TV producer and writer Mike Fleiss admits he was always a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen, but he never imagined he’d eventually become friends with his guitar hero.
“I used to spend a lot of time with Eddie Van Halen,” Mike Fleiss says. “We were very good friends. We drove the exact same car. It was a rare car, a ’93 Mercedes 500 E, and then we both had this exact same hollow body Gibson guitar called the Barney Kessel, and so it was just weird that we both had these weird things in common, but we got along great.”
The Gibson Barney Kessel is still a sought-after instrument. Used or new it can attract bids of nearly $10,000.
Gibson honored acclaimed jazz picker Kessel by creating the unique guitar model in 1961. T-Bone Walker and Sister Rosetta Tharpe played the Gibson Barney Kessel onstage too.
Although Van Halen, who was heavily influenced by Eric Clapton, passed away in 2020 after a lengthy battle with cancer, Mike Fleiss says he will never forget the time they shared or the stories and music they exchanged. The two got to jam together and Mike Fleiss looks back on those moments as some of the best days of his life.
“We would sit and play guitar, and he would show me how to do little tricks,” Fleiss says. “I mean, he’s the greatest magician on that instrument that there ever was.”
Van Halen’s career was chock-full of unforgettable moments including his high-speed solo work on the hit “Hot for Teacher” and how he worked keyboards into “Jump.” His priceless legacy now lives on in his son, Wolfgang Van Halen. The 32-year-old musician shared a stage with his father for more than a decade and continues to perform on his own with his band Mammoth WVH, currently on tour with heavy metal behemoths Metallica.
Shortly after Van Halen’s death was announced, celebrities flocked to social media to express their sorrow and share gratitude and memories for the guitar god.
“Eddie Van Halen was a guitar superhero. A true virtuoso. A stunningly good musician and composer. Looking up to him as a young kid was one of the driving forces in my needing to pick up a guitar,” John Mayer wrote on Instagram.
Singer Keith Urban posted on his Instagram that Val Halen’s death “hit him hard” and that while there are a lot of great guitar players in the world, true innovators are rare and that’s what made Van Halen so valuable.
While Fleiss is also an avid guitar player, he didn’t initially meet Van Halen at a concert.
Besides a common love of rare guitars and cars, Fleiss and Van Halen shared deeper bonds.
“We both got sober at the same time,” Mike Fleiss explains. “We did that together too. He was an idol of mine. He was a really nice guy and just a creative wellspring. He would call me [at] night and play me a riff and say, ‘What do you think of this riff?’ I mean, he couldn’t stop. He was a creative machine.”
Fleiss says the iconic entertainer had a slew of unreleased recordings he made in the studio. “[It was just] tape after tape after tape after tape of riffs and songs,” Fleiss adds. “He was an absolute genius.”
Ultimateclassicrock.com reports that Van Halen left behind approximately 1 million CDs in various boxes at his home. Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s former bassist, says the tracks could eventually be released. In the meantime, Van Halen’s extensive catalog of already released songs continues to live on — a blessing for millions of fans and friends like Fleiss, who says, “I miss that guy. He was a wonderful guy.”