Eddie Van Halen

Born on this day in 1955 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, Eddie Van Halen (shouldn’t that be Eddie van Halen, Dutch friends?) is one of rock music’s most influential and impressive guitarists. Recently listed as the eighth greatest of all time by Rolling Stone (up 62 places since they last compiled an equally contentious list of greats in 2007, and I’m not sure exactly what he’s done since 2007 to warrant such a monumental climb, mind you) – behind Messrs Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Richards, Beck, King (yes, that’s B.B.) and Berry. Ahem.

He moved, with his family, to the USA at the age of seven ‘with 50 bucks and a piano.’ With his drummer brother, Alex, he started a rock band in Los Angeles with vocalist David Lee Roth, from whom the brothers had been renting their sound system. Together they would go on to record six albums before a change of direction and, arguably, a more radio-friendly sound once Sammy Hagar had claimed the microphone in 1985.

There have been numerous short-lived reunions since with both Roth and Hagar, as well as an album (Van Halen III) and tour with Gary Cherone, best known as lead singer for Extreme, in 1998.

Most recently in the news for donating 75 electric guitars from his personal collection to public schools in and around Los Angeles (although this story is probably my favourite: note the trousers and guitar in the video below), the eccentric guitarist is revered for his high-speed shredding and credited for popularising, if not introducing, the technique of two-handed tapping.

Pink Floyd fans will no doubt point out that, in 1998, he performed solos for Roger Waters’ ‘Lost Boys Calling’ (from the film The Legend of 1900), but better known to the wider music-appreciating public, it was Van Halen who provided the blistering guitar solo to one of the biggest selling singles of all time: Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ from Thriller.

A new album, entitled A Different Kind Of Truth, the first original studio album with original singer Roth since 1984, is scheduled for release early next month. Here’s its first single – based on an unreleased track, ‘Down in Flames’, from 1977: ‘Tattoo’. Heard last night on CSI, perhaps? A North American tour also begins next month. If you have tickets, don’t keep this to yourself; I’d like to know who here is a fan of the hard-rock powerhouse, specifically of the smiling guitarist with the lightning-fast fingers.

Interestingly, son Wolfgang, who is barely out of his teens, is Van Halen’s bassist these days – and has been since 2006.

Favourite Van Halen songs, then. The dazzling instrumental ‘Eruption’ – from eponymous 1978 debut album – so often ranked one of the very best guitar solos, on which he mesmerises with listener and even more so the watcher by tapping not with one hand, but two? Go on, have a look at that video. ‘Dance the Night Away’ from their second album, 1979’s Van Halen II? ‘And the Cradle Will Rock’ (from their third, 1980’s Women and Children First)? Or perhaps the one everyone knows and can sing along to, from 1984 and 1984, the multiple chart-topping ‘Jump’?

As was David, of course, Van Halen was a guest of Les Paul’s and performed for him at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1988. Later released on VHS as Les Paul & Friends: He Changed the Music, this has since been released on DVD but, disappointingly, is yet another rather lazy direct copy of the video without any menus, chapters, shame, etc. Your thoughts on this release, if you’ve seen it, please.

Finally, as we were talking about last year’s new books previously, I notice that Sammy Hagar’s autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, was among them. Has anyone read it? Apparently it’s as controversial as his time with the band and his eventual departure from it.

One final finally: the chatroom is now open, if you’re free and bored.


  1. Ed

    Definitely looking forward to seeing Van Halen – hopefully right here in New Hampshire.

    I am one of those fans who feels the Hagar period was as good as the Roth period. I listen to both (but I grew up with Hagar). I saw them with Roth in 2008 (?). I’m also probably one of the few fans that feels Gary Cherone had great potential with the band but fell victim to (a) a poor production on Van Halen III (that thing sounded unfinished and muddy to me) and (b) a grunge to industrial (and finally hip hop and pop) audience in the United States. If you watch videos of Gary Cherone with Van Halen, I feel you an see that potential clearly. His departure from the band was premature – but I know most (myself included) feel it’s great to see Roth back in the band. Let’s be frank though: Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are palpably absent.

  2. Steve

    Sorry but Van Halen is only responsible for giving birth to the thought by every other musician that all guitarists are interested in is playing at a billion miles an hour, louder and less musically than every other member of the band. Tapping may be good for the ego and visually impressive but is one of the easiest techniques in the guitarist’s cannon – lesson 1) Hammer on 2) Pull-off 3) Tapping!

  3. Pavlov

    Two of my personal favourites are:

    Ice Cream Man (covered so well by David Lee Roth) and Hot for Teacher (at the time of the video, no-one had seen anything quite like it) … a lot of fun.

  4. Damian Cunningham

    Hi Fed and all. Great guitarist, very fast fingers as David would say.

    Came home tonight from work late, I had Animals playing. I dont need to remind anyone what a work of art that album is. I do have to admit, it is my all time favorite Floyd album, though I think Rick would have disagreed, god bless him.

    I know it’s not the norm Fed and I’m not trying to be intrusive but I hope David is keeping fit and well.

  5. Michèle

    Don’t know Eddie Van Halen very well and hard rock isn’t really my cup of tea, but I do remember that my favourite radio station Classic 21 once told us that he had quite a life of debauchery, alcohol, drugs, women and all that. The perfect (hard) rock’n’roll attitude, eh?

    Sadly, they also said he was suffering from mouth cancer. But it was years ago, so I suppose that he got over it.

    As always you made me curious and I listened to the instrumental ‘Eruption’ and his performance for Les Paul in 1988 on YouTube, but no, his “dazzling” guitar virtuosity doesn’t speak to me. I have appreciated David’s performance that day (Les Paul concert) so much more. Funny that he is playing a Fender at a Les Paul tribute concert. 😉

    • Tim-C

      Bravo Michèle, l’utilisation parfaite d’un idiome Anglais i.e. “not my cup of tea”.

  6. Michael Kelly

    Fantastic technique. Unparalleled skills. Mesmerizing sounds. Jaw dropping live performances. But alas, no soul. Unfortunately, that is why I never classified him as one of the all time greats. He has always amazed me and I certainly admire and respect him, but he has never moved me.

    • Tim-C

      That’s a key point Michael. Lack of soul. This stuff just doesn’t move the way David’s more considered use of tone and melody does … Very little of what EvH does carries half the power.

  7. frank par

    I just gotta get that album Fed. I’ve never seen Eddie ever, always wanted to. Alas, this CD will suffice. I’m so glad he’s back after his after his bout with illness.

    “Rock On” and Happy Birthday Eddie.

  8. tim_c

    Eddie Van Halen eh?

    On the face of it a polar opposite to David’s style of play but an undoubted innovator – or perhaps an undoubted populariser of an innovative style.

    Dazzling is about right for ‘Eruption’ and it’s extended forms … assuming a basic love of the electric guitar and the outrageous noises in can make when amplified, distorted and manipulated, you can’t overlook his contribution … a genuine virtuoso with a unique sound. I’m short of the musical vocabulary to describe the techniques he uses but the double handed harmonising sound he gets is really quite special …. as in at the beginning of the clip and again at about 1:00 … and famously again at about 10:00 …. if music can have colour then this is a kaleidoscope indeed.

    Let’s be honest … if we could pull it off, this is the stuff of guitar show-room heaven, is it not?

    Fortunately, by the look of it, his fashion sense was also unique … just imagine David strutting across the RAH in such a get up … no, on second thoughts let’s not. Probably best avoid the splits as well. And oh, the hair! This was a man made for Audio.

    I have the eponymous 1st album and also a live one – and to be honest that’s plenty for me … indeed the live album gets rapidly to a point when we just don’t need any more of what I might describe as the “neighing horse” sound … as Roger might well say, “Hey, Eddie, leave that horse alone”.

  9. Dunc

    Casual Van Halen fan here (I don’t own every album and have never seen them perform live). Favourite track is Eruption.

    I would love to be able to play that fast – I don’t know how he does it. His fingers soon become a blur to me! In the video you see him shake his left arm, which is not surprising considering how fast his fingers move.

    I’m glad he’s hitting the road with David Lee Roth again. Of the three Van Halens, the original is the one I like best.

    P.S. I really like the new look blog!

  10. Elisabetta Corsi - Italy N.E.

    Off topic.

    1) Allow me to wish you a happy birthday, Nick!

    2) Dear Polly, I strongly believe your words about your feelings when you write to be “weirdly shaken” by the incident. “Pulled drowning man from sea who didn’t want to be saved.” You showed great self-control: many congratulations, great Lady!

    Have a good week end to the F.Ed and all you.


  11. ToHiForAFly

    Must say, and being a Dutchie myself it’s pretty much blasphemy, I don’t like Eruption that much. The solo is not really rhythmic and is not something I would press repeat on my player for. It’s impressive, but nothing for me.

    Now looking again to the Rolling Stone’s “Greatest guitarists” list, I see that David has gained in places! From 83(?) to 14!

    Nice article FEd.

  12. NewYorkDan

    Tim wrote above that Eddie and David are polar opposites when it comes to playing guitar. Few players have the fingers to play as fast as Eddie, or the patience to play as slow as David. David always says that he plays slowly because he can’t play fast at all. He compensates for lack of speed by infusing his playing with emotion or with the sense that he is hitting exactly the right note (even if nobody else would have used the same note at the same time).

    Me? I prefer David’s style. He appears to be telling stories or evoking images with his music. That’s really hard to do. Eddie digs the fast-paced adrenaline, but there are many players who do that (though not as well). David brings you somewhere.

    • ToHiForAFly

      I have to agree.

      In my eyes, really fast playing is a way to express anger and frustration, two things I kinda dislike. The crowd also builds up adrenaline and might even result in fights and other crazy things.

  13. Taki

    I like Van Halen a lot, especially their first albums when David Lee Roth sang. Sammy Hagar wasn’t an improvement for the band IMHO. If one ignores the tapping stuff, EVH still is a great guitar player, wrote quite a few great licks (may I remind you to “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love”) and created a unique sound and still that makes him recognisable, which is something only few artist achieved (DG for example 😉 ).

    I’m looking forward to attend a gig, if they play here in Germany…

    Best regards


  14. tony

    The new single (Tattoo) is getting much airplay on rock radio in the states just now, makes me wish they would play the b-side if it exists, just to hear what else the band have come up with. Will just have to wait till the album comes out, I suppose. It has gone to No.1 in the rock chart, no surprise.

    Wouldn’t mind going to see them, but they are not coming to Oregon so that wont happen, oh well.

  15. Pete - Coventry

    I have heard his name…

    Apart from that I know nothing about him. Not even sure if I have heard him play or any of his music.

    Actually, on second thoughts, was he not on a famous Michael Jackson hit?

  16. Jon Egia

    Sadly I can´t add much to the conversation. I will file it in the watchlist. Thanks FEd! :)

  17. JulieD

    Yep, ‘Eruption’ being played in guitar shops, is the kind of stuff that makes me walk out and feel inferior. Many a show off has taken the mick out of my what they call ‘nursery rhyme’ playing. But the difference is their guitar playing or EVH’s does not make me cry. It is absent of emotion.

    Now when we come to speed, agility and soul it has to be Steve Vai who is the great one. After listening to him EVH, even though he is an innovator, sounds rather sloppy.

    BUT no-one even comes near to David when it comes to guitar crying techniques. For example, David’s one note (or at least one note held for a time) in ‘Empty Spaces’ just oozes deep emotion. Now that sorts the men from the boys.


    No disrespect to EVH. I do like him but cannot feel him.

  18. Sharon Woods

    I don’t carry the Van Halen gene. And that’s a sad truth. Van Halen is a hallmark of my American high school years and frankly, their work (although athletically accomplished) was so incredibly overplayed both on the radio, on MTV, in concerts and even in the school itself, that I just find the whole Van Halen media push indicative of the US during that time: garish and soulless.

    Van Halen is like a fast flashy car (as you can tell I’m not a racecar driver, but happy albeit late birthday to those who are!): clashingly colored that drives extremely fast, but only goes round and round. I get seasick and dizzy in a Van Halen car. And that car doesn’t go anywhere: after the race, it stays in the garage at home, where it quickly gets replaced by another flashy car!

    Slower-paced, David Gilmour’s “car” is a classic timeless beauty that takes you to such incredible lands, that you keep driving and driving. Even better, his car takes you to the stars!

    THOSE are the cars you hang onto.

    • tim_c

      Interesting isn’t it. Most of us have some appreciation of Edward and his ilk (as opposed to elk, which would be a whole different debate) but as much as anything it has served to help define what it is that we like about Our David.

  19. Gareth

    Technically a good guitarist, but I don’t get any “feeling” in what he’s playing. He can hit the notes fast, and they don’t sound “wrong”, but there’s no emotion in there whatsoever. David Gilmour’s stuff isn’t very fast, but there’s more meaning and emotion in one note than a whole EVH piece. IMHO, of course.

  20. Pavlov

    If I might just add that there is no way we could (or even should) try to draw a comparison between Eddie van Halen and David Gilmour. Two completely different genres and David Gilmour cannot be compared to any other guitarist – past or present. He’s in a league of his own.

    Eddie van Halen is a technician and I suppose from within the shoes he stands in, he’s passionate about his craft, it moves him, and clearly it doesn’t ‘rub against the grain’ of those who enjoy listening to him.

  21. Vince

    I disagree with most of you here. Eddie’s use of speed really isn’t something new that he brought to the table. Clapton, Page, Iommi, Blackmore, Hendrix, they all played fast and every bit as much as Eddie did. And as for finger tapping, Eddie doesn’t overdo it. I think Eruption’s popularity is what makes people feel that way about his playing.

    On the contrary I think a lot of people overlook his very bluesy, melodic soloing which, in my opinion, is a lot closer to David Gilmour’s touch and tone. Listen to Van Halen II or Fair Warning and you’ll hear why David Gilmour once complimented him in the 80’s as an influence. Listen to Hear About It Later, Push Comes To Shove, Dirty Movies, Dance The Night Away, Women In Love. There’s more to Eddie than Eruption.

  22. Bill C

    Admittedly, EVH added a lot to the electric guitar’s vocabulary, and sparked new interest in the instrument. Unfortunately, hundreds of players imitated his style and sound, so that even Eddie himself became lost in a sea of “shredders”.

    To my ears, Steve Hackett has always had a more melodic approach to tapping, but if you want to hear an impressive two-handed guitarist, check out Stanley Jordan.

  23. David stevens

    why can’t they just bury the B.S. and do a best of both worlds show? That would be something to see, especially to us old duffers.

  24. Kevan

    I remember enjoying the track Eruption, I think it was a B-side to one of their early singles, such a long time ago now. As for the video of the live performance above? What an absolute load of old toss. I was going to type what an absolute load of wank but I didn’t think you’d publish that.

  25. Andrew

    If you have tickets, don’t keep this to yourself; I’d like to know who here is a fan of the hard-rock powerhouse, specifically of the smiling guitarist with the lightning-fast fingers.

    Raising my hand here. Yes I did get tickets to see the show at Madison Square Garden in NY at the end of this month. I actually have seen them before. The first time was when they toured for the 1984 release and I am one of the few that saw them with Gary Cherone. I never did see the Sammy Hagar lineup (which sometimes is referred to Van Hagar) but I did see Sammy solo prior to joining Van Halen. And I have also seen David Lee Roth solo. What I can say though is that each time I saw Van Halen, they were LOUD, really LOUD. David Lee Roth is definitely very entertaining and it is good to see the almost original lineup back together. I am looking forward to the show.

    Also, it is not fair to compare EVH to David. These are two completely different musical styles and each has their own talents. What is nice is that they released some new material and I have to say that what I have heard is very classic rock. Very refreshing these days and a stand out from the crap we are bombarded with.

    Also, my prediction is that Van Halen will be the band asked to perform at next year’s Super Bowl halftime show.


  26. Andrew

    Last night was the show and it was not a disappointment. It was great to see a band that sticks to the basics – guitar, drummer, bass and vocals – that’s it. Sure Eddie uses effects, every guitar player uses effects. But it was just pure all out rock and roll and a fun time for all. Except for the guy in the section next to me who drank way too much and slept through the show.

    The stage set up was also very basic. The best part of the stage set up was the massive screen behind the band that stretched from end to end and up to the rafters. The clean digital picture made it like everyone had a front row seat.

    The setlist were all the classic Van Halen numbers from VH1 to 1984 plus several numbers from their new release which sounds quite good. High points for me, Everybody Wants Some, Hot for Teacher, Ice Cream Man, Tattoo, Ain’t Talking About Love, Panama, Unchained and the incredible guitar solo. It was loud (Eddie had 10 of his EVH speaker cabinets and heads on stage) but that is what rock and roll is all about. And you can tell that they were just having a great time on stage. Eddie was smiling a lot and that is probably the second thing he is known for aside from his guitar.