By Steve Newton
After more than 40 years as a professional music writer, lord knows I’ve seen a lot of concerts.
Oh sure, I saw them with Sammy Hagar a few times–at Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium in 1986 and 1991, at the Seattle Kingdome on the 1988 Monsters of Rock Tour, and at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum in 2004.
Heck, I even saw them with Diamond Dave on the “reunion” tour of 2007, at Vancouver’s GM Place, with Wolfie on bass.
But it wasn’t the same.
I always wish I would have seen Van Halen at some point before Roth went solo in 1985. I mean, how cool would it have been to see them on the World Vacation Tour, their first headlining jaunt, when they were still lean and mean and hungry and showcasing tunes from their new Van Halen II LP (or eight-track tape, see above).
It just wasn’t in the cards for me, I guess. For some reason I didn’t see that tour when it hit Vancouver on April 18, 1979.
But it’s nice to know that my old buddy Ferg got to experience Van Halen during its rip-snortin’ early days.
Ferg, aka Brian Ferguson, was a very close friend, a native of Red Deer, Alberta, who was also the best man at my wedding. Our favourite thing to do together was go to concerts, which I, being the reviewer, got free tickets for. Some of the best times of my life were taking Ferg to Vancouver shows by John Fogerty, Buddy Guy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gov’t Mule, and Jeff Beck.
Sadly, in 2015 Ferg began to develop a rare form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia. He lost the ability to speak, and as the disease worsened he couldn’t take care of himself, so in late 2019 he moved in with his brother Doug and sister-in-law Pam at their lakefront home in Vernon, B.C. He was eventually placed in a Vernon care center, where he resided until his passing on March 24, 2023, at the age of 63.
Exceedingly kind and generous, Ferg was well-loved by many people, both in B.C. and his home province of Alberta. Knowing the deep connection he and I had through music, Doug and Pam visited last Sunday to deliver a cache of vinyl records, concert posters, and ticket stubs Ferg had collected over the years.
Some of the ticket stubs dated back to the late-’70s, and were for concerts at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, which was less than a two-hour drive from Red Deer. I could see that Ferg had seen Jethro Tull at the Northlands on April 14, 1979 (my 22nd birthday); he’d also rocked out to Molly Hatchet at the Northlands on October 20, 1979 (I’d trekked in from Chilliwack to see them in Vancouver four days earlier).
But the torn, worn-out scrap of paper that most impressed me among Ferg’s mementos was a yellow stub for Van Halen at the Northlands Coliseum on September 18, 1979, during that fabled World Vacation Tour.
I can just picture a 20-year-old Ferg punching his fist in the air to “Runnin’ With the Devil”, or crooning along to the chorus of the band’s latest single, “Beautiful Girls”.
Or maybe just standing in that long line at the concession to buy everybody beer, which he was always happy to do as well.
Rock in peace, my friend.