Alex Van Halen

Though hard-rock superstars Van Halen have weathered the loss of two lead singers, the veteran band has been steadied from the beginning by virtuoso guitarist Eddie Van Halen, his brother, Alex, on drums, and bassist Michael Anthony.

Alex Van Halen was born on this day in 1953 in Nijmegen, Netherlands. The Van Halens' father was a horn player who encouraged his boys to play classical music. But when the family moved to Pasadena, Calif., in 1967, Alex and his younger brother, Eddie, discovered rock 'n' roll.

At first, Eddie was a drummer and Alex played guitar. But the brothers switched instruments when they formed the band Mammoth. They added singer David Lee Roth, vocalist for rival band Redball Jet, and Anthony, previously with Snake. When the band discovered another group with its name, they flirted with the moniker Rat Salade before settling on Van Halen.

Van Halen became one of the most popular bands in Los Angeles by playing covers of rock and pop tunes on the club circuit. In 1977 Gene Simmons of Kiss was impressed by a Van Halen performance and helped finance the band's demo tape. Warner Brothers signed Van Halen for the band's eponymous 1978 debut, which made the top 20 and yielded FM rock-radio favorites including "Runnin' with the Devil" (RealAudio excerpt) and a hard-rocking cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

Van Halen became a superstar act thanks to Roth's good looks, outrageously candid and sometimes lewd interviews and stage banter; and thanks to Eddie Van Halen's innovative guitar wizardry (which included his signature two-hand tapping solos).

Despite the onslaught of new-wave music, 1979's Van Halen II produced the top-20 hit "Dance the Night Away." Van Halen's world tour that year solidified their reputation as one of rock's most popular bands. Van Halen hit #3 with 1982's Diver Down, featuring hits with covers of Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" and Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street."

Van Halen reached their commercial peak with the #2 1984, which spawned the chart-topping "Jump" (RealAudio excerpt). The band's videos, featuring Roth's clownish antics and Eddie's flashy guitar moves, helped the LP go multiplatinum. As Roth began a solo career, disagreements with his bandmates intensified and he left Van Halen in 1985.

Replacing Roth with Sammy Hagar, Van Halen went on to enjoy smash albums with 5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance. Hit singles from the Hagar era included "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Finish What You Started."

In the mid-'90s, Hagar left the band and Roth returned for two songs on Van Halen's greatest-hits albums. But tensions remained with Roth, so the band hired former Extreme singer Gary Cherone as its new frontman.

Though Cherone's first LP with the band, last year's Van Halen III, initially charted high, sales quickly fell and reviews of Van Halen's new live act were mixed. The band cancelled some of its 1998 European tour when Alex's hand was broken by a falling piece of plaster.

The Van Halen brothers issued the track "Respect the Wind" on the soundtrack to the 1996 smash film "Twister."

In February, Van Halen made its video for "Once" available only online at the band's official website (www.van-halen.com).

Other birthdays: Gary Glitter, 59; John Fred, 58; Paul Samwell-Smith (The Yardbirds), 56; Toni Tennille, 56; Phil Sawyer (Spencer Davis Group), 52; Phillip Bailey (Earth, Wind and Fire), 48; Chris Frantz (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club), 48; Billy Burnette (ex-Fleetwood Mac), 46; Dave Rowntree (Blur), 35 ... Robert Johnson, 1911-1938; and Rick Nelson, 1940-1985.