Eddie Van Halen
Born 26th January 1955 Died 6 October 2020
This page is a tribute to the genius of Eddie Van Halen.
It is written by fans of the Now Spinning community and offers personal reflections of what the music of Van Halen and Eddie’s incredible guitar playing has had on them.
From Phil Aston
Eddie Van Halen. A guitarist who changed everything when that first Van Halen album was released in 1978. I recorded this video on the night that it was announced that Eddie had passed away after a long battle with Cancer. This was such shocking news and my social media newsfeeds were just full of tributes and Van Halen videos. Van Halen provided the soundtrack for so many people and Rock n Rool has lost one of its 5 Star Generals.
Eddie Van Halen had such a huge effect on my life. It was almost from one minute of not knowing who he was to then realising that guitar playing and rock music, in general, would never be the same again,
It was 1978, I had bought tickets to see Black Sabbath on their10th anniversary tour. In Sounds (the weekly UK music newspaper) they had announced that a band called Van Halen would be supporting them on all dates. I hade never heard of them and thought it odd that an unknown band would have this slot.
One of my friends Bryan (who is also a member of the Now Spinning Facebook Group), went out and bought the album, which in those days this was quite a big thing to do when you had not heard anything from it. We all met up to go into Birmingham and I could tell that Bryan was really excited to put this album by Van Halen on in the car.
I can still remember this moment to this day how that first track emerged from those car speakers, the siren then the bass guitar followed by Eddie stroking his plectrum across the bridge then boom! That riff, that incredible riff and that guitar sound. It felt like up until this point guitarists had been roaming the earth trying to find the perfect rock guitar sound and tone and this guy had found it in the first few seconds of this track starting!
Running With The Devil had set the tone for what was to come by the time it reached the first chorus. The production by Ted Templeman had taken his template from the first Montrose album and created something that would be timeless and forever sound like it was recorded last week.
I was blown away already and then Eruption arrived… I was a guitarist, I thought I was quite good, I loved Ritchie Blackmore but this was from another planet. I had never heard anything like it. I always wondered why the tremolo arm was not used more in Rock music, Blackmore had used it extensively early on in his career but seemed to shy away from it but Eddie Van Halen used it as a major part of his musical vocabulary. He was also using his right hand in a way that made the listener think what is that sound, is it an overdub? How is he doing that? When we got to see Van Halen support Sabbath we saw for ourselves that there were no overdubs, this was all him and this style of playing although imitated around the world would never come close to the way Eddie Van Halen performed it.
Back in the car, track after track just elevated the album to instant classic status, You Really Got Me by the Kinks became theirs, with Ain’t Talkin Bout Love, I’m The One, Jamie’s Cryin, Atomic Punk, Feel Your Love Tonight, Little Dreamer, Ice Cream Man and On Fire ensuring that this became one of my top 10 albums from this point.
Van Halen is one of the best debut albums of all time, it could be released in 2025 and it would still sound awesome. Witnessing them play on that Black Sabbath tour was something else, Sabbath were not in good shape and Van Halen just blew them off stage. I do not think in the UK we had seen such a flamboyant guitar player like this since Jimi Hendrix, he threw all the shapes, but with such immense talent, his solo spot was mesmerising. Mix in David Lee Roths perfect showman antics, the bass and vocal harmonies from Michael Anthony and drummer and brother Edward Van Halen and you had a band that were ready to take on the world and win…which they did!.
From this point on Van Halen were the reference point to what great rock music sounded like. Each album was like a party, they took heavy metal and mixed it in with shades of pop and just made everyday sound like the summer of your life. They also had a lot of humour in their music, the lyrics could be streetwise and switch to tongue in cheek within a drum beat. The second album had Dance The Night Away which was a great pop song but with the same heavy metal guitar sound, you would find in their heaviest of tracks. It also contained furious rockers like Light Up The Sky and Somebody Get Me A Doctor.
As they entered the 1980s they really hit their stride and to me Van Halen were the Roll Royce of Rock. They had many imitators but when you heard a new Van Halen album was on its way you just knew it would be head and shoulders above the rest. Even if a song did seem to dip in quality it would still have some amazing guitar from Eddie on it.
Eddie Van Halen was a one-off, he designed his own guitar which became as recognisable as him, he designed his own amp he was a perfectionist and made smiling on stage acceptable.
I love every Van Halen album through every lineup, I just wish he had done a solo album perhaps showing some of his acoustic skills. However, in some way, every Van Halen album is a solo album
The news of his passing is devastating, the Van Halen albums sound so vibrant and timeless and always will.
I will finish by going back to 1978. All of us who were into music thought we knew what an electric guitar could do. Whether it was blues, metal or jazz we just thought that everything had been done that could be done, and then Eddie Van Halen comes along and changes the world forever.
So thank you, Eddie and Van Halen and all the music you’ve given us over the years – it is timeless
Phil Aston’s Top 10 Van Halen Albums
- Van Halen
- Fair Warning
- Van Halen 2
- For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
- Women and Children First
- Diver Down
From Chris Wright
October 6th 2020 will be a day we will forever remember, as news broke of the extremely sad and far, far too early passing of the great Eddie Van Halen. Now Spinning contributor Chris Wright reflects on the incredible impact Eddie had on his and every rock fan’s life.
I’ve been very fortunate to have witnessed rock history in the making on a few occasions. The first really significant moment was when my mates and I turned up for Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die Tour at the Ipswich Gaumont in 1978.
Entering the theatre, we had no idea who the support band was, but my interest was piqued by a line in the tour programme that said they had been discovered and championed by none other than Kiss’ Gene Simmons.
So, enter Van Halen on the Gaumont stage. Frankly, it was life-changing from the first note. And you can hear the whole thing for yourself on YouTube, thanks to an enterprising bootlegger who recorded the whole thing for posterity. “Alright! Is Ipswich ready to rock and roll? Let’s hear it for the mighty Van Halen” (see below for the video link)
As is clear from this exceptional recording, it was instantly obvious to all present that Van Halen served up rock in a totally refreshing and completely different style from anything that had gone before. Streamlined post-punk metal with an unprecedented punch, massively enhanced by the amazing guitar wizardry of one Edward Van Halen, augmented by David Lee Roth’s stunning vocals and athletic stage presence.
Black Sabbath were absolutely blown away. When VH left the stage the night was as good as over. All any of us wanted to do was to find their album. Van Halen 1 was in my collection the very next day and has been on rotation ever since.
It simply doesn’t age at all. The one minute and 42 seconds guitar explosion of Eruption is an iconic recording. It has paved the way for every rock/metal genre that has followed. Indeed I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Eddie’s influence on everything that followed was every bit as significant as Hendrix had been throughout the late 60s, early 70s and beyond.
Van Halen 1 is simply full of melodious heavy rock that is simply irresistible and of such wide appeal. Running with the Devil is perhaps the finest example. Eddie’s signature power chords and rampant soloing and Roth’s streetwise lyrics, backed by the solid bass and great vocal harmonies of Michael Anthony, plus brother/drummer Alex Van Halen’s major contribution to proceedings.
Their cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me is arguably even better than the original. Other classics like Atomic Punk and On Fire represent a completely original approach that resonates even today.
It was already crystal clear that Eddie was a total game changer. For such a guitar master, he never ever became self-indulgent, taking Brian May’s ethos of playing for the song to an entirely new level.
Listening across both the Roth and Hagar iterations of the band, it’s remarkable how none of the music has ever sounded dated. I think that’s largely because Eddie’s approach to the guitar was so unique that, even though many copied aspects of his style, no one ever captured it’s true essence. For that you needed none other than the great man himself.
And let’s not forget the extra dimension that Eddie introduced with his astoundingly effective keyboard work from the hugely successful 1984 and Jump, unquestionably one of the definitive musical moments of the 80s.
There are hugely significant and innovative moments in every corner of Eddie’s overwhelming body of work. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, And The Cradle Will Rock, Beat It, Unchained, Hang’Em High, Panama, Why Can’t This Be Love, Poundcake, A.F.U (Naturally Wired) – you really could pick any combination of tracks and conclude that nothing anyone else has ever done even sounds remotely like him, though countless thousands have tried.
Huge public demand ultimately saw to it that the classic Roth line-up would tour once again, with Eddie’s son Wolfgang in for Michael Anthony on bass. While one could certainly pick holes in Roth’s “different” style and vocal performance, shall we call it, it was instantly apparent that, in spite of his lengthy battle against throat cancer, Eddie was still the greatest rock guitarist out there. No contest. He’d lost none of his technical prowess, indeed he seemed to be building on it!
In writing these thoughts down, I’d say that this tragic news hasn’t really fully sunk in yet – probably the same for all of us.
What I can say without question is that Eddie Van Halen was a totally original, musically gifted guitar maestro who profoundly touched the lives of millions upon millions for over 40 years. He enriched us immeasurably and to quote Steve Vai: “Let’s take a minute and try to imagine our world if he never showed up. It’s unthinkable.”
Chris Wright | Now Spinning
From Charlie White
My first encounter with Van Halen goes back to 9th grade in high school. I was riding in the back seat of a friend’s car and he played VAN HALEN debut album while en route to a weekend party(not a party in the traditional sense, it was a bunch of kids parked in the empty streets of a new housing sub development with loud music and cheap beer).
After hearing the opening coda to Running With The Devil, I was hooked. I bought the album a few days later with my allowance. The sound of Eddie’s guitars and David Lee Roth’s vocals became seared-in memories of my high school years up to graduation with the album 1984 (I won that album from the local radio station based on a Van Halen question). I even heard VH inside an R&B dance club with DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY and DANCING IN THE STREET, meaning they were able to spread beyond their rock and roll foundation to soul music.
I didn’t need to read the musician line-up when I first heard the start of BEAT IT by Michael Jackson, I knew it was Eddie on guitar! Regrettably, I missed two opportunities to see VH in concert in 1981 and 1983. Eddie has had recurring health problems for years like hip replacement surgery and he was a heavy smoker. Still, cancer takes another icon and I hate cancer!
Thank you, Eddie, for your music and my memories of that music.
Charlie White | Now Spinning