John Dunne’s poem says:
“No man is an island, entire of itself…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
for I am a part of mankind… “
True though that may be, there are sometimes… when a person’s death diminishes us more than usual.
Eddie Van Halen, composer and guitarist for the band “Van Halen“, died this past Tuesday. He is known and renowned throughout the world as one of the best… perhaps THE best guitarist of the last century.
But he was also one of my top musical heroes, whose compositions, rhythm and soloing techniques I have studied, without stop, for decades now.
Our website here usually showcases music gear, but today, we’re goin’ deeper; to the core of what matters: to the mind and heart and spirit of one that created some of the most compelling, pioneering and viscerally impactful music of the past decades: Edward Lodewijk Van Halen. Or as those who’ve studied his works call him… “Eddie“.
Our Sonic Krakatoa
It’s reported that the loudest sound heard in history was the explosion on August 27, 1883 of Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia.
The loudness of that blast was heard 100 miles from the eruption site. It’s been calculated to have emanated an incredible 180 dB worth of explosive sound.
But February 10, 1978, brought a new King to the Court of Krakatoa. And the royal march theme?
Was called… “Eruption“!!!!
Eddie’s one-minute and forty-two second guitar solo on Van Halen’s first album was transmogrifying.
It’s been described as the sound heard round the world (the BROWN sound!), because it stuck a flag of guitar innovation in the ground to an extent that had never been seen before. And we all knew it.
Just that one song has affected an influence on more people ’round the world than that little Indonesian volcano ever did.
This is why Eddie & his band were never just a blip on the national and international radar. His band didn’t record two, three or four albums, and then finally got noticed. They made themselves known, right outta the gates, in a HUUUUGE way. In a way that reverberates with boundless influence and astounding magnitude… right to this day.
Eddie went on to break new ground for the guitar in album after album for years. I ALWAYS was geeked to hear that a new recording was coming, ’cause I just knew that Ed would create some OTHER way to play our favorite instrument, and accompanying effects, in a way that none of us have yet conceived. Not to mention how he’d tear his guitar’s apart to build some new combination for better tone.
I’ve never heard of a guitarist that was more of an innovator in so many ways.
Heck, even my dog Pippin is a fan!!
Where it came from, who knows?
But clearly… this Ed guy? He was, like a tropical storm, tsunami or fiery, shuddering mountain… a force to be reckoned with!!
The Day it Got Personal
It’s hard to conceive in my mind, but there were actually days of my life when I was NOT into Van Halen.
But growing up, I was a student of the Billboard Top 40. Every week I used to go to the local record store and pick up the paper copy of that week’s list. I knew all the songs by heart and, being a singer first, could croon you any hit that was your favorite upon request.
Because of my obsession with the song charts, I had heard both “You Really Got Me” and “Dance the Night Away” on the radio. Both great and catchy songs, to be sure! But neither of those had so drawn me that I had to go buy the album.
(And since I wasn’t playing guitar yet, my deep appreciation and fascination with Ed’s technique transcendence was yet to come).
So there I am one fine morning – a 7th grader in the middle school, walking into the bathroom between classes.
As I enter the bathroom door, I see this student at the wall. He’s about 5 inches taller than I am; a really big middle school kid, with shoulder-length hair (very rebellious then) and he’s got a Van Halen T-shirt and shorts on. I’d seen him around but didn’t know him.
He looks pretty menacing to skinny ol’ me. But I’m transfixed ‘cuz he’s scratching something into the wall with a pocket knife.
As soon as he sees me, he abruptly stops. He probably thought I was a teacher or something ready to catch him in his vandalous act!
Seeing I was not an authority figure though, he then just walks up to me, looks down at me dead in the eye, and says:
“Van Halen F@#$in’ ROCKS, man!!”
Then he just walked past me and out the door.
I was so relieved he didn’t beat me up or something I let out a sigh of relief and tried to stop my shaking.
Driven by curiosity, I also then walked up to take a look at what he had been carving into the wall.
There my eyes beheld a symbol. I’d seen this symbol before. It was carved into countless school desktops, walls, park benches, and sprayed on graffiti walls everywhere.
It looked like this:
The Van Halen winged logo!
Recognizing it as a logo of a music group that I’d heard, my interest was piqued. Despite the sweat on my brow… or maybe even BECAUSE of it… I said to myself, “Hmm… I’m gonna have to look more into this band… “
Soon after I heard the first Van Halen album.
My life was never the same.
My next major Van Halen moment was in the end of March, 1980.
I was finishing up my freshman year of high school and was still pretty shy kid.
But when it came to music, I was getting bolder and confident! Music was my safe haven; my solace place… the area I studied a LOT, and was starting to take pretty seriously.
I had looked into Van Halen after middle school and was enjoyed the first two albums. BUT… I still hadn’t picked up the guitar. I was still known mostly as a singer and spent most of my time behind a mic, building that skill.
Because of that, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what Eddie was actually accomplishing yet.
But that was all to change as spring was emerging in Michigan in 1980. I heard on a local radio station that on Friday night, at 11 PM, they were going to play Van Halen’s brand new album, “Women and Children First“, in its entirety, for anyone who stayed up to tune in!
Because the album wouldn’t be released yet, I’d be one of the first ones to hear this new music from this tres cool band.
I couldn’t wait!
Even as I write this right now, I can still see the glowing light from my stereo across the room that night, my cassette recorder capturing the moment, and my coiled curly headphone cable, gently bobbing up and down, stretching over to me on my bed as I lay there, listening for the first time to this incredibly impressive album.
It was totally mesmerizing. The sound Eddie created on that record I’d never heard before (as expected!). The songs and sounds and tones, both instrumental AND vocal, were so primal, guttural, emotionally BRAZEN… and, as usual, so, so innovative.
I mean, come on – had anyone before ever plugged a Wurlitzer keyboard through a Marshall plexi over driven amp and engaged a phase pedal to boot… making it sound like some behemoth alien attack to our cowering eardrums?!!
Uh… that would be a resounding “no”!! LoL
The very SECOND you heard “And the Cradle Will Rock” hit you in the face, you knew that, yes, once again… Eddie was breaking sonic barriers and boldly going where no guitarist had ever gone before!
That album just blew the doors off my fretboard procrastination. This was it! It was time!! I was going to learn how to play like this man… or cry trying! LoL
Eddie brought out of this shy, skinny guy somehow a little musical rebel, shouting “No! I will not wait! I’m going to learn guitar NOOOOOWWWW!!!”
I often think what if I had not experienced that late night new album release and inspiration. Would I still have picked up the guitar?
Maybe, but the reality is that Eddie did for me what he did for thousands of other kids around the world – he inspired me to get a guitar, start playin’, and pursue music as something otherworldly and incredible. To accomplish something musically.
It doesn’t even matter that my works will never be as astounding as his. Those of us inspired by him play to at LEAST sound forth respect for him and what he stood for, which is:
- doing your best
- pioneering new paths, and
- practicing hard to create something fresh, different and compelling.
It’s so hard to fathom he’s gone. My musicianship owes him so much.
We all owe him so much.
Miss you, man.
Eddie In Print
Anybody who picks up a guitar to learn how to play needs some kind of training. Direction. Help.
Back in the day, when I was still in high school the Internet was definitely not a thing; the only resources we had were magazines or books to help us get our head around technique, theory and specific compositions.
The picture that you see to the right shows the many, many… MANY publications that I purchased that are specific to Eddie – his technique, his approach, and in many cases his songs
Some of these purchases were “fanboy driven”, to be sure – just seeing him on the cover meant I had to have it!
But well over half of these purchases were because there were specific songs that I just had to learn how to play. And I usually couldn’t figure them all out by ear… Ed was just playing way too fast!!
My best investment by far was the book you see here:
The “Ultimate Song Pages: Van Halen“! !
Except for their newest album, “A Different Kind of Truth“, which was released in February 2012, ALL of Van Halen’s songs are in this gigantic tome.
It’s pretty dead-on too. I found a few mistakes here and there but, by and large, if I want to learn a VH song and do it just like Eddie did? This book allows me to go there! Love that.
If you want everything they’ve done right at your fingertips too, you can get one for yourself RIGHT HERE.
Also, any of you who have ever practiced hard to nail a piece of music will appreciate this:
When Van Halen put out their “Diver Down” album in 1982, it immediately became my favorite.
Eddie didn’t like it so much because he never wanted to do cover songs; he always wanted a VH album to be full of their own compositions. But I unabashedly and unashamedly say that “Diver Down” is my favorite full Van Halen album. Hands down.
One of the big reasons is the Intro and the full song called “Little Guitars”. If I had to choose just one Eddie composition above all others, it would have to be that song!
Or, duo of songs. I mean, I consider the two of them to be ONE song, not two. I mean, they have the same name, for Eddie’s sake! 😉
So obviously, loving that song so much, I absolutely had to learn it. So what did I do? I went out searching for any published tab for it. And I found it! It’s in the magazine that you see in the picture below, second row down, second magazine over from the right. The one where Eddie’s pointing up towards the ceiling.
You can see right there on the cover it says “guitar sheet music” with tabs. The top one says “Little Guitars”.
Well, I worked day and night trying to nail that song and, believe me, it was a ton of work. I don’t know that I had ever worked on a tougher tune besides “Eruption”. It was funny too ‘cuz… it didn’t SOUND that complicated.
Fast-forward a couple decades – I discovered why learning that song was so difficult: it was tabbed COMPLETELY WRONG!!!!
Now, I don’t blame the guy who tabbed it. Eddie had always been pretty secretive about how he did things back then, and what nobody knew (until much later) was that Eddie had recorded “Little Guitars” on a… (wait for it)… little guitar! And that little guitar was NOT tuned to standard tuning, which is what the magazine tabbed it in!
Instead, it was tuned to A D G C E A, which are the notes of the 5th fret on a normal guitar in standard tuning, and then Eddie ALSO dropped the bottom string a whole step, making the open tuning G D G C E A.
Think that makes a difference in the chord shapes and scale runs?? Uh… yea, you could say that. lol
So the gist of it is, unless you have this complex altered tuning, you are going to playing this song with chord shapes that would make Allen Holdsworth tremble.
And guess what? I DID. ‘Cuz the guy that TABBED it did!!
The fingerings? They were crazy! Tortuous! Agonizingly crooked and bizarre!!! The finger stretches I had to do in the placement of the rhythm chords on the neck were all over the map and just… weird!
It wasn’t until I got the van Halen book with all their songs that I turned to the “Little Guitars” page and… OMG… I couldn’t believe it – here was a TOTALLY different way to play the song, it it was… gulp… the correct way!
The way Eddie played it was, surprisingly, much easier. Didn’t expect that!
It actually used standard chord shapes for the most part. With standard tuning there was no way you could duplicate it without contorting like an octopus on Ritilin.
I sat down and re-learned the whole song the right way using a normal Strat capo-ed at the 5th fret. But very soon after, I actually bought my own little Les Paul mini guitar, just like the one Eddied used. You can see it hanging on the wall in my studio in the picture to the right.
Do I regret learning that song wrong?? Neh. I just made my fingers more nimble & dexterous! And, learning it at all gave me instant joy; the accomplishment of learning a favorite song, especially a hard one, is always a thrill. I feel sorry for those that will never know the feeling, ya know?
Besides that… I didn’t get carpal tunnel from doing those crazy stretch chords, so I’ll consider it a win-win! 😉
Those of you who are regulars here at Seriousgas.com may have seen my reviews on various EVH pieces of gear (like THIS ONE on the 5150 amp!!). From guitars to amps to cabs to outboard gear, if it has Eddie’s name on it, I’ve tried it.
One of favorites, of course, is my very detailed replica of his FrankenStrat, the black, red and white beast that became such a trademark axe, and look, for Eddie’s brand.
I’ve also got a replica of it before red paint, when it was just black and white. They both play about the same, but have subtle variations.
The Eddie fan who made it, from meanstreetguitars.com, put an engraved heel plate on it that I just LOVE. Check out this almost 3D representation of Eddie on the back:
My mini Les Paul I keep in the G D G C E A tuning that Eddie used for “Little Guitars“. If I write a song on it, I write in that tuning. It’s a constant tip of the hat to my Southern Cal’ mentor and guitar hero, and it’ll never change.
My newer, modern Wolfgang standard electric guitar plays far better than any of his original guitars ever do. Obviously he’s improved his “perfect design” over the years, with various companies before he landed with Fender and stayed with ’em.
One of the reasons that Eddie has such a good technique, I think, is because he has such muscles in his arms and hands. I think that might be ‘cuz those first guitars of his weren’t the “luxury models”, if ya know what I mean. It forced him to develop a strong, skilled technique to overcome a cheaper axe, due to his lack of money (before VH success, of course!).
And overcome he certainly DID! His new line of EVH guitars, if you haven’t seen or played one, are so totally the bomb. Love, love, love my Wolfie.
EVH is a great company. Quality is always their guiding light, as indicated by everything I’ve bought from them. But then, they kinda had to be that way, right? Eddie would have it no other way!
Even when I’m using other gear that Eddie did not make, like my GSP 1101 Guitar Processor, I spend days and days meticulously programming patches and dialing them in to reproduce the exact tones and parameters I need, often for Van Halen songs.
The picture below, for example, shows the second patch on my GSP1101 is my detailed reproduction of the setup Eddie used for the intro to “Women In Love”, off of the “Van Halen II” record.
Love that cool Flanger!!
Finally, I have to share the most integral pieces in my guitar rig…
Without these beauties, I doubt I could get the pro sound I always strive for:
I’m sure in the years to come they’ll be more fine EVH products to lure me in too. Sometimes the right gear just helps us feel closer to the heroes we’re trying to emulate.
Besides, we gotta keep some funds coming in to Eddie’s son Wolfgang to fund his cool solo projects to hear more of that Van Halen legacy.
Can’t wait to hear that first solo album by the way, Wolf!
A Tale of Two Van Fans
Probably most of you reading this blog play guitar, and thus have had a person or two that you have spent hours and hours (if not days months, or years!) jamming with, because you musically get along so well.
These are the kinds of friendships where you trade licks, swap riffs, and jam back-and-forth with your most inspirational songs, just sharing the joy of music.
My best jam bud like this is my man Brian Stout, currently of the band “Celtic Pink Floyd”. We went to high school together and shared a passion for learning guitar, and especially for learning how to play guitar like Eddie!
Brian was always more advanced than I on the fretboard, but it never mattered. We just love to jam! To plunge into the cool waters of Van Halen rock and roll, stretch our musical wings and learn, learn, learn… always pushing for more, and for better.
Keeping our bar set high for what we might accomplish comes naturally for both of us – our mutual hero led the way long ago!
One highlight for us was when we met in the winter of 1984 at the now-demolished Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan to see the mighty Van Halen on their incredible 1984 tour!
Smiles and parachute pants were ubiquitous, and a great time was had by all!
I will never forget how awesome the band was that night! David Lee Roth was especially cool during that tour, swinging his large scimitar around with long, colorful ribbons attached. That was quite the spectacle.
But, of course, the real highlight of the evening, and the real awestruck moments we had, were when Eddie expressed his mastery of the instrument with flurries of incredible guitar prowess, again and again and again… making genius look so easy, and so effortlessly blowing us all away.
You could always tell he loved his instrument and loved playing to the fans. Not to mention that he MUST have spent an enormous amount of time investing in practice.
Secret to any success, right?!
Ironically, I’d been meaning to text Brian this past week to show him the phone call I got at work. When I looked to see who was calling, it almost knocked me out of my chair! I even took a pic of it:
I just HAD to tell him of this funny moment. For a fraction of a second I actually thought that maybe, somehow, by some miracle, Eddie was calling ME! Too bad it was just another guy with a “Van” name… but not “Halen”!! I laughed right out loud at my hopeful fan-boy excitement.
But, as it turned out, before I could text him about that, he texted me… with news that we could never laugh at in a million years.
Within moments of seeing the news of Eddie’s death, Brian texted to tell me. I didn’t see his text though, ‘cuz I was working without my phone. But within the same hour, a co-worker walked into my office and told me the news (he knew I was a VH fan).
I didn’t believe him; I had to Google it before seeing his son Wolfgang’s Tweet and suddenly felt the stage door in my stomach plummet fathoms down.
I immediately picked up the phone and called Brian.
It just shows the uniqueness of our relationship that we both knew instinctively who to call to share our grief with – who would really “get it”, who would really appreciate the depths of sorrow we were feeling. Sorrow for losing an inspiration; a gifted musical guru that we had studied and looked up to for so many years. An incomparable legend in the field of music.
Here are the texts we shared the day Eddie died:
BRIAN: “Did you hear that Eddie died this morning? I’m in shock”
TEAJ: “Long live the MASTER.”
BRIAN: “A fitting tribute for a legend”
TEAJ: And of course the news is too fixated on the ridiculous political train wrecks to give Eddie more than 30 seconds.
BRIAN: They’re not nearly cool enough to appreciate his genius!
TEAJ: As a microbe to a moon!
Still so sad to be without more of him in this world. Sorely missed.
BRIAN: I wonder if there is any music he’s done at any point that will be released or will we never hear any new music from him again?
TEAJ: I bet Wolfie will release some stuff. Either under VH or as his own material.
I’ve decided for my tribute tomorrow (since I can’t get LOUD!! lol) I’m gonna do intro to Cathedral, then into Intro to Spanish Fly, then Intro to In a Simple Rhyme, and straight to You Really Got Me.
BRIAN: He’s got a solo album coming out soon and I’ve heard it’s really good. A few weeks ago he did an interview and said that people are gonna complain because it doesn’t sound just like VH. I should just release an album of me playing Eruption and then he proceeded to play it on his bass. He’s awesome. Did you read the tweets from him and Valerie? They were awesome yet heartbreaking. Wish I could be there to hear it. It will be awesome!
TEAJ: Yea, and I’m sure his dad heard the full album. It’s probably been done for a while, but with Ed suffering he probably put it on hold.
This one’s for you, Ed’. (Pic of LT)
The day after Ed’s death, we texted more:
BRIAN: Nice, how did it go? Awesome I’m sure!
TEAJ: All I could think of was “if EDDIE were here he’d be KILLIN’ this tune…”.
BRIAN: I’m sure you channeled him and made it sound as if he WAS there!
TEAJ: I really did play to make him proud. Silly… but true.
I know you understand.
BRIAN: I gotta tell you, I was a little surprised at how much his death affected me. It seems kinda weird to feel so bad about someone you never met, but I guess his genius has just influenced my life in so many ways. So I totally understand what you’re saying.
TEAJ: We DID know him… in the ways that he cared most about. You know how it is – when you REALLY research something, or someone, for years and years…. it’s like you’re meeting them in the same “inner room” where their works are created.
And you and I have studied him massively.
It’s like we didn’t know him personally, but we entered into his GIFT. And now it’s gone. We can’t go into that room anymore… except alone.
BRIAN: Wow, that was really eloquently said and spot on. On Sirius XM they started an Eddie tribute channel and just listening to all these people calling in and telling stories of how he touched their lives is pretty amazing.
I just read this and it made me very happy:
BRIAN: Also, I broke down and ordered the Frankenstrat today. ETA is February. Can’t wait!
TEAJ: The new EVH model?!
BRIAN: Yessir. It’s gonna be a really long 4 months!!
TEAJ: Wow. Well, in the meantime, come stay at my place and we’ll play my two replicas for days on end!!!
I don’t know how you reacted to Eddie’s death, but that’s how we did it.
Through the years Brian and I have continued to share musically, encouraging each other on our various musical projects, and always striving to be deliberately innovative in whatever we do.
Musical friends are a unique breed, but often the best, & closest, because of that shared resonating core of understanding.
You can hear Brian’s wonderful acoustic playing on one of my latest songs, “If You’re Leaving“, by clicking RIGHT HERE.
What Geese Know
Right after work on the day Eddie died, I went to one of my son’s soccer games at his high school. He’s on a great team this year; they’re really rocking and so far have only lost ONE GAME!
As I sat in the stands in the first half of the game, under a glorious sunny (but cool) Michigan fall sky, a “V” formation of geese started to fly toward the stadium.
As I watched them approach, I noticed that the goose in front, leading the formation, was quite a bit ahead of the rest.
Usually ya see the front flapper pretty evenly spaced out from the others, but not this goose gangster! He was at least four geese ahead, and what was even more remarkable was it looked like he was hardly flapping at all compared to rest of the flock.
Soon they were passing almost directly overhead, arcing to the south to continue their migratory journey.
It was then that I suddenly realized – that lead goose… that was Eddie.
The visual metaphor was so perfect it brought me to tears. Eddie was always so far ahead of us. He was always providing that artistic updraft from his tireless “guitar chops”, showing us how it’s done, album after album, tour after tour; always making it look so effortless and easy.
And we, by comparison, flap and struggle just to keep up, just to try and comprehend his powerful pull, finesse and precision.
As I watched them arc away and gradually disappear from sight, began to smile big at the realization, and at the same time continued very real tears of joy and sadness. Right there in the COVID-masked crowd, next to my wife.
The musical prodigy we turned to time and again is gone. Our “lead goose” that everybody obviously and instinctually knew deserved to be at the head of the “V”. The one who flew us through lofty heights; the one we could never, ever catch up to, but who still helps us rise to higher possibilities.
I now know what geese know. And in Ed’s honor, I will keep flying, keep rising upward…. keep representing my craft with excellence, and keep honing my techniques with a wide and exuberant grin, just like he did, at the fun, the beauty, the glory of playing and creating music.
See you at migrations end, Eddie.
A Tribute Gig
One day a week I play a little gig in the café of the fitness facility I work at. I started it not only to entertain our members and guests, but also to give me time to stretch my guitar chops and get some good practice and performance time in, since for the past five months we haven’t had ANY gigs to play because of the coronavirus.
Because of this, on the day Eddie died, I had my Wolfgang standard electric guitar sitting right next to me in my office. I had just taken lunch and had just been practicing for the concert the next night when I was told he was gone.
How surreal – to have somebody walk into my office and tell me the man who designed and made the guitar I just played is no longer among us.
Doing anything after that news was hard, but I continued to prep the songs for the concert. I decided to add an “Eddie tribute collage” to the concert (that my text above mentioned). How could I not??
When the time came, I did all right. The hard part about playing a small gig in a small room is you can’t play LOUD, so it came across a little lackluster to me for that reason. Still, I knew the material well and played it to the point that I felt it was an honor to Ed.
Something tells me I’ll be doing this often in the future… and not just for audiences – but also just for me; playing through his material just to remember him; to thank him, secretly in my soul, for all the incredible instruction and inspiration that he unknowingly provided to me and thousands of others around the globe for so many years.
What a treasure he was!!
Keep That Swag a-Comin’!
So that was it. That was how I processed my grief over Eddy’s passing.
It’s not that the grief is over. In some ways it’s only just begun.
My family, who has often bought me Eddie Van Halen-related gifts for my birthdays and Christmases, will now do so knowing that it has even more meaning and poignancy.
My family also saw what a blow the news was on me, though I doubt they really understood. Until you have set for decades at the feet of a master, receiving their instruction, watching their every move, investing yourself in their approach, their innovations, their methods…. and resonating so strongly with the voice within that mentor… you can’t possibly comprehend what it means for that to be reduced to silence. And absence.
For those of you to whom Eddie also meant a lot, please leave a comment sharing the love. Let us know how you handled the news; how you’re moving forward from it.
And, of course, let me know any wonderful stories of how Ed shaped your life, your gear, your music.
I can honestly say I can’t imagine my life without Eddie in it. Thankfully, I won’t have to because his music, and his story of overcoming all obstacles for a dream, WAS always there… and lives on. Like a modern-day Paganini… no one could touch his talent. Maybe like Mozart, no one ever will. But his mastery of composition and guitar will always be with us.
With every power cord we strike, through amps turned up loud, we will remember…
May his jamming grin grace all our ferocious frequencies, and may our gratitude resound to him even now, with the thunderous power of a hundred Marshall Plexi stacks!!!
Thank you, Eddie Van Halen. Thank you so very much. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without you.
Miss you, forever.