Earlier this week I heard the news I knew was coming for quite some time now. Eddie Van Halen succumbed to his prolonged battle with cancer at age 65.
Naturally and appropriately the tributes have filled the internet all week. Eddie had been out of the public eye and the music radar for years, but his accomplishments and greatness were never forgotten.
Just the other day I was commenting how although Eddie’s music career was pretty much nonexistent the past 20 years, what he gave the rock world his first 20 years was pretty damn special. From the late ’70’s until the mid-’90’s Van Halen released 10 studio albums. Most of them were pretty good. A few of them were classics.
One topic that’s inevitably come up this week in light of Eddie’s passing is where he ranks among the greatest guitarists of all time. Let’s be clear, it’s such an impossible conversation to have. Like many things, it’s so subjective. I mean, I can offer up my “Top 5” rock drummers of all-time with relative confidence, but it just seems so much more challenging when discussing guitarists.
Here’s my take on Eddie: Was he the best? Who knows? It’s not for me to say one way or the other. Words I’d use to describe Eddie are “original” and “innovative.” I don’t think anyone sounded like Eddie before he broke onto the scene. His technique and style were completely original. For some music fans, Eddie’s style simply wasn’t their bag. To each their own. Many people however, must have taken notice and interest because I don’t think any guitarist spawned more imitators than Eddie. It seemed like nearly every hard rock band in the ’80’s tried to feature their own Eddie Van Halen. A few came close, but you could always tell the difference between Eddie’s hand and all the others. In short, I think Eddie Van Halen was one of the most influential rock guitarists of all-time, who left an undeniable impression on rock’s history.
Like anything else, we can always spend time pondering what could have been, etc. Most of the 20 years of Eddie’s musical inactivity were due to a variety of health issues (hip surgery, alcoholism and recovery, and eventually cancer). There was a five year or so window in there where Van Halen did resurface. I just wish that resurfacing would have been a sober Eddie with Sammy instead of a sober Eddie with David Lee Roth. No, I’m not going down the path of debating Roth Era vs. Hagar Era here. Those who enjoyed the early years with Roth more than the years with Hagar are well within their right to feel so. Yet by the time Eddie brought Dave back, it just seemed like a waste of valuable time. Roth was completely washed out vocally. Literally couldn’t sing whatsoever. Their tour together, though financially successful, was more or less brutal to listen to. Roth’s inability on stage completely hindered Eddie’s excellent playing. I personally would have loved to have seen Eddie have one more go with Sammy. They quite possibly could have pumped out one more classic Halen album, plus an excellent tour or two.
Regardless, and for whatever reason, that wasn’t the path Eddie chose. Maybe in some way Eddie wanted to work with Dave one more time and sort of bury the hatchet of past discord. Who knows?
What we do know, and will always remember…….is there’s never gonna be another Eddie Van Halen. Rest in peace guitar god. Thank you for all the great music memories.