Van Halen dead at 65

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"He played in a style never seen before," reflected Kevin Ellard. Wikimedia Commons

Hall of Famer remembered

Rockers worldwide were saddened to hear that Van Halen lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen passed away of throat cancer on October 6, 2020. Eddie was one of the most influential guitarists in the 80s who shaped rock & roll for future generations. His legendary guitar stunts landed Van Halen a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Van Halen’s success was hard won. Starting by playing backyard gigs and small venues, the band had to hold their own to scrounge up a record deal. Even with the band’s enormous success, they faced challenges juggling three singers throughout their performance years. Eddie’s personal struggles with alcoholism would result in the devastating consequences of a terminal illness.

Despite the band’s challenges, Eddie proved himself worthy of his Hall of Fame title by completely revolutionizing guitar music. His legendary stunts left audiences breathless as he wowed them with innovative techniques. 

Eddie and his family immigrated to the United States at age seven from Amsterdam. Eddie’s father, who played in a Dutch air force band, inspired both Eddie and his brother Alex to pursue music as a career. 

Settling in Pasadena, California, both Eddie and Alex practised many instruments, initially starting on opposite instruments they played in Van Halen. They traded instruments after Eddie failed to succeed the drumming in Surfaris’ “Wipe Out,” a decision that would shape their careers.

They began playing in the Pasadena area at strip clubs and outdoor events to get performing experience. The early band names such as Broken Combs and Trojan Rubber Company did not quite stick as Van Halen did. While acquiring small gigs, they met David Lee Roth, who would soon become the band’s front runner. Early original songs like “Runnin’ with the Devil,” which is still a fan favorite today, landed them a record deal with Warner Bros. in 1977. 

The band’s first album Van Halen had skyrocketing success hitting number 19 on Billboard’s Hot 200. Van Halen’s first taste of success was noticed by singer Ozzy Osbourne who asked the band to open for Black Sabbath.

Eddie’s talent on the guitar flourished during his solo in “Eruption,” on their debut album, featuring some of his many guitar stunts. In a video showcasing his talent, Eddie performs the guitar solo using techniques such as tremolo picking, all while his cigarette is strapped underneath the strings of his guitar. Van Halen’s party culture was a distinct feature of the band that reeled hard rockers in. 

The guitar stunts that Eddie performed added wow factors to his performances. Tremolo picking is the intricate, high-speed picking played on one note during a sequence. It takes lots of patience to master the technique and work up to faster speeds to tremolo pick efficiently. Songs like “Eruption” perfectly showcase how excellent tremolo picking is when mastered. 

Van Halen II launched a year after in 1979, featuring popular tunes like “Dance the Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls.” 

Van Halen fan Kevin Ellard reminisced on the band’s immediate success, “Their first two album’s (Van Halen I & Van Halen II) were very popular when I was growing up.” 

Eddie married his wife Valerie Bertinelli in 1981 and had one son named WolfgangRoth made his distaste of themarriage known as it hindered the band’s wild, partying nature. This launched a period of bad blood between Eddie and Roth. 

Van Halen’s album 1984 dropped, leaving fans starstruck with tracks such as “Hot for Teacher” and “Panama.” The band’s most iconic hit, “Jump,” was initially rejected by Roth and producers. Still, Eddie insisted it makes it on the album. It certainly paid off as “Jump” was one of the most iconic hits throughout the band’s career. 

Another famous guitar stunt mastered by Eddie was tapping. Although he did not create the technique, he did improve and master it throughout his career. Tapping was initially used by flamenco guitarists for its clean tone. It occurs when the string is fretted by a “tap” and is set into a fretboard vibration. Eddie mastered the two-handed tapping technique and has proven his talent by jaw-dropping performances. 

The band’s success was halted when lead-singer Roth chose to depart from Van Halen due to fighting between himself and Eddie. The two could not come to terms with the best choice for the style of the band. 

With Roth leaving to pursue a solo album, Eddie also considered solo work until “I can’t drive 55” singer Sammy Hagar crossed paths with Van Halen. After immediately meshing well, Hagar became the new front-runner of Van Halen. 5150 hit the stands in 1986 as Van Halen’s first number one album with tracks like “Dreams” and “Poundcake.” 

Conflict struck the band once again when the band ended the 5150 tour. Hagar wanted to return home to his wife,whereas the rest of the band wished to return to the studio. Hagar eventually admitted to wanting to return to be a solo artist and left Van Halen.

Van Halen acquired their third singer George Cherone. They performed with them on Van Halen III in 1998, which was not received well by fans than previous albums. 

Various reunion tours with Roth and Hagar occurred in the 2000s that fans were not well received as “sloppy.” Despite harsh reviews on the reunion tours, the band still scored themselves in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Eddie would miss the event as he had checked into rehab for alcohol abuse. 

Eddie’s wife filed for divorce in 2007 and he was remarried to Janie Liswezski in 2009, a union that would last until the end of his life. 

Eddie’s death rocked the entire nation. With such influence on the music industry, Van Halen’s death is being severely mourned across the country. 

“He played in a style never seen before,” reflected Ellard. 

Many Van Halen fans have set up memorials for Eddie at his childhood home, a liquor store, and at the Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard, where Eddie’s handprints remain. Fans have written messages in chalk and bought flowers and candles to commemorate Eddie’s life. 

Eddie’s contributions to the music industry wrote the blueprints for rock & roll. His talent and techniques will go down in history as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

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