The world has lost one of the greatest guitar players of all-time with the death of Eddie Van Halen. Gone too soon at the age of 65, the loss of such a giant is undoubtedly saddening. But more than anything it makes me want to appreciate and celebrate the amazing music he helped bring into the world. Van Halen was one of the first rock bands my parents ever introduced to me, as I still remember my dad buying me The Best of Both Worlds as my formal introduction to the band. I played the absolute shit out of this CD set and it was a big part of what made me such a huge fan of rock at an early age.
If you were to ask me of what I think of when I think of Eddie Van Halen, there are two epic moments from him on guitar that come to mind. The first is “Eruption.” It is one of the greatest instrumental songs and one of the greatest guitar solos of all-time. It also popularized the guitar playing technique of tapping. Anyone who has ever learned guitar knows that this one of the most difficult songs of all-time because like Van Halen’s hero Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen is doing stuff on this song that most guitarists simply can’t do. It’s equal parts humbling and amazing, whether you’re a casual amateur like me or any of the professional guitarists in bands across all genres that Eddie Van Halen inspired through his work.
I mean just watch this and you’ll become mesmerized by the sheer display of excellency:
If you asked me what rock music is, this is one of the videos I would point at and say this. This is rock music. Innovation and brilliance like this rarely comes around. What’s insane is Van Halen said he messed up in the recorded version and could have did better! Van Halen said this of the recording: “I didn’t even play it right. 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.'”
The second iconic moment I think of when I think of Eddie Van Halen is his guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It was legendary producer Quincy Jones who prompted Jackson to include a rock song on one of the all-time greatest pop albums in Thriller and suggested that Van Halen do a guitar solo for the song.
When recording the solo, the sound of the guitar caused the monitor speaker in the room to catch on fire. As the team of people who made Thriller recall in the moment in the video below, they all said the solo must be pretty damn good! And I couldn’t agree more!
While this is a legendary story known by many in rock circles, what a lot people may not know or forget is Eddie Van Halen insisted on doing the solo free of charge. When asked why, he said this: “I did it as a favor. I was a complete fool, according to the rest of the band, our manager and everyone else. I was not used. I knew what I was doing – I don’t do something unless I want to do it.”
“I don’t do something unless I want to do it.” To me that final part of the quote could not better sum up Eddie Van Halen. He was an absolutely legendary artist who played by nobody else’s rules or intentions. Van Halen did what he wanted to do it throughout his entire career and he did it damn well. You can’t get any more badass rock and roll than that.
There are many guitar icons throughout history that have left us. Berry. Hendrix. Vaughan. Prince. And now Van Halen. But once you hear an Eddie Van Halen solo, you’ll never forget him. Rock on Eddie and thank you for the music and inspiration!