Skip to comments.How Eddie Van Halen Changed The World Of Music Forever
Posted on 10/08/2020 8:02:58 AM PDT by Kaslin
Most people spend their entire lives trying to achieve some measure of immortality. It only took Edward Lodewijk van Halen one minute and 42 seconds.
Eddie Van Halen, guitarist and American original, is dead at age 65 and theres no possible coda for a musical legacy this big. Most people spend their entire lives trying to achieve some measure of immortality. It only took Edward Lodewijk van Halen one minute and 42 seconds.
Thats the length of Eruption, the short guitar solo piece that is the second track on Van Halens eponymous 1978 debut. It starts off with some fast pull-off licks punctuated by some pinch harmonics, and then some whammy bar dive bombs that sound like his guitar amp is about to explode. Thats probably because the amp was, in fact, being thoroughly abused. To get his famously heavy and overdriven brown sound, EVH pulled two of the four glass vacuum tubes out of his Marshall amplifier and used a device called a variac to starve the amplifier of voltage.
After introducing all this glorious noise, the virtuoso did something truly revolutionary he broke into super-fast neoclassical arpeggiation. The classical influence was no accident. At one point in Eruption, Van Halen, whose Dutch father was a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, quotes a phrase from “Etude No. 2” by Rodolphe Kreutzer in the guitar-friendly key of E flat. The Van Halens immigrated to California when Eddie was seven, arriving with “with approximately $50 and a piano,” according to Eddie.
This section of the song stunned listeners, and baffled guitar players who couldnt figure out how he played the section so cleanly and so fast. There were wild rumors about what he was doing did he amplify a dulcimer or a Kyoto? surely something that fast couldnt be played on guitar.
But it could, and Eddie Van Halen had done it. Instead of plucking or strumming the strings below the fretboard of the guitar, he took his right hand and began tapping notes on the fretboard, while still using his fretting hand to hammer on and pull off notes. Tapping, as its now called, is now ubiquitous in the guitar world, but at early gigs, Eddie Van Halen was notorious for turning his back to the audience so other guitarists couldnt steal his signature technique.
This odd little album interstitial, both in its crushing, previously unheard guitar tone and innovative technique, is probably the most significant instrumental in the history of rock, and theres a strong case to be made its the most influential piece of rock music of the last 42 years, period. This achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider Eruption is not even a song per se. Its impact is purely a matter of impressionistic sonics and forceful virtuosity.
As ’70s rock bands go, Van Halen werent exactly innovative songwriters in a decade where prog rock and the anthemic complexity of Led Zeppelin were ascendant. If Eruption gets any radio airplay at all, its because it bled into the bands affable cover of The Kinks You Really Got Me, which, even buoyed with Eddies riffage, isnt exactly the sound of a band reinventing the wheel.
Of course, Van Halen had other noteworthy hits from their first record Running With the Devil, Janies Cryin and Aint Talkin Bout Love, the latter which begins with an A minor to G to F riff run through a phaser that was also essential for defining Eddie Van Halens sound.
But it was Eruption that single-handedly invented guitar-shredding a foundational element of the hair metal that dominated the airwaves in the decade to come. Similarly, EVHs heavy tone and the fluid contrast between palm-muted riffing and soloing in higher registers would also have a profound influence on the underground metal bands of the ’80s such as Metallica and Slayer, to say nothing of the sound of the grunge bands more than a decade later.
The grunge influence was somewhat ironic, as grunge was presented as a musical emetic for all the artistic excesses of the hair metal that came in Van Halens wake. You could decry the soulless guitar wankery that Van Halen inspired, but after a decade of Van Halen permanently on the charts, there was simply no way to play rock and roll guitar without internalizing aspects of Eddie Van Halens playing.
EVH had a simply stellar, and somewhat loose sense of rhythm indeed, one of Van Halen the bands chief virtues is that they are the rare hard rockers that swung that prevented his most show-offy parts from sounding flat and unmusical. The same cannot be said of a great many mechanical guitar shredders who drafted behind him.
Even today its a running joke on Guitar Player magazines excellent No Guitar Is Safe podcast that its impossible to interview any notable guitar player who works in any genre, be it jazz fusion or neo-soul, for more than an hour without Eddie Van Halens name coming up. Of course, even those who have zero interest in the technical aspects of guitar playing are aware of EVHs cross-cultural influence in one significant way — the unmistakably EVH solo on Michael Jacksons Beat It.
The story goes that Eddie Van Halen, who was never really a session player, didnt want to solo against the section of the song that had been cued up for him. He wanted to solo against the chord changes in the verse, so he ended up rearranging the song in the studio without Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson knowing he was messing with the track. After he was done, the song had to be stitched back together with quite a bit of clever engineering, which was not easy in the days everything was recorded to magnetic tape. But the solo EVH came up with was so memorable and well-phrased, no one disputes its a highlight of Thriller, the second-bestselling record of all time.
Theres a lot more that could be said about Van Halen the bands impact, as their goofy, sex-obsessed image was definitely a polarizing part of their image. The lyrics and video for Hot For Teacher were actually debated in congressional hearings about the need for labeling explicit rock lyrics.
On the other hand, the fact that Eruption was an aberration and Eddie Van Halen otherwise worked to showcase his chops in very tuneful pop music settings is the reason Van Halen has sold more than 75 million records, instead of merely a being an influential virtuoso. (A word must also be said for the Sammy Davis Jr.-meets-Jeff Spicolli charisma of David Lee Roth, and the rock-solid musicianship of bassist Michael Anthony Eddies brother Alex on the drums.)
Van Halen may have played loud and heavy, but they felt light-hearted and fun. As an email acquaintance put it, There’s a time and a place for Black Sabbath, but at a party, do you really want to bum out the ladies cranking Hand of Doom? No way man! Fire up Diver Down and let’s rage!
To Eddies credit, he was also not content to rest on his guitar laurels the bands biggest selling album, 1984, came after he was frustrated that Roth and Ted Templeman, the producer of the bands first five records, were discouraging his desire to experiment with keyboards. He started producing and writing in his own studio, and the results included Jump, which has one of the most memorable synth hooks in the decade keyboards were ubiquitous.
Unfortunately, the tensions over the 1984 record couldnt be resolved and Roth left the band, giving way to the era many Van Halen fans derisively refer to as Van Hagar. While it was certainly a change for the band, Sammy Hagar is an able frontman and the slickly produced ear candy that followed is not without its charms and saw the band branching out. Songs like Finish What You Started and Right Now were welcome diversions from the bands hard rock formula, not that Van Halen ever stopped rocking. (Older readers might recall “Right Now” was the soundtrack for the ad campaign for the briefly ubiquitous but ultimately disastrous launch of Crystal Pepsi.)
Unfortunately, the ego that drove Eddie Van Halen to success and ego was certainly a problem for other members of Van Halen as well kept getting in the way. The 1995 record Balance was the last to feature Sammy Hagar, and then there was an ill-fated dalliance with Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone that lasted one album. In 2000, Eddie kicked Michael Anthony out of the band so his son Wolfgang could take over bass duties in Van Halen, angering many longtime fans, to say nothing of the fact that Anthonys great high harmonies were a crucial part of the bands sound.
Also worth mentioning is that starting in the ’90s, while the band was beginning to founder a bit, Eddie Van Halen turned a lot of attention to the design of his signature guitars, amplifiers, and other guitar gear. While his self-painted guitars from his early career, especially the red white and black striped patterned Frankenstrat, are holy relics of the guitar world, in the 1990s a more mature Eddie Van Halen started rethinking his approach to his instrument.
The result was the refined-but-aggressive Wolfgang guitar design, which is now iconic in a world where most guitar players are averse to playing any guitar design that doesnt date back to the 1950s. And the ongoing iterations of his ’90s-era 5150 amplifiers, which had an even more distortion-saturated sound, are still beloved by heavy metal players. The EVH guitar brand is now what Air Jordan is to athletic wear.
The oughts saw two reunion tours one each with Hagar and Roth. While these tours were transparently mercenary, and say what you want about Van Halens inability to keep a consistent lineup, the band always triumphed live, in no small part because Eddie Van Halen was a force of nature. If youve ever played live, you know it’s not easy for one guitarist to fill up the sonic space in a four-piece band.
The story goes that when EVH saw Led Zeppelin live in the ’70s, he was profoundly disappointed that his guitar idol Jimmy Page couldnt quite carry off the bands ambitious recordings live. Eddie was such a force of nature that no one who ever saw Van Halen live walked away thinking he couldnt pull it off.
By 2012, Eddie seemed to have some kind of genuine artistic and personal reconciliation with Roth, resulting in the bands last proper album, A Different Kind of Truth. Its an underrated gem; Roths harmonies on the first single, Tattoo, along with Eddies driving riff on Shes The Woman, would have been right at home in the bands early catalog. By then, the pop music world was over hard rock, but go ahead and watch the crowd lose their mind during their kick-ass performance of Panama at the 2015 Grammys. Even late in their career, appreciation for Van Halen remained undimmed and universal.
As for Eddie Van Halens personal life, there were the rock star ups and downs. Despite enduring various substance abuse-related issues that tested their marriage, he was married to actress Valerie Bertinelli for 26 years, divorcing her in 2006. Van Halen went to rehab in 2007 and got sober, and his relationship with Bertinelli remained very amicable.
She was in attendance when he remarried to publicist Janie Liszewski in 2009, and reportedly among the friends and family at his bedside when he died of oral cancer. An inveterate smoker for much of his life, he was first diagnosed with oral cancer in 2000 and after being successfully treated, the disease reared up again in 2014. He had reportedly been fighting throat cancer for the last six years when he died on October 6.
Whatever personal and professional demons Eddie Van Halen faced in life, family was always very important to him. His exceptionally close bonds with his son and brother meant everything. In 2017, Eddie Van Halen was interviewed by the Smithsonian as part of a series on What it means to be an American. He was asked by a member of the crowd, Of all the deceased musicians out there that are no longer around, could you pick one to play with, who would that be?
The weight of his own mortality was no doubt hanging in his mind in ways that the audience couldnt have known. Wow, he said, taking a beat. Id like to jam with my father again.
Maybe now hell get the chance. Rest in peace, Eddie.
Rest in peace. I was never a big Van Halen fan, or a fan of that rock music. But people have said how his guitar skills were a cut above any others, and for that, you have to credit his commitment to excellence. He will have his place in rock music history.
Go look now on iTunes, VH is dominating.
I've never heard of "Eruption." I've probably listened to a total of 9 seconds of "hair metal" and "guitar shredding" in my entire life -- I can turn it off in a hundred milliseconds. I credit it with keeping my reflexes sharp for these past decades.
As great as his solos were, VH was damn good on rhythm as well.
Just listen to this
I’m the One - Isolated guitar track
Saw the very first tour, they were warm up for Ozzie Osborne and black Sabbath....when Van Halen left the stage we left the arena.
The changing of the the rock n roll old guard to new was obvious and inevitable.
Eddie revolutionized how the guitar is played and how it can sound. I recommend giving some of it a listen.
Ahh...bummer man...fk. ok this is a serious drag for me. Eddie....i dont care Eddie is still awesome. 1984 sold out in 2 hours in Albuquerque so they did a 2nd show that also quickly sold out.
Some trivia...The coolest part of Michael Jacksons mega hit song Beat It was the guitar solo done by Eddie. I knew it was him the first time i listened to it closely.
What a drag it is getting old.....
It wasn’t so much Eddie’s playing as his composing, you could imitate the licks, but nobody could duplicate his composing style.
The other guitarist on Beat It, was Steve Lukather of Toto. It's amazing how many songs he appeared on outside of Toto in the 80s.
I liked Eddie, thought he was a very good guitar player.
But changed music? Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore were doing this stuff in the 1960s, and Hendrix broadened it. I never found one thing VH did that was novel. Excellent guitar playing, but following others and standing on the shoulders of giants.
Not a knock, just reality.
One of the best rhythm players I ever heard was Angel South of “Chase.”
WTH? Is that really Eddie?
The one and only time I saw Van Halen was at the 1983 US Festival in CA. They say that David Lee Roth was drunk at that concert but he and the rest of the band still put on quite a show. I thought both Eddie and the bass player were incredible. The guy on drums was pretty good too. But I remember David Lee Roth the most, he was constantly shouting out at the audience, talking trash about The Clash, and bragging about how many arrests there were outside the venue before the show (”We have way more arrests this year than last year, man! You guys ROCK!”).
<> I was in my early 20s and it was a fun time. Today, that kind of music mostly gives me a headache.
I have a number of friends who have toured and played with Ed. one of the things not mentioned much is the fact that he could play pretty much any music instrument you handed him, and well too.
Thats not EVH. Thats Bill Murray.
I was at that show with the band Triumph. I was filling in for their normal Monitor Engineer on that part of their tour.
I was never a big fan of Eddie’s, and I honestly prefer Van Hagar over the early stuff.
That being said, I’d be a fool to deny the impact Eddie had on rock music, particularly metal. (My personal guitar heroes are along the lines of Clapton, Page, and Jeff Beck.) I was very sad to see that he’d passed.
LOL, no. Bill Murray with a line from the movie “Zombieland”.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.