Eddie Van Halen was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in the late 1980s because he just happened to be in the building that evening.
The legendary rocker, who died Tuesday at the age of 65, was accompanying his then-wife Valerie Bertinelli to Studio 8H because she was hosting on Feb. 28, 1987. He had zero plans to appear on TV himself — but then house band guitarist G.E. Smith worked his magic.
“He doesn’t want to follow his wife around like a puppy dog,” Smith remembered in an interview years ago. “So he finds out about the music office, and he comes in and hangs out — because you can do whatever you want in the music office. We’re in there drinking, smoking, whatever. He was comfortable there. It was his people, band guys. He got that. He could relax.”
Smith explained that at that time, SNL was having a resurgence and he was encouraged to invite any big-name musician to drop by and jam with the band. So after a little coaxing, Van Halen agreed to be on the show — in mere hours — and perform a song Smith, Van Halen and musical director Lenny Pickett composed on the spot.
“At dress it was fantastic — it was ridiculous how good it was,” Smith recalled. “He’s a master, he really is. At air it was great, It was super high quality. But he made a tiny little mistake. He forgot where this one very intricate little thing [occurred]. Nobody would even know about it; maybe three people in the United States went, ‘Oh, Eddie made a mistake.’ He was so upset that he had made a mistake, but it was great.”
News of the rocker’s death on Tuesday sent shockwaves through all Hollywood as fans took to social media to remember his exceptional life and legacy.
Watch the performance here and listen to the whole Smith interview below.