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.