Derek Fuller vividly remembers his first Van Halen concert. As a junior high school kid in California, he attended the show at the L.A. Forum.
“I remember the lights went out and I could hear the music,” Fuller says. “It was Eddie (Van Halen) and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m in the same room as Eddie Van Halen. There were 16,000 of us. It was life changing.”
The show inspired him to dabble in the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. When the breaks just didn’t come, he gave it up, earned an MBA, got married and “turned domestic.”
An annual Labor Day party at his home changed everything.
“I told everyone we were only playing Van Halen music this year,” Fuller says. “That’s what we did. Everybody loved it and the party went nuts. I said, this is what we were going to do.”
That he did.
Fuller’s Van Halen tribute act, Fan Halen, plays the casino circuit with Fuller as the namesake axman. Ernie Berru is on vocals, with bassist Brian Nussle and drummer Scott Brooks. Fuller legitimately has one of the hardest jobs.
“I have some pretty big shoes to fill,” he says. “Nobody on earth can fill his shoes. He’s one of a kind, and arguably the best rock guitar player to ever live. He is the master and I am his student. He’s the masterpiece and I’m the paint-by-numbers version.”
Fan Halen performs at Casino Arizona Friday, September 6, and Saturday, September 7. The show, Fuller says, aligns with the real thing.
“We’re constantly studying and perfecting and adding elements,” he says. “The whole idea is if you squint your eyes and listen, you’ll be thrown back in time. Our amps, they look like Van Halen amps. The backdrops are like Van Halen. We go to great lengths.
“The biggest compliment we received is, ‘You just took me back to 1983 when I saw Van Halen the first time. You reminded me of my first girlfriend in the summer.’”
Fan Halen was a logical choice for Fuller. In high school, he was dubbed “the Van Halen Guy.”
“Van Halen was my band,” says Fuller, who works in IT. And that’s Van Halen, with original singer David Lee Roth. Sammy Hagar and Gary Cherone are pushed aside for the most part.
He digs deep when he describes his favorite song to play live: “I’m the One.”
“When we play live, though, I prefer ‘Hot for Teacher.’ It gets the crowd going. It’s got a great drum intro and guitar intro. It’s Van Halen.”
The house party was 20 years ago, and Fuller never expected to be still doing this at 50.
“What I didn’t realize was my crowd is also growing older with me and they keep showing up,” says Fuller, who has seen Van Halen about 50 times. “Once I feel a little too old, that window is going to be shut, and I’ll move to the Stones. I’ll be Keith Richards at that point. The crowds continue to get bigger. The band continues to get more and more popular.”
Casino Arizona, 524 N. 92nd Street, Scottsdale, 480.850.7734, casinoarizona.com, 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 6, and Saturday, September 7, tickets start at $17.50.