Eddie Van Halen
About Eddie Van Halen
Speaking to CNN in 2012, Eddie Van Halen remembered being in a record store in the early ’80s and hearing a group of kids gripe about the guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”—an uncredited interlude Van Halen himself had played in exchange either for some beer or for nothing at all, depending on who’s telling the tale. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That is me.’”
One of the most pyrotechnical players in rock, Van Halen helped redefine the guitar as a vehicle for almost classical-level virtuosity, forging a tech-centric style that broke new ground for how people heard—and understood—the instrument. Born Edward Lodewijk Van Halen in Amsterdam but raised in 1960s Pasadena, California, he started out on piano but moved to guitar in his early teens, developing an obsessive, almost hermetic practice habit that carried over well into his professional career. (His recording studio, 5150, took its name from the California code for an involuntary psychiatric hold—a metaphor, one could infer, for his relationship to music.)
In the early '70s, he cofounded Van Halen—alongside his drummer brother Alex and singer David Lee Roth—a band whose fleet, powerful sound (“Jump,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Everybody Wants Some!!”) bridged hard rock and mainstream pop. With the exception of the occasional dalliance, Van Halen stayed true to the band for more than four decades, not to mention through three lead singers, most notably Roth, whose showmanship provided a natural balance to Van Halen’s technical mastery. In a typical quip, Eddie once said, “I’m a musician, Dave’s a rock star.”
Despite his tremendous litany of credits, his definitive moment—or minute and forty-two seconds, to be precise—is probably “Eruption,” a brief, showstopping demo that fused blues, classical, metal, and a wild two-handed playing technique called tapping. Originally designed as a warm-up exercise, the piece was recorded in one pass at the behest of the band’s producer, Ted Templeman, and is often considered one of the greatest solos of all time, a new benchmark for what the instrument could do. Reflecting on his own performance in a 1996 interview, Van Halen—ever the perfectionist—remained credulous but unimpressed. “I didn’t even play it right,” he said. “There’s a mistake at the top end of it. To this day, whenever I hear it I always think, ‘Man, I could’ve played it better.’” Van Halen died of cancer in October 2020 at the age of 65.
HOMETOWNNijmegen, The Netherlands
BORNJanuary 26, 1955