Alexander Arthur Van Halen was born to Jan and Eugenia van Halen in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on May 8, 1953. Shortly after Edward was born, the van Halen family moved to Nijmegen.
On February 22, 1962, the van Halen family left Holland, after receiving several letters from relatives describing the wonders of California. In their possession were a few suitcases, 75 guilders and a piano. The trip took nine days by boat to New York, followed by another four days by train to California. Some time after their arrival in the United States, they changed their last name from van Halen, to Van Halen.
Alex developed an interest in music as a young boy, and as a grade-schooler in Pasadena, CA, began taking flamenco guitar lessons. At around the same time, Edward had begun playing the drums. But, as fate would have it, Alex lost interest in the guitar and spent more time pounding out the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" on Edward's $125 Japanese-made St. George kit while his younger brother was out delivering newspapers to pay for it, and they soon switched instruments permanently.
Alex graduated from Pasadena High School in 1971 and attended Pasadena City College for a brief period of time, where some of his classes included music theory and scoring and arranging.
Some of Al's early bands, all of which included Edward in the mix, were The Broken Combs (who performed lunchtime concerts at Hamilton Elementary School and featured Alex on saxophone), The Trojan Rubber Company, Genesis, and The Space Brothers. Among his influences are Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, John Bonham and Ginger Baker.
In 1972, Mammoth was formed and featured Alex on drums, Edward on lead vocals and guitar and Mark Stone on bass. By 1974, Mammoth became Van Halen; Stone had been replaced by Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth had taken over as the lead mouthpiece. From here, the quartet paid their dues on the Southern California club circuit, pounding out five sets a night everywhere they could. Be it Gazzari's (the first club to give them a break), the Starwood, the Whisky a GoGo, or Walter Mitty's Rock & Roll Emporium, Van Halen were everywhere, with Al often handling managerial duties, booking gigs and whatnot.
Shortly before the band was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1977, Alex nearly lost a finger in a machine shop accident.
On February 8, 1978, "Van Halen," was released amid a flourishing disco and punk scene. This watershed album almost single-handedly brought rock and roll back into the forefront and to this day, remains one of the greatest and most powerful recordings of the 20th century to fans, musicians and critics worldwide. 20 years and twelve albums later, Van Halen are still doing things their way. There are no rules and what's trendy doesn't apply. It's music straight from the heart. Always has been, always will be.
Alex's powerful and dynamic drumming style and voice are as unique and instantly recognizable as Edward's guitar sound. The term "brown sound," which is universally linked with Edward's tone was actually coined by Alex and refers to the warmth of his own snare drum sound. But, don't overlook the finesse and sensitivity. He plays what's right for the song. Not to grandstand or just to draw attention to himself. He will however, let loose live in his unaccompanied drum solo. In this instance you've got to expect the unexpected. From lighting his kit on fire during the Van Halen II tour, to the Latinesque version of " Outta Love Again," complete with congas and horns on the III tour, you're always in for a treat.
In addition to the drums, Alex is also an accomplished pianist. The instrumental "Respect the Wind" from the Twister soundtrack features Alex on keys and marks his first and only appearance on a record outside of Van Halen. The piece has a melancholy, classical flavor to it, which isn't surprising due to the fact that Alex had several years of classical piano training as a young boy.
Though he appears ominous, silent and brooding to many (which is further enhanced by his usual all-black garb), Alex has a rapier-sharp wit and a love of practical jokes. In 1986, he shaved his head completely bald as a part of a bet, even appearing on an episode of Night Tracks and in the Hank Williams, Jr. video for "My Name is Bocephus" with his newly shorn dome. A word to the wise: don't ever leave your shoes unattended in his presence. Otherwise you may return to find them nailed to the floor.
Alex will be the first to tell you he's not a rock star. He's a musician. He'll be making music until the day he dies, in one form or another.