By Chris Morris, Variety | Eddie Van Halen, whose innovative and explosive guitar playing kept the hard rock band that bore his family name cemented to the top of the album charts for two decades, died on Tuesday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.
Van Halen’s son Wolf announced the news. “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss,” Wolf Van Halen tweeted.
Born in the Netherlands and raised in Pasadena, Calif., he founded Van Halen with his older brother, drummer Alex; the siblings were joined by vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony in the first recording lineup of the group, which exploded after star-making gigs at such West Hollywood clubs as Gazzarri’s and the Starwood.
It was instantly apparent from “Eruption,” the solo showcase on Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut album for Warner Bros., that Eddie Van Halen was an instrumentalist to be reckoned with. In a mere one minute and 42 seconds, the axe man detonated a dazzling display of fretboard tapping, ringing harmonics, lightning-fast licks and smeared, dive-bombing effects.
Writing about that recording in Rolling Stone’s 2015 poll of the 100 greatest guitarists — in which Van Halen placed eighth, between Duane Allman and Chuck Berry — Mike McCready of Pearl Jam wrote, “It sounded like it came from another planet… [I]t was glorious, like hearing Mozart for the first time.”
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From Tommy Harrison on Facebook, 10/06/20: When I started playing the guitar in 1983, I had two main influences: Edward Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. My folks were not very keen on Ozzy because of his antics but were very supportive of Van Halen. It was okay with them that the first album that I personally purchased was Diver Down, and I later waited at Hungry Ear Records in Kailua to buy 1984 the day of its release.
Fast forward to 2000, and I had started my Ph.D. at the University of Salford. After a few months of soul searching and discussing with my advisors, I decided to do my dissertation on Van Halen’s career from 1978 through 1986. As expected, the main discussion related to harmonic writing by Eddie, his guitar techniques, effects and equipment, and timbre. From January 2000 until I submitted my dissertation for defense in June of 2003, I listened to a LOT of Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen changed my way of thinking about music. Hard rock music especially, and how it could be viewed in an academic manner, where so few had actually ventured into that area. Years after I finished the degree, I am thankful that musicology has now embraced the study of hard rock and heavy metal.
Van Halen and Rhoads influenced an incredible amount of my musical expansion. Though Rhoads’ study of the classical guitar was the main push for me to go to a university for music, it was Van Halen’s wide cultural, as well as musical impact, that led me to a higher understanding of rock music and my own development.
Today, I am stunned, and shocked. You changed the lives of many in my generation, and especially mine.
Mr. Van Halen, Maestro, please Rest in Peace.