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I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that Eddie Van Halen changed our lives for the better.
I remember the moment I heard that first Van Halen album quite vividly. It was one of THOSE records. You didn't forget where you were the moment you heard that opening chord to Runnin' With The Devil. I was in the 6th form lounge, it was late February 1978, snow was falling but not laying, my feet were cold, I was wearing a denim shirt, baseball boots and old patched up jeans.
My pal Kev was playing records through the speakers at lunchtime. There was a bass note, a metallic noise, then THAT riff. I remember I actually looked at the speakers as though to try and see who it was. It sounded like nothing I'd heard before and I'd heard pretty much everything. I jumped up excitedly, pointing at the speakers and asked him what the hell this was. We knew nothing about them. I'd not even heard of them. 'I think they're a New Wave band' Kev said, looking at the sleeve. That's how little we knew about them. As Eruption kicked in, I said to him. "this is no New Wave band, Kev, this is rock and f**king roll.
Hard to really appreciate this 42 years later but it was a new sound. It was like seeing a colour for the first time, or like hearing something you could never have imagined. It was fresh, biting, cutting and raw...and yet also, and importantly, sunshiney and fun.
And, like everyone else, it started a lifelong love affair with Van Halen, with Eddie. They were always there. They rolled up at Newcastle City Hall for their first headline tour with 6 Edwin Shirley trucks 6! No-one had seen anyone turn up with 6 trucks. We were crazy for them. There was simply nothing and no-one like them. Standing outside to hear the soundcheck. That tone, so sharp you could've shaved with it. It seemed to shake our very molecules. This was something else, something new, something which seemed designed to make us feel good.
Always there. On the jukebox in the Talbot in ‘79. Jump. Donny in '84, Sammy. The big hit singles. The brilliance of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The NEC in '93 supported by Little Angels. Running on the sand in Laguna Beach listening to the live album. Always there.
Eddie popularized tapping and took it to new levels. The coming of EVH in 1978 was in some ways Year Zero for guitar playing. It required a reset of everything we knew. He came with his own tone palette and set about blowing out minds for years to come. Even now Unchained stands alone as one of the best, most original riffs of all time, swirling and punching.
His playing was restlessly inventive. The detail in a simple song like Jamie’s Cryin’ is astonishing. He sweeps chords, pinches strings, stings with power chords, shimmers with melody and punctuation all done with little runs and notes. It’s masterful. And that’s just one number.
His legacy will be that of a genius. Of a man who changed musical history. Who left his imprint on the world in a profound way. He advanced guitar playing and better yet, he had a bloody good time doing it and that ensured we had a good time too. And what is rock n roll for if not to make us feel good and give us a good time.
In a very real way, EVH’s guitar was one of the sonic foundation stones of so many people’s rock and roll lives. That he should pass away at just 65 is a cruel robbery. And yet his work will shine forever atop the highest peaks of human creativity.
...And now more tears come.