In 1962, Jan Van Halen and his family moved from the Netherlands to the United States. Young Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was only seven years old when he switched continents. By his side, as always, was his older brother Alex. The Van Halens were a musical family. Jan played clarinet. Soon Eddie started playing the drums, while Alex picked up the guitar. It was not meant to be. The Rock Gods intervened and the two switched instruments. History had to be made.
In 1972, the Van Halen brothers formed their first band. People were starting to pay attention to this young guitar prodigy who was doing things most players hadn’t thought of yet. Though he wasn’t the first, he popularized tapping, whammy bar dives, and all sorts of harmonics. Unlike the average shredder, Eddie made it musical. Insanely musical. While his techniques were space age, his riffs and melodies were grounded in rock and roll.
There is no need to go over all the players he influenced (thousands? millions?) or the riffs he wrote. There is no other guitar player with the influence of Eddie Van Halen. Was he the greatest of all time?
And his most well known guitar solo wasn’t even on his own song!
Even his keyboard playing was genius!
There will never be another Van Halen. No player before or since will have the ingenuity and influence he did. From modifying his own guitars and amps to achieve the perfect “brown sound”, to brutalizing the strings with a drill, he was an innovator. He was the most important of all the guitar innovators. And he sheepishly grinned through the whole thing as if to say, “Who, me? I did that?”
His infectious grin made all the kids love Eddie Van Halen
Cancer doesn’t care about influence or music, or even the love of millions of adoring fans. Eddie fought for years. His battle was a quiet one and we did not know the extent of his illness, though the rumour mills always swirled. Certainly though his output dwindled (only one studio album in over 20 years), interest in him never waned. An Eddie sighting at a recent Tool concert was big news.
Van Halen captained his eponymous band through two successful eras and one less so. Through cancer, hip replacements, and divorce, Eddie plowed on. A massive reunion with lead singer David Lee Roth made people forget the missteps and focused the spotlight on his incendiary playing once more.
Though there are only 12 studio albums in 42 years, Van Halen’s discography stands like a monolith. A massive red, black and white striped monolith with EVH in bold letters at the top. Gone at age 65, Eddie Van Halen will never be forgotten. His name will stand with Paganini, Beethoven and Bach. With Hendrix, Rhodes, and Robert Johnson. Legendary. Immortal. Beyond their own time.
As the celebrity memorials inevitably (and sadly) roll in, we will be reminded of one thing: There will only ever be one Eddie Van Halen.
Rest in peace.
COMPLETE VAN HALEN REVIEW SERIES:
VAN HALEN – Zero (1977 Gene Simmons demo bootleg)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Women and Children First (1980 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 1984 (1984 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)
VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
VAN HALEN – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner Bros, plus “Jump” live single)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995) Review by Derek Kortepeter
VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015) Review by Tommy Morais
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single, Warner)
VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)
VAN HALEN vs. JOHN LENNON – “Imagine A Jump” mashup by “Mighty Mike”
RECORD STORE TALES Part 186: The Van Halen Tin
GETTING MORE TALE #657: Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)