Eddie Van Halen

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Eddie Van Halen
File:Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum.jpg
Van Halen performing in the late 1970s with his Frankenstrat
Background information
Birth name Edward Lodewijk van Halen
Born (1955-01-26)January 26, 1955
Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands
Died October 6, 2020(2020-10-06) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, United States[1]
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • producer
  • arranger
Years active 1972–2020
Website vhnd.com
Musical career
Origin Pasadena, California, U.S.
Instruments Guitar
Associated acts
Children Wolfgang Van Halen
  • Jan van Halen (father)
  • Eugenia van Halen (mother)
Relatives Alex Van Halen (brother)

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen (/væn ˈhlɛn/ VAN-_-HAY-len; January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) was a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor. He was the main songwriter and founder—with brother and drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Mark Stone, and singer David Lee Roth—of the American rock band Van Halen. He was best known for popularizing the tapping guitar solo technique, allowing a rapid arpeggios to be played with two hands on the fretboard. In 2012, he was voted number one in a Guitar World magazine reader's poll for "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[2]

Early life

Born in Amsterdam,[3] Netherlands, Edward Lodewijk van Halen (Dutch: [ˈɛdʋɑrt ˈloːdəʋɛjk vɑnˈhaːlə(n)]) was the son of Jan van Halen and Eugenia van Halen (née van Beers). Jan was a Dutch clarinetist, saxophonist, and pianist, and Eugenia was an Indo (Eurasian) from Rangkasbitung on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).[4][5] The family eventually resettled in Nijmegen.[6]

In February 1962, the Van Halen family moved from the Netherlands to the United States, settling in Pasadena, California.[5] Both Eddie and his older brother, Alex van Halen, naturalized as U.S. citizens.[7] The brothers learned to play the piano as children starting at the age of six.[8][9] They commuted from Pasadena to San Pedro to study with an elderly piano teacher, Stasys Kalvaitis (lt).[10]

We came here with approximately $50 and a piano, and we didn't speak the language. Now look where we are. If that’s not the American dream, what is?[11]

Van Halen revealed in an interview that he had never been able to read music. Instead, he learned from watching and listening. During recitals of Bach or Mozart, he would improvise. From 1964 through 1967, he won first place in the annual piano competition held at Long Beach City College.[10] Afterward, the judges would comment that he had an interesting interpretation of the classical piece. Van Halen's view was, "What? I thought I was playing it correctly!" However, according to one interview, playing the piano did not prove to be challenging or interesting to him.[12] Consequently, while Alex began playing the guitar, Eddie bought a drum kit and began practicing for hours every day.[citation needed]

After Eddie heard Alex's performance of The Surfaris' drum solo in the song "Wipe Out", he decided to switch instruments and began learning how to play the electric guitar. According to Eddie, as a teen, he would often practice while walking around at home with his guitar strapped on or sitting in his room for hours with the door locked.[13][14]

Eddie and Alex formed their first band with three other boys, calling themselves The Broken Combs, performing at lunchtime at Hamilton Elementary School in Pasadena, where Eddie was in the fourth grade. Eddie would later say that this was when he first felt the desire to become a professional musician.[15]

Eddie described supergroup Cream's "I'm So Glad" on Goodbye to be "mind-blowing".[16] He once claimed that he had learned almost all of Eric Clapton's solos in the band Cream "note for note. ... I've always said Eric Clapton was my main influence," Van Halen said, "but Jimmy Page was actually more the way I am, in a reckless-abandon kind of way."[17]

Van Halen

File:Eddie Van Halen.jpg
Eddie Van Halen in 2015

Eddie and Alex Van Halen formed a band in 1972.[18] In 1974, the band changed its name to Van Halen,[19] and Van Halen became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene during the mid-1970s, playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go.[20] In 1977, Warner Bros. Records offered the band a recording contract.[21]

Upon its release, Van Halen reached No. 19 on the Billboard pop music charts, becoming one of rock's most commercially successful debuts.[22] It was highly regarded as both a heavy metal and hard rock album.[23] By the early 1980s, Van Halen was one of the most successful rock acts of the time.[24] The album 1984 went five-times platinum after a year of release.[25] The lead single "Jump" became the band's first and only No. 1 pop hit and garnered them a Grammy nomination.[26]

The band won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.[27] As of March 2019, the band is 20th on the RIAA list of best-selling artists in the United States; it has sold 56 million albums in the States[28][29] and more than 80 million worldwide.[30][31] Additionally, Van Halen has charted 13 number-one hits in the history of Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart. VH1 ranked the band seventh on a list of the top 100 hard rock artists of all time.[32] In January 2007, Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[33] Eddie Van Halen has received acclaim for his guitar work in the band.[34][35]

Other work

Eddie Van Halen was engaged in several projects outside of his eponymous band. In 1976, both Eddie and his brother Alex recorded three demos with Kiss bassist Gene Simmons. "Christine Sixteen", "Tunnel of Love", and "Got Love for Sale" were recorded and eventually released on Gene's 2017 boxset The Vault. In 1978, he played uncredited on "Can't Get Away From You", which was featured on Nicolette Larson's debut album Nicolette.[36]

In 1982, Eddie played the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's "Beat It."[37] In 1983, Eddie played guitar and sang backing vocals on Brian May's solo album Star Fleet Project.[38] In 1984, both Eddie and David Lee Roth featured in the intro for a Frank Sinatra music video called "L.A. Is My Lady." In September of that year, Eddie recorded a solo song called "Donut City" for the film The Wild Life. In 1987, Eddie played bass guitar on Sammy Hagar's solo album I Never Said Goodbye. He also provided a guitar solo on the album's track "Eagles Fly".

In 1994, Eddie co-wrote the riff of the song "Evil Eye" with Black Sabbath members Tony Martin, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler. The song was featured on the album Cross Purposes, but Eddie was not credited due to record company restrictions.[39] In 1996, Eddie and his brother Alex performed "Respect the Wind" from Twister: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack. In 1998, Eddie played the guitar solo on Roger Waters's song "Lost Boys Calling" for The Legend of 1900 soundtrack of the film.[40]

In 2003, Eddie recorded "Joy to the World" with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. The song is featured on Lukather's Christmas album Santamental. In 2006, Eddie recorded two new instrumental tracks ("Rise" and "Catherine") which debuted in a pornographic feature entitled Sacred Sin. The feature was directed by well-known adult film director Michael Ninn, a friend of Eddie's.[41][42] In 2009, Eddie had a cameo role in the season seven premiere of the sitcom Two and a Half Men, in which he played the main riff from "As Is" from A Different Kind of Truth.[43] That same year, he performed on two songs, "Not Leaving You Tonight" and "We're the Greatest", on LL Cool J's album Authentic.[44]

Style and influence

Van Halen's approach to the guitar has influenced an entire generation of guitarists. Van Halen, like many rock guitarists, never fully learned to read music.[45]


File:Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum 2.jpg
Eddie Van Halen using the tapping technique.

The 1978 instrumental "Eruption" by Van Halen, which was voted No. 2 in Guitar World's readers poll of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos",[46][47] showcased a solo technique called tapping, using both left and right hands on the guitar neck. Although Van Halen popularized tapping, he did not invent the tapping technique, which had been used infrequently by various guitarists before then. Steve Hackett, lead guitarist with Genesis in the 1970s, is said by MusicRadar to be "widely credited with inventing two-handed tapping" and was an influence on Van Halen.[48] When asked about this, Hackett said, "Eddie and I have never spoken about it, but yes, he has credited me with tapping... Eddie is a fine player, of course, and he's the one who named the technique."[49]

George Lynch also said in an interview that he and Van Halen saw Harvey Mandel tap at the Starwood in the 1970s.[50] Van Halen also named Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin as an influence, saying in one interview with Guitar World:

I think I got the idea of tapping watching Jimmy Page do his "Heartbreaker" solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought wait a minute, open string ... pull off. I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.[51]

Van Halen held a patent for a flip-out support device that attaches to the rear of the electric guitar.[52] This device enables the user to play the guitar in a manner similar to the piano by orienting the face of the guitar upward instead of forward.[53][54][55]

Pickup selection

Van Halen used a variety of pickups including Gibson PAFs, 1970s Mighty Mites, DiMarzios and Ibanez Super 70s. He was using Mighty Mite pickups in 1977 club photos, just prior to the recording of the first Van Halen album. Mighty Mite pickups were OEM pickups made by Seymour Duncan[56] and were copies of DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. Seymour Duncan apparently rewound a Gibson PAF for Van Halen around early 1978.[57]

In an interview in Guitar World magazine in July 1985, Van Halen states that his "brown sound" is "...basically a tone, a feeling that I'm always working at ... It comes from the person. If the person doesn't even know what that type of tone I'm talking about is, they can't really work towards it, can they?" In an interview with Billboard magazine in June 2015, he states that with the expression "brown sound" he actually tried to describe the sound of his brother Alex Van Halen's snare drum, which he thought "...sounds like he’s beating on a log. It’s very organic. So it wasn’t my brown sound. It was Alex's."[58]


Van Halen was an inventor on three patents related to guitars: A folding prop to support a guitar in a flat position,[59] a tension-adjusting tailpiece.[60] and an ornamental design for a headstock.[61][better source needed]

Personal life

On August 29, 1980, Eddie met actress Valerie Bertinelli at a Van Halen concert in Shreveport, Louisiana.[62] They married in California on April 11, 1981[63] and had one son, Wolfgang.[64] On December 5, 2005, Valerie filed for divorce in Los Angeles after four years of separation.[65] The divorce was finalized in December 2007.[66]

In December 2004, Van Halen attended "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott's funeral, and donated the black-and-yellow guitar featured on the Van Halen II album inlay, stating that it was always a favorite of Dimebag's. The guitar was put in Darrell's Kiss Kasket donated by Gene Simmons and he was buried with it.[67]

On October 6, 2008, Van Halen proposed to his girlfriend, Janie Liszewski, an actress and stunt-woman who became Van Halen's publicist in 2007. The two married on June 27, 2009, at his Studio City estate, with his son Wolfgang and Bertinelli in attendance.[68] Eddie's brother Alex officiated the ceremony, while his son served as best man.[69]

Health and death

Van Halen struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse. He stated that he began smoking and drinking at age 12, and that he eventually needed alcohol to function.[70] Van Halen entered rehabilitation in 2007.[71] In a 2015 interview, he stated that he had been sober since 2008.[70]

Suffering from lingering injuries from past, high-risk, acrobatic stage antics and crashes, Van Halen underwent hip replacement surgery in November 1999, after his chronic avascular necrosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1995, became unbearable.[72] Van Halen began receiving treatment for tongue cancer in 2000. The subsequent surgery removed roughly a third of his tongue. He was declared cancer-free in 2002.[73] He blamed the tongue cancer on his habit of holding guitar picks in his mouth, stating in 2015: "I used metal picks – they're brass and copper – which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer. ... I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it's possible."[74]

In August 2012, Van Halen underwent an emergency surgery for a severe bout of diverticulitis.[75] Recovery time required due to the surgery led to postponement of Van Halen tour dates scheduled in Japan for November 2012.[76]

In 2019, it was revealed that Van Halen had been secretly battling throat cancer over the previous five years.[77] Van Halen died from the illness on October 6, 2020. He was 65 years old.[78][79]


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External links