Blues rock champion Kenny Wayne Shepherd looked back at his opening slot for Van Halen in 2015 and compared it to his previous experience of doing the same in 1998. Speaking to Ultimate Guitar, he described them as “very drastically different tours” for a few reasons. Obviously, during the second half of the 1990s, they were fronted by Gary Cherone of Extreme. Remembering joining Van Halen for their 1998 tour, Kenny said:
“Although Gary Cherone did a good job, he was kind of thrown into a situation with really impossible expectations from the fans. First of all, you have David Lee Roth, and then Sammy Hagar came along, and it’s incredible that he was able to come in. It’s a testament to the artist that he is – to a band that was so well established and had such an identity.”
Gary Cherone in Van Halen
“And then, by his joining, the band took it in a slightly different direction and became even more successful. Right? So now you’re going to do this a third time with another guy?”
Despite being an awesome vocalist, Gary was definitely in a tight spot. You just can’t refuse the offer to join Van Halen. At the same time, you still have to deal with the fanbase. And that’s pretty tough.
“And these fan bases are already divided on ‘Is David better? Is Sammy better? Which era is the best Van Halen?’ And then you’ve got this third guy coming in,” Kenny added.
“It was a challenging proposition from the get-go. But he had a great voice. There were a couple of shows that ended up not happening because he had blown his voice out the night before.”
“I think back then he was maybe struggling a little bit vocally to keep up with all the material and the nightly grind of playing and singing that stuff every night.”
Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Eddie Van Halen
Despite all this, Kenny says that the tour went well:
“But it was a great tour. I had a great time. And Eddie and — that’s when he and I hit it off as friends and then maintained a friendship. So that was ’97, ’98, or something like that. And we maintained a friendship all the way up until when he passed away.”
Kenny came back in to open for Van Halen in 2015 — a tour that turned out to be their final one. David Lee Roth was back in the band again and they replaced Michael Anthony with Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen. Discussing the differences between these two tours, Shepherd said:
“The most noticeable difference to me was, obviously, Mike Anthony wasn’t there. But also, David Lee Roth being there.”
And speaking of David Lee Roth, he continued:
“I never saw him. He never said hello to me. Whereas in the ’90s, we saw everybody and hung out with them all the time. Eddie came and found me every single day. He tracked me down and gave me a hug. We’d sit down and talk. I mean, spending like real quality time together. Wolfgang, Alex – spoke to all those guys.”
“I was asked to leave the hallway when he was coming down the hall.”
“Never saw David Lee Roth,” Kenny added. “Not one time.”
To add to that, Kenny recalls what we could kind of call “diva” behavior from Roth’s side:
“I was asked to leave the hallway when he was coming down the hall, kind of thing. So it’s like, ‘OK, whatever. You do you.'”
“But it was a great experience,” Kenny also added. And how wouldn’t it be? You’re touring with Van Halen, and you’re close friends with Eddie Van Halen. That does sound like a perfect spot to be in, right?
“Nobody knew it was the last tour,” the guitarist continued. “But it was obviously a great experience. We had a blast doing it.”
“And I’m really grateful to have been able to spend that kind of time over the course of a few months, like every day. You’re basically seeing him and spending time with him and sitting and having conversations with him before he passed away.”
For what turned out to be Van Halen’s final run, Kenny Wayne Shepherd opened almost all of the shows on the tour. Although there were talks about doing at least one more tour, this all fell apart after Eddie passed away. The band’s final album was 2012’s “A Different Kind of Truth.”