The Most Influential Guitarist Since Hendrix? An Eddie Van Halen Tribute
(Fin Costello / Redferns) – Van Halen
Van Halen In Lewisham LONDON – 27th MAY: Van Halen perform live on stage at Lewisham Odeon in London on 27th May 1978.
Generations of rock fans. guitarists and countless millions who have been touched by his music are mourning the loss of Eddie Van Halen, who uniquely shaped rock and roll as perhaps the most influential guitarist since Jimi Hendrix.
In 1978, Van Halen entered the rock scene with a exclamation mark (and, maybe, a spandex-covered mid-air karate kick from frontman Diamond David Lee Roth), at a period ripe for innovation. Well after Hendrix had died and the Beatles broke up, but also as rock titans like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had nearly come to an end, popular rock was dominated by catchy although bland anthems, southern rock staples and harmless AM hits. When self-titled debut LP Van Halen dropped in 1978, it sounded like it came from a different planet. Eddie Van Halen’s nearly-blown, turned-to-11 Marshall amp, famous home-made Franken-strat guitar and two-hand tapping drenched in reverb nearly instantly influenced countless dozens of imitators and shaped the sound of popular rock from then and thereafter.
Seemingly churning out nonstop, high-octane LPs throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, what may have seemed otherwise juvenile or immature hits like “Hot For Teacher” were punctuated by intense drum runs, fun macho swagger and incredible guitar playing that even critics couldn’t deny — with a majestic, triumphant flair and taste reminiscent of the best Brian May-style Queen solo.
Van Halen’s rare ability to write licks — chugging, otherworldly mammoth riffs like the one that begins 1981 hit “Unchained” — and, most impressively, guitar solos that would burn into your brain but remain accessible and listenable to casual rock audiences — put him in select company with the most famous of true guitar virtuosos able to crack the mainstream.
His influence spans decades and generations, with the hair-metal craze that shortly followed Van Halen’s ascent maybe taking the aesthetic too far, and often with cheap imitation. Later contemporaries like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani in many ways carried the torch for the Van Halen-style shredder into the ‘90s.
With seemingly endless riffs, solos and, maybe most importantly, songs always on tap from his fingertips, Eddie Van Halen remained impressive through the Van Halen years with six hit-filled records with David Lee Roth alone during a notably prolific period, then churning out another era of creative hits with Sammy Hagar, as well as with the David Lee Roth-fronted A Different Kind of Truth from 2012, which featured the pre-signed “Big Trouble” track re-recorded decades later to great effect, and with every bit of energy and impressive fretwork as any Van Halen recording.
I had the good fortune of seeing Van Halen live in 2007 — David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen both in tip-top shape for what was then a big-deal reunion tour. Eddie nailed every note of his signature solos, his unique blistering guitar tone ever prominent and demonstrating why the band was as big as it was — with nonstop hits, energy and attitude.
It’s funny how little things can change. I remember shortly after first picking up a guitar, around age 11 or so, discussing with my cousin the greatest guitar players ever. It was a short list.
“Well, if Jimi Hendrix was the best guitarist ever, Eddie Van Halen is the best living,” I’d said at the time.
I’d agree today if I could.