Earlier this week, the death of Eddie Van Halen shook the music world.
If you want to know just how much Eddie meant to people, you’ve only got to look at the sheer wealth of tributes from across the entertainment industry that have flooded in.
It’s testament to just how important and how revolutionary a figure he was. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Eddie Van Halen changed the face of popular music and redefined what it meant to be a guitarist for a generation of players.
Lots of guitarists have been labelled as “virtuosos” over the years, but few actually are.
That’s not to say they aren’t great musicians or that they don’t have flair, panache and gusto in abundance. But actual, field-leading virtuosity? Not so much.
Eddie Van Halen was different. He was a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word; as important to the electric guitar as Rachmaninov and Chopin were to the piano.
As John 5 put it in a recent tribute:
“Eddie Van Halen was a modern-day Mozart, and it is just so sad to see him go. He was so young. He is immortal and will live on forever. He was an inventor and the greatest guitar player of all time... The thing is, he took guitar to such new places that no one has done before, and he was just such an incredible player. And on top of all of that, he was an incredible songwriter too.”
The revolutionary impact of his playing reverberated pretty much from the get-go. Legend has it that when Van Halen supported Black Sabbath at London’s Hammersmith in 1978, half of the crowd vanished after Eddie and co. finished their set; decamping to nearby pubs to try and make sense of what they’d just witnessed.
In the face of the literal Eruption that Edward brought to the stage, the lumbering, power chord chug of Iron Man was positively Jurassic.
Van Halen’s magic wasn’t just his formidable technique; it was the way he incorporated that genius into some of the most tight, considered and accessible popular music of the era.
Eddie was never what you’d call a “noodler.” He didn’t indulge in solos for the sake of solos or the kind of pissing contest extended jamming that guitarists of the previous generation were prone to. He wrote great songs, and then served and elevated those songs with the exceptional, out-there guitar playing he committed to record.
Sometimes, that virtuosity was on display in full force. Listen to the explosive lead breaks in “Unchained” or the incendiary introductory riff from “Hot For Teacher” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. But even when Ed pared it back, he still delivered the goods like no-one else. The solo in “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love,” for example, is deceptively simple, but devastatingly effective. You may be able to play it. But play it like Eddie? That’s another thing entirely.
Eddie Van Halen was a true original; there’ll never be another like him. But, that’s no bad thing. His innovative spirit lives on in the generations of players inspired by his music, seeking their own sound just as Eddie found his.
RIP Eddie Van Halen, and thank you for the music.
The Allmans’ recorded output went practically unnoticed. However, their reputation as a live act grew, thanks in no small part to their relentless touring schedule. In 1970 alone, the band played over 300 shows, honing their chops and building an underground following. Given the band’s prowess as a live act, talk inevitably turned to capturing the band in concert for a future release. As Duane Allman told DJ Ed Shane that year: "You know, we get kind of frustrated doing the [studio] records, and I think, consequently, our next album will be ... a live recording, to get some of that natural fire on it."
“If you want to be a rock star or just be famous, then run down the street naked, you'll make the news or something. But if you want music to be your livelihood, then play, play, play and play! And eventually you'll get to where you want to be.”
“I'm not a rock star. Sure I am, to a certain extent because of the situation, but when kids ask me how it feels to be a rock star, I say leave me alone, I'm not a rock star. I'm not in it for the fame, I'm in it because I like to play.”
“I never played one live! They were horrible," Stanley told Vintage Guitar in 1997. He was perhaps being uncharitable with that comment. Anyone who’s played a Marauder will likely tell you that they’re a fine – if unconventional – instrument. But you can see why Stanley, in a quest for KISS’s hard rock thunder, didn’t get on with the Fender-like axe. In the end, Stanley did find a purpose for the Marauder during KISS’s live shows...