On Van Halen’s 1982 album “Diver Down,” there is a track titled “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” that features a clarinet
. Fans have been curious about who played the instrument on this song. The answer is Eddie and Alex Van Halen’s father, Jan Van Halen.
Jan Van Halen was an accomplished saxophone and clarinet musician in his own right.
He appeared on clarinet on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” on the “Diver Down” album.
His performance on the track added a unique touch to the song, which is a 1930s style jazz tune that was approached in typical devil-may-care spirit that turns even the fluffed notes into winners.
The History of Big Bad Bill
Origins of the Song
“Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” is a song written in 1924 by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager.
The song became a hit for Margaret Young accompanied by Rube Bloom, and an instrumental hit for the Don Clark Orchestra.
The song tells the story of a man named Sweet William who was once a bully but now has reformed and become a family man.
The song became popular in the 1920s and has been covered by various artists over the years.
The Recording Process
Van Halen recorded their version of “Big Bad Bill” for their album Diver Down, released in 1982.
The recording features Jan Van Halen, Eddie and Alex Van Halen’s father, on clarinet. Jan was a working-class musician until the release of Diver Down, where, at the age of 62, he solos on this song.
The recording was made in Louisville, Kentucky, at Studio 33, which was owned by Bill Porter, an engineer who had worked with Elvis Presley.
The recording process was done using a Sanyo Walkman, FM-AM Radio, and a Gibson Doubleneck 12-String guitar.
The recording process was unique, as the band used various techniques to create different sounds.
For example, Eddie Van Halen used an Echoplex to create a dissonant sound on the guitar solo in the song “Intruder.”
The band also used a Catholic Church organ to create the sound of a cathedral in the song “Happy Trails.” The album also features covers of songs like “Dancing in the Street” and “(Oh) Pretty Woman.”
The album was successful, reaching number three on the United States Billboard 200 chart. The band toured to promote the album, including a performance at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida, where they opened for The Rolling Stones.
The Clarinet in Big Bad Bill
Who Plays the Clarinet
The clarinet solo on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” was performed by Jan Van Halen, the father of Eddie and Alex Van Halen.
Jan Van Halen was an accomplished saxophone and clarinet player in his own right, and his appearance on the song was a nod to his musical background.
Clarinet Technique in the Song
The clarinet solo in “Big Bad Bill” is a standout moment in the song. It showcases a unique sound that is not typically associated with Van Halen’s music. The solo is played in a Dixieland jazz style, which is characterized by its use of vibrato and glissandos.
The sheet music for “Big Bad Bill” includes the clarinet solo, and it is written in the key of B-flat.
The solo begins with a few bars of accompaniment from the rest of the band before the clarinet takes over.
The solo is relatively short, lasting just over 20 seconds, but it is a memorable part of the song.
The use of the clarinet in “Big Bad Bill” was a departure from Van Halen’s typical hard rock sound, and it was a nod to the band’s diverse musical influences.
The song appears on the album “Diver Down,” which was released in 1982. “Diver Down” was a departure from Van Halen’s previous albums, as it included several cover songs and showcased the band’s versatility.
Overall, the clarinet solo in “Big Bad Bill” is a unique and memorable moment in Van Halen’s discography. It showcases the band’s willingness to experiment with different musical styles and influences, and it highlights the musical talent of Jan Van Halen.
Other Instruments in Big Bad Bill
In addition to the clarinet, “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” features Eddie Van Halen on electric and acoustic guitars.
Eddie’s guitar work on the song is notable for its jazzy feel, which complements the song’s Dixieland-inspired instrumentation.
Eddie’s use of a Gibson ES-175 guitar on the track is also worth mentioning, as it gives the song a warm, vintage sound.
Michael Anthony plays the acoustic bass on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).
His bass work on the song is understated but effective, providing a solid foundation for the other instruments to build on. Anthony’s use of a double bass on the track is also noteworthy, as it adds to the song’s old-timey feel.
Other notable musicians on the track include David Lee Roth on vocals and Jan Van Halen on clarinet. Richard Aaron provided photography for the album cover of “Diver Down,” which includes “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).”
Overall, “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” is a showcase for the talents of its various musicians, who work together to create a unique and memorable sound.