Singer/songwriter, guitarist and Van Halen co founder Eddie Van Halen died yesterday at the age of 65 after a long battle with throat cancer. His son, Wolfgang, posted the news yesterday on his social media pages.
Eddie Van Halen did as much to influence the way the guitar is played than arguably anyone else who has yielded the six stringed axe, maybe even including the great Jimi Hendrix. His imagination and curiosity combined with his stunning technical ability and musical acumen allowed his guitar sound to be as unique as it was ferocious. No one used the electric distortion and overdrive features in rock n’ roll quite like Eddie, which allowed his sound to be gritty, loud, electric, and a true defining sound of rock. Just from the snippet below of Eddie performing his solo song “Eruption,” one can hear the blinding fury of his guitar playing that captivated the minds of the entire audience.
Not only does Eddie rock harder than nearly anyone else who has rocked before or after him, but he does so while combining elements of jazz and classical music. Even if the distortion of the guitar drives home the overwhelming sound of rock, the musical elements of the piece above employ musical figures and runs that have been used in jazz and classical music, indicating Eddie’s vast understanding of music as a whole. Few guitarists possess the technical ability alone to perform a solo of that magnitude, but even fewer have the musical knowledge to write such a shredding masterpiece of a solo that highlights the musical brilliance of the genres that came before.
Eddie’s rock guitar innovations, including finger-tapping the neck of the guitar to increase the velocity of the notes that could be played, helped to define the sound of rock throughout the 1980’s. While Eddie does not take credit for inventing the finger-tap, he has noted that, “the main reason I squeeze so many, you call them tricks, whatever, out of a guitar is out of necessity. I couldn’t afford the pedals, the fuzz box and all the toys everybody else had. So I did all I could to get all the sound I could out of my fingers.”
Guitarists far and wide will try for decades to emulate the blinding brilliance of Eddie’s guitar playing. While many will try, only few will come close to grasping the talent and musical knowledge that Eddie has. His genius is not only in his guitar playing, but in his musical sense as a whole, and while he will be mainly remembered as a top guitarist of all time, it is his musical genius that deserves equal praise to his guitar ability.