Not Eddie Van Halen as well

Eddie Van Halen - Eruption - Live - August 27, 1986 at New Haven's Veterans Memorial Coliseum

damn you 2020, damn you to hell.

Just when you thought this year couldn’t get any worse, it did, when Wolfgang Van Halen announced that his dad, the Eddie Van Halen, died last night after his long battle with cancer, aged just 65.

Hours later and still can’t quite believe it, losing Greeny earlier in the year was bad enough but now the greatest gone.

Yes. The greatest. Eddie Van Halen was the heir Jimi Hendrix in the pantheon of guitarists but even he went about Jimi, I mean Van Halen basically invented the 1980s. In rock music and Eddie reinvented the guitar playing wise and the instrument itself.

When Van Halen burst on the world scene in ’78 with their debut album it shook up rock music. This was new, this would go on to influence the whole of the next decade. Every bass player, well, wanted to sing like Michael Anthony, every drummer wanted to pound it like Alex Van Halen, every frontman wanted to be David Lee Roth and every, absolutely, every guitarist wanted to be Eddie Van Halen.

Eddie’s playing was just on another level from what had come before, though he would never admit it even above Jimi’s. Yes people had played fast, harmonics, done the tapping thing, but EVH just made it all his. Brought it t that new level. They might have tapped but nobody tapped like Eddie. nobody flew around the fretboard like Eddie. Nobody had come up with anything so jaw dropping for guitarists as Eddie did with “Eruption” on that debut album.

But there was more, much more. A guitar shop tweeted the other week about unappreciated rhythm players…

When you’re growing up as a guitarist, it tends to be lead playing that catches your ear. Firing on Van Halen albums and having your mind blown by the terrifying tapping techniques is a right of passage we all must go through! However, as your playing progresses and you start to appreciate some of the subtlety of the instrument, you begin to realise that rhythm playing is equally impressive.

It overlooks the fact that you could be completely blown away with Eddie’s rhythm playing the way you are with his solos. It’s not the standard rhythm playing, there’s not many of the standard open chords, not many full barre chords, not even many fifth power chords. There little riffs and rhythms, diads and licks. Rhythm stuff that fills in nearly the whole song that so many overlook.

Then there was that tone. The Brown Sound. The MXR Phase 90 and flanger pedals, the Maestro Echoplex EP-3 into that Marshall amp. And those guitars, from the Ibanez Destroyer he destroyed to the Charvel Boogie Bodies seconds, he put together to form Frankie. Yes people had modified guitars before but as with the playing techniques Eddie made this his thing. With a humbucker on a Strat style body, then his use of the Floyd Rose trem.

The guitars of the 80s weren’t your grandad’s guitars. Not even your dad’s. One humbucker, one volume pot, one trem, preferably locking and then when he teamed up with Kramer Guitars, one pointy or banana style headstock. Everyone was making them, even the old dogs of Fender and Gibson made pointy headstock axes. Kramer went from being a small outfit that was purely known for making the strange metal neck, tuning fork shaped headstock, Travis Bean guitar to the biggest selling guitar brand from the mid 80s to the end of the decade.

But it wasn’t the gear that made that sound. it was the fingers of Eddie Van Halen. As Ted Nugent attests when telling the story of him playing Ed’s gear and sounding exactly like Ted Nugent, not Eddie Van Halen.

The 80s was truly Van Halen’s decade, they created it, they ruled it. Millions of albums sold. Highest paid performers for a one off show, headlining the ’83 US festival metal day. Eddie playing on the biggest album of the decade, his solo on Wacko Jacko’s “Beat It”.

I’m only truly jealous of one person I know. He saw Van Halen supporting Black Sabbath on the ’78 UK tour. And one of the few regrets I have is not buying the Ernie Ball/Music Man EVH guitar that I kept trying at the guitar shop. Van Halen have the most scrobbles of any artist I’ve scrobbled to, over twice as many plays as the number two artist, at over fourteen and a half thousand plays. I will never tire of listening to those first six albums, or the bootlegs of those early club days and the early tours. Not to mention the demo tapes. Hoping that one day they’ll get an official release.

Though I don’t listen to much of the post DLR stuff it was good to hear that him and Sammy Hagar had reconnected…

Ed’s playing and writing was just as strong on those albums. Shame there was those falling outs. Years of honing his skill, learning everything from everyone to play all those covers in the early days, making some of them his own… “You Really got Me”.

R.I.P. Edward Lodewijk Van Halen… a one off.

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