s heads all the time.  We would go to Denny’s after hanging out and laughing for hours. The last time I saw Jose was in ‘91 when he had moved his business to a small garage in his back yard. That day, he told us his biggest regret was never having an apprentice to teach to that could carry on after he passes. He was such a cool guy and was so helpful with Joe to get that sick fat tone out of those Marshalls he has. Jose deserves way more recognition then he has been given and I was so happy to see that a Facebook page was created in his memory, so please share any stories or information on there about Jose that you can.

Here’s a recent picture of Joe using his prized “Joses” for the recording of his new FARMIKOS music.