Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen (Shutterstock)

Eddie Van Halen

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And the cradle will no longer rock.

That’s my favorite Van Halen song. It sounds so alive, but Eddie Van Halen isn’t.

He paid his dues. You’ve got to be a virtuoso. When no one is watching, no one is paying attention, you’re on a mission.

And then they started knocking around town. Most bands fermented in their local burb and ultimately pulled up roots and moved to Hollywood. Van Halen started here. And you could see them all the time. At clubs like the Starwood or Gazzarri’s, which never featured stars, just those on the way up or those who would never make it. The stars played the Whisky, the Troubadour, the Roxy. You went to the Starwood and Gazzarri’s to rock, to hang with like-minded people, it was a niche, and few broke out of it.

So Gene Simmons decided to pony up for a demo. We knew because we heard it on KROQ. “Runnin’ With The Devil.”

But still, Van Halen was stuck in no-man’s land. Everybody in L.A. knew them, but no one outside Tinseltown did. One wondered if their moment was gonna pass.

And it was not an act that played nicely with others. As in it didn’t always fit. Van Halen were born to be headliners. I saw them opening for Nils Lofgren at the Santa Monica Civic before the first album came out. David Lee Roth resembled no one so much as Jim Dandy, of the execrable Black Oak Arkansas. A larger than life cartoon that was playing to the back row of the arena even though we were in a theatre. As for Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, it was so loud and I was so close that it all washed over me, I didn’t get it.

Until “Van Halen II.” When the clerks at Rhino Records were testifying how great Eddie was, and they didn’t like anybody unless they were obscure, and someone playing this kind of music? It perked up my ears.

So, they were always around.


I took a class with Jim Rissmiller, he’s gone now too, about concert promotion. He brought in Noel Monk, the band’s manager at the time, and Noel filled us in on “Diver Down,” which was imminent. But it was “1984” that broke the band wide, I mean to everybody.

And David Lee Roth thought he was the act, but it was always Eddie Van Halen, always. Van Halen could continue with a new lead singer, but not without Eddie. Van Halen was one of the very few bands that could succeed at the same level with a new lead singer, that’s testimony to Van Halen’s skills. Sammy Hagar has the pipes, but look at the venues Hagar’s playing now.

But back to “1984.” It was released on New Year’s Day, when at the time no one put out any music in January whatsoever. And it dominated the airwaves. “Jump” was in the jukebox at the Rainbow, it was played over and over that spring and summer, long after it had left the airwaves.

And of course Van Halen was supercharged by MTV. But somehow they truly bridged the gap. Most of the classic rockers, those with careers before the music television service, did performance videos, where they stood still, Van Halen jumped around, to the point where Eddie had to get his hips replaced.

Actually, my favorite track on “1984” is “I’ll Wait.” That was one of the album’s breakthroughs. Not only was Eddie a star on guitar, he mastered the keys too, he could add new sounds, he wanted to grow.

And Dave went on to sing about “California Girls” as the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony licked their wounds and then two years later, the newly configured Van Hagar came out with “5150.”

The hit was “Why Can’t This Be Love.” The work track, the one that came out in advance. And at first it was different, you didn’t quite get it, but then you couldn’t get enough of it, you played it over and over again.

It was still the vinyl era. I bought the LP the day it came out. And it’s very good. At this point its most famous, most played cut, is “Dreams,” which could never be done with Dave, but my favorite opens the second side, “Best of Both Worlds.” It was the riff and the dynamics. From loud to understated. I tingle as I listen right now. This wasn’t pure balls to the wall, it mixed in-your-face with subtle, twisting and turning along the way.

And if you watch the video live from New Haven, not only can you see Eddie play the notes effortlessly, you see him moving in time, dancing at the front of the stage and the effect is one of pure, unmitigated joy. Isn’t that the point, to let the sound elevate your mood, to take you to heaven right here on earth?


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And Sammy’s manager, Ed Leffler lifted the band to new financial heights. They were true superstars. They continued while everyone else faded.

As for the ill-fated encore with Gary Cherone, let’s forget it, everyone else has.

But we can never forget what came before.

Van Halen hooked up with Ted Templeman and redid “Runnin’ With the Devil” and it was all over the radio in L.A.

Eddie Van Halen lived his life like there was no tomorrow. As did those caught up in the sound. To the point there are tons of old fans scraping by, they never expected the sound to die.

And it turned out the simple life wasn’t that simple. Once you made the record you went on the endless road, where you got high and got laid but it was never enough and you could not get off the treadmill and Eddie got further into drink to cope. It’s hard to be a hero when you’re shy and you’re not sure if people truly understand you.

As for Jamie cryin’…the bands did not want to get stuck, they were reaching for the brass ring, settling down to a traditional life was not in the cards, you made it or died trying, there was no safety net.

And Eddie could make covers his own, but it was always the originals that gripped you, you truly wanted to dance the night away. And when you did you were singing along at the top of your lungs, even if you couldn’t hear yourself, because you bonded with the sound, it was your sound, your life. We all wanted some. As for Junior’s grades…school didn’t help you in rock and roll, it was religion, not something you could learn in class, you were either bitten by the bug or you were not, and those of us who were needed heroes to put our faith in, like Eddie Van Halen.


So where have all the good times gone?

That’s what I want to know. They evaporated. Rod Stewart sold out and sang the Great American Songbook which a rock fan might have heard on the way up, but never wanted to hear again. We believed, we put our faith in you, you weren’t supposed to let us down. It was love with Van Halen. We were looking for something to fill the hole and Eddie always did.

Did Eddie finish what he started?

I guess he did, but it doesn’t feel that way. We expected him to pull through. We expected to see him on the boards again.

And Eddie forged his own path. You know if you see his original Frankenstein guitar. If you owned it you wouldn’t let it leave your bedroom, it appeared that fragile. But in Eddie’s hands not only was it solid, it emanated the elixir of life, that’s what music provides when it’s done right, and Van Halen did it right.

What can I tell you. Everybody on the inside knew Eddie was sick. But he was sick for so long it looked like he would always be with us. But now he’s not.

And Eddie had a reputation for being off-putting, but the truth was he was just gun-shy, that’s how you get when you’ve been ripped-off and pushed around so much, some people embrace stardom, others know to put it on a shelf, they know who they are, and they don’t want the accolades to change who they are.

And first and foremost Eddie Van Halen was a musician. He’d be silent and uncomfortable, but if you got him into conversation, if he trusted you, he’d light up, he’d talk a mile a minute about music, he was passionate. That’s the essence of a great artist, that passion, the quest, which has got more to do with the music than the fame, the fame is just a byproduct.

So we expect the classic rockers to die. After all, many are pushing eighty. But Eddie Van Halen came from the second generation, he didn’t make it in the sixties but the seventies, and he knew what came before, he’d digested the Beatles, unlike today’s rockers he knew about melody and song structure.

But we don’t expect anybody from the second generation to die yet, unless it’s an accident, or…

The Big C.

It knows no limits, no matter how rich you are, oftentimes no matter how healthy you eat and live, it can still get you, it can still bite you in the ass.

Now one of the great things about being a musician is if you do it right your work sustains. And the work of so many of the bands of the seventies and eighties has already been forgotten, but not Van Halen, never Van Halen.

And there will be no more Van Halen. Without Eddie you just can’t do it, no one can replace him. Didn’t we learn that with Dave, with his revolving door of axemen? You see it isn’t solely about skill, it’s something more than that, it’s inspiration. Being able to transcend what has come before and create something new. To the point where Eddie Van Halen has a place in the same cadre of guitarists as Clapton, Page and Beck. Like Jimi Hendrix before him, Eddie Van Halen tested the limits, came up with a new sound. Suddenly everybody was tapping, trying to re-create “Eruption.” But the key is to come up with it first, to innovate, to push the envelope for the thrill of it all.

And it wasn’t only guys who were fans, but girls too, which wasn’t always the case with these bands. And Eddie married America’s sweetheart and looked like he was living the life, but life is more complicated than that.

Janie got Eddie clean. She sat him on the couch and said he was going to do rehab her way. And it stuck. But you can use all the bullets in your arsenal and still not beat the Big C.

And now I don’t want to end this. I could write about Van Halen forever. And I have, many a time.

And there’s such exuberance in tracks like “And the Cradle Will Rock…”

And such gravitas in numbers like “Love Walks In.”

It’s a conundrum. Eddie could do more than one thing, it was fascinating to follow the evolution.

But now it’s done.

But on hot summer nights to come we’ll still have that mellifluous sound of his guitar coming out of dashboards, out of earbuds. Van Halen was the sound of life, how can Eddie be dead?

I’m in shock.


Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note that these comments are not edited for grammar or content.

Edward Van Halen was one of the best friends I ever had. No one will be like him! I knew him as a close riend more than the guitar hero. The legend.
I knew the man. 40+ years. The world has lost a game changer and someone I loved dearly.

Steve Lukather

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When we were opening up the Microsoft Theatre, Neil Young was playing one night. Larry Vallon and I were at Neil Young together and I mentioned that Van Halen was across the across the street playing at Staples Center. Larry and I went through the tunnel from the theatre to the arena and we popped out right next to the stage. We stood there a few minutes and the band went into a drum solo. Eddie walked off stage and down the stairs, put his guitar away and walked right over to Larry and shook his hand. Larry said, “Edward, how are you.” Eddie smiled and turned around, picked up another guitar and went back on stage. What a memory. Two legends, Eddie and Larry.

Skip Paige

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As for true mind blowing Guitar innovation you can say Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.
All the others including the greats we all know fall in behind these 3.
It’s true Ed had an amazing left hand on the fretboard that brought the boys to the yard but it’s his right hand that brought the girls. He was FUNKY and all the gals could dance to his riffs.
He was a kind sweet soul underneath it all and I shall miss him.
RIP EVH

Stevie Salas

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Eddie rarely played guitar on anybody’s albums but his own.
He played Van Halen music.Many years ago I was rehearsing at SIR in Los Angeles and we stopped for a moment and I heard this powerful,fevered,operatic sound coming from the room next to us so I went over and knocked on the door and he said “Come on in Michael.” I think we did a Humble pie song. …I saw him play many times upfront & dazzled…
All those nine-year-olds you talk about,who are shredding on YouTube,were locked & loaded by the shimmering Eddie Van Halen. Notes tapped & cascading from another world entirely.There never will be anyone like him…
I too, am in Shock.

Michael Des Barres.

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Wow, I am hurting on this one and since I heard the horrible news today I have had so many flashbacks. The many concerts, the interviews I did with him and the band for their radio world premier broadcasts, the nights at Camp Leffler hearing the finished (and unfinished) albums before their release and so many more. A funny story with one of those radio shows I produced…it was for VH3, which debuted Gary Cherone. I had talked Ray Danniels and the WB team and pushed hard for it to happen live and I think everyone was a bit nervous. Well the decision was made to do it and it was at the Key Club/Billboard Live and that was originally Gazzarri’s (you know the history). The band was doing a live set on the air, we were playing back the album and interview. Well we start, the band and I walk on stage and immediately Eddie has the crew take my chair and bring out a toilet with him making no bones about it…that was where I was going to do the interview from. We all laughed our asses off, settled in quite well and had a tremendous night and performance. Eddie loosened us all up and his sense of humor shined brightly.

One more, Eddie produced the band Private Life and asked me if I would record their EPK with the band and of course I said yes. Well during that time of their first track getting released to radio, WB Promo guru’s Stu Cohen, Kenny Puvogel and I came up with idea of Eddie being at the Album Network office the Tuesday of release. Back then all of the PD’s and MD’s called their new adds and playlist’s in. Well we let them know that Eddie was there if they added Private Life Eddie would do an interview with the station right then!!! Needless to say, that went over huge and coincidentally that day Elvis Costello also visited us and the two actually met and exchanged pleasantries.

So many more stories that I am sure many of your readers will share. RIP Eddie, and sincere condolences to Janie, Wolf and Alex. One of the best guitarists that ever lived!!!!

Sincerely,

Tommy Nast

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This is heartbreaking. As phenomenal as his talent was, it was his heart that I’ll always remember. Whenever I saw him it was always a hug and a kiss and an “I love you, Steve.” I first met Ed in 1980 when I was working for Carol Ross at The Press Office (my first job after college and first job in the music biz). We had been contacted by Noel Monk who asked us to come to Nassau Coliseum to see the show and meet the band to talk about PR representation. I met Ed and we had an immediate connection and became fast friends. The band signed on, I was assigned the account and I was off. It really was like running away to join the circus. My work for the band between 1980-1985 speaks for itself and it was something I took great pride in and they asked me back in 1993-1994. But I’m most proud of being one of the very few people to encourage Ed to pursue his keyboard explorations. He would play me the most amazing demos and he was so sad and frustrated that Roth and Templeman expressed little interest. I would constantly remind him that it was his name on the band and since he wrote the music, he should just do what he wants. In the years to come, he would always thank me for giving him the encouragement to stick to his guns.

It was really special to be able to listen to his playing night after night – it didn’t matter if he was on stage, backstage, on the bus, in the hotel or in the studio – it was always mind blowing.

I will miss that big smile, the glorious brown sound of the Frankenstrat and the music that might have come. My deepest condolences go out to Janie, Al, Wolf , Valerie and everyone at 5150.

Steven Mandel

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It’s late ‘94. I was standing in line about to board a flight from Amsterdam to London and as I’m standing there Van Halen joins the queue. We get on the plane and our bass player happens to be seated next to EVH. He graciously comes over to my seat and says, “there’s no way I’m NOT gonna let you sit next to Eddie” and switches seats with me.
I’m a fairly reserved guy, but as soon as I put my seatbelt on, I was a 13 year old fan girl. We talked about Hendrix, Clapton, guitars of all kinds, amps, the never ending quest for tone and family.
Eddie was sober at the time so when I ordered a beer from the stewardess, he ordered a non alcoholic one. She brought the beers and after a couple sips, Eddie leans over and whispers “I ordered unleaded, but I’m pretty sure this is leaded. Don’t tell Alex” who was sitting right behind us. The fact that he asked me to keep a secret from his brother made me feel like I got entrusted with nuclear codes.
They had just finished recording Balance and Eddie was really excited. He kept telling me that he’d gotten his tone back. Kept saying how he couldn’t wait for the record to be released. I was excited too! My hero got his mojo back!! We landed, deplaned and said our goodbyes in London and I lost sight of him when he joined his band mates and crew in the customs line. As I’m standing there I catch Eddie out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want to say a second goodbye but he motioned for me to come over. When I got to him, he says to his tour manager “hey, look in your stuff and see if you have any copies of the new record I can give my buddy David”. So, his guy digs around in the bag and gets me a CDR of the unreleased Van Halen record. Are you kidding me?! Eddie and I shook hands with a loud smack of our palms and I ran off to rejoin my group. I was like a kid. I couldn’t wait to get to my hotel room so i could listen to the record.
In all honesty, I hated that record at the time, but I’m going to listen to it today with new ears. Don’t get me wrong, my family is about to be sick of Atomic Punk, but I’m gonna toss Balance in the mix just because my buddy Eddie gave it to me. Thank you for your fearlessness EVH. You set so many ships to sea.

David Ryan Harris

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It’s such a sad day and huge loss. Ed was an idol of mine growing up. To get to call him a client and friend over the past 6 years has been mind-blowing. I remember two distinct things that to me exemplified how Ed was much more than a guitar god, but also someone who was incredibly generous with his time and money. First was in business, and this one will hit home for you and Felice. He donated a 6 figure sync fee entirely to the Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation. Not even a blink. He just said ‘Rich, if they want that song they have to pay the fee to the charity.’ The next was personal. My young son CJ was going to get to play goalie in a shoot out at MSG between periods of a Rangers game. He was of course excited and nervous. I told Ed about it and he said ‘Let me talk to him.’ He chatted on the phone with CJ for about 10 minutes and let him know that he too performed at MSG and it was gonna be a great experience that he’d never forget. That really gave CJ the confidence he needed to do an outstanding job that day. The world will miss Ed. I’m gutted for his family. I’m lucky to have had the chance to intersect with him for a few laps around the sun and call him a friend. Keep it loud up there Ed.

Richard Stumpf

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I interviewed Eddie several times over the years. Enough that I’d get appreciative backstage passes and opportunities to say hi after shows. One of those times – August 26, 1995, at the Meadows in Hartford, CT on the Balance tour – I brought my sister. I wasn’t the editor of Metal Edge yet (I wouldn’t even write my first Metal Edge article until 1996), but I’d already interviewed him a few times for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Night Sights & Sounds, the first being one of the biggest major dailies in the midwest, and the other the biggest free rock mag in Wisconsin.

My sister and I weren’t what one would call “musically compatible,” but she loved Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, so it was a rare opportunity where she would appreciate being my plus one. It was also right after her birthday, so it was an equally rare opportunity for me to be the “cool” big brother (as opposed to any number of adjectives she might otherwise employ to color my persona, haha). I was still new enough where nobody felt obligated to leave me passes, but I’d also been around long enough to know that even if they said they would, they might not be there. I didn’t tell my sister we’d be doing anything beyond seeing the show – but sure enough, when we picked up our tickets at will call, there were two after show passes.

“Dreams” closed the main set, followed by the “Poundcake” and “Panama” encore. I love David Lee Roth far more than the next guy, I even penned the back cover of his autobiography – but Van Halen with Sammy took it to another level. They weren’t as rock n roll, they weren’t dirty, and they were far from dangerous. They were what happens when you fuel a machine with motor oil instead of Jack Daniels. Everything was smoother. You didn’t need the kicks, because the transmission just hummed. My sister had never been backstage before, but I definitely didn’t need to worry about walking her into Dave’s den of debauchery.

We were escorted by the tour manager, who knocked on the door to Eddie’s dressing room and told him, “Paul Gargano’s here.” What he didn’t tell him, was that my sister was standing alongside me. “Bring him in,” you heard Eddie say from inside. The tour manager opens the door and, because my parents raised me right, I let my sister walk in first. Eddie stands up from the couch and takes a step forward, not yet looking up. I’m not sure what surprised him more – that his robe wasn’t closed, or that my sister was face to face with his Van Halen twins. He covered up quickly and we laughed. Talk about making an entrance!

My sister texted me moments after today’s news broke: “I just read that Eddie Van Halen died.” I asked her if she got a picture with him that day, and she said no, “but being in their dressing room will always be one my best memories.” Eddie’s magic was that whatever he did, he made look effortless. And when he smiled, he lit up a room like no other. Being in his presence was like standing on top of the world.

I wasn’t the editor of Guitar World – hell, I don’t even play guitar – but he talked to me anyway, an up-and-coming writer in the midwest. Again and again, he took the time. And he always did it with a smile on his face. It’s hard to say what kind of impact a single interview can have on your career, but I can say with relative certainty that my Eddie Van Halen clips played a significant role when Metal Edge approached me to be their Managing Editor less than a year later.

But even more importantly than that, Eddie Van Halen made me look cool in front of my sister. I somehow think he might appreciate that more.

RIP, Eddie. Say hi to Dime – I’m looking forward to some thunder from above!

–Paul Gargano

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I was lucky enough to meet Eddie Van Halen May 22nd, 1998. I was working for Wind-up Records and our band Creed was opening for them that night at Madison Square Garden. I was talking with Creed’s guitarist Mark Tremonti and some of Creed’s road crew and he came up and introduced himself to Mark. He was psyched to chat with another fellow guitarist but he went out of his way to say hi and shake hands with all of us. Same thing again at the end of the night. Gracious, friendly and genuinely warm guy. I’ll always remember that. Met some of my other musical heroes and they don’t always live up to that standard. Sad that he’s gone. My first true rock concert was VH in 1986 at the New Haven Colisuem. They filmed Live Without a Net over two nights in New Haven. I think I might have to watch that again tonight. RIP Eddie Van Halen.

Mike Mongillo

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Do you remember the engineer Chris who has filled in a couple times, well he and his wife rent the house that the Eddie and Alex Van Halen’s grew up. Says flowers have been showing up on his porch today

Doug Boehm

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When I was performing Strip-A-Grams back in ‘81, I was sent to that sushi place that was on the corner of La Cienega & Santa Monica Blvd. to deliver a dancing birthday greeting to Eddie Van Halen. Valerie has arranged it. Eddie was the sweetest, humblest loveliest guy.

DLR. of course, tried to upstage me. It was over so soon he only only able to jump up once from the back of the group.

Valerie thanked me profusely and tipped me well.
Never a fan of the band, I did respect their talent, and was mesmerized by Eddie’s solo on Beat It.

Felt like I’d just delivered
this birthday greeting dance to a living god.

Melissa Ward

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