Rock guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen dies at 65
Eddie Van Halen, whose dazzling guitar playing – combining complex harmonics, innovative fingerings and ingenious devices that he patented for his instrument – made him the most influential guitarist of his generation and his band, Van Halen , one of the most popular rock bands of all time, died on Tuesday. He was 65 years old.
Mr. Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, said in a press release that his father had “lost his long and arduous battle with cancer.” The statement does not say where he died.
Mr. Van Halen structured his solos the same way Macy’s choreographed his Independence Day fireworks: launching sound rockets that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, happy and ironic, making emotions deeper or darker out of place.
“Eddie made rock guitar smile again at a time when everything was getting a bit gloomy,” fellow guitar ace Joe Satriani told Billboard magazine in 2015. “He also scared a million guitarists because he ‘he was so fucked up good. “
Mr. Van Halen was most widely revered by his peers for perfecting the technique of two-handed tapping on the neck of the guitar. This approach allowed him to add new textures and percussion possibilities to his instrument, while making his six strings as expressive as the 88 keys of a piano or as changeable as a synthesizer. He received patents for three guitar devices he had created. In 2012, Guitar World Magazine ranked him # 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
“I always push things where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Van Halen told the Zocalo Public Square educational website in 2015. “When ‘Spinal Tap’ was going to 11, I was going to 15,” he says – a reference to this movie’s famous joke about a guitarist who dubiously claims that his amplifier can exceed his highest decibel level.
Mr. Van Halen’s playing zest blended perfectly with the hedonistic songs and personality of his hard rock band, Van Halen, whose original lineup included his brother Alex on drums, Michael Anthony on thunderous bass and vocalist. David Lee Roth, who presented a mind-boggling mix of Lothario, peacock and clown.
Formed in 1972, Van Halen has sold over 56 million albums in the United States alone. Ten of the group’s studio albums (some of which were cut with Sammy Hagar as lead singer during a lengthy split with Mr. Roth) went multi-platinum. One sold over six million copies (“5150” in 1986, featuring Mr. Hagar); another sold five million (“Van Halen II” in 1979); and two surpassed the 10 million mark to achieve “diamond” status (the group’s debut, “Van Halen,” in 1978, and “1984,” published the year in the title).
Eleven of the group’s studio albums reached the Top Five, and four landed No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. Van Halen amassed eight Billboard Top 20 singles, including his cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, which reached number 12 in 1982, and “Jump”, which grabbed the premiere. up in 1984 and held it for five weeks. In 2007, the group – comprising both Mr. Roth and Mr. Hagar – were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on January 26, 1955 in Amsterdam to Jan and Eugenia (Beers) Van Halen. His father, a struggling Dutch classical musician who played clarinet, saxophone and piano, met his Indonesian-born wife while touring Indonesia.
In 1962, when Mr. Van Halen was 7 years old, his family moved to the United States, driven by prejudice against his mother and unfavorable work opportunities in the Netherlands. They settled in Pasadena, California. His mother worked as a maid, his father as a janitor while looking for work as a musician.
In a new country, with a new language to learn, Van Halen’s sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as a lingua franca. Eddie first studied classical piano, in which he excelled despite a serious limitation.
“I never learned to read music,” he told Rolling Stone in 1995. “I cheated on my teacher for six years. He never knew. I watched his fingers and I cheated on her. was playing.
Inspired by British band Dave Clark Five, Mr. Van Halen and his brother started playing rock ‘n’ roll, with Eddie on drums and Alex on guitar. They changed instruments after Eddie found out his brother had better percussion skills.
The siblings formed their first group in 1964, the Broken Combs, which became the Trojan Rubber Company. In 1972, they formed a new group, called Genesis, although there was already a British group of the same name. They rented a sound system from Mr Roth, whom they eventually hired as a singer – but only, Mr Van Halen later said, to save the rental money. Two years later, they recruited Michael Anthony on bass and changed their name first to Mammoth and then to Van Halen.
The quartet developed a loyal following in clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood and were featured on Gene Simmons of Kiss. Impressed by their arrogance as well as their talent, he produced their first demo and took it to his band manager to sign them – to no avail.
Regardless, Van Halen’s growing reputation in Los Angeles clubs quickly caught the attention of Warner Bros. Mo Ostin. Records, who went with producer and A&R manager Ted Templeman to see the band at the Starwood club. Mr. Ostin offered them a contract that evening.
Van Halen recorded his first album for the label in just three weeks, using few overdubs, to better capture his brilliance in concert. Released in early 1978, the album broke the Billboard Top 20 and thus reaffirms the power of hard rock at a time when disco, punk and new wave dominated.
Equally important, the album alerted the world to a new kind of guitar hero, one who ignored the blues-rock roots of the previous generation of guitar gods, like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, for grow what looked like roots of its own. In the studio and on stage, Mr. Van Halen could make the guitar sound like a diving plane one moment and a group of wild hyenas the next.
His solo track from the album, “Eruption,” showcased his finger-tapping technique, which set a new bar for guitar pyrotechnics. While other guitarists – notably Allan Holdsworth, a major influence – had used this approach before, Mr. Van Halen had noticed that “no one was going more than a stretch and a note, very quickly,” he said. he stated in a 1979 interview that was published 20 years later in Classic Rock magazine. “I hadn’t really seen anyone get involved as far as they could.”
To anchor their solo flights and attract the masses, the band’s material, although it leaned towards heavy metal, used catchy melodies and pop hooks. The songwriting credits were divided among the four members, but Mr. Van Halen wrote the central riffs.
Expanding their mix of mania and melody on “Van Halen 2”, the band made their way into the Billboard Top 10, a feat repeated by their next three releases. These works served as a model for what became a major trend of the ’80s: hair-metal bands, all led by colorful singers, like Mr. Roth, who roared sexually charged lyrics in songs that balanced the soft hooks with the flashiest guitar work possible, heavily influenced by Mr. Van Halen.
But by the band’s “1984” album, he had pulled a switch, increasing his sound with keyboards played by Mr. Van Halen. This clever approach helped make “1984” the band’s best-selling album and made “Jump” their only song to top the charts.
Mr. Van Halen heightened his own notoriety with a guest appearance in Michael Jackson’s mega-hit “Beat It” in 1983, for which he not only contributed a star solo, but also rearranged the song. And this new presence in the limelight only further fueled the long-simmering personal and creative conflicts with Mr Roth, prompting the singer to leave the band in 1985 for a solo career.
His replacement, Mr. Hagar, had released a series of successful solo albums. While die-hard fans missed out on the original lineup, Van Halen’s debut outing with Mr. Hagar, “5150,” gave the band their No. 1 Billboard debut album and single, “Why Can’t This Be Love.” , reached No. 3. The group’s next three albums, all led by Mr. Hagar, also topped the charts, while the “Live: Right Here, Right Now” concert set climbed to No. 5.
Still, tensions developed between Mr Van Halen and Mr Hagar, forcing the singer to leave the group in 1996. A subsequent proposal to meet with Mr Roth collapsed on the usual arguments. “I don’t think the guy was ever real,” Mr. Van Halen said of Mr. Roth to Rolling Stone. “I never felt a connection.”
For the group’s third frontman, Van Halen hired Gary Cherone, formerly of metal band Extreme. And while the only album with him, “Van Halen III”, broke the Top Five in 1998, it didn’t sell as well as previous efforts and received scathing reviews.
A dark period followed for Mr Van Halen, during which, as he later admitted, his alcohol and drug use increased. He separated from his wife, actress Valérie Bertinelli, whom he married in 1981 (they divorced in 2007), and the group lost their contract with Warner Bros. He also had to undergo hip replacement in 1999 and the following year underwent treatment for cancer of the tongue. In 2002, he was declared cancer free after having had a third of his tongue removed.
Two years later, the group reunited with Mr. Hagar for a successful compilation and tour, although Mr. Van Halen’s alcohol consumption increased again, causing problems which led Mr. Hagar to quit the group for the second. times. After much speculation, Van Halen finally reunited with Mr Roth for a tour in 2007, when the group fired Mr Anthony, whose talents Mr Van Halen had long questioned. His replacement on bass was Wolfgang, Mr. Van Halen’s 17-year-old son.
The return tour was a huge success, although Mr. Van Halen continued to drink. He eventually entered rehab and announced in 2008 that he was sober.
Four years later, Van Halen released their first new album in 14 years, “A Different Kind of Truth”, which was also the group’s first with Mr. Roth in 28 years and their only one to feature Wolfgang Van Halen. The album reached No. 2 on the Billboard, and several very successful tours followed.
In 2019, reports surfaced that Mr Van Halen was being treated for throat cancer. The following year Mr. Roth told Rolling Stone: “I think the band is finished.”
Besides his son and brother, Mr. Van Halen is survived by his wife, Janie (Liszewski) Van Halen, whom he married in 2009.
In his 1979 interview, Mr. Van Halen clarified his guiding principle for the group. “All we’re trying to do is put the excitement back into rock’n’roll,” he said. “A lot of people seem to have forgotten what rock ‘n’ roll is. We are very energetic. We go up there and blaze.