By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
Before I became a rock fan, I was knee deep in hip-hop/rap. I was into that music when I was a kid because that was popular at the time and I was trying to find my niche. Hey, I did not know any better, so sue me. Anyway, I remember renting the Helen Hunt movie Twister, and as I was browsing through the special features, I come across the music video for a song called “Humans Being.” The artist was Van Halen. I had heard the name before, but I did not know who they were at the time. I played the video, and my life changed forever. The catalyst was the insane guitar work of one Eddie Van Halen.
This past Tuesday, the world lost the legendry guitar master after succumbing to his 5-year battle with cancer. Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1955, Eddie moved to Pasadena, Cali, with his family in 1962. At the age of 6, he took up piano and won annual piano competitions. As soon as he became a teen, he developed an interest in rock ‘n’ roll. He and his older brother, Alex, started to learn how to play the guitar and drums. Interesting though, Alex originally took up guitar and Eddie wanted to be a drummer, but they both found they were better on the others instruments, and the rest was history. By 1972, Eddie and Alex formed Genesis with bassist Mark Stone, and then in 1974, David Lee Roth joined them as the frontman. Around that time, Michael Anthony had replaced Stone on bass guitar. After changing names from Genesis to Mammoth, they eventually settled with Van Halen per Roth’s suggestion. From then on, they were kings on the LA rock club circuit, thanks to combined efforts of Eddie’s masterful licks that included the tapping technique and Roth’s electric showmanship and sexual charisma. They began selling out shows at the Whisky a-Go Go, Gazzarri’s, the Roxy, and the Starwood.
In 1977, Warner Bros approached Van Halen with a record deal. The following year, Van Halen was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. Today, it is considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. Pumping out hit albums (Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down) and selling out arenas, Van Halen were the party band hard rock and heavy metal had been waiting for. In 1984, they released 1984, where Eddie incorporated his piano skills on the synthesizer. 1984 featured their only hit song that would be #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Jump.” By 1985, Roth left the band due musical differences, infighting with Eddie, and pursing a solo career.
Instead of fading away, Van Halen reinvented themselves by recruiting the Red Rocker Sammy Hagar. With more mature songs added to their party time tunes, Van Halen would have 4 straight #1 albums (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Balance), and continue to be dominating headliners. By 1996, things went sour with Hagar, and they recruited Extreme frontman Gary Cherone. After one album and tour to support it that was somewhat disappointing, Cherone amicably left Van Halen. Following a tumultuous reunion tour with Hagar 2004, Eddie checked into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse, and in 2006, reunited the band with Roth back in front and his son, Wolfgang, on bass. Their final studio album in 2012, A Different Kind of Truth, returned the legends to the top of the rock ‘n’ roll world.
Not only was he innovative with Van Halen, he was groundbreaking in his collaborations with other artists like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Queen’s Brian May, Toto’s Steve Lukather, LL Cool J, KISS’ Gene Simmons, etc. The one collaboration that he will always go down in history for was performing the guitar solo on the Michael Jackson iconic hit, “Beat It.” Eddie was contacted by the King of Pop, asking him to help create something for the song, and he laid down the iconic riff free of charge. An accomplished musician, he was also an accomplished inventor, creating different patents meant to help improve musicianship for others. From a “musical instrument support” that allowed guitarists to play hands-free to his EVH guitar brand, whammy bars, pick-ups, and EVH amp system. Always looking for that perfect sound, he never stop until he achieved perfection.
The year 2020 has been a huge bite in the ass for us all. From COVID-19 to the riots and elections, we are also having to say goodbye to our heroes that include Rush’s Neil Pert, Power Trip’s Riley Gail, UFO’s Pete Way, Little Richard, Charlie Daniels, Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, original Van Halen bassist Mark Stone, and more recently, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Jack Sherman. Losing Eddie though really hurts more than anyone. However, I had the good fortune of seeing Van Halen in 2012, and just watching Eddie work his magic was majestic. Gone but never forgotten, his legacy will carry on his son, wife, brother, and fans. He danced the night away in style, and now he is unchained from his illnesses, standing on top of the world. We will miss you. To Eddie Van Halen, I thank you, and salute you. Horns up!!!