From ‘5150’ To I-95: The Connecticut Connections To The Van Halen Album Released 28 Years Ago This Week
Many will say Sammy Hagar carried a huge weight on his shoulders when he replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer of Van Halen. That is true. But it was a Connecticut man who can lay claim to literally carrying the band on his shoulders on this week in 1986.
His name is Rick Valente. The name may not be familiar to you but if you’re a fan of classic rock and, more specifically, a fan of the mighty Van Halen, you’ve seen him many times. In fact, he may be in your home at this very second.
Valente happens to be the muscle-bound Atlas mightily holding up the huge globe emblazoned with the Van Halen logo on the cover of their album ‘5150’ released on this week 28 years ago (March 24th, 1986).
Valente is not only the only bodybuilder ever to appear on a rock album cover but it so happens he grew up right near us. He was born in the city in which highway I-95 runs right through – New Haven, Connecticut. Valente was born on July 11th, 1958 and grew up in an Italian neighborhood right near where the famous Pepe’s Pizzeria has been for over 100 years. I know that pizzeria well. In fact, as a graduate of New Haven’s Southern Connecticut State University, I know it very well!
Valente eventually went on to win the 1983 Mr. Los Angeles competition, graced dozens of weightlifting magazine covers, trained famous actors and has appeared on several television networks including ESPN as the host for a TV. show called BodyShaping.
But I’d like to think that his family and friends were most proud of the day they went to their local New Haven record store and saw racks filled with brand new shiny vinyl pressings of a soon-to-be #1 album with Rick’s image front and center.
It turns out Valente’s home town of New Haven played another role in the ‘5150’ album. While on tour to support the record that summer, Van Halen played a concert to a sold-out crowd at the New Haven Coliseum. The venue has since been taken down by the city but the show is a permanent part of VH history. It was eventually released on video and later DVD. Hagar is seen at one point on film enthusiastically claiming to the sold out crowd, “We are renaming this town. This is now NEW HALEN!!!!”
So there ya have it. The Connecticut connections to Van Halen’s 1986 album ‘5150’ are revealed. On a personal note, two years after the album was released, a goofy 16 year old from Southington, Connecticut heard the album for the very first time. He was blown away, officially hooked on the band and rock ‘n’ roll ever since. That goofy 16 year old is now a goofy 41 year old proudly playing songs from that album on i95 every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.!