Memories Of Eddie Van Halen, A Once-In-A-Generation Guitarist

Like many of you, I was weirdly stunned to learn this past Tuesday that Eddie Van Halen had passed away, even though I was well aware of his past and present battles with cancer. Even though I had heard he was receiving experimental medical treatments overseas, and band mate David Lee Roth had told media outlets in January that Eddie “wasn’t doing well,” I still can’t quite believe he’s gone. Van Halen, and Eddie’s guitar playing in particular, are woven into my adolescence. Every band I started with my friends, from junior high forward, would find the guitar players trying in vain to learn “Eruption,” the masterful instrumental guitar explosion found on the first Van Halen record from 1978. “Dance The Night Away,” their first single from their second album, dominated radio at the beginning of the ‘80’s, and my and my other hard-rock high school buddies blasted “Unchained” out of our boom-boxes on Doheny Beach throughout or Junior Year. Van Halen’s “Fair Warning” Tour, in the Summer of ‘81, gave me the opportunity to attend my first real rock concert. After securing a ticket for $14 from a pal at school (I still have the stub in my scrapbook!) I packed my younger brother and two friends into my VW Beetle and drove the 45 miles from my house to The Great Western Forum in LA to see the show. There was no opening act; the lights went out at showtime and a red spotlight showed down on Bass Player Michael Anthony as he plucked out the familiar notes to “Runnin’ with the Devil” while the crowd went wild. From the Van Halen cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” to their more poppy material like “Jump” and scorching rockers like “Hot for Teacher,” that bands’ music was central to my pre-adult life experience. Second lead vocalist Sammy Hagar, who fronted the band from 1985 to 1996, was quoted as saying “Eddie was not only a Guitar God, he was also a beautiful soul.” RIP Edward 🙁

John Young