Eddie Van Halen, guitarist and founder of the legendary 80’s hard rock band Van Halen, died on Tuesday 6 October 2020.
We remember him today on the first anniversary of his death. The group, popularized by their hit Jump which has sold millions of copies worldwide, was founded by Eddie and his older brother and drummer Alex, with singer David Lee Roth.
But the legends are told from the beginning, so let’s get started.
The legend of Eddie Van Halen
A life in music
Eddie Van Halen, full name Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, was born on January 26, 1955 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
The Van Halen family emigrated in 1962 to Pasadena, California, to the United States. Eddie and Alex’s father, Jan Van Halen, was an accomplished saxophonist and clarinetist. Jan encouraged his children’s passion for music very early on, so Alex (the eldest of the Van Halen brothers) and Eddie both received classical piano education as children.
As they got older, Alex started taking flamenco guitar lessons and Eddie got interested in drums. According to legend, Eddie worked as a newspaper delivery boy to buy his first drumset. While Eddie worked, Alex practiced his brother’s drums. When Eddie heard his brother play the drum solo for the song “Wipe Out“, he decided to give up on drums for the guitar.
The musician who most influenced Eddie is Eric Clapton (from Cream) while Alex was most influenced by Ginger Baker (also from Cream ) and John Bonham (drummer of Led Zeppelin to whom we have dedicated an article).
The birth of Van Halen
During elementary and middle school, Eddie and Alex at different times formed several groups with names like “The Trojan Rubber Company”, “The Broken Combs” and “The Space Brothers“.
The group that later evolved into Van Halen was originally a trio known as “Mammoth” touring many locations around Los Angeles. The group included Eddie on guitar and vocals, Alex on drums and Mark Stone on bass.
In 1974, Michael Anthony replaced Mark Stone on bass after auditioning for the band. Subsequently, Eddie Van Halen and Anthony took turns singing.
The year before, David Lee Roth, a local entrepreneur and lead singer of a rival Los Angeles band, rented audio equipment from Mammoths. But Eddie and Alex had grown tired of paying the “sound tax” to Diamond Dave (David Lee Roth), so they brought him into the band in 1974 as a singer.
They soon discovered that another Los Angeles group was also called “Mammoth”. At Roth’s suggestion, they changed their name to “Van Halen” (passing over the name “Rat Salad”). Roth explains in his autobiography that he found the name “Van Halen” similar to the name Santana and that it gave the impression of power.
The band became popular on the Sunset Strip in the mid-1970s, playing in clubs like Whiskey a Go Go.
Gene Simmons’s contribution
In 1976, Gene Simmons of the hard rock band Kiss noticed a Van Halen concert and decided to finance their concert and first demo tape. This cassette, known as the “Gene Simmons Demo”, contains unfinished or different lyrics from the early Van Halen songs; however, Kiss management did not sign with the group.
It was with Mo Ostin, a Warner Bros executive, that the group signed. Ostin in fact discovered (or rediscovered) the group and offered them to record a demo of 25 songs of which 9 would appear on their first album. The recording lasted just three weeks, but it’s a perfect summary of what Van Halen are musically.
Success and first Van Halen issues
Van Halen went platinum in 1978 with their first album while their second, Van Halen II, took only two months to be certified platinum.
For the next four years, Van Halen released a series of albums and tours in Europe and Japan. Their third album, “Women and Children First” was released in 1980 and was certified platinum three months later.
It was during this tour that the group developed a barbaric attitude, looting most of the hotels they were staying in. In the midst of all this, Eddie noticed Valerie Bertinelli, a television series actress, who had come to congratulate the group after one of their concerts.
They married a few months later, in 1981 and had a son, Wolfgang van Halen.
And in the same year Van Halen started writing their next album, “Fair Warning”. But tensions arose between Eddie and David. Eddie, who drank a lot and used cocaine, wanted to experiment, to move towards more serious songs and more complex structures, far away from David’s pop escapades.
Frustrated at not being able to express himself as he would have liked, Eddie considered leaving the group and almost joined Kiss, whose members were also in conflict with their guitarist.
Eventually, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley decided not to hire Eddie, arguing that despite his great talent as a guitarist, he didn’t fit the style of the band. Eddie then decided not to leave Van Halen and ended up re-recording parts of the album in the wee hours of the morning, when he was alone.
Eddie Van Halen’s “tapping”
Speaking of great talent, Eddie Van Halen is credited with popularizing tapping, a guitar technique that consists of playing notes by hammer-ons and pull-offs in succession with the left hand while playing a single note with the right hand.
He performed this technique in the Eruption song. Eddie Van Halen is said to have had the idea of tapping during a Led Zeppelin concert on Heartbreaker, others claim it is while he was trying to play an Allan Holdsworth song.
In concert, in order not to reveal his technique, Eddie Van Halen played with his back to the audience. A singular curiosity! Speaking of curiosities, we have another one that has become a legend, which we actually told you about in a previous article and which we will tell you in a few lines!
Eddie Van Halen contributed to the success of guitar pedal MXR Phase 90, which has greatly influenced his style in some pieces. MXR has also created a custom version of this effect dedicated to him.
The time that Eddie Van Halen played for Michael Jackson
It was 1983 and Michael Jackson’s production tried to give a rock tone to his latest production: “Beat it”, inserted in the Thriller album.
The idea of inserting an openly rock song into the album came from Quincy Jones, who asked the King of Pop to compose a song similar to My Sharona by Knack, but even better. When Quincy Jones called Van Halen to ask him to give the song his magic touch, the guitarist thought it was a phone prank, as he himself recounted in a CNN interview in 2012. “
‘Are you Eddie?’ Quincy Jones began. ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘I’m Quincy’. And I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He said ‘Quincy Jones, man’. And I ‘Oh, sorry!’ I asked him, ‘What can I do for you?’. And he said, ‘Would you like to come and play on Michael Jackson’s new record?’ And I was thinking to myself, ‘OK, I’m ABC, 1, 2, 3’. How can this work? ‘ I still wasn’t 100% sure it was him. I said, “Ok, see you tomorrow at your studio.” Well, when I got there, it was Quincy, Michael Jackson and the engineers. They were making records! “.
At the end of the recording, after two hours of work and an exceptional 20-second solo, Eddie refused to be paid in cash, but asked for a symbolic fee: a case of beer and dance lessons from Michael Jackson himself. Quincy Jones, given the exorbitant costs of the album, was happy to oblige! The members of Van Halen however thought differently!
Jump and other hits
The 1984 album went five times platinum after a year of release and its most famous single, Jump, became the first and only No. 1 of the band and gave them a Grammy nomination.
A curiosity about the piece: Jump, a hard rock anthem brought about by synth riffs that had been composed by Eddie Van Halen but initially rejected by the other members of the group, had finally appeared on their best-selling album, 1984, and had remained five weeks of ranks at the top of the American charts.
The song traditionally accompanies the entry of Marseille football team players onto their pitch and OM paid tribute to the late guitarist on their Twitter account.
As of March 2019, Van Halen has risen to 20th place on the RIAA list of best-selling artists in the United States with 56 million albums in the States and over 80 million worldwide .
The band also set a record of thirteen # 1 in the special Mainstream Rock Songs chart. In all these years the band has seen David Lee Roth leave and re-enters perhaps more than any other band. After David Lee Roth’s departure, Van Halen continued to release albums and perform with singers Sammy Hagar and then Gary Cherone, but never regained the popularity of the early period.
In January 2007, Van Halen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The last years of Eddie Van Halen
In 2000, doctors had to remove part of Eddie Van Halen’s tongue due to a tumor, which he attributed – without evidence – to the use of metal picks.
“I used metal, bronze and copper picks, which I always kept in my mouth, exactly where I had tongue cancer” … “Besides, I practically live in a recording studio full of electromagnetic energy” ,
He added, admitting that decades of smoking may not have helped his health.
He further said that he had been drinking and smoking since the age of 12 but had not yet spent his career celebrating. “I don’t drink for fun,” he said. “Alcohol and cocaine are things I use in private, for work” and for creativity.
By dint of excess, Val Halen had become an alcoholic, which precipitated his divorce from actress Valerie Bertinelli in 2007, after 16 years of marriage. He said he got sober the following year.
Eddie Van Halen said he didn’t really remember composing his band’s most famous songs about him, like Eruption or Panama. “I don’t remember, it just felt like this,” he explained. And the guitarist told Billboard that he barely listened to music. “It’s a weird thing, but I’ve been like this all my life. I couldn’t make a contemporary record if I wanted to, because I don’t know what contemporary music looks like, “he said.
In 2012, the band had to cancel concerts in Japan due to Eddie Van Halen’s emergency surgery. Three years later, the musicians again set off on a long tour of the United States and Canada. Heavy smoker, drug addict, Eddie Van Halen fought with all his might against digestive cancer.
Death and legacy
On 6 October 2020 Wolfgang Van Halen announced on Twitter “My father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, lost his long and difficult battle with cancer this morning”.
Eddie Van Halen is consecrated 70th best guitarist of all time by the American magazine Rolling Stone in the ranking of the 100 best guitarists of all time in 2003 and eighth in the list in 2011.
Let’s not forget the genius behind the man, who built a guitar himself by buying a body and neck from the Boogie Bodies for about $ 80 and who, once the pieces were assembled, gave life to what would later become his legendary Frankenstrat. I had the pleasure of seeing it at the MET in New York, as the picture below testifies.
We leave you with the words of the son, who told who Eddie Van Halen really was: “He was the best father you could dream of. Every moment I shared with him on and off stage was a gift, “said his son Wolfgang Van Halen, who replaced the band’s lead bassist (Michael Anthony) in 2007 when David Lee Roth reunited with VanHalen for a tour, after a separation of more than 20 years.
Speaking of David Lee Roth, it’s fresh cool news that the musician has retired. Here it is: Musica: David Lee Roth, ‘vado in pensione’ – Musica – ANSA.
Another proof that we have not stopped talking about Van Halen yet.