The iconic sound of the Oberheim OB-Xa synthesizer, pounding out the intro to “Jump” was the perfect soundtrack of the glory days of the 80’s. Probably, the most memorable keyboard lick that guitar god, Eddie Van Halen is known for. The axe wielder of the one of the most celebrated rock bands of the 80’s Van Halen, breathed his last on Tuesday, as he lost a decade long battle with throat cancer.
A classically trained pianist, born in 1955 in the Netherlands, Van Halen moved to Pasadena California in 1962. He teamed up his brother Alex to form the eponymous rock band in 1972, only to make rock and roll history as one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time. Their energetic performances were fronted by the charismatic lead vocalist, David Lee Roth who’s larger than life persona could only be matched by the technical wizardry of Eddie Van Halen, leaving many a fan (and a couple of budding guitar gods) awestruck.
The emerging musical landscape of the late 70’s had on one end the very sanguine, squeaky-clean, synth driven, new wave of pop contrasting against the dark, edgy, aggressive vibe of the heavy metal and the punk rock scene. Van Halen with their California party band sound tapped into the middle ground resulting in a massive commercial success, which was also partly responsible in knocking disco off the charts. This success helped spawn the age of the hard partying, over the top flamboyant, 80’s hard rock bands like Motley Crue and Ratt.
Eddie Van Halen was a true innovator. He was constantly experimenting both with gear, recording techniques and playing techniques. He was one of the first to employ sampling on his solos, during recording sessions. His playing techniques included, a lot of harmonics, and textures that just came out of the way he picked. His formula was, god-like technical prowess along with just the right amount of heart, soul, and personality. Though not the inventor of it, he helped popularize finger tapping by taking it to the next level with his two handed technique. Those who claim to have not heard of Eddie Van Halen would most certainly have heard his blisteringly fast solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”.
Eddie Van Halen played a pivotal role in influencing the careers of some of the most prominent guitarists of the next two decades and beyond. Musicians the likes of Mark Morton of Lamb of God, who said that Eddie was the sole reason he took up guitar, Fall out boy’s Joe Trohman, Myles Kennedy, Satchel of Steel Panther, Reb Beach of Whitesnake/Winger and to a degree maybe even the likes of Joe Satrianni and Steve Vai.
Van Halen is among the top 20 bestselling artists of all time, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Between 1979 and 1982 the band had released four certified multi-platinum albums. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Eddie Van Halen at no. 8 in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
One of the most significant losses to rock and roll and the music world, there has been an outpouring of condolences from friends and fellow musicians. Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chilli Peppers tweeted,” Oh man, bless his beautiful creative heart. I love you Eddie Van Halen, an LA boy, a true rocker. I hope you jam with Jimi tonight. Break through to the other side my brother”. While Lenny Kravitz said, “Legendary guitar and musical innovator Edward Van Halen 1955-2020. Heaven will be electric tonight”.
Eddie Van Halen’s contribution to the world of the guitar, both the instrument and the method is immeasurable, knowingly or not, there’s a little bit of Eddie in the heart of every soloist. Guitar playing would have never be the same without his influence. He kept the torch held high when the light of guitar wizardry was about to fade, only to let it shine brighter than it ever was before.
He is survived by his son Wolfgang, wife of 11 years, Janie Liszewski and brother Alex.