It’s with heavy heart that I compose these words to describe how significantly I feel about the passing of one of my all-time favourite and most inspirational guitar heroes - one Eddie Van Halen. I really would not have thought it would have made me feel quite so emotional - possibly it’s been accentuated by this weird period we’re all currently living through - but I’m really feeling the loss - just as painfully as when Bowie and Prince passed in 2016.
I will freely admit that I wasn’t onboard right from the start - I obviously wasn’t mixing in with the right crowds back when the wholly game-changing eponymous ’Van Halen’ album was released in 1978. In fact it wasn’t really until ’1984’ rolled around with its trio of heavy hitters - Jump, Panama and Hot for Teacher that I really got captivated - probably set up by Eddie’s solo work on Michael Jackson’s smash hit ’Beat It’ which came out in the previous year (1983).
Once I was onboard I immediately picked up on 1978’s ’Van Halen’ which is still such a firm favourite of mine and which I still have on regular rotation - those were all the tracks I originally had to learn to play - in particular ’I’m the One’ and ’Ain’t Talking’ bout Love’. The only track on that album I’m not particularly enamoured with is ’Ice Cream Man’ - even though is does admittedly have a great solo section - all else is killer as far as I’m concerned!
If you listen to ’I’m the One’ in particular that’s just the ultimate riff-fest really and features so many of Eddie’s signature techniques - including plenty of tapping and harmonics work. That one album is absolutely a genre-defining Rock ’N Roll essential. Few albums have ever been this consistent or overwhelmingly innovatively influential. People may disagree about how to order the tracks by brilliance - and several, possibly most would vote for ’Eruption’ for the top spot, while I feel that ’I’m The One’ is the one that best encapsulates the essence of Eddie’s brilliance and virtuosity - he obviously wrote and arranged these pieces too - so a perfect marriage of craft and technique as far as I’m concerned.
I had intended this article to be a celebration of Eddie’s songs, sounds and techniques which I will do via my favourite Eddie tracks - as below. First I would just like to touch on how his ’Brown Sound’ has been such a big part of my own guitar / rig tone library - and how I’ve ended up with over 20 EVH-style distortion pedals, plus choruses, flangers and phasers of various types in my ongoing quest to perfect my own take on Eddie’s signature sounds. My actual guitar playing isn’t quite up to standard yet - but I can certainly get the feel and texture of Eddie’s superb sizzling soundstage - while my own version is possibly a little bit different to the original - but it’s how I hear it! I have been in the process of composing an article to feature the best choices for replicating that EVH distortion sound - and it seems even more fitting now that it be a bookmark in Eddie’s legacy.
I would just like to round this off by stating that I never met the man himself alas despite best intentions - but his positive and jovial spirit, technique and feel for sound are something that inspire me to pick up the guitar nearly every day. My pedal-chain is a sort of smorgasbord of my favourite guitar heroe’s tones - and there has always been and always will be a sizeable section of tone components dedicated to Eddie.
In any case here are my favourite Eddie musical moments in rough order of preference and listening pleasure - but of course subject to change as it all somewhat depends on mood! I initially thought I should do a top 10 - but as often happens with my stuff it kind of spirals out from there ... to a more representative 16 - I tried to select those videos which had the best sound quality and best focused on Eddie’s playing - but unfortunately not everything is necessarily tip-top quality out here on the interweb. Nevertheless - these are my key inspirations and the sounds I do my best to emulate :
I decided in the end that I should add Steve from Boston's emotional and poignant tribute to Eddie - he reflects absolutely how many of us were feeling last night. Of particular interest is the segment towards the end where Steve shares his insights and examples of many of Eddie's uniquely brilliant techniques - a very fitting tribute all told.
I also thought that Leigh Fuge's brief Eddie Riffology tutorial would be a good bookend to this commemoration.