R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen

Tuesday, October 6, 2020
eddie van halen

The Warner Music family is devastated to hear the news of Eddie Van Halen’s passing, which is a heartbreaking loss for rock ‘n’ roll and the entire music community. Without question, he was one of the greatest guitar players to ever pick up the instrument. Eddie was also a gifted songwriter and inventor and will surely be remembered as one of the most influential and innovative figures in music history. After signing with then-Warner Bros. Records in 1977, Van Halen skyrocketed to international superstardom for years to follow, topping the charts in multiple decades and earning two RIAA Diamond certified albums (Van Halen, 1984), a feat accomplished by very few artists. Warner Music will continue to honor and preserve his incredible legacy and thank him for his extraordinary contributions to both music and our company’s history. Our deepest condolences go out to his son Wolfgang, brother Alex, and the rest of his family and friends, along with his millions of fans around the world.
- Kevin Gore, President of Global Catalog, Recorded Music for Warner Music Group

If 2020 had a subtitle, it would be “The Hits Just Keep On Coming,” but this bombshell isn’t just a hit, it’s a full-fledged punch in the gut: Eddie Van Halen, the celebrated axe-man who gave both his guitar and his last name to one of the most celebrated – and one of the biggest selling – bands in rock history, has died at age 65.

Eddie’s death was announced by his son, Wolf Van Halen, via social media:

“I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. 

“I love you so much, Pop.”

Born in Amsterdam on January 26, 1955, Eddie and his family – including, of course, his older brother and future bandmate Alex Van Halen – moved from the Netherlands to Pasadena, California when he was seven years old. Eddie once said of the experience, “We came here with approximately fifty dollars and a piano, and we didn’t speak the language. Now look where we are. If that’s not the American dream, what is?”

When he was in 4th grade at Hamilton Elementary School in Pasadena, Eddie teamed with Alex and three other students to form a band called The Broken Combs. They performed during lunchtime, and while we have no confirmation as to whether or not they were the talk of the school, we do know from Eddie’s own remarks that it was playing with these guys that inspired his first serious desire to become a professional musician, and that’s what counts.

But it was in 1974 that things really started to get serious, as that’s when Mammoth, the band formed by Eddie and Alex in ’72, changed their name to Van Halen. In regards to how they ended up securing their record deal with Warner Brothers, well, that’s a question answered by Eddie in an interview with – where else? – Guitar Magazine

“We just kept playing, doing our Civic shows and clubs and stuff like that, and then we got into playing the Starwood and the Whiskey because Rodney Bingenheimer, who's a big wheel in the L.A. music scene, saw us. He said, ‘Shit, you guys are all right. Why don't you play at the Starwood?’ So we played there for maybe four or five months, and one day Marshall Berle  saw us. He's Milton Berle's nephew. He didn't tell us who was there. He just said, ‘Hey, there's some people out here to see you. Play good.’ At that time he really had nothing to do with us. He was just working his way into having something to do for us. 

“It ends up that we played a good set in front of no people, an empty house at the Starwood on a rainy Monday night. We got done with the set, and we're all going, ‘Hey, it was a good set. All right, guys!’ All of a sudden Marshall walks in with [producer] Ted Templeman and [Warner Bros. executive] Mo Austin. I mean, it was heavy. Because I remember talking to other bands, and they've always been trying to get Ted to produce their records, but he only works inside of Warner Brothers. He doesn't produce other acts. And there he was. He said, ‘Hey, it was great, man.’ And within a week we were signed.

“It was right out of the movies, man, because really... Well, we made a tape once with Gene Simmons from KISS. We flew to New York with them, and nothing really ever came of it, because we didn't know where the hell to take our tape. So we had a bitchin' sounding tape -- the world's most expensive demo tape, which he paid for. We didn't know where to take it. We didn't start walking around knocking on people's doors, pushing ourselves on them, saying, ‘Hey, sign us, sign us!’ We just kept playing everywhere, and eventually they came to us.”

From there, of course, you know the rest of the story: Van Halen started to grow in popularity, and that popularity reached a fever pitch with their sixth studio album, 1984, which made them the darlings of MTV, provided them with a #1 hit (“Jump”), two top-20 hits (“I’ll Wait” and “Panama,” both of which hit #13), and “Hot for Teacher,” which may have only climbed to #56 on the Hot 100 but made a far bigger impact with its immortal video.

Ah, sweet, sweet Waldo...

Of course, in short order, David Lee Roth would depart for a solo career, but Eddie, Alex, and Michael Anthony would quickly draft Sammy Hagar to replace Diamond Dave, a move which not only extended Van Halen’s career but kept them knee deep in platinum records for several years to come. And then, of course, there’s the Gary Cherone era (VAN HALEN III), after which came DLR’s return to the fold on a few different occasions, the most surprising of which by far came in 2012, when the band actually recorded a new album, A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH. Granted, it was sans Michael Anthony, with Wolf taking his place in the lineup, but even so, it’s still miraculous that it came to pass at all, and it’s great that it did, since there would be no further Van Halen albums after that, not with Dave, Sammy, or even Gary.

Even though we hadn’t heard much in the way of new material from Eddie in recent years, it’s difficult to fault him for the silence, given how much amazing rock and roll he and his bandmates provided us over the course of the past several decades. The man was a full-fledged, card-carrying guitar god who walked among us mere mortals, and although there’s no denying that he’s left his mark both through his own material and the subsequent generations of guitarists who have been – and will continue to be – influenced by it, it doesn’t making losing him any easier.

R.I.P., Eddie. Rock on.