Eddie Van Halen is generally considered to be, second only to Jimi Hendrix, one of the most influential, original and talented rock guitarists of the twentieth century.
Van Halen was born Edward Lodewijk Van Halen on January 26, 1955 in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, where Eddie spent his early years. His father, Jan Van Halen, born in 1920, was an accomplished saxophone and clarinet musician. Eddie’s mother was Eugenia Van Beers, who was born in Indonesia in 1914.
The family moved to the U.S.A. in 1962 and settled near other family members in Pasadena, CA where Eddie and his brother attended elementary school. Eddie and his brother, Alex Van Halen , both took piano lessons at an early age. And both became accomplished piano players. The influence of the piano clearly was the foundation of the musical careers of the two Van Halen brothers.
The invasion of the British rock movement in the late sixties mesmerized the two Van Halen brothers. They abandoned their pianos and began playing drum and guitar. Initially, Eddie was the drummer and Alex was the guitar player. However, shortly thereafter the two brothers switched instruments, a wise move because Alex became better at the drums than Eddie, and Eddie’s prowess and fame as a rock guitarist is legendary history.
Hard rock guitarists, such as Eric Clapton and Jimmie Page, influenced the development of Eddie as a guitarist. However, Eddie is, by most sources, given credit for pioneering the way for the “Modern Rock and Roll Show”, where the guitarist generally is the most prominent player. Eddie has also been given credit for being the most imitated guitarist of his generation. An important recognition Eddie recieved was being named the best rock guitarist during the 1979-1983 time period by the influential “Guitar Players” magazine. In 2013 the magazine "Guitar World' named Eddie "the Greatest Guitarist of All Time". Similar recognitions were never attained by any other guitar player.
Eddie Van Halen not only was one of the top guitar players of his era, but he also was actively involved in the development of the electric guitar. During his professional career he played on custom-built guitars that were either designed and/or built by him or were modifications of existing guitars. During the early years he did a lot of experimentation himself but in later years he traveled with a guitar technician who worked on Eddie’s guitars under Eddie’s direction.
As a result of his prowess in guitar design, he became actively involved with Kramer guitars in the 1980’s. He later shifted to the Ernie Ball Company for whom Eddie created his own line of guitars. In the mid-nineties, he switched manufacturers and worked with Peavey. Later he became involved with Fender Musical Instruments (FMIC), a division of Charvell. With FMIC Eddie developed his own brand line named "EVH".
Eddie’s ascendance to the acme of his career was, of course, accomplished through the vehicle of the band named "Van Halen". The Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, began playing in local clubs in the Los Angeles area, with other band members, of course, under the band name, “Mammoth” in the early seventies. Keep in mind that at that time they were only teenagers. The quality of their music was quickly noted by others. In 1974, the two brothers hooked up with David Lee Roth, a “Metal Singer” who had been performing with other bands in the Los Angeles area. Roth had considerable experience in band management and recognized Eddie’s talent. At that time Michael Anthony also joined the band as a bassist. Since there was another “Mammoth” band in the Los Angeles area, Roth proposed to change the name of their band to “Van Halen”.
At that time Eddie began employing a new guitar playing approach called the “two-handed tap” technique, a technique which became Eddie’s trade mark, and was soon copied by other players. With his awesome speed and popular phrasing Eddie quickly became the top guitarist on the Los Angeles music scene. And the "Van Halen" began to attract national attention.
In 1976, Gene Simmons of the band "Kiss" attended a "Van Halen's"s concert and helped them produce a demo. Eventually Warner Brothers got a copy of the demo, and in 1977 it signed a contract with the Band. This association resulted in a string of multi-platinum albums and sold-out tours. The Band became national and after that quickly international. Without doubt, in the late 1970’s, "Van Halen" was the most popular rock and roll band in the U.S.A. and abroad.
In 1985 there was a falling out between David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers. Roth left and was replaced by Sammy Hagar. The change did not affect the Band’s popularity, clearly indicating that Eddie had the dominant drawing power of all the players in the Band. In later years Sammy Hagar was replaced by Gary Cherone, and at one point Roth actually returned for a few performances.
Eddie’s personal life and his problems had quite an effect on the Band’s activities from the mid-nineties to the present. Eddie married TV actress Valerie Bertinelli in 1981. In 1991, their son Wolfgang William was born. The marriage became rocky in the late nineties and the couple separated in 2001. In 2005, Bartinelli filed for divorce. Also during the nineties, Eddie lost his mother through cancer. This was a great loss to the two Van Halen brothers because they came from a very tight and caring family. Also during the 1990’s, Eddie was able to overcome his alcohol addiction. During that time he also had been battling cancer problems and in addition developed hip problems and had to have a hip replacement.
In 2004, Van Halen made a comeback and announced another national tour. The tour made stops in many cities. Unfortunately the tour was marred by reported dissension among the players. But the loyalty of Eddie’s, and the Band’s, fans still made it a triumphant tour. The success of the 2004 tour made it likely that another tour would be on the horizon. And in August 2007, the Band’s Fall 2007 tour was announced. It would begin at the end of September, and make about 40 stops. The Band’s more successful lead singer, David Lee Roth, would be back, and Eddie’s son, Wolfgang [Wolfie] Van Halen would play bass.
During its life, the "Van Halen’s" album sales exceeded 75 million albums. Eleven of their studio albums reached the top 20 of the Bill Board’s music charts. The Band has the most #1 hits on Bill Board’s Main Stream, a record that is recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records. A total of 26 albums, 16 singles, 2 box sets and 5 videos of the Band were produced, marketed and sold.
Based on the above, the band "Van Halen" has left a large “foot print” and impressive musical note on the music industry during the last quarter of the twentieth century, and the first decde of the twenty first century. And Eddie was and remains the shining star of the Band.
GuitarzForever.com, Eddie Van Halen Biography, http://www.guitarz-for-ever.com
VHI.com, Van Halen, http://www.vhi.com/artist
Personal information from one of the Band's great admirers
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