March 3, 1978: Van Halen Begins First Tour

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Van-Halen

(l-r) Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth & Michael Anthony in an early promo picture

At the start of it they were a new and still largely unknown band whose self-titled debut album had been released about three weeks earlier. It was initially supposed to be a few weeks on the road, and eventually lasted eight months with more than 170 shows. By the tour’s end, Van Halen were well on their way to being rock stars.

From March through April the foursome of David Lee Roth (vocals), Eddie Van Halen (guitar), Alex Van Halen (drums) and Michael Anthony (bass) opened for Journey and Montrose.

The first night at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on March 3, 1978, was shaky. There was little room left onstage after the other acts set up for Van Halen and their gear. They were all wobbly from wearing three-inch platform shoes (soon abandoned for Capezio dance shoes for Roth and sneakers for the rest of the guys). The lighting director’s headset didn’t work. And to add final insult to injury, they’d left on the headlights of their equipment truck, and its battery was dead when the band packed up to leave after the show.

Their 12-song setlist included “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” and ended with their Kinks cover, “You Really Got Me.” That first concert’s setlist is available here.

Watch the band perform a Kinks favorite later that year, recorded for their debut album…

The foursome soon found their sea legs and began delivering strong sets that captured the attention of audiences. In May they played Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and France before hooking up mid-month with Black Sabbath in the U.K. to open 19 shows in England and Scotland. Then it was off to Japan for six shows in June.

Back in the States, on July 1, Van Halen were the first act of the day at the debut Texxas Jam at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, sharing the stage with such top acts as Aerosmith, Heart and Ted Nugent. They played other festival dates and a variety of gigs before joining up with Black Sabbath again to open shows in the U.S., Canada, Germany and France. Another round of U.S. arenas and coliseums with Sabbath rounded out the year.

Related: How Eddie Van Halen changed rock guitar

By the time the tour was over, Van Halen had earned a platinum album for selling a million copies of their debut disc (it went on to sell 10 million). The classic rock band never again opened a show for another act.

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